Sunday, July 20, 2014

All winds go sighing/For sweet things dying

What I did on my summer vacation: Listened to lots and lots of books and not blogged about them. I've already taken my official (time off work) vacation, although I've got a nice weekend at the beach planned for a few weeks from now. And since where I'm staying doesn't have wifi, I'd like to enjoy those few days with a clear conscience. So here goes.

I absolutely loved Robert Galbraith's The Cuckoo's Calling. I'm late to the party, per usual, although I did grab a Lucky Day copy of The Silkworm on July 3 and read it from cover to cover on our nation's birthday (a fine way to celebrate one's independence). I love the fact that she-who-shall-not-be-named continues to write under this pseudonym, even though she was utterly outed.

The Cuckoo's Calling introduces us to a damaged (physically and emotionally), yet sympathetic hero, the private eye Cormoran Strike. Barely getting by after losing a leg in Afghanistan and leaving the military, Strike has had one final blow-up with his rich, beautiful girlfriend and is sleeping on the couch in his office on Denmark Street. A temp secretary named Robin Ellacott shows up in error on the same morning that a lawyer named John Bristow does. Bristow is the adoptive brother of the sensational biracial model, Lula Landry, who fell out a window of her flat about three months earlier. The police have said that Lula committed suicide, but her brother thinks someone killed her. He hires Strike to find the truth.

And thus Strike, who is the barely acknowledged bastard son of a punk rock musician named Johnny Rokeby, enters the world of supermodels, rap musicians, fashion designers and their various hangers-on, as well as the parasitic paparazzi (called "paps") who record their every public (and occasionally private) move. And we, delightfully, enter the world of Cormoran Strike and are not disappointed.

Galbraith takes all the tropes of the private eye novel -- a man with a past, not conventionally attractive, his last-chance case, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, his efficient gal friday (who might be carrying a torch), and an affectionate tour of a particular setting -- and doesn't break any boundaries or go unexpected places. But he does tell a good story. And as he (she) excels at character, this book teems with vivid individuals: In addition to Cormoran and Robin, there's Cormoran's icy girlfriend, Lula's best friend, her driver and her favorite designer, her on-again/off-again rapper boyfriend, her loony upstairs neighbor, her angry birthmother, and a downtrodden junkie she met at rehab.

Which segues nicely to the audiobook. It's read by the actor Robert Glenister and he is very good. (Not realizing that there are two English actors named Glenister, I kept thinking he was his brother, Philip, who I remember from Life on Mars and Calendar Girls.) He reads with a slightly husky voice, rapidly but clearly. There's not a lot of drama in his reading but he maintains a listener's interest with ease. This is probably because -- like Galbraith -- he creates lifelike characters, everyone distinguished by a consistent accent or a delivery technique that keeps them all straight. With ease and confidence, Glenister can be an American rap musician, a Sloane Ranger-y entitled bitch, a strung-out black girl, an ambitious limo driver, a flamboyant designer (and frazzled assistant), an old woman deep in the pain of terminal cancer, a drunk and maudlin Cormoran, and Robyn's tedious fiancĂ©, Matthew.

Not to be forgotten: Cormoran's straightforward English accent with a slight working-class edge and Robin's friendly and unflappable delivery. There are many other characters Glenister brings to life, but it's been awhile since I finished this book, and they have faded into the past.

Then there's fun English "insider" stuff, like the stress on the second syllable of Galbraith, and the pronunciation of cuckoo with the first syllable the same as that in cuckold. And the surprising (considering how "refined" Anglophiles like me find English speech) papa-RAT-zi, which somehow expresses the author's contempt for this group of journalists.

I like the brief generic music that begins and ends the novel. There's also a fair amount of Latin that Galbraith uses as epigraphs to the book's "parts" and Glenister pulls this off capably. "A Dirge" by Christina Rossetti serves as the novel's epigraph, and I've quoted from this for my post title.

Having now read The Silkworm, I'm enjoying the way Galbraith is slowly revealing more of Cormoran's back story and -- of course -- watching Robin come into her own (lose the fiancé!). I'll keep reading (and, depending on the competition, maybe listening).

[It's in The Silkworm that we learn that Cormoran is the name of a legendary Cornish giant, possibly killed by a boy named Jack. This image is from an 1820 Victorian chapbook and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, Book 1) by Robert Galbraith
Narrated by Robert Glenister
Hachette Audio, 2013. 15:54

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