JK Rowling’s writing has improved noticeably from the first Harry Potter books. I haven’t read The Casual Vacancy yet, both because the story doesn’t appeal to me and it’s received a generally lukewarm reception, so it came as a bit of a shock to see her writing about sex and characters who use foul language. It’s almost like hearing my mother use those words.
But, once you get passed that (assuming that, like me, that’s something you even have to get passed), this is a fairly engaging series with characters that are both memorable and likable.
That they are mysteries is, to me, the least surprising thing here. The Harry Potter books are, at their core, all mysteries. There’s always some big revelation that the characters have to uncover. It’s just typically enshrouded in so much fantasy and characterization that we don’t typically think of them as fitting in that genre. I think this is Rowling’s natural home.
These books aren’t ground-breaking, and they follow a pretty simple and familiar formula: there’s a murder that the police are ill-prepared to deal with. The family reaches out to Cormoran Strike, a surly private detective with personal demons and a checkered past who’s struggling to keep his business afloat.
The mysteries are handled fairly deftly, with the winding paths to the reveal not being too circuitous, or the climax feeling too rushed – both of which, I think, are frequent problems with the genre.
Rowling once against proves that world building and characterization are her strongest assets, and she plays to her strengths marvelously. Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are both interesting characters, and they complement one another very well. The London of these books is exactly what you want in a mystery series: mist shrouded, rain soaked, and haunted by unsolved murders.
I don’t really have a lot to say against the series, but I had a couple problems with Career of Evil. A great deal of time is spent laying out the evidence against the three people from Strike’s past, but the ultimate reveal seemed a bit of an afterthought. I’m still not entirely sure I got what happened. I mean I understood it, but (major SPOILERS)I don’t really remember the person Lang was pretending to be, or the scene referenced that allowed Strike to solve the mystery. A re-read may be in order down the road. Also (more major SPOILERS) why the hell did Robin marry that douche-nozzel Matthew? Ugh. I feel like I’m watching the first couple seasons of Castle (or The Office. Or Friends. Or a million other shows.). We all want Robin and Cormoran to get together – quit dragging it out, already.
I will always cherish Harry Potter, and return to that world as often as I am able, but I don’t think I’ll ever reconcile myself to Rowling’s refusal to give us more novels in the Potter-verse. If she can’t do that, however, I’ll settle for more Cormoran Strike novels with the recognition that this series will never surpass the former. Still, I can’t recommend this series enough (even if my review is fairly short).
The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013) 4.5 stars (3.81/21 reviews)
The Silkworm (2014) -5 stars (3.92/15)
Career of Evil (2015) -4 stars (4.13/8)