The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

When the detective is more complicated than the plot…

😀 😀 😀 😀

The Cuckoo's CallingWhen supermodel Lulu Landry falls to her death from her apartment window, the police put it down to suicide. She had been seen earlier that evening having a big bust-up with her boyfriend. But her brother, John Bristow, doesn’t believe that verdict – he’s convinced that Lulu was murdered. So he seeks the help of Cormoran Strike, ex-military man and not very successful private detective, to investigate.

Strike has a complicated family and backstory, clearly designed to be a recurring detective in a long-running series, as of course he has indeed become. Son of a hippy groupie mother and a rockstar father, with a parcel of half-siblings on his father’s side with whom he has very little contact and one half-sibling on his mother’s side to whom he’s close, when we first meet him he is in the middle of a messy break-up with his long-term fiancée which leaves him homeless and sleeping in his office. Add to this his background as a military veteran who lost a leg when his vehicle was bombed, and, as I said, complicated. All of this complication may be why the book is ridiculously overlong. (FF muses: Poirot just came from Belgium – that was enough, wasn’t it? Miss Marple has even less backstory. And yet Agatha Christie books have been selling for a century. I wonder if readers in 2121 will still be reading about Cormoran Strike.)

Lulu Landry has an equally complicated background which we learn about at equal length. The adopted mixed race daughter of white parents, her beauty has made her rich and famous but not necessarily happy. Her boyfriend is perpetually drunk or high on drugs and the two regularly have spectacular rows. Her brother, also adopted, seems to love her to an unhealthy degree. Her adoptive mother, who seems to have treated Lulu like a pretty doll, is now dying of cancer. But there’s no real reason why Lulu would have committed suicide on this particular night – in fact, it seems highly unlikely. Just as well the police were so easily satisfied, though, or there would have been no case for Strike to investigate, I suppose!

Robert Galbraith
Robert Galbraith

Strike is assisted in his investigation by his new temporary secretary, Robin, who has secretly always wanted to be a private detective and discovers to her own delight and Strike’s surprise that she has something of a talent for the work. Soon she’s out from behind her typewriter, joining in on the action. Fortunately she finds Strike’s habit of descending into drunken maudlin self-pity more endearing than I did, and soon becomes a kind of emotional prop to him along with all her other skills.

I feel I’m being unfairly negative about the book. In fact, I quite enjoyed reading it. Galbraith’s writing style has an easy flow to it which keeps those pages turning even when there’s a lot of repetition and extraneous padding. I could have lived without the constant unnecessary swearing, which I assume Galbraith throws in to show she can write for adults as well as children. I’m pretty sure that in fact children would appreciate the foul-mouthery far more than this adult did. But otherwise I found it very readable, easy on the brain and, sadly, almost instantly forgettable. I wouldn’t refuse to read another in the series, but I won’t be rushing out to acquire them either, especially since I believe they actually increase in length as they go on, with the latest one coming in at a frankly ludicrous 944 pages. They would have to be chocolate pages to tempt me to pick that one up!

People's Choice LogoBook 5 of 12

This was the People’s Choice winner for May. A reasonably enjoyable read, and I’m happy it’s off my TBR – so a win! Thanks to all who voted. 😀

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58 thoughts on “The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

  1. This series has made for some good Sunday night TV, although the last instalment, based on this book, lost its way somewhat. Only someone with the clout of Galbraith (aka Ms. Rowling) could get away with 944 pages!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve never watched the TV version – I seem to have fallen completely out of the habit of watching TV. But I can imagine that Strike and Robin would make a good TV pairing. Yes, I suppose it must be hard for an editor to control someone as successful as Rowling!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I find this series very forgettable. Sure, there are some good parts, but all the books are too long for the story they tell. It’s very surprising that these books are written by Rowling. They seem so lifeless compared to the Harry Potter books.

    I think the TV series is better than the books.

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    • Far too long. I loved the Harry Potter books too, although even with them the last two or three were getting to be very bloated. I suppose as an author becomes so successful, it’s hard for editors to tell them what to do, but I wish someone would get Rowling to re-learn how to be concise! 😉

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  3. That’s the thing, FictionFan. A book can be enjoyable, but also completely forgettable. And my experience, for what it’s worth, has been that a lot of extra padding makes a book more forgettable. There are so many details that it’s hard to focus, if I can put it that way. This is just me, but I can’t think of many books that need to be over 900 pages. You make an interesting point about the swearing, too. That, for me anyway, is a delicate balance. I don’t mind some rough language, I use it in my own writing when it feels right for a character. But if it doesn’t fall out naturally, that’s when I notice it and don’t tend to like it.

