fiction, review

The Cuckoo’s Calling

Indonesian edition’s cover

I would rather call it a crime drama novel than a work of crime fiction. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith does have the qualities any murder mystery has got, the investigation, the private detective, the case at hand, but it’s overwhelmingly blended with drama and detailed descriptions of troubled characters. J.K. Rowling, no matter how hard she tries to hide herself under an alias, still leaves a trace of her easily recognized, characteristic writing, in which a story of difficult life and thoroughly portrayed characters get the main spot. It’s not a fake crime novel pretending to be one, it just lacks the necessary atmosphere to support the narrative.

The story begins with the death of Lula Landry, a rich, rather infamous supermodel. She’s found lifeless in front of her apartment building after falling from the third floor and makes everyone, even the police, believe that it is an act of committing suicide. It’s just normal to have a troubled, bipolar famous person killing herself because, seriously, it’s no news to anyone. Moreover, the police investigation doesn’t lead to a different result. But while the media is busy exploiting Landry’s suicidal act, and gets a lot of money from every news consumer who believes it, John Bristow, Landry’s adoptive brother, doesn’t take a word of it. He believes, and is very sure, that Landry is murdered, pushed from her third-floor balcony. So he comes to Cormoran Strike, a private detective who was once a school friend of his late adoptive brother. Messed up, broken-hearted, financially broke, and having only one leg left, Strike has no choice but to accept the case. With the help of his temporary assistant, Robin Ellacott, Strike sets out to investigate this complicated, involving-many-people case: contemplating various possibilities, tracking down any proof, interviewing witnesses, perusing any possible course of events. And in midst of it all, he has to deal with the problems harassing his own life.

Galbraith, or rather, Rowling, doesn’t describe Strike as an attractive man. As always, she wants all the characters in her books to be as natural as possible, mentally and physically. Big and hairy, Strike gives the impression that people would rather look at the other way if it’s not impossible. However, like any other normal man, he doesn’t turn his back on female beauty and thinks that getting it under his belt is something he can certainly be proud of. He might look so introvert, gloomy, indifferent, and free-willed, but he is not weak, and very professional. His high intelligence is so obvious, proven by how his logic runs. He is indeed the private detective we all need in a crime story, except that we have to endure the narration of all his personal problems, which is quite unnecessary, I assume. Luckily, we can be gratefully entertained with how Galbraith describes the character of Lula Landry. She is not visible, her ghostly presence being tossed around from one mouth to another, from one perception to another. Her character is told from various points of view that it’s like pieces of personality being put together along the narrative and resulting in a spoiled, selfish, bipolar, unstable yet kind-hearted and caring person. Lula Landry may not be real in the story, but she’s the one who’s attention-gripping.

The fact that The Cuckoo’s Calling falls actually into “crime drama” genre, if I’m allowed to put it that way, affects very much its surrounding atmosphere. Rather than being mysterious, as it should be, it feels so dramatic and heart-tugging. It doesn’t have the thrills and spills, nor keep the reader in suspense. In fact, despite the murder case it comes up with and the numerous, puzzling clues scattered along the book, it doesn’t show wits or a fast pace or even any elements of surprise a crime story should have as an attraction. Rather, it runs very slow, though quite enjoyable to my liking, and moves with a flicker of random, guessing-game investigation. On the whole, it doesn’t look like a murder story with a troubled detective, but it’s more like a story of a troubled detective doing a murder investigation. Worst of all, this is quite subjective actually, I could guess “who dunnit” since the first few chapters, which was very much disappointing and didn’t make sense at all when you had hundreds of pages to read ahead of you. Well, nevertheless, The Cuckoo’s Calling has an interesting story, though without an authentic idea, and also great characterizations. J.K. Rowling will be J.K. Rowling, no matter what, and making such horrendous yet normally human characters is what she usually does in her stories. She has it in her to put several characters together to inflict conflicts that are, in some ways, insolvable. This detective story of hers does have an ending anyone would expect, but there are still some pieces of narrative which are left cliffhanging.

So, all things considered, I’m just going to say that Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling is an enjoyable read, and pretty awesome in some of its aspects. Only it doesn’t have the thrilling atmosphere to make it a true crime story, so I can say that it fails in that part. Plus, I really wish the narrative could be as strong as my enjoyment throughout my reading it, which is not.

Rating: 3.5/5

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