Sphere (2014) (first published 2013) | 550 pages
It’s no secret: I judge books by their authors.
When I found out about this “debut” from mysterious (note: not mysterious) author Robert Galbraith, I truly believed I’d find so much fault with this book that I’d never want to read it again. I found it funny, actually, that the author was attempting another genre seemingly so far from their original calling. I thought this would be an average novel, with a decent plot but otherwise not much going for it; I certainly didn’t expect to find quality within these pages.
As it turns out, Robert Galbraith is a fantastic crime author. And why wouldn’t they be? Previous works by the aforementioned author have involved twists and turns, mysteries and crimes, problems and solutions, and a fantastic and quirky cast of characters with secrets and mysteries of their own. Aside from the change in genre – and, really, there isn’t much change, is there? – there is nothing to say that Galbraith wouldn’t be good at writing crime. And yet, for some reason, I had no faith. I was intrigued, but otherwise not particularly hopeful. I was willing to give it a try, but not prepared to truly see the good in it.
That’s the last time I judge a book by its author.
The Cuckoo’s Calling isn’t anything remarkable, plot-wise. It follows the life of detective Cormoran Strike, and the circumstances surrounding a famous model – Lula Landry – and her apparent suicide. It seems straightforward: her brother, John, comes forward and declares that Lula couldn’t possibly have killed herself, and as with every crime novel, you know that the detective’s findings aren’t going to prove otherwise (it wouldn’t be a particularly interesting novel if they did, right?). The fun is in guessing what actually happened, and seeing the character of the detective develop and turn over more secrets as the pages unfold. The end result within this novel isn’t particularly surprising or revolutionary. I didn’t predict what had really happened to poor Lula, but the evidence given to me had certainly helped me rule out a few possibilities. And in the end, the way the truth was revealed didn’t really amaze me, despite me not having seen it coming. It was all as I predicted – average. Really.
The magic came with the details of Galbraith’s writing. As with their previous works, the writing here was immaculate. Honestly, I adored it. The blunt and often humourous physical descriptions of the characters, causing each one to stand out clear in the image within my mind; the dialogue, often formal but with a different dialect for each character; the descriptions of the setting, making London seem much more impressive than the workaday impression those in Britain have of it; and the characters themselves, unique and distinctive with their thoughts and actions, making the otherwise straightforward plot colourful and interesting. The similarities between the writing here and the writing within the author’s previous works are so strong, and yet, for some reason, I’d forgotten how much I loved this writing style.
I’m not saying this book is perfect. Far from it, in fact. The author falls into the same traps as before; extremely long and unbelievable passages of speech, some characters who feel more like caricatures than real people, and a rushed ending to an otherwise perfectly-paced story. I definitely feel that Strike had no grounds to make the accusations he did at the end, and really it’s a wonder his seemingly shot-in-the-dark questioning actually worked. He gave us no clues and showed us no evidence for his final accusation that it honestly felt he was just pulling rabbits out of hats. I feel like his explanations made no sense in regards to the facts we’d been given, and I couldn’t find a logical way, really, that he could have come to that conclusion. But that may just be me – I had landed myself in his secretary Robin’s shoes and honestly felt like I was playing a part in the investigation. Twists and turns in a novel – particularly in a crime novel – are expected and encouraged, but for some reason – and it may just be because I haven’t read a proper crime novel in a long time – the reveal at the end felt jumbled, forced and under-developed. But that, really, is my only gripe. And it certainly isn’t important enough to change my mind on the rating, especially since lack of clarity with their thought process is a trait a lot of fictional detectives hold.
In the end, there’s something to be said about this author, and pseudonyms, and distinctive writing styles and different genres. And there’s something to be said about already knowing who it is you’re reading, and allowing – or not allowing – that to change your impression. Would I like this book half as much if it’d been written by someone else? Would I even have picked it up if it hadn’t been written by this particular elephant in the room? Honestly, I loved this – and I’ll certainly be reading the sequels, too. But while I don’t believe that my 5-star rating is undeserved, I can’t help but feel very, very biased. I wish Galbraith’s true identity could have stayed a secret for longer, and I particularly wish that I hadn’t seen so much of JK Rowling’s writing style within these pages. It’s wonderful, it really is – but it needs to have her true name on the cover now.