Wednesday, September 24, 2014

J.K. Rowling by any other name. . .

I have long ago admitted that I might never have read the Harry Potter series if it had become so wildly successful before I met Harry.  I am skeptical of fads.  I am so glad, though, that I was introduced to the first book before my opinion could be tainted by pop culture "trending now."  Though I am not usually drawn to fantasy, I loved these books.  I particularly loved Jim Dale's audio versions, which left me sitting in the garage many afternoons, unwilling to stop mid-narrative.
When Rowling came out with her first book after the series A Casual Vacancy, I read it, and while it was rather dark, I still found it well written. 

For some reason, though, when I heard that she'd been "outed" as the author of The Cuckoo's Calling, under the pen name Robert Galbraith, I didn't rush to the bookstore.  I was almost wrong again.  This novel and its sequel The Silkworm, with their protagonist Cormoran Strike, have many of the traits that I liked in her series.

Strike, her protagonist, is a failing private detective who lost a leg in Afghanistan.  Although his father is a famous aging rock star, he goes out of his way not to trade on the fame.  The first book opens as Robin Ellacott, a young female temp shows up for work, an expense Strike does not need, at the same time a client comes to the office asking his help proving his supermodel sister did not commit suicide. 

Strike is a large man with a boxer's profile, thick kinky hair, and as a result of his uncomfortable prosthetic leg, a pronounced limp. Robin, newly engaged and attractive, has always wanted to work as a detective. As she works herself into more of a partnership, Rowling leaves unanswered questions (Just why did she leave university suddenly without her psychology degree?) that promise more novels to follow.

While some reviewers suggest the novels would not have had the success had the real identity of the author remained a mystery, I see enough of Rowling's clever character development and quirky insight into human nature to entire readers.  She develops the narrative, leaving room for readers to speculate, before unveiling the mystery behind the crimes Strike investigates.

Just as Cuckoo's Calling trots out a long list of potential killers before the truth is unveiled, in The Silkworm, in which a writer is found ritually murdered in the same way described in his recently completed, but unfinished novel, the potential suspects are many.  Students of Elizabethan revenge tragedies will enjoy the epigrams at the beginning of each chapter-from Webster, Dekker, Johnson and more.

Best of all, while the stories kept me interested, I was able to put the author's identify, even her presence, out of mind as I read, moving easily into Strike's London.

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