The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith

  Summary (Amazon): After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

You may think you know detectives, but you’ve never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you’ve never seen them under an investigation like this.

Introducing Cormoran Strike, this is the acclaimed first crime novel by J.K. Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

My Review (Spoilers!!!):

Executive Summary: engaging

My mom bought me this book for Christmas (as well as the 3rd book in the series but not the second!). I hadn’t heard of it at all which is surprising because I feel like a book by J.K. Rowling would have caught my attention, pen name or not.

Even without wizards, Rowling is a great author, and the book definitely kept me engaged. The characters were very well developed, and I felt as though I knew them. The one limitation however was that I felt as though certain aspects of the solution of the case were a bit of a stretch.

The main character of the story, Cormoran Strike is a detective. He isn’t doing so great in the detective business but manages to catch a break with the case for this book. Our first interaction with him is by way of the second main character, Robin who crashes into him on her first day to work as his assistant. We learn through the story that Cormoran is the son of a famous rock musician and a groupie mother. This helps him at times because people know who his father is. He is also a large man who was in the military, losing part of his leg in Afghanistan. He has an emotionally tumultuous longtime relationship with the most beautiful woman in the world, Charlotte, and shortly after the book starts, they break up.

We don’t learn too much about Robin except that she’s new to the city, recently engaged, and really enjoys her work at the detective agency (I suspect she will be further developed in the subsequent books.)

The case that arises is one that everyone knows. Beautiful supermodel Lula Landry crashed to her death one snowy night from her bedroom window. The police determine it to be suicide, but her adopted brother, John Bristow, suspects otherwise. He is a lawyer and is willing to pay whatever is needed to find the answer. He comes to Strike because his name is familiar–Strike was childhood friends with their other sibling, Charlie, who died in at a young age from riding his bike too close to the quarry. All three of the children had been adopted into a very well-to-do family, and Lula was adopted shortly after her brother’s death.

Strike and Robin investigate seemingly everyone in Lula’s life–her friends, colleagues, and family. He starts with the security guard at Lula’s building who also invites her personal driver. They go through the night of the incident. Wilson noted that some packages came in that night, including clothes for the rap star Deeby Macc and handbags for Lula all from Guy Somé, the designer. Flowers also arrived for Deeby from another of the building’s residents, Freddie Bestigui, a filmmaker. Wilson goes over who came and went that day and noted that the door to the pool was unlocked. The driver, Kolovas-Jones had driven Lula earlier that day to visit her mother. Lula was very agitated when she left, and started scribbling a note onto some blue paper. She had him drop her off at this boutique to meet her friend Rochelle, and reappears only fifteen minutes later. Jones didn’t drive her later that night because he had been assigned to pick up Deeby Macc from the airport.

Strike’s next stop is to try to track down Rochelle, a friend Lula had made in rehab. She lives at a halfway house, however, when he stops by, she isn’t there.

He then touches base with one of the cops who worked the case who reviews the footage from that night with him. There are two separate runners leaving the area of the crime, one who can be seen heading that direction previously. As the temperature was well below freezing, they are bundled up beyond recognition. They also speak about the only so-called witness, Tansy Bestigui, who lived in the same apartment building who heard Lula fighting with someone before she fell. The police poked holes in her story, as she couldn’t have heard what she said based on where she said that she was. They also found drugs in her place.

They then discuss an obvious suspect in the case–Lula’s boyfriend, Evan Duffield. He and Lula had a fight at the club, she left, and he left shortly thereafter, wearing a wolf mask to evade the paparazzi. He sees paparazzi around Lula’s place so instead goes to his dealer’s house and eventually goes to Ciara Porter’s house as it’s close and he has to walk there.

Strike meets Tansy Bestigui (the witness) with her sister and John Bristow. She retells the story that she told the police, and Strike believes that the underlying story is true–she did hear Lula arguing with someone before she went out the window.

Strike makes a deal with the policemen to get a copy of the case files, and he sifts through them thoroughly.

He and Robin decide to make a jaunt to the boutique where Lula stopped briefly on her last day. Robin puts on a command performance pretending to be Strike’s sister and gets some intel by gossiping with the employees. They find that Lula was speaking to someone on the phone, presumably Duffield, and telling him to come by that night. Robin and Strike part ways and Strike is supposed to meet Bristow for lunch. He is instead greeted by Tony Landry, John and Lula’s uncle, who minces no words about how he feels about that part of the family. Tony thinks that John is weak, Lula was spoiled, and that the Bristows should have never been approved to adopt another child after Charlie died. He thinks that the additional investigation is foolish, and is in general an angry man. Once Tony leaves, Strike runs over some stuff with John, specifically that in the case files, it says that Ciara Porter stated that Lula told her that she was leaving everything to John. John thinks that is silly because Lula would have never cut her mother out of things.

Meanwhile Robin has been tracking down Rochelle Onifade, the mysterious friend who was not at the halfway house. She has an appointment at the hospital, and Strike goes to meet her. She’s a short stocky black girl wearing a very expensive magenta jacket. He offers to buy her lunch, and she agrees. She doesn’t know about the phone call or the blue piece of paper despite being with Lula at the time. She also seems to hate just about everyone in Lula’s life. She does offer that she knows that Lula connected with her because she wanted to feel connected to her own heritage, but she doesn’t think that Lula ever found anyone except her birth mother. After Rochelle leaves Strike, he walks past her and she’s talking to someone on the phone about their meeting. He asks who she was speaking to, but she won’t tell him. He tells her that she might be at risk from the killer too if it is that Lula was killed, but Rochelle gives a grin like she knows that she is completely safe.

