‘Cuckoo’ takes flight without a wizard in sight

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Gailbraith. (Little, Brown and Company, 2013)

This one almost slipped past me. I knew, of course, that J.K. Rowling had written a detective novel for adults under a pen name, but all I remember reading about it was that fact; there must have been reviews of the book as a book and not a publishing phenomenon but I don’t remember reading any. But if you hang around LibraryThing or any other group of avid readers, you know how it goes: Listen to enough people talking about what they’re reading and eventually all those positive comments start to accumulate even in an overstuffed brain like mine. Off to the library!

And you know what? I’m glad I listened to all of you, because this one is pretty darn good. Cormoran Strike is a former war hero-turned-private detective, down to one leg and down on his luck, when a rich client comes to him with an impossible case: Prove that the death of his sister, a world-famous model, was murder and not suicide. Even Strike doesn’t believe it’s true, but he needs the money and brother John is willing to pay. And a funny thing happens on the way to a no-hoper payday: Strike starts to think brother dear is right.

Strike is no Sherlock Holmes. There are no wild “aren’t I clever” flights of deductive genius on display, just dogged determination and a tenuous sense for who’s not telling the whole truth. Temp secretary Robin ably plays non-Watson to Strike’s non-Holmes, with parts of the book told from her point of view. Galbraith/Rowling portrays Strike as a bit of a sad sack, reduced to sleeping in his office when he breaks up with his rich girlfriend, but somehow makes him an appealing sack for all of that. I’ve already put myself on the holds list the library for the second in the series, The Silkworm.

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