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.
Unlike 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