Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling

I read “The Cuckoo’s Calling” a few months ago, and I wanted to write a review of it immediately. Then the most difficult semester of my collegiate life began, and I had no time to do anything other than study, do homework, go to work, and occasionally sleep. Luckily, I survived the semester, so I finally had some free time to write the review.

MINOR SPOILER WARNING: If you have not read “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” this review may reveal a few spoilers, but I promise not to spoil the ending or any major plot twists.

Several months ago a mystery novel was released by an unheard of British author named Robert Galbraith. This novel was called “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” and it received rave reviews. Many critics remarked that it was amazing how this author could write such a well-written piece on his very first published novel. Of course, not long after the novel gained some recognition and people started doing some digging, it was revealed that Robert Galbraith was in fact J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. At the time that this was revealed, I was in search of a new book to read, and being a huge fan of the Harry Potter books, I immediately went out and bought the book and read it.

As I was reading the book, I noticed some subtle things that seemed reminiscent of the Harry Potter novels. Obviously, the universe of the book and the themes were very different, but the way that Rowling described scenery and just subtle stylistic things like that seemed familiar. However, I doubt that I would have made the connection if I had read the book without knowing that Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling.

Rowling uses an interesting storytelling technique in “The Cuckoo’s Calling.” The book essentially has two main characters each with their own story, and the reader switches between the two characters points of view throughout the book. The two main characters are Cormoran Strike, a private investigator in London who is also a military veteran with a prosthetic leg, and Robin Ellacott, a young, newly engaged woman who is assigned to be Strike’s secretary by a temp agency. Strike’s story is not only about solving a murder, but he is also dealing with getting over a break up, essentially being homeless, and having no money. Robin’s story is mostly about trying to help Strike with the murder investigation, the struggle between her need of a stable job and her love of working for a private detective, as well as being new to London having recently moved in with her fiance.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot of the novel, but I will say that Strike is hired to investigate an apparent suicide of a famous super model. The investigation also has some connections to Strike’s childhood and the reader learns little bits and pieces about his past throughout the novel. As far as the murder mystery goes, I thought that it was one of the best I’ve ever read. I’m usually pretty good at predicting things like this, and I never would have guessed who the murderer was. I also really enjoyed Robin’s story. She loves working for a private investigator, but she was only assigned there temporarily. Plus, she has other more stable and better paying job opportunities. And even if Strike wanted to hire her long-term, she knows that he can’t afford to pay her a competitive salary. I think a lot of people in their mid-twenties would identify with her struggle between doing something she enjoys and doing something that would pay the bills.

I actually think that “The Cuckoo’s Calling” set up some characters that could work well in a series of novels. This would of course be very different from the Harry Potter series that had a definite finish line. Rowling could just write as many sequels as she wanted to write (a la Sherlock Holmes). There are an endless number of cases that Strike could be hired to investigate, and I think I would like to know more about these characters. For example, I would love to hear more about Strike’s past. If Rowling were to write a sequel, I also think Robin’s fiance (who had a pretty insignificant role in “The Cuckoo’s Calling”) could play a much larger role. I think it could be an interesting dynamic if he was the one that had to hire Strike to solve some mystery.

I really enjoyed “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” but I will say that it is not the most fast-paced book I’ve ever read. There are very few action sequences in the book, and it can feel sluggish at times. If I had to give it a rating, I would probably give it 4 out of 5 stars. Very enjoyable and a great murder mystery, but it is not the kind of book that sucked me in and made me lose all sense of time like I did when I was reading the Harry Potter books.


Book Recommendation: The Kidd Novels by John Sandford

This a re-post of one of the first things that I posted at The Nerd Machine. It’s a recommendation of a series of books that are pretty unknown. Anyway, here it is. Feel free to leave a comment below.

I’ve been trying to find a good book to read recently, and since I’m thinking about books a lot lately, I thought I would post a recommendation of a book series that doesn’t really get a lot of recognition. The book series that I am talking about is known as ‘The Kidd Novels’ by John Sandford, who is known for his much more popular ‘Prey’ series. Currently, there are four novels in the Kidd series (The Fool’s RunThe Empress FileThe Devil’s Code, and The Hanged Man’s Song), but I heard in an interview that there is a possibility of future Kidd novels.

The main character of the novels is Kidd who is a painter and computer genius. Each novel is a little different. There isn’t really an episodic format, but in each of the novels Kidd is, in some way, hired or asked to do a job that requires him to work outside of the law. For these jobs, he always enlists the help of his friend and sometimes lover LuEllen, who is a professional cat burglar.

Originally, I was attracted to these novels just from the computer/tech/hacking aspect of the stories. I am currently a grad student pursuing an MS in Computer Science, and around the time that I first discovered these novels, I was just starting to figure out that Computer Science was the field that I wanted to pursue. At that time, I was devouring any book, movie, TV show, etc. that had anything to do with computers. But, I think the real reason that I got hooked on these novels is the same reason that I love shows like Firefly and Leverage (btw if you haven’t seen Leverage, check it out). The reason that I think people connect with shows like that is because the “heroes” of the show aren’t perfect heroes that wear a white hat and are always working for the forces of good. They are just people that have a good heart, but they aren’t afraid to do things outside of the law and work in the shadows.

Kidd is a lot like this. He is deep down a good person, but his main priority is looking out for himself and making sure he has enough money to live how he wants to live. Much like Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly, Kidd has no objections to taking a job that requires him to break the law. Continuing with the Firefly comparison, if Kidd’s personality is most like Mal, then LuEllen would be similar to Jayne. She not only has no problem breaking the law; she seems to enjoy it. Although she isn’t an evil person, she doesn’t quite have the same moral compass that Kidd has.

If you enjoy mystery or thriller novels, I would strongly recommend the Kidd novels by John Sandford. The first novel in the series is called The Fool’s Run.