Cormoran Strike Books Are A Hit

30 10 2014

This is overdue, but I have finally decided to put down some words about J.K. Rowling’s first two mystery novels, The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm. Of course, I hadn’t heard about them until word leaked that the author, Robert Galbraith, was actually a fiction as well. I have to say that I enjoyed both books quite a bit, and look forward to reading them again. I won’t get into the plots of both books (because it would be too easy to give away the mysteries, and that would spoil the stories), but I do want to say why I liked them.

Positive After Negative

One might think that, after my rather harsh words about The Casual Vacancy that I had it in for Ms. Rowling when it comes to something not related to Harry Potter. My general review wasn’t terribly positive, and my “spoiler alert” review explored, in greater depth, why I didn’t like the book. In short, I didn’t think it was an interesting story, and it wasn’t particularly well told. But I will, once again, applaud Ms. Rowling for making the effort. The only way to grow as a writer is to write, and to try to write different things. They won’t all be successes. Given her string of successes so far (out of the 10 books I’ve read, only 1 didn’t work for me, so that’s a batting average of .900. That’s pretty good).

With the Cormoran Strike books, I think she has found her touch again. They are certainly different from the Harry Potter universe. The stories, and the characters, are more coarse (which is a good thing). They are rougher around the edges, with enough extremes to make them “larger than life” without turning them into cartoon characters. Certainly, some of the supporting cast does verge on caricature, but given their support roles and the need to keep the stories compact and well-paced, that isn’t a problem.

That compactness, and the tight, fast pacing of the stories makes them immensely enjoyable, and very hard to put down. When I got the second book, The Silkworm, I set aside the day to read it, and did it in one go. It was a nice way to spend a day. The mysteries remain mysteries pretty much up until the end (without resorting to using information that the reader never had). The ending’s weren’t telegraphed, and there are enough twists in the plot in both books to keep you on your toes.

Lessons Learned?

I’d like to think that Ms. Rowling learned some lessons from The Casual Vacancy. Gone are the “cast of thousands” and their storylines, with threads left dangling undone and unsatisfied. Instead, we have a nice, neat core cast of recurring characters, plus the new characters needed for the new mystery. Instead of several stories meandering around the landscape, and the main plot fading away, we have a single, focused main story, with just enough side-stories to push the main thread around a bit.

We also get to see the onion peeled back on the two main characters, Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, without revealing everything. We still have unresolved questions about their past, plus they have their futures still to be discovered. I’m glad we didn’t get the “tell all” in the first novel, and now it’s just “new adventures for familiar characters” like some kind of Scooby Doo mystery. There are still mysteries to be uncovered about the main characters as well. It makes you look forward to the next book, and gives a larger story arc for the current and future books to participate in.

Bravo and Well Done

I will wrap this up by saying “well done” to Ms. Rowling with her first two Cormoran Strike books. Compact without feeling sparse, well-paced and compelling storytelling make for good, entertaining books. I eagerly await her future instalments.

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