The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm are the first 2 books in the ‘Cormoran Strike’ series by Robert Galbriath (a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling). They both feature private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin.
In The Cuckoo’s Calling private detective Cormoran Strike is instructed by John Bristow to investigate the death of his sister, celebrity supermodel Lula Landry, who seemingly fell to her death from an upstairs balcony months before. John doesn’t believe that this is the truth and the more Strike explores the circumstances surrounding her death, the less he believes that she fell too. Although Cormoran’s private detective business is not doing particularly well, he knows that he needs to hire an assistant. The recruitment agency make a mistake and accidentally send Robin, who is actually after an for HR job, but she stays for the day and turns out to be a brilliant and eager assistant.
I really enjoyed the way that the novel reflected the celebrity obsessed culture we currently live in – it felt very relevant to today’s society! Cormoran’s father is a famous rock star and the way he is always trying to keep that quiet so as not to be known simply for his father’s achievements seems admirable. He is a good-natured (but sometimes grumpy) man who may not be perfect, but is certainly a great detective- however I felt that it is Robin who is the most likeable and agreeable character. She is hard working, puts up with her sulky, demanding fiancé and takes a significant pay cut simply because she likes the work Strike does and wants to be a part of it. She doesn’t seem to be a typical ‘feminine’ character either– though there is a significant contrast between her and the more ‘masculine’ Strike, she isn’t painted as a helpless woman at all. She is often very valuable to the investigation and is very able.
The only part of this novel that I wasn’t as keen on was the ending –though I don’t think it was a bad ending per se, I didn’t find it wholly believable. Despite this, I enjoyed reading The Cuckoo’s Calling so much that it didn’t really matter to me that the ending was perhaps a little far fetched… (I don’t want to give anything away so will leave it at that).
Book 2 – The Silkworm continues following Strike and Robin as they investigate a different mystery: where has notoriously eccentric author Owen Quine disappeared to? His wife wants Cormoran to find him; he has disappeared many times before -seemingly for attention- and so no one is overly worried when he doesn’t return home. However, the fact that he has just written an insulting book, with characters that seem thinly disguised as being based on people he knows, makes Strike begin to worry that he might be a victim of a revenge attack. As they continue to try tracking him down they unearth a grisly discovery that puts suspicion on half of the publishing industry and even his own wife!
I think I actually enjoyed this storyline more. I enjoyed reading about a book that explored the publishing industry and the bitchiness, dramatic nature of the authors and their agents, but I didn’t feel it was too dramatic or ridiculous. Without giving too much away about the story, I enjoyed both the main detective storyline and the side stories about Cormoran and Robin’s private lives, because both characters are developed incredibly well and over the two novels made me want to know more about them in future books. I think that’s one of the things the author excels at – creating believable characters that have hidden depths to them. That seemed to be a popular aspect with reviewers when The Cuckoo’s Calling fist came out, with many commenting on the character’s richness and depth before it was revealed that Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. When you are aware of who the writer really is, then you think (or I did anyway): “of course the characters are well developed!” Whatever your opinion of Harry Potter and however much people argue that these novels should be kept completely separate, the characters in the Harry Potter series were well developed and had a richness about them that made me want to know more about them, even the minor characters. This is certainly true in these two books.
Rowling has commented upon detective series as having a long potential life because “unlike Harry [the Harry Potter series] where there is an overarching story, here you are talking about discrete stories. So as long as your detective lives you can give him cases.” She has also said that she has 7 Cormoran Strike stories in the pipeline, all of which I can’t wait to read! I hope they are all as enjoyable and real page turners like the first two have been.
Something that I felt strongly throughout both books is that Galbraith manages to maintain an air of suspense and intrigue despite keeping the ‘danger’ levels for Cormoran and Robin relatively low. I never really felt that they were properly at risk in either of the books, even when they worked out who the perpetrators were, but the novels didn’t need this element of danger to keep me interested… and that, I feel, is truly skilled writing!
Rating for The Cuckoo’s Calling: 4.5/5
Rating for The Silkworm: 4.5/5