01 — I had not realized I was looking for proof (the kind I could attest to) of J.K. Rowling’s hand in The Cuckoo’s Calling—published (and I daresay written) under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith—until I found it: A note left by down-on-his-luck private investigator Cormoran Strike to his new temp Robin; the indentation and change of font was meant to simulate an actual scrawled missive. All it needed, really, was a signature at the bottom, scratched with a quill. There it was, something familiar, a reassurance. Once I’d found it, I let what semblance of a literary hunt there was in my head, and fully threw myself into Robert Galbraith’s vastly confident story. (At the back of my mind, though, there remained with every turn of the page: Pride for what Rowling had accomplished, pride at the pride she must have felt when something came to life once again under her hand.)
02 — Galbraith’s detective story [I’m partial to that label more than “mystery,” because that’s what the narrative insists]—and an homage to a contemporary London that has long eluded me in my reading—is a fully realized world because the author is confident in navigating the rush-and-crush of plot. It’s a very straightforward storytelling, surprisingly, the tricky business of keeping a reader hooked. On one hand, there’s the process of revelation—crucial to any work of effective fiction, but of the utmost importance when there’s a question at the heart of the work that needs to be answered neatly. Galbraith knows what to reveal and how to reveal it, without pausing for breaks. You need to find out more, and it’s so satisfying when you do—because the author has made sure you feel that way. In the end, you have this story that’s whole and complete because the author made sure that everything was in its place, often working beyond your notice to ensure so. It’s a greater satisfaction, at its close. (And all of it is told in this confident, occasionally folksy, forgivingly and thrillingly verbose language that just happens to be my cup of tea.)
Plus Cormoran Strike is—to borrow a phrase from Boucher—the engine-heart of this vehicle. Though the need to find out what happened kept me going, being with Cormoran Strike through it all was its own reward. He’s easily now one of my favorite men in fiction—right up there with Sherlock Holmes and, um, Batman. I can’t wait to read more of him.
03 — Am currently reading Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, and the similarities between it and the Galbraith are almost amusing—it’s like two different shades of one story are running through my head at the same time. Both have the same basic premise: A young woman falls to her death, and a ragtag team race to uncover the truth behind what’s been tagged as a suicide. The treatment veers off, given each book’s surrounding variables: Pessl is currently in occult territory, one bolstered by the enigma of a cult-status hermit director (who happens to be the young woman’s father)—elements that make you keep reading; Galbraith doggedly navigated through both the glitzy and seedy quarters of his city, always retaining his lead’s chip-on-the-shoulder, always holding on to a compelling realism.
A starker difference, though, in the leads. Cormoran Strike is my kind of anti-hero (one that won’t even think he’s one, because he’s got way too much shit on his plate, thank you very much) and he’s deliberately paired himself with the very competent Robin. At the moment, even though his companions are showing signs of usefulness, investigative journalist Scott McGrath has picked up two virtual strays who undermine his authority and always seem to be in danger of letting the whole operation go to the dogs. Then again, McGrath has never seemed to me the most stand-up guy: After all, he threw away a stellar career spanning two decades hours after receiving an anonymous tip.
What’s pulling me forward with Night Film is the need to uncover Ashley Cordova; although the novel’s very generous with the revelations, I could care less about the characters I’ve tagged along with. On the other hand, The Cuckoo’s Calling was the complete package: I read it for Lula Landry’s death shedding less of its mystery the deeper we get into the novel, I read it for Cormoran Strike and his keen focus and his personality and his life and his patent un-coolness and his quiet indomitableness, I even read it for Robin.