Iain's Leisure Reading

J.K.Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith - the Cormoran Strike books   

I tend to read series of mostly crime books featuring the on going adventures of some main character. Most of the authors of these books also write other series based on other characters, but so far I have ignored these. Thus I have read the Ann Cleeves Jimmy Perez books, but not her more popular Vera Stanhope series. I did read a couple of Inspector Malcolm Fox books by Ian Rankin , but that was to know who Malcolm Fox was - I had heard that he was to appear in the long awaited book featuring the return of John Rebus.

In 2014 I got a present of J K Rowling's "The Silkworm" from my son Jamie, and so I decided to break my self imposed mini rule. I had avidly followed J K Rowling's Harry Potter series , so why not read her other series - those where she writes as Robert Galbraith a series featuring the private investigator Cormoron Strike. The first book in this series was "The Cuckoo's Calling" by "Robert Galbraith", and when this was published no one knew that Galbraith was really J K Rowling. J. K. genuinely wanted to see if she had the ability to succeed in another book genre, but her lawyer, I think, let the secret slip - and rightly became her ex lawyer !

J K Rowling is fabulously wealthy from the proceeds of the Harry Potter books, films, and spin offs. But what else is a good writer to do, other than write books. I am really pleased for J. K. that so far the Cormoran Strike books have been so well received, and won so many favourable reviews. Lots of critics were "sniffy" about the Harry Potter books, and then forecast that J. K. would be a "one trick monkey" who would never succeed again. It must be great to prove them wrong !

The Cuckoo's Calling,     (2013)

I read this book in October, 2014.

This is book one in the detective series written by J.K. Rowling featuring Cormoran Strike, an ex soldier, ex SIB, one legged private investigator. It's quite a change from Harry Potter, but the good news is that J.K. has lost none of her writing skills. It's a terrific debut novel in a different genre. I liked the main character Cormoran Strike, his secretary / assistant Robin Ellacot, I liked the story, I failed to work out "who done it", and I thought it was well paced and built to a suitable climax. Initially I thought the book could have done with some editing - too many words in some places. But, as the book went on, it all settled down nicely to an excellent read.

In Cormoran and Robin we have a great partnership - with perhaps the hint of future romance. But equally, this could just remain a possibility - a tease - in the next few books. We meet Robin first - a 25 year old temping secretary who is elated because she has just got engaged to her boyfriend, Mathew. She is looking for the office of her next temporary employer, finds it eventually, and is amazed but delighted to find that she will be working for a private investigator. Robin's secret ambition had always been to be a P.I. Now we meet her employer, Cormoran. His last temp had been dismissed, and he didn't expect the agency to send him another temp. He is skint, cannot really afford a secretary, but decides to give Robin a go for a week. He thinks he can just about afford to pay her. Bit by bit, as the story progresses we find out more about Cormoran - little clues here and there. He is mentally as well as physically damaged - he was blown up in Afghanistan and lost his leg. He has now left the army. But his leg stump and prosthesis still give him a lot of pain. Initially Robin doesn't know that Cormoran has only one leg. Slowly they get to know more about each other. Cormoran is a very private person - and Robin senses that she must keep a respectful distance. But she is good at her job - and Cormoran finds that fate has sent him a treasure of an assistant / secretary. The Cormoran / Robin relationship is perfectly paced and beautifully judged - well done, J.K. A Google search reveals that Cormoran has a famous pop star father who had a one night stand with Cormoran's groupie mother - but father and son have never had anything to do with each other. This may change as the series progresses - I see lots of scope there.

What is the story ? Lula Landry is a very famous, very beautiful top model who falls to her death from her penthouse apartment in London. The police think that it is suicide, but her brother, John Bristow can't accept this, and so he asks Cormoran to try to find out what really happened. Why did he pick Cormoran ? John's young brother fell to his death in a quarry when he was a child of 10 - and Cormoran and the dead youngster were best pals.

J.K. paints a very convincing picture of life in the fast lane as a top model - famous people, conspicuous wealth, very glamorous, but at the cost of empty, shallow lives, being shaddowed by paparazzi and the gutter press. Is she possibly writing from bitter personal experience ?

It's all solved by the end, and the Cormoran / Robin team are still intact, and ready to take on future cases.

I thought it was a terrific crime novel debut - if J.K. can run with this, perhaps improve a little with time, it has all the promise of a great crime series. It's not faultness, but nevertheless I was pleased that it was as good as it was. It looks as if the old J.K. magic is still there. How can you follow the phenomenon of Harry Potter - J.K. seems to have found an answer. I look forward to reading the next in the series - there are so many different ways that I can see this developing.

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The Silkworm,     (2014)

I read this book in October, 2014.

This is the second book in J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith)'s crime fiction series featuring Cormoran Strike, and his assistant Robin Ellacot. Whilst I greatly enjoyed reading it, I thought it was only a good book rather than a very good one. That said, though, I am looking forward to reading the next in the series.

