Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Cormoran Strike mysteries by Robert Galbraith

cuckoo coverUnlike most people, I haven’t read the Harry Potter books, so when my local book group did The Cuckoo’s Calling last year, I went into it with an open mind. It was the first in a mystery series by J.K. Rowling writing under another name, but pseudonyms is quite a common practice for authors, so it didn’t bother me.
I really enjoyed Cuckoo…, most notably for the layered characters, Cormoran Strike, an ex-Special Branch turned detective and his assistant, Robin Ellacott. They have great chemistry and complicated pasts and their interactions are enjoyable. Robin began as a temporary secretary, but has higher aspirations, but her fiance, Matthew, doesn’t really approve of her job. The plot, involving the death of a fashion model, had genuine suspense and nearly all of the characters were well drawn. It was an excellent mystery novel and I was thrilled when I found out she was continuing the series with a second installment.
With the new year not going well, I thought I would treat myself to a dependable book and downloaded the next book in the series, The Silkworm to my Nook. First, I need to ask if any readers remember the film “Give My Regards to Broad Street”? It was a 1980’s vehicle for Paul McCartney in which a master tape of one of his recordings was stolen and he spends the movie trying to get it back. It was very dull, mainly because it had too many technical details about making records that the average person didn’t know and/or care about. That’s part of the problem with The Silkworm, but substitute publishing instead of the music industry. And there’s no lovely songs such as “No More Lonely Nights” either.
Other problems include a book within a book, one which Hieronymus Bosch would feel right at home in and far more gory descriptions of a murder victim than was required, both were repeated multiple times, leading me to wonder if the editor had dropped their pencil. I don’t mind books topping 455 pages, but so much of it was tediously repetitive and I had to keep skipping chunks to avoid the icky parts. Perhaps the author was also dozing, as her characters were mostly just surface sketches focusing on one characteristic; an author’s physically large head, an editor’s alcoholism, the smoker’s cough of an agent. Even the two main characters were shortchanged. Robin spends much of the novel pouting and arguing with her fiance, who is even more of a jerk than he was in the first one. Strike does little better, spending half the book in his attic rooms rereading that icky manuscript for clues while watching soccer games on TV. Does he not yet know that humans aren’t made for multitasking? Had at least a hundred pages been excised, it would’ve had less room to wander aimlessly.
Cuckoo… was described in one review as “hard boiled”, which it wasn’t. It’s as if the author wanted to show she could be gritty in this one and went overboard concentrating on the wrong things. I really can’t tell you how let down I felt. After this disappointing sequel, I will approach any future installments with caution, still hoping for the promise that the first one showed, but ready for frustration, which caught me unawares this time.

The Cuckoo’s Calling Mulholland Books 2013 464 pp. ISBN 978-0316206853

The Silkworm Mulholland Books 2014 455 pp. ISBN 978-0316206877

2 comments on “Cormoran Strike mysteries by Robert Galbraith

  1. Jackie
    March 8, 2015

    I was really hoping to hear from others who had read these books & learn if their experience was the same.

  2. Herb Heppner
    May 9, 2015

    I enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling. The sheer number of characters that show up in the plot is a bit daunting if you have to reading the book in several sittings, but the vocabulary and creative description more than make up for that. But writing a series with the same main characters at the core presents challenges those of a stand alone book. How do you handle continuity. When I read the first chapter of The Silkworm, I had trouble suspending my disbelief because I was not sure that I recognized Strike. I reread the chapter trying to find the disconnect and trying to decide if I wanted to keep reading. Is the series driven by a publisher’s calculation of what the author’s readership will consume, or, does that author actually tap into a creative artery that will give us the art of the first novel. Nancy Farmer, for example, was prodded into trying to extend The Sea of Trolls into a trilogy. The second book as a disaster and, to her credit, the third never materialized. Then there are the decisions about whether you need to build bridges back to the first book in the series for readers who start with the second book. South African detective novelist Deon Meyer handles that challenge by simply not reaching back for the reader. He just develops characters and relationships by writing the chapters of their lives. Galbraith makes some serious gaffs by trying to reach back for the reader. With the author’s deft us of vocabulary and facility with description, it is mind numbing to find a sentence which tries to explain an aggravated amputation stump by letting the reader know that he “fell down some stairs” in another story. First of all, it is unnecessary. Secondly, how much more bland can you get than “some”. Even a “flight of stairs” would have eased the pain. But the clincher is having Strike recall that in a similar situation in the previous story, he “had had sex the night before”! Surely, given the long white legs wrapped around him in the first encounter and the energetic enthusiasm of the second, “had had sex” can only have flowed from the pen before a cup of coffee rather than after. More likely, there were vacillations at some point in the process about whether these connection were necessary. Finally, the nature of the plot in The Silkworm is not consistent with The Cuckoo’s Calling. The murder is too bizarre. It tastes of the kind of witchcraft one might expect in a Harry Potter novel for adults. Maybe the third book will be up to form. With Deon Meyers, I started with the fourth in the series and went on to discover that it was the strongest up to that point.

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This entry was posted on February 13, 2015 by in Entries by Jackie, Fiction: 21st Century, fiction: mystery, Fiction: thriller and tagged , , , , .



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