Cormoran Strike is the one-legged (his prosthetic limb works just fine, thank you) love child of a rock star and a drug addicted groupie. He is also former military policeman; actually he was investigator for the British Army’s Royal Military Police Special Investigation Division, and now is a private detective. But like many a protagonist in these kinds of novels, his life and his career are not going so well. He has been kicked out of his place by his on-again, off-again girlfriend and is sleeping on a cot in his shabby little office. Yet he has somehow managed to hire a temp to act as his secretar; this is the redoubtable Robin.
In the book The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” (otherwise known as J.K. Rowling, the mega successful author of the Harry Potter novels), Strike is hired by supermodel Lula Landry’s brother, John Landry, to look into Lula’s apparent suicide. Strike thinks this easy money, since the poor girl was in a bad relationship, had other troubles and was alone when she seemingly jumped from her high rise apartment balcony.
However, not all is as it seems as Strike with the supernaturally loyal temp, Robin, at his side do the full grind on the investigation. Going through Lula’s life one person and one relationship at a time, the two move around, in and through a world of lawyers, artists, musicians and frauds, all of whom think that they and their lives are the center of the universe.
The book is slowly and carefully paced. Cormoran Strike is methodical, to say the least, and obsessive compulsive to say the most. He leaves no stone unturned, no feather unruffled as he digs into the supermodel’s life and death. All the while Robin the temp is right at his side, Watson to his Sherlock Holmes, or perhaps Sancho Panza to his Don Quixote.
Detective novels rise and fall on their heroes (or anti-heroes), their unique voices and the reality of the situation they find themselves in. Sadly, Strike is mostly boring and pathetic; he is strictly damaged goods and has not one interesting thing to say in the whole darn book. Nor does the situation ring very true either.
Strike’s relationships are as uninspired and pathetic as the rest of his life. Although its seems like Rowling is trying for social comedy and social commentary, like the better works of Robert B. Parker, or Joe R. Lansdale, she falls measurably short in both the comedy and the commentary.
If The Cuckoo’s Call is the best that Rowling can manage after Harry Potter, well it is better that she should have just rested on her laurels and collected her fat royalty checks. But instead she has inflicted what will no doubt be a best seller and the start of a series on an unsuspecting reading public. Over the course of her career, Rowling has lost the art of producing the simple declarative sentence. In this book, she rambles, the characters ramble, the situation rambles and all of that leads to basically nowhere.