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Murder Among Friends

Our Book Discussion on: "The Cuckoo’s Calling" by Robert Galbraith/J. K. Rowling

The Cuckoo's Calling book with J.K. Rowling slipped in

“I cannot rest from travel: I will drink

Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d

Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when

Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vext the dim sea: I am become a name”

 ₋  Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

J.K. Rowling Dressed as Robert Galbraith with Mystery Grandmaster, Val McDermid in Harrogate(courtesy of Fenris Oswin)

Robert Galbraith, a.k.a.  J. K. Rowling, ends the novel The Cuckoo’s Calling with her hero, Coromoran Strike (who has just been called “Cameron Strick”) mulling over these lines as he sees his doctor for a check up on his prosthetic leg. He particularly focuses on the last phrase: “I am become a name”. We found this a fitting end, since one of the key themes of this book is about personal identity, as well as what fame can do to people.

The book opens with another quote from the Latin that translates: “Unhappy is he whose fame makes his misfortunes famous”. The famous supermodel, Lula Landry (whose moniker “The Cuckoo” is used in the title) has fallen to her death outside her trendy Mayfair, London penthouse.  The irony of her famous name being, that neither it nor her “real” name are the name she was born with. As a young girl she was adopted by the wealthy, influential Bristow family. Sir Alec & Lady Yvette Bristow could not have children, so all three of their children were adopted. The two boys, John and Charlie were roughly 10 years older than Lula – who was adopted when Charlie, a schoolboy friend of Strike’s, died in a bike accident. This connection is what leads John Bristow to seek out Cormoran when Lula dies.

Bristow is convinced her death was not a suicide, as the police claim. We had extensive comments to make about why John Bristow would do this, based on his actions in the final chapters of the story. Most of us felt that the reasons given in the novel, where not enough to justify his pursuit of another conclusion besides suicide. It is the key problem we have with an otherwise resoundingly positive opinion of the book.

A couple of people particularly liked that Rowling, as Galbraith, took the time to develop a real feeling for the structure of a good mystery, and an understanding of its conventions. Cormoran and his “temporary” assistant Robin Ellacott, are in the best tradition of the lone P.I. and his steady right-hand secretary. The author makes this convention her own by giving it a unique British and contemporary twist – with Strike being a handicapped Afghanistan War vet, and with Robin’s independent style and budding talent as an investigator herself. We loved both of these characters, and wonder how Robin’s relationship with her new fiancé Matthew, will be affected by the growing relationship between Robin and Strike.

Fame, and the name to which it is attached was also remarked on for other characters, such as fashion designer, Guy (Ghee) Somé born Kevin Owusu, and Deeby Macc, whose real name is D.B MacDonald (Daryl Brandon). A case can also be made for lead character Strike, to be using a false name, since his real father is a world-famous rock star, Jonny Rokeby. Strike never brings this up or has any direct relationship with his father, other than to duck calls from Peter Gillespie, his father’s account manager, who is snippily trying to reach Strike about re-paying a loan Johnny made to Strike. Strike, until this case comes along, is literally down to his last pound, and surviving by living in his office and eating pot soup.

The significance of The Cuckoo calling – is realized in the pink sparkly phone that she gave to her drug therapy group friend Rochelle Onifade, a homeless woman whose possession of this and some expensive clothing become leads for Strike and Robin. The other key lead is the suspicious story that Tansy Bestigui, wife of highly successful and abusive film producer Freddie Bestigui, insists is true. Tansy claims to have heard Lula arguing with a man in her penthouse just before she died; and that Tansy actually saw Lula fall. Tansy and Freddie have an apartment below Lula’s, and Freddie owns the building.  The police totally dismiss her story because Tansy is a cocaine user and the ceilings, floors and walls in these luxury apartment have very dense soundproofing. We talked about how the Bestiguis were a brilliant stroke on Galbraith’s part, since they provide both a hidden clue, and are potential suspects.

Lula’s search for identity did lead her to her birth mother, Marlene Higson, “a dreadful woman” who tells Lula that her father was an African student, but not much more – not even his name. Higson was “shamlessly mercenary” in selling her story to any paper who would pay her. The need for love and a real family surfaces often – both for Lula and her murderer; but for the other characters as well.

We are speculating that Cormoran’s relationship with his father will be explored further as the series continues. MAF members all agreed that his further adventures will be well worth reading, and were pleased to note that the next book, The Silkworm is just out, and two members have already read it, while another has it checked out.

MAF is experimenting with rating our books, beginning with The Cuckoo’s Calling. We’re using a 1 – 5 scale where:

1 = Did not like. Would not read others in the series. Probably won’t read the author again.

2 = Only liked a little. Would not read others in the series. Might try author again.

3 = Thought it was ok. Might continue to read the series. Might read author again.

4 = Thought it was very good. Would be interested in continuing the series. Would try the author again.

5 =  Loved the book. Definitely will continue reading the series, and other books by the author.

The MAF rating for this book was: 4.8 ! Pretty great for a first book – and we all agreed that Galbraith (by any name!) has proven they get the mystery genre, and we’d be happy to read both more mysteries by Galbraith and more fantasy by Rowling. The "Cast of Characters" (& more!)  for this book will be posted on this blog shortly.

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