It started off very well, set a few months after the first book. Cormoran and Robin are terrific characters, and their professional relationship / potential personal relationship is handled perfectly, and expertly paced. Robin has taken a massive cut in salary to work as Cormoran's secretary because all her life she has had a secret desire to be a private investigator. But now Cormoran seems to have forgotten this - he treats her as a typist, and talks of getting in someone to help with the investigative side. The problem is Robin's fiance Mathew, who is deeply suspicious of Robin's working for Cormoran. Why is she always so full of what Cormoran says and does ? But Cormoran thinks that Robin will never be able to commit to work the long, irregular hours that the job entails. It's simply not a 9 to 5 job. Also it can be dangerous. There is also another deeper reason - Cormoran is well aware of Robin's beauty. He could so easily find himself attracted to her - so he tries to keep a respectful distance between them. Eventually the situation is resolved - and it seems in the next book we may find Robin more active as an investigator / professional partner. This part of the story is handled excellently. Cormoran is also such an interesting character - the son of a pop idol father he has never met, ex army, ex SIB, and Cormoran is disabled - part of his leg was blown off in Afghanistan.

So why do I have reservations about the book ? I am afraid, it is the story or rather the story within the story. I started off thinking it was a terrific, original read. Owen Quine is a writer who goes missing, and his wife Leonora turns up in Cormoran's office asking him to find her missing husband. Leonora also has a mentally handicapped young daughter Olivia. Cormoran does find Owen Quine, or rather, his remains. He has been butchered after being tortured, and burned with acid. Soon Leonora is charged with her husband's murder - so Cormoran and Robin must find out who the real killer is, to save their client (and Olivia). Now comes a tedious part of the story - a story within a story. Owen's murder is as per set out in his last, unpublished book - a wierd, "Pilgrim's Progress" sort of tale about a hermathrodite creature. I know this story was meant to be deliberately awful, but I was not impressed. The unpublished book also slandered lots of people - did one of them kill Owen to prevent publication ?

The book is also a bit slow in places, and there is not a terrific amount of action. But there is a good, suprise ending to the book that I did not see coming - perhaps I should have been more tolerant of the story within the story !

So it's 80% very good, 20% only fair, say good overall. But for all that, I still think J K Rowling is a terrific writer, and I really do look forward to the next book in the series. Robin and Cormoran are such interesting characters - I want to know what happens to them next.

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Career of Evil,     (2015)

I read this book in July, 2016.

This is the third book in the Cormoran Strike crime fiction series written by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). Cormoran and his assistant / partner Robin Ellacot are great creations, and above all this book is about the ongoing Cormoran / Robin relationship. Cormoran has a girlfriend, Elin, rich, beautiful, successful, and an announcer on BBC radio - the third programme. Robin is engaged to Matthew - their wedding had to be postponed when his mother died, but it is has been rescheduled, and is to take place in a few weeks' time. So Robin and Cormoran's relationship can only be professional, can't it? And yet there is a terrific sexual chemistry there that neither dare acknowledge. This is definitely out of bounds. But neither has ever had a better friend, they just get on so well, and they care for each other more than can ever be admitted. Mathew is head over heels in love with Robin, but how can Mathew compete with Cormoran - no wonder he feels so insecure?

The book opens with a parcel addressed to and delivered to Robin Ellacot. She opens it and her screams bring Cormoran running. Someone has sent Robin a girl's severed leg. It soon becomes clear that someone from Cormoran's past is trying to get at him through Robin, and Robin's life is in great danger. Cormoran can think of 4 people who hate him enough to be doing this. They are Malley, Whittaker (Cormoran's mum's boyfriend), Laing, and Brockbank. All are rogues and brutes from Cormoran's SIB army days. The police know Malley well, and so concentrate on him. Cormoran thinks it is more likely to be one of the other three, but the police won't listen. With Robin's life in danger, and the bad publicity destroying his detective agency business, Cormoran and Robin have to solve the mystery of who is behind all this by themselves. But now there are two complications. Robin and Mathew's engagement is off - he had been unfaithful to Robin with a friend of theirs - and Robin is in a bad state. Back in the same pub where Cormoran cried on Robin's shoulder when he split with his long term girlfriend, now Robin needs a shoulder to cry on. Drinking more than usual, Robin lets slip why she quit Uni. One night, a rapist in a gorilla suit, attacked Robin, and left her for dead. She lost all her self confidence, fled home, became agaraphobic, and it took a couple of years for Robin to get her life back. Robin never wants ever again for a man to dictate what sort of life she can lead. On the other hand Robin is now terrified that Cormoran will want rid of her. How can someone with her past who could not save herself work as a private detective and protect others. Dare Cormoran risk Robin's life / put her through all that again.

And so the story proceeds, and tension builds. Can Cormoran keep Robin safe without sending her home ? Can Robin forgive a truly repentent Mathew ?

J. K. Rowling is not a concise writer, and so this is a long novel - but I don't mind that. Cormoran still manages to drink Doom Bar beer in London - I don't mind that either, I doubt that J.K is a beer drinker herself. By the end of the book Cormoran has done the police's work for them, but the real climax of the book is Robin's on / off wedding. Will she go through with it, and will Cormoran be there. What happens next demands another book in the series. I look forward to it with relish.

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