Tag Archives: J. K. Rowlings

Cuckoo’s Calling Character- Not Plot-driven Mystery

cuckooRobert 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.

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The Graveyard Book

graveyardThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman won the John Newbery Medal for its contribution to American literature for children, yet the book opens with the description of a man with a very large, sharp knife systematically killing every member of a family as they sleep, save for the smallest toddler.  I was surprised and a bit creeped out by this opening scene, especially since the book is billed as a middle grade novel.  Fear not, dear reader, the story gets much better!  The delightful, fanciful and fun story begins when the toddler escapes and wanders into an old cemetery.  There, he is adopted by two childless ghosts, the Owens, and is put under the protection of a mysterious guardian, Silas, who is neither dead nor alive .  The toddler is given the name Nobody–Bod for short–and the protection of the graveyard, as long as he never leaves its enclosures.  The fun of the novel is in the tales of his adventures, being taught by ghosts who range from an ancient Roman general to a woman killed for witchcraft.  Bod learns ghostly skills, such as fading, and dream walking, and the ability to open a ghoul gate…but he eventually longs to be with other people like him, people who are alive.  But Bod has been warned by his guardian that the man who killed his family is still out there, and still looking for him.  This tale of good versus evil with a clever twist of characters (a good vampire and werewolf) never fails to amuse and entertain.  The author, Neil Gaiman, is a master of fantasy and imagination–think J.K. Rowling meets Tim Burton.  The suspense and fun never flags as we watch Bod grow up amongst his most unusual companions, and tackle the greatest challenge of his life.  The graveyard story was written for kids, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  For an extra treat, listen to the book on tape.  When I saw that it was recorded by the author, I thought, “Uh-oh” as often times authors are not the best readers of their own works, but in this case Gaiman is perfect.  He has a voice not unlike Alan Rickman (think Snape) and voices the characters with feeling and style.  graveyardcover

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