Famed supermodel Lula Landry has plummeted to her death from her third-story balcony in what the police assume is a suicide. But three months later, her brother John Bristow seeks out private detective Cormoran Strike and presents some compelling evidence that Lula was actually murdered. Strike is warily convinced, but he desperately needs the money and so enters this world of models, designers, and film producers to discover the truth.
By now we all know that The Cuckoo’s Calling was written by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. So much of the novel’s form and voice is reminiscent of Rowling’s writing (including the 5-part division that mirrors The Casual Vacancy); and Calling is filled with Rowling’s Dickensian character names—Rochelle Onafide, Freddy Bestigui, Kieran Kolovas-Jones. (Of course, it’s easy to see the similarities knowing Galbraith’s identity, but those few who read the book before his true identity leaked had no idea Rowling was behind it.) That being said, a hardboiled mystery novel would be a natural extension of Rowling’s writing abilities considering all the great mysteries that filled her Harry Potter series.
Strike is a likable yet gruff protagonist with an intriguing backstory that is slowly revealed throughout the novel. More amusing is his temporary secretary Robin who fancies herself a detective as well, donning aliases and scouring the internet for clues (if you’ve ever wanted to be a sleuth, then you’ll easily identify with her). In fact, all of the characters in the novel are striking in their own way. Rowling vividly describes these characters while attributing recognizable accents and speech patterns (you’ll be thinking in a British accent by the time you finish this book).
The biggest problem with the novel is its length. At 450 pages, it seems to be exceptionally long for a mystery novel. But Rowling’s sprawling style is entertaining enough that you never really get bored reading it. It is also very dialogue heavy with so much of the story being revealed by Strike’s interviews with the various people in Lula’s life. Some find that problematic, but I greatly enjoy dialogue scenes and found it very enjoyable. (Until the end, when the dialogue-heavy climax feels clichéd and lazy.)
The style of The Cuckoo’s Calling is more reminiscent of Raymond Carver and Dashiell Hammett as opposed to contemporary crime fiction. It has a nostalgic air that adds to its appeal. This is the kind of mystery novel that would suck in many a reader, even those disinclined to read mystery/crime fiction.
Posted by xoxojk on August 13, 2013
A racketeer is “one who obtains money illegally, as by fraud, extortion, etc.” The Racketeer is the story of a wrongfully imprisoned lawyer who seeks revenge on the legal system that failed him (while trying to make a sizable profit as well). In John Grisham’s latest legal thriller, he continues to prove his mastery of this genre.
Malcolm Bannister is our protagonist racketeer, who uses the murder of a judge to hatch a scheme to get out of prison. His plan works, but we soon learn that there was a lot more to it. The story begins to drag in the middle as Bannister gets involved with a new character, but Grisham knows what he’s doing and quickly sucks you back into the story as you race to get to the satisfying end.
The character of Bannister continues Grisham’s latest trend of not-quite-likable protagonists. Their belief systems and moral code stray far enough from my own that I find it hard to sympathize with them as a character. Yet the logic of their moves and plotting manages to get me to emotionally invest in the character.
While Grisham’s latest thrillers have been fairly run-of-the-mill thriller fodder, his storytelling abilities continue to be remarkable. No matter how uninteresting the premise of his novels sound, he is sure to suck you into the story. And sometimes that’s all you really want in a book.
Posted by xoxojk on December 8, 2012
In the fourth installment (second to be published in America) of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, Harry finds himself framed for murder. His ex-girlfriend Anna is found dead in her apartment and Harry was the last one known to be there, but he can’t remember that night because he’s lapsed into his alcoholic tendencies and blacked out. Now Harry must avoid suspicion from his colleagues while tracking down what really happened to Anna and dealing with the mysterious person who keeps emailing him about that night. On top of it all, Harry is investigating a murderous bank robber. Despite not being connected, both cases are thematically linked, as Harry later learns in his attempts to unravel the culprits.
I’ve already praised Nesbo’s crime writing skills (see: Headhunters), and Nemesis just continues to prove it. In this tightly-written thriller, Nesbo delves into psychological behaviors, showing how motives for crimes are not as cut and dry as they may appear. Harry must constantly think outside the box if he hopes to uncover the various conspiracies afoot. One of the biggest conspiracies, concerning the series baddy Tom Waaler, continues to develop from the previous novel Redbreast (I can’t wait to see where this storyline goes in the next book).
If there’s one thing that is immensely frustrating about Nesbo’s writing, it is that he’ll show characters coming to important revelations only to cut away from the scene before we as a reader can either see or comprehend what they’ve discovered. Of course, this tactic merely serves to build suspense and also to make the reader think. So many American crime thrillers spell things out too easily, while some of the more pretentious ones are too oblique. Hence why Nordic and Swedish crime fiction proves to be so entertaining and fascinating to American readers. Plus, Nesbo easily incorporates American pop culture references into his writing like mentioning The Godfather, David Hasselhoff, and Prince (and using those allusions to advance the story).
Next time you’re looking for an excellent crime fiction series to read, dig into the Harry Hole series (start with Redbreast if you’re a completist, or else go straight for his newest novel Phantom). When it comes to Jo Nesbo, you won’t be disappointed.
Posted by xoxojk on October 24, 2012