Next on Strike’s list–Guy Somé. Somé arrived back in town the night that Lula died. Strike asks about the other people in Lula’s life to get opinions of them. Somé thinks that Rochelle was a gold digger, and Duffield is worthless. In Somé’s opinion, Duffield is the most likely candidate. He didn’t think that she would have killed herself because they had a pact that if they were in a bad place, they would have called the other. Somé told Strike about the gifts that he left for Lula and Deeby that were dropped off the day that she died, and then he organizes a time when Strike can meet Ciara and Bryony.

Strike visits Lula’s house finally, and speaks to the maid. John calls, and Strike informs him that there was a folder of photos that was deleted from Lula’s computer after she had died suggesting either the police or Mrs. Bristow (or one of her nurses). Srike and Wilson walk through the events that happen after Lula died. He went into Lula’s place, looked under the bed, didn’t see anyone, ran out and pushed the elevator button. Nothing inside. He heard the Bestiguis yelling and cut around the corner to go back downstairs and slipped on some drops of water.

Strike then goes to speak to Lula’s real mom. Marlene wavers between humility of giving a child up for adoption and using Lula to sell her story to the press. Lula had stopped coming around. Marlene couldn’t supply Lula with much information about her father except his name was Joe and he was African and he was going to school somewhere that was attached to a museum. Marlene, similar to Rochelle, criticizes all of Lula’s family and friends, and basically her herself.

Next, Strike returns to Somé’s to speak to Bryony and Ciara. Most of Bryony’s information was second hand, but Ciara offered a bit more. When she saw Lula that afternoon, she confirmed that Lula was in a bad mood after leaving her mother’s. When Lula was unwrapping the gifts from Somé, Ciara joked whether Lula would leave her one of them, to which Lula responded quite seriously that she was leaving everything to her brother. Strike tells Ciara that he hasn’t yet been able to connect with Duffield, and she helps him by taking Strike to the club where he will be. Duffield is a bit broody, but he tells Strike that he had seen Lula’s mother after the funeral, and mentions that he thinks her brother John is a money grubbing asshole. Most importantly, he mentions to Strike that he met with Freddy Bestigui recently and oversaw an email from his wife which said that if he wasn’t going to offer more money in the divorce, she would tell everyone where she was when Lula died.

In the meantime, Robin has tracked down Lula’s father. He died five years earlier, leaving a widow and a son is in the army based in Afghanistan. Robin also followed up on Tony Landry’s statement that he was staying in a hotel that weekend but left to come back to visit his sister who had had surgery. They begin to review the police photos of the building from the day of the incident versus the ones from now when the police call. Rochelle is dead.

Strike goes in to speak to the police and gets police assistance to follow up on the rest of his leads. They contact Deeby Macc to find out which hoodies were in his possession from Somé, and he gets an appointment with Bestigui to confront him about locking his wife out onto the balcony during -10° weather. It also comes out that Tansy’s sister Ursula was having it on with Tony Landry explaining the jetting out of the hotel stay mysterious alibi. He also mentions that he heard footsteps on the stairs after Wilson had left on the night of the murder.

The last piece to the puzzle is speaking to Mrs. Bristow. John must be in attendance for the interview, however, he gets detained, but Strike is already there so he decides to go in anyway. Yvette Bristow remembers telling Lula about Charlie during her last visit. She told Lula about his death and how distraught she had been although she partly thought it was her own fault for spoiling her children, but she can’t exactly remember what all she had said because of the drugs that she was on post-surgery. As Yvette begins to fade (she has taken more pain killers), Strike excuses himself to the bathroom, and en route stops into the walk-in closet where he finds all of the brand new handbags that Somé had given her. He checks their linings and finds the mysterious blue note.

Putting the pieces all together (SPOILERS), on the blue note paper was a bit of a will. Lula had decided to leave everything to her real brother–Lt. Jonah Agyeman. He was the man in the video footage who was going to and coming from Lula’s place the evening that she died. And then, Strike tells John who the killer is–John. He has killed before; out of jealousy, he killed Charlie as a child, pushing him off his bike into the ravine. His uncle Tony suspected and that is why he has never liked John or that family. He was against them getting another child, and of course this one now has also been killed. John went to Lula’s earlier that day (known) and then instead of leaving, he hid in Deeby’s apartment until later that night when Lula returned. He stole a few of the roses (the drops of water on the floor) that had been delivered, put on one of Somé’s sweatshirts which he had delivered to Deeby, and then went up to Lula’s . They then argued about money and he pushed her out the window. Rochelle had some inkling of what had happened, and John had been paying her bribes. Once she got too entwined in things, he killed her as well. When Strike gets to the end of things, John attacks him. Luckily Robin just happens to appear to call the ambulance and the police.

Verdict: 3.5 Stars

I loved the story, and I loved the characters. I just thought the ending was a bit contrived. I figured out how you got into Lula’s apartment by just a few drops of water on the steps. They couldn’t have been a leak or sweat? Where did these roses end up? And Robin randomly bursting in at the end just in time. It just fell a little flat for me. I love Rowling’s (er, Galbraith’s) writing though, and I will eventually read the others in the series.

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Filed under 3.5 stars, Book Review

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