Monday, July 28, 2014

Disaster in the Last Chapter

"The Cuckoo's Calling" in not a book I would normally read. It's not that I have anything against crime fiction; it's just a genre I don't usually bother with. Had it not been for the revelation that Robert Galbraith was actually J. K. Rowling I would probably not have ever been aware of the noval. (And, of course, as soon as it was revealed to be JKR the reviews of the book became worthless - suddenly people were reviewing the author rather than the book.)

Still, I did enjoy the Harry Potter series, so when the novel appeared in Tesco's near-permanent "2 books for £7" offer, I picked up a copy. That was some months ago, and it has been waiting on my shelf since then.

I started "The Cuckoo's Calling" on Saturday while on the bus to Dumbarton; I finished it Sunday evening.

For the most part, it's very, very good - it's a really easy read, the characters are well drawn, and the central mystery is engaging. And it did indeed have me guessing right up to the last chapter. In fact, my big concern was that I had identified three characters I thought might be the killer, and I was worried she might pull a "they all did it!" twist, which wouldn't have been good.

Crime writing must be a tricky thing - you want a mystery complex enough that the reader doesn't quite see the revelation coming, and yet also clear enough that when the killer is revealed then it immediately makes sense - it should of course be clear how they did it, why they did it, and basically tie everything up.

Unfortunately, "The Cuckoo's Calling" fails that latter test. I had previously considered the character in question as the killer, but discarded him for a pretty obvious reason. (Though, admittedly, I was largely considering him because of the Gene Hunt law of crime fighting, rather than any good reason.)

The problem didn't lie with the murder itself. The means, motive, and opportunity all fit together perfectly well, so there was no problem there. Unfortunately, the bigger problem was that if that character was the killer then his other actions in the novel just don't fit.

Now, in fairness, JKR does try to resolve this by explaining what the character wanted to achieve through his actions. But the explanation is simply madness - the character would need to assume that another character, whom he had never met as an adult, was precisely competent enough to find this, this, and this, but just not quite competent enough to find that and that.

But then that means... alas, the more the story tries to fit together, the more it unravels. It's like trying to fix a slightly bendy floorboard by stamping on the raised end - doing so fixes the one problem but it creates others.

Which is a real shame, because for 520ish pages out of 550 it was a really good book. (There's also an issue with the epilogue, which seems determined to ignore some inconvenient facts in order to secure the mega-happy ending - exactly like Dumbledore's blatant cheating of the system in order to secure a Gryffindor win in the first Harry Potter book. But that's a comparitively minor problem.)

Still, it's good enough that I'll probably read the sequel when it comes out in paperback next year. Assuming it's again in the "2 books for £7" offer, of course.

#37: "Solo", by William Boyd
#38: "The Cuckoo's Calling", by Robert Galbraith

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