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    • I agree, Margot – the more padded a book is, the less memorable the plot tends to be. I actually left a couple of weeks before reviewing this and honestly had pretty much forgotten the plot already, although I remembered lots of stuff about Cormoran’s life. It’s a style preference – in crime, I want the plot to take centre stage. Ha, I’m getting more curmudgeonly about swearing in books as I age! I’m turning into my mother… 😂 But there really is far too much in this one, and pretty extreme sometimes.

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  4. This book was my first outing with the author (gasp!), so I had nothing to compare it to. I agree it was quite readable, but overly long. And I think she threw in every red herring possible! It was actually Cormoran Strike that made it work for me. I just really liked his character!

    I believe you were generous with your four-smile rating. I have the second book tagged at the library, but I may never get to it.

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    • I loved the Harry Potter books but even in them the last two or three were very bloated and overlong. I did like the characters (except when Strike got drunk and self-pitying – something Poirot would never have done… 😉 ) I liked Robin though. It’s funny, I was originally going to give it five stars but by the time I’d written my review I’d changed my mind. I realised it had been enjoyable but not in any way special…

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  5. I’ve only attempted one and gave up (the last one). Too much padding and repetition for me. If the page count is anything to go by, it must get worse book by book 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hmm, Strike’s backstory sounds rather grim, why is so much contempory crime focused on the carcrash lives of their central figures rather than on the mysteries? The padding issue isn’t a new thing for Galbraith with this series, the HP books became increasingly long too, and fond as I am of them for old times sake, I’ve never felt tempted to go further with this author.

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    • I know a lot of people read crime as much for the detective’s story as for the plot, but for me the plot should be the main thing, and that’s why I’m more drawn to the vintage stuff at the moment. But even by contemporary standards, this was bloated. I agree – I loved Harry Potter but the last two or three definitely had the same length issues as this one. I guess when you’re as successful as Rowling, editors don’t stand much chance of controlling you, sadly!

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    • It’s definitely the major difference between contemporary and vintage crime – now the concentration is on the detective’s life whereas back then it was all about the plot. Even by contemporary standards this one was bloated though.

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    • Ha, I suppose a lot of crime fiction is pretty forgettable but this one seemed forgettable even as I was reading it – the plot was so thinly distributed amid the padding one needed a magnifying glass to find it… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve been delaying reading this for a few years, even after (or because of) watching the first episode or two on TV (which I actually quite enjoyed, though more for the actors). Now I’m seriously considering not bothering at all: my heart just feels heavy each time I think about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was the same – it’s been sitting on my Kindle for years and I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to read it. And now that I have, well, it was reasonably enjoyable but not enough so for me to be encouraging other people to rush out and read it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, although I found it quite enjoyable, it’s not one I’d be rushing to recommend to other people. And the length means it’s quite a time investment…

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    • I did quite enjoy it overall – she’s always very easy to read – but the sheer length of the books means I’m unlikely to read any more of them. I like my crime to be short and to the point!

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  8. I know she’s hugely successful but I wish JKRs editors would take a heavier hand with her writing – 900+ pages is ridiculous! This is one of those series I enjoy on tv but I don’t think I’ll pick up the books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know – 900 pages for a crime novel is ludicrous. nearly as long as War and Peace, and longer than most Dickens! I suppose it’s hard for editors to take a tough line with an author as successful as Rowling, but I wish they’d try harder…

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  9. There is a place for enjoyable but instantly forgetable books. (In my life at least!) But to read books of this length requires them to be something more: they need to repay the time and stamina invested. In this instance I enjoyed the tv series a lot and have no need to read the books anyway. Thank goodness!

