Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling

There may be some spoilers here, so don't read this if you want to be surprised about anything that happens in the book. 

Finished reading J K Rowling's The Cuckoo's Calling a couple of days ago, and was impressed with the complexity of the plotting and strong characterizations.  Rowling, who wrote it under the name of Robert Galbraith, and was 'outed' when someone in the know leaked the news to the press, had intended attempting to publish without all the hoopla that's leftover from the Harry Potter days. It wasn't to be. Of course it makes a difference to your reading of the book, knowing that Rowling is the author, but it doesn't detract from the book's merits, which are many.

Of course it's much tougher and grittier than the Potter books ever could be, even though they became increasingly violent as time went on. In fact, Cuckoo's Calling is actually less violent than the last book in the Potter series - there are 'only' two deaths - and neither of these really takes place onstage, as it were.  The biggest difference is that this is an adult world, with no children, and some of the adults are into behaviour that wouldn't have appeared in a children's book. And the language coming out of the characters' mouths was mercifully missing from the Potter series.  No Ron Weasley 'bloody hells' here.

The things that Rowling does well here might be expected from her previous books: the complexity of the plot is certainly satisfying, and we're kept guessing as more and more red herrings crop up and more and more people get in the way of a straightforward solution.  The characters are well able to hold their own alongside those in the Potter books, and have more depth and detail.  Even characters that appear to be cut out for villainous roles don't always turn out to be what we expect, and minor characters - as they did in the Potter series -have as much life and substance as those who take leading roles. 

The book is long - well over 400 pages in a large format copy - but never slow. Occasionally you might feel you don't need to be reminded yet again of the main character's artificial leg (though it does play a fairly important role in the proceedings) or of his off-stage love life, and there are one or two conversations that might have been pared down. Still what is expressed is well expressed: the characters have distinct voices. Only once or twice do they appear to have come from a cut-out character book. 

London appears in all its grime and glory, and Rowling is strong on defining the differences between one locale and another.  We never feel this is a tourist version of London: it's a place where millions of people of varying backgrounds have their homes, from utter wealth to considerable poverty, and she takes us into the range.  The main character spends a good deal of time taking buses and tubes - in spite of his artificial leg.  Partly this is because he can't afford taxis (he does very occasionally), but knowing how slow a job it can be getting around London, I felt strongly for him. 

It sounds like there'll be more books using the same main character.  The inventiveness in this one promises that the next (and the next) will be worth reading.

Incidentally, the cover shown above is not the one on the version I'm reading. While the one above has a classy modern feel, the one on my copy seems a little dated, and almost has nothing to do with the story.
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