I read JK Rowling’s first adult crime novel written as Robert Galbraith earlier this year and was impressed. I thought “The Cuckoo’s Calling” (2013) was highly entertaining and had a generous helping of humour and warmth alongside the crime. I liked the relationship between dogged private detective Cormoran Strike and his PA, Robin, and felt the whole thing seemed plausible and very real.
“The Silkworm” feels like a bigger novel, in terms of size; in its nod towards Jacobean revenge tragedies; with its literary quotes and setting in the world of publishing and literary fiction and in its more lurid, darker crime. I so wanted to like it as much as its predecessor but for me it fell a little short. Perhaps this was inevitable. I’d always felt the debut Harry Potter novel was better than the follow-ups and with “The Silkworm”, Rowling as Galbraith falls into the same trap as Rowling as Rowling as the pace falters due to the length of the novel. Both “The Philosopher’s Stone”and “Cuckoo’s Calling” are tightly written little gems but with “The Silkworm” as in the later Hogwarts epics my attention wandered.
Author Owen Quine disappears after his latest book which attacks his so called friends and colleagues is being touted to publishers by his agent. Is the whole thing some kind of publicity stunt or is something much darker about to happen? Cormoran Strike, asked by the author’s wife to locate him seems more in control here, fuelled by the success of the case in “The Cuckoo’s Calling” which has brought him greater kudos as a private detective and a continuing difficult relationship with the Police. Strike has favours he can call in and with Robin still motivated to find out as much as she can abut detective work the reader is confident Strike will solve the crime before the authorities.
Like “The Cuckoo’s Calling” the case is involving and well-plotted but Galbraith here takes a little too long to get to the solution, there’s a few too many meetings with suspects and the literary analysis of the work causing the disappearance makes the book feel not as plausible as last time round and slightly irritated me. It is no means a failure but now the characters have been established I was expecting a real cracker of a novel and that Galbraith would have me eating out of his/her hand but it didn’t quite live up to my high expectations.
The Silkworm was published by Sphere in 2014
A lot of people read this novel on publication assuming Galbraith was a debut novelist and word of mouth about this exciting new talent grew, ensuring it sold well. Then, it was revealed that Galbraith was none other than JK Rowling dipping a toe into the murky waters of adult crime fiction and sales exploded. With hindsight, there is in its focus on the relationship between characters and its awareness of popular culture and celebrity enough to suggest a female author at work, but then the main character is so well drawn with an awareness of the foibles and shortcomings of the male species that it feels like he must have been created by another man, so the subterfuge was convincing.
Cormoran Strike is certainly a larger than life character whose vitality is central to the success of this novel. He is the result of a rock star’s fling with a supergroupie. Following army service in Afghanistan, where he lost a leg he has given up his military career and become a fairly unsuccessful private detective. He’s physically large, known to his acquaintances by a range of nicknames, is failing in a relationship with a woman better looking than he thinks appropriate and is struggling to cope with the ramifications of that relationship’s demise. Into this comes a temporary secretary, Robin, and a case concerning the death of a model which just might enable Strike to make his mark.
“The Cuckoo’s Calling” is a rich, highly entertaining novel which given its crime tag has more than its fair share of humour and warmth. The relationship between Cormoran and Robin, the employer whose life is in tatters and the employee who steadfastly attempts to ignore her boss’ shortcomings whilst finding herself drawn into his investigation is very strong and demands further adventures. The case is well-thought out and keeps the reader guessing. Rowling has spent many years now in the privileged realm of the multi-millionaire world renowned author yet her down at heel detective and the world he inhabits feels plausible and very real. True, there is a lot of wealth in the case with paparazzi, fashion designers and the super-rich all playing their part but throughout I was rooting for the so likeable but so often unappealing Cormoran Strike.
The Cuckoo’s Calling was published by Sphere in 2013
I have read the Harry Potter series and do think that the “Philosopher’s Stone” is a superb example of children’s literature with another three of the series (“Prisoner of Azbakan”, “Goblet of Fire” and “Order Of The Phoenix”) being almost as good. I was teaching in 1997 when the first book came out and in all my years had never before experienced how this tale of the young wizard Harry Potter spread. There didn’t seem to be a huge publicity push in the beginning , it was all word of mouth. Children were coming to school clutching a copy saying “this is the best book I’ve ever read” and eager to get others to read it. In my years of teaching I never experienced anything like that and that was within a few months of publication, before it started to win awards or before any films were up for consideration. With social media nowadays, things are able to spread like wildfire, but back in those primitive days of the mid 90’s such a thing was unusual- especially in children’s fiction.
Which brings me on to… “Beedle The Bard”, this is a slim volume written for charity and it has taken me quite a few years to get round to it. I like the idea of a collection of five fairy tales originally penned by “the bard” in the fifteenth century. These are stories that would be well known by the characters in “Harry Potter”. They have elements of Potter-like magic and (here is the original touch I very much like) come with a commentary by Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, who gives a wizards-eye view and explains things for us Muggles. It’s nicely executed. I had always thought it would be a bit of a throwaway book but it shows Rowling’s intelligence as a writer, her good sense of literary traditions and a real flair for story-telling. I was left wanting more. Not quite up there with the best of the Harry Potters but very enjoyable nonetheless.