CBR12 BINGO: Book Club
Under normal circumstances, I’d be spending a good chunk of my Saturdays volunteering at the zoo. Obviously, that isn’t happening right now, because pandemic. One consequence of that is I haven’t been able to see much of the other volunteers that I frequently spend my Saturdays with, except for a couple of Zoom meetings. I made a casual suggestion that we could form a book club; one person got excited and ran with it, and we ended up with a small group to help me fill another BINGO square.
We decided to keep it light (because, again, pandemic) and start off with something that another volunteer assured us would be fun. I reserved The Cuckoo’s Calling from my local library, and when I picked it up, I was somewhat skeptical. Reading the dust jacket, I thought, “I would never have selected this book on my own.” I knew that Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, and while I consider Rowling to be a fine storyteller, I was uncertain she could pull off hard-boiled detective. For that matter, I was uncertain I even wanted to read about a hard-boiled detective. I do have a soft spot for Noir, but that charm largely rests on the shoulders of Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and fedoras. A modern-day detective, home from Aghanistan, having lost half his leg to a landmine. . . it didn’t necessarily sound like it was up my alley.
My attitude changed within the first 18 pages. I’m not even sure how it happened. I suppose I should summarize the story: A world-famous model named Lula Landry falls from her third-story window and is killed. Everyone believes it to be suicide except Lula’s adoptive brother John, who seeks help from the aforementioned one-legged detective, Cormoran Strike. Strike has just broken up with his fiancé, is living in his office, and is fending off creditors. Fairly typical for this type of story, he takes the case even though he believes John is delusional, because he needs the money. The case leads our scruffy man into the world of the obscenely rich and the intensely famous. Affairs, blackmail, false friends, and gold diggers abound. Things happen. He solves the case.
I’m being a bit flippant about the story, because while all that was much more interesting than I am giving it credit for, I simply could not get enough of Cormoran Strike or his assistant Robin Ellacott (sent, to Strike’s immense good luck, by a temporary agency). Galbraith/Rowling spins his/her usual magic by making me so invested in the characters that she could throw any sort of nonsense at the mystery and as long as the characters were being human, flawed, immensely likable, and slightly vulnerable, I’d eat it up. She could have included a Time-Turner in this mystery and I’ve just gone with it.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first non-Harry Potter novel of Rowling’s that I’ve read, and I have to note that it surprised me on another level. I’ve commented that I think Rowling is a good “storyteller;” perhaps I’m being a snob by declining to call her a great writer. But the language in this book, while not what I’d call “elevated,” is certainly more adult and textured than in her most famous series. In one beautiful passage, Strike imagines Lula’s death: “The seconds it took her to fall through the air towards the concrete, smothered in its deceptively soft covering of snow, must have seemed to last an eternity. She had flailed, trying to find handholds in the merciless empty air: and then, without time to make amends, to explain, to bequeath or to apologize, without any of the luxuries permitted those who are given notice of their impending demise, she had broken on the road.”
When I finished The Cuckoo’s Calling, I felt two things: sadness that I had rushed through it so quickly (the same feeling I got when I speed-read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows); and relief that there are three more novels waiting in the wings for me to read, with a fourth due out in September.
In summary, my book club friend was right. This novel was fun, and just what I needed to cure the pandemic blues.