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    • Ha, yes, a lot of crime fiction is pretty forgettable and generally I don’t mind it. But I think it’s the time investment in a book of length that makes me feel as if it should have made a more permanent mark! I haven’t seen the TV series – I seem to have lost the habit of watching TV these days – but I can see that Strike and Robin could make for a good TV ‘tec team.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve read all of the books in the series to date (yes, even the 944 page one–which actually read faster than I expected) and while I’ve found them enjoyable, I do think they’re too long, and could use some good trimmings. And I agree about the swearing! But I enjoy the interactions of the recurring characters and the way they are set at very specific points in time. If they continue to be so terribly long, however, I’ll probably not keep reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t mind the time investment in a long book if I feel it’s got a lot to say, but when it mostly feels like padding then I begin to resent it. I did enjoy reading this – she is undoubtedly a very readable writer – but it wasn’t special enough to make me want to plough through the rest of the series. And I do so wish authors would get past the stage of swearing. Poirot never swore but he still managed to solve cases… and usually in under 350 pages! 😉

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  11. I listened to the audiobook and liked it. Nothing earth shattering, but pretty solid. We know she can write. I would perhaps pick up another one, although I am put off by the increasing length of these books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would read more of them too if they were a reasonable length but I honestly didn’t feel this one was special enough to justify the time investment. I hoped this craze for ridiculously long crime novels was passing…

      Liked by 1 person

  12. You know, I read every single one of her Harry Potter books — and enjoyed them — but wading through a 900+-page tome is asking too much of this reader! Thanks for an excellent review, FF. I really don’t think you’re being too hard on her either. After all, she’s amassed great fame and fortune from writing, so she should expect to be held to a higher standard!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved the Harry Potter books too, although even with them the last two or three were becoming ridiculously long. And I enjoyed this, but not enough to justify the time investment. Sadly, the more successful writers become, the less anyone in their publishing team seems able to control them…

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  13. As someone who has enjoyed this series in the past, I agree, they’re WAY TOO LONG. It’s really just Strike and Robin’s relationship that has kept me coming back. I haven’t yet read the new one, though. The one before that dragged on too much for me, so I might have hit my limit. We’ll see! Glad you got it off your TBE, that’s satisfying.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Extraneous backstory in a 900-page novel is a mortal sin. A 900-page novel is itself both a venial sin and a reason not to open it. And if I am to understand that Robert Galbraith is a woman, I’m not surprised she took on a pseudonym for this work. Thanks for steering me clear of this, FF.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, she is not “a woman” – as Sherlock Holmes would say, she is “THE woman” – Ms JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame! I assume this is why her publishers and editor let her get away with 900-page monsters – and to be fair loads of people seem to love them. But I kept hoping a wizard would appear, wave his wand and make half the book disappear… 😉

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    • It is annoying because otherwise it was very readable – she has that easy page-turning writing style. But far too much complication in the detective’s personal story – the actual plot gets buried beneath the sheer weight of words.

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    • I’m amazed that so many people seem to love them – I can’t imagine ever being willing to read a crime novel of over 900 pages. Even Dickens rarely went that far! But I expect she’ll survive even without my custom… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  15. ha! I read this ages ago, and the only thing I remember about it was I enjoyed it at the time, but it was FAR TOO LONG. Haven’t read another in that series since-who has the time? LOL Enjoyable but forgettable, sadly.

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  16. While I love Harry Potter, I have never been in the least bit tempted to read any of Rowling’s other books! I did watch some of the TV adaptation of this and enjoyed it well enough, but one disappointed in the last one I watched, because I have figured out the villain about two episodes before the characters and I am not sure I was supposed to have! 😅

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, yes, it’s always a disappointment if the villain is too obvious! I bought a couple of her early post-HP books, including this one, but then never felt inspired to read them. I’ll read the other one I own some day, but I don’t see me rushing to acquire more.

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      • This is one author I have a bias against and so I haven’t been convinced to pick up her book. As a strong fantasy reader, her HP books just didn’t take for me, even though (because?) I read a number of them to a very keen daughter until she could read them herself. One of the problems I had was the over-written issue you mentioned. I am however very grateful that this author has enticed many adults and children who were not reading a lot, into reading her books.

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        • I’m quite sure it was because I was working with boys who were particularly reluctant readers at that time that made me so keen on the HP books – they were about the only books we could get most of the boys to read or have read to them. I was exceedingly grateful to Ms Rowling! But maybe not grateful enough to continue reading her grossly overlong books now… 😉

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