‘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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Oh, no! Not another series! But this one’s pretty good

A Duty to the Dead, Charles Todd. (William Morrow, 2009)

Another series? When I already have way too many series going (80, according to FictFact.com, and who ever thought that was a good idea, tracking series)? What can I say? I am helpless before the mighty ebook sale tsunami!

Alas, this series of mysteries featuring World War I nurse Bess Crawford was worth breaking all my self-imposed rules for. The first book finds Bess, home on convalescent leave after the hospital ship she served on was sunk at sea, traveling to Kent to deliver a deathbed message to the family of a soldier who died under her care. While there, she manages to get tangled in a decades-old murder mystery. As one does, apparently, when one is a spunky WWI nurse with a heart of gold and a brain of … steel (trap)? Whatever.

I liked that this series defied some of the typical conventions. Perhaps Bess is a bit too spunky for the times, but her family (including her highly respected military dad) cautiously encourages her free spirit to a remarkable extent. That’s refreshing, as is the near-total lack of a romantic entanglement for Bess, who while no raving beauty is apparently not a complete “antidote” (yes, I’ve been reading too much Georgette Heyer lately).

Will I continue with the series? Oh sure, why not? I liked Bess and I liked her dad and his faithful batman. I’m curious to know what she gets up to next. It’s a helluva thing when an English nurse has to worry more about the murderous deeds of her fellow countrymen than those blasted Germans, though.