First, there needs to be an apology. I can’t believe it’s been over 12 months since I posted a review. While this makes me feel like a terrible blogger, the passing of the first anniversary of my disappearance has reignited by desire to review books. In the second half of 2013 and the first half of 2014, my life has undergone many changes. Blogging, and indeed reading itself, became less of a priority as I juggled family illnesses, my own personal illness, a relationship falling apart, a new relationship starting, and four university subjects. Fortunately, I have settled once more. I am now in Sydney and my love of reading is back with a vengeance. As such, so am I. I started listening to The Cuckoo’s Calling earlier this year as an Audible audiobook. My commutes weren’t very long and I wasn’t spending much time in my car, and my attention in the opening parts of the story waned significantly. Quite recently, with the release of The Silkworm and my new one hour each way commute, I decided to give it another go. And, predictably, I’m glad that I did.
Cormoran Strike is ex-military and living in London, barely making ends meet running his own private detective agency. In addition to being short of customers, Strike’s love life is in a mess — his on again, off again girlfriend Charlotte has finally ended their 16-year relationship. Finding himself both broke and homeless, Strike has taken up residence in his office. The tenuous financial situation is made worse when Robin Ellacott, a secretary sent from a temp agency, arrives at Strike’s door. When John Bristow, the brother of a now-deceased childhood friend of Strike’s, walks into the office and offers to hire Strike to investigate the death of his adopted sister, Strike’s desperation makes the decision an easy one to make. Lula Landry, Bristow’s adopted sister and supermodel, fell to her death from her apartment balcony months prior, and the investigation ruled it a suicide. Bristow isn’t convinced, and Strike accepts the case.
What follows is a wonderfully crafted, character-driven adventure into the ritzy world of London’s upper class. Beyond the expensive clothes and glamorous parties lurks a dark side to the people surrounding Lula in her final days. From her wealthy but unhappy neighbours Tansy and Freddy Bestigui to fellow supermodel friend Ciara Porter and makeup artist Bryony Radford, everyone has their own take on what happened to Lula, and everyone has their own secrets to hide while talking to Strike about Lula’s last days.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is a fresh take on the classic mystery novel structure. Lula is killed months prior to the start of the novel, and a second victim doesn’t appear until the story is almost over. The long middle section is almost entirely made up of conversations between Strike and various supporting characters, all of whom help to build a vivid picture of the deceased supermodel. Such characterisation of a dead person is rare in modern mystery and crime fiction — a victim is often investigated to a certain extent to give context to the story and not much further. But Lula is depicted to the point where one may be forgiven for forgetting she is in fact dead, and not a living character.
The whole novel has a very Agatha Christie-esque feel about it, save for the smattering of F and C words. While sometimes it feels as though not much is happening, a lot is, in fact, happening. This in itself may make it a difficult novel for fans of the crime and mystery genre as it stands today. There’s no technical forensic work explained and no rapidly increasing body count. In the dialogue, readers can find endless clues and red herrings that, if synthesised, could lead readers to uncover the ending before it arrives. Perhaps this is my main complaint with The Cuckoo’s Calling — the slow and steady journey to the end is hastily wrapped up with a resolution that, once delivered, is fairly obvious. It is the journey, not the ending, that makes the reading experience worthwhile. A smaller complaint, without revealing too much, is the occasional awkward sexual tension between Robin and Strike. Robin, ostensibly meek and timid, is attractive to Strike, and I’m plenty over the self-deprecating attitude of reserved yet sexually alluring female characters. Robin’s engagement to partner Matthew should be enough to deter any connotation of sexual tension — indeed, it is almost entirely unnecessary.
At times, it is obvious that The Cuckoo’s Calling is the author’s first foray into the crime genre. Despite this I found myself feverishly devouring the second half of The Cuckoo’s Calling and immediately picking up Strike and Robin’s second instalment, The Silkworm. And it too is very, very good.