Robert Galbraith’s (aka J. K. Rowlings) mystery novel The Cuckoo’s Calling opens with the apparent suicide of a troubled super-model who falls to her death from her posh apartment balcony. Only her half-brother believes it was not suicide and hires down-on-his luck private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate. Cormoran has no shortage of troubles of his own–just tossed out of his home by his fiancé, his business failing and in debt, and health in crisis, he takes on the case not quite believing it wasn’t indeed a suicide. He soon starts to have his doubts. Cormoran’s investigation is aided by a “temp agency” gal who shows up and stays long after her contract, drawn by the excitement of the detective work and maybe just a bit by Cormoran himself. The novel’s plot is very slow and consists mostly of the investigator interviewing various family members and friends in an attempt to piece together the model’s last day alive before her death. It is full of wonderful prose and vivid descriptions from the worlds of high-fashion to that of drug rehab programs. Galbraith has a talent for painting a vivid picture of these people (most of whom were quite unlikeable) and surroundings, for example, she described the mouth of a wrinkled, aged woman sucking on a cigarette to the anus of a cat. Try to forget that image. For what it lacks in compelling plot twists it makes up for in interesting heros. Cormoran Strike, the bastard son of an aging rock star, Iraq war veteran, amputee, and large hairy man comes to life as a sympathetic and believable character. His temp gal, Robin Ellacott, plays well off his character and we soon suspect that she is attracted to the big lug (even though she’s engaged), which lends the novel a bit of romantic tension. After all, who wouldn’t fall for a homeless, one-legged, big hairy failure of a private eye? Galbraith makes it work. All in all I would say that I finished the impressive 456 pages of the story not so much for the solution to the mystery, but just to see how Cormoran makes out.
Tag Archives: high fashion
An amusing book entitled “The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour” by Joan DeJean is a must read for students of French culture, historians, and those obsessed with style. The title of the book really says it all, but if you want to learn more, DeJean–one of the foremost authorities on seventeenth-century French culture–provides detailed insight into the contribution of the French in almost every facet of style, from food to footwear to perfume and beyond. DeJean explains how the charismatic Louis XIV began his reign when the nation had no particular association with elegance, but soon changed all that to the point that the French became synonymous with luxury and “the arbiters in matters of taste and style” the world over. DeJean no doubt has the historical credentials to take this work on, but also writes in a light, sometimes tongue-in-cheek style about the excesses of the time. The book, illustrated with seventeenth century drawings, takes on the historical roots for why champagne cork pops are synonymous with celebrations, why diamonds are the chosen gem stone to symbolize wealth and status, and why fashion slaves would pay a fortune for a designer accessory…(that one still eludes me.) The various chapters on hairstyles, fashion, food, jewelry, and parties can be read independently depending on your interests, each one written like a little historical mystery into the topic. But I have to confess, taken as a whole, reading the book was a little like eating a steady diet of creme brulee, Dom Perignon, and sugar-covered beignets—in other words, it made me kind of sick; The descriptions of the excesses of the court of Louis XIV were outlandish, but the slavish devotion of ordinary people today to the arbitrary concept of “style” in their pursuit of the “glam soiree” or the five-thousand dollar clutch purse was, after a while, a bit much.