LAST GREAT READS FOR AUGUST, 2014
The Silkworm, by J. K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith
Ms Rowling is getting much better at writing about Muggles. In the second book featuring her private Detective Cormoran Strike and his winsome assistant Robin Ellacott, (see review of ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ below) Rowling/Galbraith hooks the reader in from the very first pages, and despite prose that from time to time is better suited to fruity melodrama and a very convoluted plot, she manages to sweep us all along into the bowels of her story – and bowels play a big part, for a hapless character is deprived of his – to very few people’s dismay.
Cormoran is still untidy, overweight and often sleep-deprived, but since he solved the Landry murder, business is booming to the extent that he can afford a minuscule flat above his office, and Robyn at last has enough work to see her through the day – much to her jealous boyfriend’s annoyance; he knows her talents are wasted with Strike and he is furious because she won’t seek a position more commensurate (read higher paying) with her efficiency. There is trouble in paradise! Made all the more difficult because wedding invitations have been posted: they will be man and wife in a matter of weeks, but Robin wants to do the unforgiveable and invite Strike – how COULD she??
Effortlessly, that’s how. Robin admires her boss more than she can say,( or is willing to admit) and she wants him at Her Big Day.
Enter Leonora Quine: she has read of Cormoran’s feats and has decided that he will be the ideal person to find out the whereabouts of her husband Owen, a writer who has managed with no problem at all to alienate everyone, from his publisher to the local grocer with his boorish behaviour: he owes money everywhere, sleeps around and has produced next-to-nothing since his first book. He is a One Hit Wonder but has been trumpeting lately about his latest opus, guaranteed to shut up all the doubters – yes, he’ll show ‘em, those bloody critics who panned his great writing, pandering instead to other writers, his contemporaries who have been unfairly advantaged over him: favouritism, that’s all it is, favouritism!
Unfortunately, he has neglected to inform Leonora of his plans or his whereabouts and she is frantic; apart from the fact that he left her without money (as usual), they have a handicapped daughter who misses her daddy very much. Strike MUST help – even though she has no money to pay him.
Eventually, her husband is discovered in an eviscerated state, ringed by dinner plates as if he were the main course in a grisly meal.
The plot thickens thereafter at a headlong pace; Owen Quine had so many enemies in the literary world that Strike doesn’t know who to investigate first – much to the displeasure of the police, who warn him to stay away: they know who the killer is so sod off, Strike!
Once again Ms Rowling has constructed a labyrinthine plot: the reader has to pay attention at all times, but the rewards are great; her characters, from Strike and Robyn to lesser players are enormously engaging; no writer is more astutely observant of the publishing world’s foibles than she, and how well she writes of London, that great, dirty city and its diverse social strata. She has revealed more of Strike’s past, and introduced new family members whom I hope will play a part in the next book. And surely, surely, the tremulous admiration that Robin and Strike feel for each other might grow into something more by Book Three? The boyfriend really is a jerk! Highly recommended.
The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith
(pseudonym for J.K. Rowling)
Ms Rowling has been a busy girl, producing a new novel within a year of her first foray into adult fiction, ‘The Casual Vacancy’. I was disappointed in that book but feel that this latest story has more meat on its bones, more to offer the reader in plot and characterisation – and certainly more optimism than ‘The Casual Vacancy’s’ singularly unpleasant storyline.
This time, despite a bewilderingly complicated narrative of events and a tendency at times to lay on the drama with a trowel, Ms Rowling has produced a very respectable thriller.
Cormoran Strike is the illegitimate son of a SuperGroupie and a notoriously hedonistic Rock Star. The groupie died of an overdose, and Rocker dad is famously disinterested in any of his progeny. Cormoran has had a predictably chaotic childhood but distinguished himself when he entered the military police arm of the Defence forces, winning a medal for saving lives in Afghanistan – and losing a leg in the process.
Since his medical discharge from the Army, life has been unkind to Cormoran: the business he established as a Private Investigator is failing; he has been kicked out of the flat and the life he had with his uppercrust girlfriend Charlotte; he owes money everywhere; he is overweight, unfit, down and out – in short, he’s a big fat mess.
