Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘JK Rowling’

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith


Like the rest of the world, I was very excited when it became known that JK Rowling was writing books for adults. I read The Casual Vacancy about a year ago, but a year later all I remember was that it was okay…with a lot of characters to keep track of.  The Cuckoo’s Calling, however, has one strong main character, good supporting characters and an interesting story.

The main character in The Cuckoo’s Calling is Cormoran Strike, a private detective whose business is failing. Strike’s creditors are circling and the love of his life has kicked him out of her home, leaving him sleeping on a camp bed in his office and showering at a local gym.

When a temp agency erroneously sends him a secretary, Robin, Strike is too embarrassed to send her away, even though he hasn’t had an business-related email or phone call in weeks.

Luckily, John Bristow, who was the brother of an old school friend of Strike’s, employs Strike to investigate John’s sister’s death. (Luckily for Strike I mean, not the victim. Not that it matters though, the victim is a made up character for the book. You know what I mean). Bristow’s sister was a supermodel known as Lula Landry, who died when she fell from a balcony. Lula’s death was officially recorded as a suicide, but Bristow believes Lula was murdered.

The story is told in chapters which move back and forwards between Strike and Robin’s viewpoints. Strike is a former soldier with only one leg. Despite Strike having the face of a boxer, pube-like hair (the author’s description, not mine), overweight and a smoker, he comes across as surprisingly attractive. There is also an undercurrent of an attraction between Strike and Robin, although maybe this is more on Strike’s side than Robin’s. Strike certainly admits to himself he is in an emotionally vulnerable state after his recent break up.

Robin is thrilled to be working in a detective agency, which I can well understand. (Images of seedy but glamorous pulp fiction book covers are racing through my head right now. I can picture myself in an emerald green evening dress – I’m five – no, ten kilos lighter in my imagination – holding a handgun on a criminal who looks just like James Bond – the Sean Connery version of course – who I’ve just caught stealing secrets from the government or something. Working in a detective agency would be the most exciting… whoops, I got a little carried away there. I’d better get back to the review…)

Robin is a good secretary, empathetic and smart. I liked her character very much and hope that in future novels she evolves further. In this story, Robin was newly engaged, and spent a lot of time admiring her engagement ring in an unsustainably happy state. As we all know, that can’t last forever, but I’m sure she has more to offer. She certainly didn’t like being left behind in the office while Strike got to do the investigating, but maybe if Robin makes it into the next book she can wear that glamorous green dress of her own).

Strike’s investigations find that the Bristow family was (and is) dysfunctional, (although aren’t all families?). Lula, John and Charlie Bristow, who Strike was friends with in childhood, were all adopted by Sir Alec and Lady Yvonne Bristow. Lady Bristow is now dying of ovarian cancer. John works in the family law firm with his uncle, who holds most of the family Bristow in fairly low esteem. There are a number of potential murderers, from Lula’s no good boyfriend, her junkie friends, fellow supermodel and celebrity designers, family members and wannabees, who are desperate to be rich and famous too.

The story moves along quickly and provides enticing glimpses into the lives of the beautiful, rich and famous. There is one thing about the story that really annoyed me which I want to have a whinge about but can’t as it is a massive spoiler, but regardless, I would read more novels in this series and by this author, even if the author was the unknown “Robert Galbraith”.










The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling


Everyone I have spoken to about The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling has told me how much they have hated this book. Some people said the story was too slow, or there were too many characters or that they just couldn’t get interested in it. Someone said that they didn’t like The Casual Vacancy because they wanted Harry Potter and Ron and Hermoine to be involved and of course, they weren’t.

I quite enjoyed the Harry Potter books, although the movies didn’t really grab me. As a reader, I nearly always enjoy a book more than a movie based on the same book. Brokeback Mountain is the only movie I can think of at the moment that I’ve preferred to the book.

I also struggled (at first) to become interested in The Casual Vacancy. There are a lot of characters whose lives are entwined and it wasn’t until I was a bit more than half way through the story that I didn’t have to actively try to place each character’s when the viewpoint changed.

The story starts with the death of a man who held a place on the local council in the English town of Pagford, leaving what is known as a ‘casual vacancy’. Almost as soon as the news of his death becomes known, jockeying for position begins amongst the remaining councillors and other townspeople, to promote their own agendas. The most controversial issue is that of the Fields, a housing estate where the poorest people in the Pagford community live. Some of the councillors would like to hand the Fields, with its drug addicts and criminals, over to a neighbouring town to administrate. This change would also remove children from the Fields from Pagford’s schools, particularly Krystal Weedon, the high school aged daughter of a drug addicted prostitute.

Barry Fairbrother, the man whose death brings about this story, was a generous, popular do-gooder who had himself come from the Fields. He and Krystal Weedon are the true heroes of this story.

Whole generations of families feature as characters in this book. They include teachers and doctors, social workers and local business people. Some are wife beaters and others are victims. Some are middle aged women looking for their youth. I enjoyed reading the stories about the teenage characters most of all, (I’m not sure if this is a true or a biased opinion on my part, since JK Rowling is best known for her teenage characters from the Harry Potter books).

All of the characters (except Barry, who died) are miserable, some with good reason. Most of the characters also had secrets or agendas they wanted to hide, some emerging as the story is told. By the time I was three quarters of the way through the book I felt very involved in some of the character’s lives and struggles and wanted better things for them, particularly Krystal. Others were just annoying, and I wanted to tell them to grow up and to appreciate what they had.

I would read another book for adults by JK Rowling, although I would appreciate an editor removing more of the boring bits and anything that doesn’t move the story along.



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