Being a mystery writer has to be tough. No, I don’t mean a mystery writer like this guy; I mean an author who writes whodunit-y stories about unsolved murders and disappearances. It’s such a well-tread genre, it’s quite a tall order to write something truly original. Even if the author does manage to come up with a unique idea/angle, he or she must still pull off the difficult trick of keeping the big, twisty reveal from being too easily figured out in advance by his or her readers, who are playing gumshoe the whole way trying to guess the carefully disguised culprit. Yes, breaking new ground with a mystery is nigh impossible. But does it matter?
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith* is a fairly ordinary mystery. It follows private detective Cormoran Strike as he attempts to deduce the killer of supermodel Lula Landry, whose death was originally ruled a suicide. The story’s pace isn’t exactly that of the breakneck page turner variety, as readers pretty much follow Strike from suspect interview to suspect interview in a fairly straight line as he does his detective thang. It’s not boring, but it’s not exactly the literary equivalent of drinking Mountain Dew. I suppose the identity of the killer is shocking in a vacuum, but in the context of a heavily saturated genre in which authors often try to make the baddie who we least suspect and so make us reflexively (and barely ironically at this point) suspect that person the most, it’s not really shocking at all. At this point, it probably sounds like I hated the book, but I actually liked it quite a bit. My minor gripes about pacing and a less-than-inspired choice of killer aren’t nearly enough to cancel out the fact that the writing is strong and the characters are well-drawn. I highly enjoyed the prickly, brilliant, tough-yet-sensitive, and at times, comically awkward Strike, and I’ll gladly read future releases in the series just to see more of him. I’ve mentioned that the journey through the story wasn’t always thrilling, but it kept me reading and entertained, and that’s no small praise.
So, I suppose the lesson here is that a mystery doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel or come up with the greatest twist since “the butler did it” to be a quality, enjoyable read. Whodathunkit?
*We all know it’s you, J. K. Rowling; just give it up and put your name on the cover of the next book.