Tuesday, October 14, 2014

First Impressions - The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Robert Galbraith is J.K. Rowling's pseudonym for a series of murder mysteries.

I haven't read any J.K. Rowling earlier. I tried reading Harry Potter multiple times but gave it up on reaching page 5. So, I am not a fan.

Now that I have these two things out of the way, I 'll get to the book.

It's a decent read for a whodunit. The book is approximately 450 pages long and I could figure out the murderer by page 200 so the 'big reveal' at the end wasn't exactly a surprise. I had hoped for a bit more psychological profiling of the killer or even of the private detective, Cormoran Strike. There is some but not enough to warrant gushing praise or earnest recommendation.

The Cuckoo's Calling begins with the death of Lula Landry, a supermodel. Lula is flying flat and splattered in the snow. There is speculation that she has jumped to her death. Her brother, however, does not think so and hires Strike to find out the truth. Strike is a detective with 'a past'. He's a mess in that appealing way all private detectives are. He served in Afghanistan before taking up detective work, left the army for the love of a woman, lost the woman, became homeless and lives in his tiny office which he can barely afford to keep because the arrears in rent are piling up. He is also the bastard child of a famous father and a mother who was a groupie and a heroin addict and who, the story goes, killed herself. Strike doesn't believe that story.

Anyway, back to Lula. In the course of the story, we explore the world of the superbly beautiful and the rich. We are told how they are hounded by not just the press, but the voyeurism that fuels the press and the characters of the 'inner circle' that sell their stories to the press. Lula was a black girl adopted into a white family. She never felt like she belonged to her regular family. She was born looking like a goddess. So she never felt like she belonged to other regular people either. She suffered from depression, was keenly looking for her roots, had friends who were misfits the way golden swans may be misfits in a plastic pool, and one day she died.

The thing is that after a point, you stop caring about that stuff. The writing is trite. For the most part, there's nothing fresh in there. It takes too long to come to the point by which time you may very well not be bothered about the killer, motive, and technique of murder. There's a bit of posturing in the way the club scenes are described ("Hey, you menial people! Here's how the swish set parties! Bet you didn't know that!" - that's the vibe I got when reading some portions.)

Even Strike - whose back story has a back story, which may emerge in other books - even he seems to lack dimension sometimes. Yet, for reasons even I am not very clear about, I read through that book and will possibly read the next one as well. Because, the pull, when you least expect it, comes from very strange quarters.

Right at the beginning, there's a description of Lula Landry lying in snow in a sequinned top. She is dead. It's early in the morning. Snowflakes drift along the rich London neighbourhood. The cops are there smoking. Flash bulbs go off incessantly. But this very beautiful body, clothed in sequins lies in the snow facedown. At the time, all the artificial light available in that small portion of the world is reflected off her clothes and she looks if she is moving. I found that bit really touching. I don't know why but I wanted to know about the person who died. Not who killed her and why and if she did commit suicide, what were her reasons and all that. Just...who was this person who even in death in the dark, shifted haltingly, tiptoeing on light?

Then there is the description of London streets and London pubs - where there is a quiet despite a crowd. In another section, Galbraith describes a scene in an uber-cool club where a dangerously good-looking  Evan Duffield (Lula's boyfriend) is sitting on a leather couch surrounded by women. His habit is to wear a wolf's mask when he is out in public to avert the attention of the public (or not so much avert attention because a wolf’s head does get attention but to cock a snook at them). This specific description of a fragile doomed man who holds his dominion by virtue of charisma alone is very...feral. It’s like, you know how if you are too intelligent, there’s a chance that you just might go mad or turn evil because how are you going to handle all that brain? Well, what if it’s the same with looks? What if you are so good looking that you just can’t handle it? Evan seems to be a poster boy for just that contingency.

There is also a bit where Strike remembers some personal tragedy and he focuses on the rain outside. He notices 'raindrops tracing ellipses over the window panes.' That’s poetry. In the middle of trite prose and boring details, that sentence made me sit up.

There is beauty in some portions that is hard to turn away from. So I read despite the tedium that sometimes set in. That and the strange notion I have that Lula Landry is 'modeled' in some way after Naomi Campbell.


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