In this edition of Law & Order: Private Detective, TotallyNotRowling rips a story straight from the headlines. Row-Braith takes the sordid tale of Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty and wraps it all in a entertaining-if-predictable bow.
After a string of improbabilities and coincidences, Detective Cormoran Strike is called in to investigate the death of Not!Winehouse, which had been written off as suicide by the tabloids and the police.
Following another string of improbabilities and coincidences, he's granted an assistant from on high. He doesn't want this assistant, oh no, but then she wows him with her ability to make tea and not ask any questions about, well, anything.
One would think the latter characteristic would immediately disqualify anyone from working in a private investigator's office, but mmm, biscuits. I would like to think that Mr. Strike had other reasons for keeping her on, but Robin*'s character is basically defined by three things:
- a) Aforementioned ability to produce steaming cups of tea at opportune moments.
- b) Recent engagement to a banker wanker named Matthew, who strongly disapproves of her line of work.
- c) Being rather pleasant, occasionally.
In case you hadn't noticed, I'm more than a little bothered by the regressiveness of the females on display in this novel: one's a secretary (and aspires to be nothing more, apparently), and one's a dead object. Rowling's portrait of the dead girl tells us little about who she is, leaving us to trust the smarmy words of her brother, her fashion guru, her leechy best friends, and her boyfriend (Not!Doherty).
Now, I didn't set out to write such a negative review. While reading Cuckoo's Calling, I was generally enjoying the (very long) ride. But the facts remain: it doesn't really succeed as a detective novel (unless your idea of a good detective novel involves one man talking to millions of characters in sequence), and it doesn't really succeed as a cautionary tale on the perils of fame.
Where it does succeed is in providing a detailed portrait of the less glamorous parts of London (and the parts of London I spent considerable time in when I lived there). She has a strong sense of place and atmosphere, but couldn't quite bring that power to her character work.
*And isn't it adorable that they both are named after birds? Someone really needs to hit J.K. Rowling over the head with the terribly cutesy names she's saddled us with (Cormorant-Robin, to be fair, isn't as bad as Albus Severus Remus Dumbledore Potter).