Introducing Cormoran Strike, the only detective named after a badly spelled seabird attack (this joke is copyright Mrs Puzzle Doctor, btw), a down-on-his-luck London-based private detective. Newly dumped by his fiancée, heavily in debt, his luck seems to be changing. A new temporary receptionist shows some talent and interest in detective work and, more importantly, he’s actually got a case.
An old school friend hires him to investigate the death of his sister, the model Lula Landry, a death that everyone had considered suicide. After all, she threw herself from her balcony and the witnesses confirm that there could have been no one in the flat. But his friend insists that there was no way that Lula would have killed herself – and Cormoran does need the money. But as he investigates, he starts to piece together what could be the perfect murder. But is the murderer’s work finished?
OK, first off, yes, I know who Robert Galbraith actually is, but I’m not going to go there – just going to review this one on its merits as a detective novel.
Way back when I started this blog, you may recall that the point was to find an author who was writing “proper” detective novels amidst the sea of serial killer thrillers masquerading as mysteries that populate the shelves of your local bookshop. I’ve found a number of authors who fit the category, most writing in the historical genre. But I’m not sure I’ve found one who fits what I was looking for as closely as Galbraith.
There is a clear love for the genre apparent in the construction of the narrative here, from the set-up – sort of a locked room, but, quite rightly, never treated as such – to the interrogation of the many diverse suspects and witnesses to the final reveal, which obviously I won’t spoil, but it uses a trick that I don’t recall Dame Agatha using. It’s a complex mystery, with lots of small oddities only making sense when the whole picture is revealed.
The tone settles down after a somewhat shaky start – early on, Strike seems to be being portrayed as a comic character (albeit one who can magically watch Spurs vs Arsenal at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon on a portable TV with an indoor aerial!) whereas as the book settles down, he gains more depth, delving into his past and what has brought him to this point in his life – not a vast amount on why he’s become a detective though – maybe in Book Two. Another odd point is the early introduction of Robin, his receptionist/assistant who seems to be being set up as the POV character only to quickly take a back seat as we follow Strike around as he talks to all of the people involved in the case. I presume that she’ll take a larger role in the next book but as the most defined female character, I was surprised to see so little of her.
I’ll have to put a couple of caveats though. The detective-talks-to-everyone-and-then-solves-the-case isn’t my favourite iteration of the detective novel, although credit to Galbraith for only getting Strike to talk to each character once – I hate it when someone reveals something on the second or third interrogation that they kept back for no good reason. But this does go on a bit too long for my liking. That’s a personal gripe, but I’m sure that others may agree with the other problem I had – for the story to work, the murderer has to do something monumentally stupid which is never rationalised beyond its stupidity being pointed out. I’d worked out – ok, guessed – the killer’s identity but dismissed my idea because of this as I couldn’t find a rational explanation for the thing, and, after finishing the book, I still can’t.
But this is a strong first effort in the mystery genre with a real attempt to bring the classic mystery novel into the modern era. While I think some of the plaudits on the Amazon page (and in the preface to the book) are a trifle hyperbolic, this is well worth a look – the ebook is only a couple of quid – and I’ll look forward to the next one. Recommended.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, Cormoran is the name of a giant from Cornish mythology – it’s not a made-up name, although this is the only instance I can find of a non-giant being called Cormoran.