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Sister Mary Murderous

Favorite genres are traditional mystery, police procedurals, espionage, Eurocrime, literary fiction and nonfiction history, especially WW2 and Cold War.  I write about crime fiction at Read Me Deadly (www.readmedeadly.com)

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith Cormoran Strike, illegitimate son of a famous 70s rocker, veteran of the Afghan conflict who lost part of a leg there, is camping out in his office at his private detective agency. It's quiet there, since he has only one client, but there is plenty of mail and telephone contact, what with all the creditors dunning him.

Cormoran is camping out in his office because he's finally broken things off with his fiancée, Charlotte, with whom he's always had a volatile relationship. The black eye she left him with as a parting gift evidences that. Cormoran and Charlotte were always an odd couple anyway; she with her classic good looks and upper crust background, and he with a OD'd groupie mother and the physique of a rugby player or club bouncer.

Speaking of bouncing, that's what Cormoran does when he rushes out of his office one morning and slams straight into Robin Ellacott, his new temp-agency secretary. Despite that violent introduction, Cormoran's battered face and the sleeping bag and camp bed in his office, Robin wants to stay on the job rather than get a permanent--and better paying--position.

Robin is intrigued by the idea of detective work, all the more so when, on her very first day, Cormoran's client ranks double. The new client is the brother of supermodel Lula Landry, who fell to her death from her Mayfair penthouse. The police concluded that her death was a suicide, but her brother is convinced otherwise. And, as Cormoran and his (new) trusty sidekick, Robin, investigate, they come around to the same point of view.

The investigation takes the pair into the hothouse world of the super-rich: models, designers, musicians, actors, film producers and many, many hangers-on. It's a world of such constant and casual falsity that it's hard to find out what really happened in the last days of Lula's life. Her family life is another rich vein of users and liars. But Cormoran and Robin are doggedly persistent, peeling off the layers of lies until the sad and ugly truth is finally revealed.

By now, everyone knows that "Robert Galbraith" is really J. K. Rowling. I picked up the book because I wanted to see how she'd do with my favorite genre, British mystery, but I quickly forgot all about that as I became engrossed in this story, and especially the principal characters. Cormoran and Robin are thoroughly developed and engaging personalities. Their personal stories unwind throughout the book, and I was left hoping to meet them again in a future book.

Would I have guessed the book was written by J. K. Rowling? I suppose the protagonist's name, "Cormoran," the same as a folkloric Cornish giant, should have been a clue to the author's identity, since Rowling is so well-known for her cleverness in naming characters. But that's about the only clue I might have noticed. Otherwise, it just seemed like a well-written British detective story; somewhat similar in style to writers like Reginald Hill and Peter Lovesey. My only significant criticism is that it bogged down at times, and it could have lost about 10-20% of those 464 pages to tighten it up. In particular, the solution to the whodunnit was so complex that it required too much exposition. I would like to see something more toward the "fair play" style of mystery, and I think Rowling is capable of that.

Recommended for fans of traditional British detective stories translated to the present.