Enter Robin, newly engaged and working as a temp until she gets a job befitting her formidable skills as a SuperP.A. She is sent by her agency to Cormoran’s office for two weeks, only to wonder why she is there when it is patently clear that Cormoran doesn’t have enough work – or means – to employ her; plus he’s camping in his office because he can’t afford to stay anywhere else.
Until an expensive-looking lawyer visits the next day to hire Cormoran’s services.
John Bristow is the adoptive brother of very famous super model Lula Landry, whose suicide three months before caused huge amounts of publicity world-wide – but Bristow refuses to believe that she killed herself: she was murdered. He will pay whatever it costs to prove that Lula would never take her own life; he loved his little sister and he wants her killer brought to justice, and here is a hefty advance to set everything in motion.
Things are looking up! Cormoran’s spirits rise with his bank balance; there is now money in Petty Cash for Private Eye and Temp to have Tea and bikkies whenever the mood takes them, and an amazing change in his social status as Bristow arranges for him to meet Lula’s former friends and associates. From being on the bones of his proverbial one day, he is dining and clubbing with the Beautiful People the next.
Ms Rowling writes well about the fashion world and the seamy side of beauty. She has a great ear for dialogue and idiom – even Orstrylian gets a mention! – and she is very careful with her plotting. She does tend to overwrite more than a little, though, one fine example being when Cormoran finally reveals to the killer that The Game is Up: it takes sixteen pages, with the killer snarling at strategic points ‘where is your proof?’ and ‘you’ll never prove a thing!’ before finally lunging at our amputee hero with a knife, causing this reader to shriek ‘and about flaming time, too!’
Wouldn’t you know though that Cormoran has a trick or two up his sleeve – not to mention a prosthesis next to his chair - and all works out well in the end, causing us all to think that perhaps there might be another opus featuring Cormoran and Robin, both endearing characters in their different ways.
I shall welcome it if that’s the case but have a tiny request: Ms Rowling’s characters were ‘besuited’ and ‘bejeaned’ more than once ( I am presently betrackpanted as I type) – could one hope that she finds a less irritating way in the next book to describe what her characters are wearing? (Just asking.)
Mistress, by James Patterson and David Ellis.
This is a quickie review. I have never read anything by James Patterson before, but he appears to be one of the most prolific writers in print, in conjunction with various well known thriller writers. He (doubtless along with his colleagues) has won more awards than one could shake a stick at and is so famous I feel ashamed for owning that I haven’t gotten round to any of his books – until now. Sad to say, despite Mr Patterson’s stellar reputation I don’t feel that I have deprived myself of anything of vital literary importance: sorry, Mr Patterson, but this stand-alone novel has not convinced me to pursue any previous titles. Sad but true, the reason being that you can only stretch the reader’s credulity so far: the plot MUST have some semblance of veracity, particularly over the most basic facts: protagonist Benjamin Casper is anything but convincing as he metamorphoses from neurosis-ridden victim and fugitive to superhuman exemplar of right over might – what a guy!
And how indestructible. In very short order, Ben is pursued and caught by a dizzying array of baddies, sustaining injuries that would have felled many a lesser mortal – but hey; whatever doesn’t kill you makes you strong, and by the end of this tale Ben has turned into SuperDuperMan: he also has developed supernatural powers of deduction, and thank goodness for that, I say, because thick old me didn’t know what was going on until he gave me a heads-up at various points along the way.
Even the good guys seem to be bad in this story, though Russia is the main big BoogyMan, followed by China as a close second – BUT.
In all fairness, the reason I continued with this book is because of its badass wit (oh, how I love smart mouths!) and the wonderful vein of trivia running like a gold seam through the story: Ben has many issues stemming from his chaotic childhood, and the way he deals with his heartache is to think of various facts triggered by a single word, i.e. did you know that President Roosevelt wrote to Winston Churchill during the Second World War: ‘It is fun to be in the same decade with you’.
Well, did you know that? A? A? Didja? The single word to start that train of thought was ‘mystery’, (believe it or not) and that is apt, because at the end of the book I am still mystified. Ben escapes a sticky end (no-one else does) but doesn’t get the girl – another girl does: this is the 21st century, after all. So much for my ‘quickie’ review, but you get the idea.