First Published: 2013
Series: Cormoran Strike #1
When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts and calls in private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate.
Strike is a war veteran – wounded both physically and psychologically – and his private life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model’s world, the darker things become – and the closer he gets to terrible danger.
Before I start, I’m going to admit that I only chose to read this book because the author is J.K. Rowling. I’m partial to a detective story now and then but, without a specific recomendation for Galbraith from someone I trust, I would probably not have picked this novel up on my own from among the sea of bland identi-covers and samey-blurbs in my bookshop’s crime section. But Rowling proved (to me at least) that she could write for adults with The Casual Vacancy and she’s proved she could write mysteries and sprinkle clues around ever since The Philosopher’s Stone, so I was interested to see what her crime debut would be like.
And it’s pretty good. A fairly standard crime novel, perhaps: a PI with a funny name, a dark history, and a disastrous personal life investigates a death everyone believes to be a suicide, proves it was murder and shows up the police. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking or exceptional about the story, but it is a solid, enjoyable read, and that’s pretty much all I ask of my detective novels.
I enjoyed the two primary characters, Cormoran Strike and his temporary secretary Robin, though I wish there had been a bit more of Robin towards the end of the story. The book starts off with her almost as the primary character – introducing us to Strike and the case through her eyes, but as Strike himself becomes a more familiar character she fades somewhat into the background.Would definitely like to see more of her in the next book – and her fiancé. Cormoran is interesting as well, obviously there’s a lot about his past that still hasn’t been explored yet but he feels like a real person rather than a mystery for the reader to solve and, as some one who gets fed up of mysterious characters with mysterious pasts, I appreciated that. The one other character who I felt really stood out was Lula, the murder victim. A mixed-race girl adopted into a white family when she was four who, after suffering from bipolar disorder and then being catapulted into fame as a supermodel, was still desperately trying to find her biological family and a way to connect with her black heritage. Although she dies before the start of the novel her personality and her struggles are present throughout.
The plot, well, I almost never try to solve crime novels as I go along (TV is a different matter) and only get annoyed if it’s so obvious that I can solve it without trying. So, although neither the killer nor the motive was a complete surprise, I didn’t feel it had been too telegraphed either, there were still plenty of other characters to suspect. What I liked about the book, but might put a few other people off, is that it’s an old school, low-action detective story, more in line with Poirot and his ‘leetle grey cells’ than with contemporary action-adventure crime solving. There’s an awful lot of sitting talking to people and interviewing the suspects and not much in the way of chasing down criminals on foot or foiling murder attempts. Most interesting for me though was the portrayal of the paparazzi, phone hacking and the effect the press had on the victim and her friends’ lives. It wouldn’t be a theme I would necessarily think too much on, had I not known who Robert Galbraith was, but with Rowling herself a victim of press intrusion, a witness at the Levenson inquiry and a campaigner for press regulation, I couldn’t help but be very interested in that aspect of the story.
Overall a pretty solid detective novel. Despite some clunky phrasing and descriptions (eg. ‘long-snouted cameras’) and a tendency to put in miniature info-dumps, I generally like the writing and characterisation. It’s not hugely original and there are certainly elements of the story I might question (such as the brother’s odd motivations for asking Strike to investigate in the first place) but it was an enjoyable way to spend a long train journey. As a genre I tend to dip in and out of detective novels fairly infrequently (now that I’ve finished reading all the Poirot’s anyway) so I probably won’t be rushing out to buy the sequel to this the moment it comes out. But sometime, when I have a long journey to take or I’m off on holiday, I’ll probably pick up the paperback copy.