Monday, September 8, 2014

Trading In Harry and Magic for Cormoran and Murder

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Robert Galbraith achieved two things with his 2013 debut novel, The Cuckoo's Calling. 1) He wrote a mystery that was fresh with its approach to a flawed hero, the man who can't exactly get the girl, who doesn't make too many self-improvements, but somehow manages to come out on top. 2) He also was able to use his pen name to hide behind his real identity as Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling and prove to the world that SHE could write books that didn't involve wands or Hogwarts. And prove it she did. The Cuckoo's Calling received spectacular reviews upon it's debut, while the world still thought that Galbraith was a new, male author; it was hailed as being darkly fascinating, with its mystery solving hero being a “a complex and compelling sleuth," according to Publisher's Weekly. Her sequel, The Silkworm, has received equally positive reviews, with Cormoran Strike proving once again that he can be the hero without being perfect.

Cormoran Strike. An amputee veteran from the Afghan wars. A huge man that elicits stares wherever he goes. The illegitimate child of a famous rock star. A detective. It is these traits, good and bad, and so many more that make up Strike's personality, thus influencing his business as a private detective. Strike is that person that men want to be and women want to be with. In Cuckoo's, the reader finds Strike trying to pick up the pieces of his life after a long-term relationship implodes. He is drawn into the high-stakes and high pressure world of fashion, modeling, and the lives of the wealthy, where one of their own has committed suicide. The dead woman's brother convinces Strike that maybe something else happened. In Silkworm, Strike is once again entangled in a strange, cult-like world, this time of book publishing. An author has been brutally murdered and it seems like EVERYONE wanted him dead. Throughout both books, Strike is assisted by Robin Ellacott, his pretty and quietly intelligent assistant; she too is plagued by her own demons and continues to surprise Strike and the reader with her bravery and cunning.

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But, you ask, how is this different from EVERY, SINGLE mystery series ever? Somehow, Galbraith/Rowling makes it different. It is set in modern day London, so American readers are introduced to the British life of today. It is written with the same rolling, but at the same time, succinct descriptions that brought us the magical world of Harry Potter. The dialogue is crass, witty, emotional, and engaging; I was never bored by the back and forth between Strike and the suspects. Galbraith/Rowling does not shy away from violence; the crimes depicted in the book are not gruesomely described, but are conveyed in a way that the reader will feel very involved in the crime investigation. The people killed are not innocent saints of humans; they too are flawed. But the reader, along with Cormoran, becomes convinced by the straight-forward violence that justice must be served. How it is served is a departure from the cut-and-dry police procedural plot line that many mysteries follow. Galbraith/Rowling twists and unwraps the mystery at hand, resulting in several problems caused by several people, which will lead up to the main crime. The multifaceted aspect of the books keeps the reader hooked until the very end.

I am hoping that Galbraith/Rowling can breathe new life into the mystery genre. Recently, the genre has been overtaken by cozy mystery series (I love me some cozy mystery series but they all tend to be the same over and over again) and by gruesome, gory mysteries (Sorry, Jeffrey Deaver, but wow!). Galbraith/Rowling can be categorized with Dennis Lehane, Marshall Karp, Stieg Larsson, and those who don't shy away from gritty mysteries, flawed heroes, and the often violent nature of people overall. Perhaps, as the fan base of Harry Potter gets older, they can graduate to Galbraith/Rowling's new series; its written just as well as Harry Potter and also has the action, the tension between good and bad, the wit, and the ever-proper Britishness that we all grew to love.

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