15 June 2014

Library Limelights 58

Robert Galbraith. The Cuckoo's Calling. New York: Mulholland/Little, Brown and Company, 2013.
A new entry in the crime novelist sweepstakes comes from JK Rowling via "Robert Galbraith." The metamorphosis of the writer who captivated the world in the Harry Potter novels is a revelation. The book is a topnotch mystery in every way! Introducing a shabby but upright private eye: Cormoran Strike. Upright, when his prosthesis is firmly attached. Strike's personal life may be in chaos but his investigative brain ticks away to unravel a compelling, complex series of events, beginning with an unexpected death. Robin, his efficient new office temp, smooths out some of his business failings while they warily tiptoe around each other.

Rowling Galbraith pulls us, nuance after nuance, into the life and death tale of a celebrity. Plenty of surprises here. Just when we think we have the criminal pegged, a new twist distracts us ― but not Strike. We don't always know what he's thinking, but he's several corners ahead of us. The author's insights are fascinating in a breadth of scenes from the east end of London to posh Mayfair, not to mention entertaining dialogue and dialects, as Strike politely interviews one suspicious character after another. Robin yearns to assist, contributing to some of the funnier scenes like role-playing in a fashion boutique. Literary peers and critics have been bowled over by Strike's appearance on the crime scene. I'm not the only one who can't wait for the next adventure (The Silkworm).

New term: the Johari window.

The rock star:
The death of his girlfriend had fixed Duffield more securely than ever in the firmament of the idolized, the vilified, the deified. A certain darkness, a fatalism, hung around him; both his most fervent admirers and his detractors seemed to take pleasure in the idea that he had one booted foot in the afterworld already; that there was an inevitability about his descent into despair and oblivion. He seemed to make a veritable parade of his frailties, and Strike lingered for some minutes over another of those tiny, jerky YouTube videos, in which Duffield, patently stoned, talked on and on, in the voice Kolovas-Jones had so accurately parodied, about dying being no more than checking out of the party, and making a confused case for there being little need to cry if you had to leave early. (111)

The homeless shelter:
... An unmistakably institutional flavor was given by the large silver buzzer and speaker beside the door, and the unapologetically ugly black camera, with its dangling wires, that hung from the lintel in a wire cage.
An emaciated teenage girl with a sore at the corner of her mouth stood smoking outside the front door, wearing a dirty man's jumper that swamped her. She was leaning up against the wall, staring blankly towards the commercial center barely five minutes' walk away, and when Strike pressed the buzzer for admission to the hostel, she gave him a look of deep calculation, apparently assessing his potential.
A small, fusty, grimy-floored lobby with shabby wooden paneling lay just inside the door. Two locked glass-paneled doors stood to left and right, affording him glimpses of a bare hall and a depressed-looking side room with a table full of leaflets, an old dartboard and a wall liberally peppered with holes. Straight ahead was a kiosk-like front desk, protected by another metal grille. (118)  

John Verdon. THINK OF A NUMB3R. New York: Crown Publishing Group/Random House, 2010.
Thriller lovers, take note: this is a terrific first novel Dave Gurney has just retired as a NYPD homicide detective, to his wife Madeleine's relief. He left with a sterling reputation for brilliant analysis in solving difficult cases. When an old college acquaintance approaches him with an odd (ominous) problem — receiving anonymous, cryptic letters and an impossible number puzzle — the mystery appeals to Dave's growing restlessness. Once committed, he is quickly embroiled in escalating murders.

Dave involves himself a little more than necessary to make himself a target, forcing a showdown with the killer. Motive is the missing element in trying to catch the unknown, elusive killer. Author Verdon clearly knows his psychology. We see Dave examine his own feelings of inadequacy as a husband and father when he has moments to himself. A first-class debut from an exciting new author. Two more novels with Dave Gurney followed this one, and a fourth will be published in July 2014.

Gurney runs into a disliked former colleague:
Gurney glanced at him curiously. "You remember that my first wife divorced me?"
"Some things I remember. Not so much things I read—but if somebody tells me something about themselves, that kind of stuff I remember. Like, I know you were an only child, your father was born in Ireland, he hated it, he would never tell you anything about it, and he drank too much."
Gurney stared at him.
"You told me when we were working on the Piggert case."
Gurney wasn't sure whether he was more distressed by having revealed those quirky family facts, by forgetting that he had, or by Hardwick's recalling them. (136)

Some guilt about his family life:
Of course, other than telling him those stories, his father had never had much to do with him. Mainly his father worked. Worked and kept to himself.
Worked and kept to himself. This life-summarizing phrase, it struck Gurney, described his own behaviour as accurately as it did his father's. The barriers he'd once erected against recognizing such similarities seemed lately to be developing large leaks. He suspected not just that he was becoming his father but that he had done so long ago. Worked and kept to himself. What a small and chilly sense of his life it conveyed. How humiliating it was to see how much of one's time on earth could be captured in so short a sentence. What sort of husband was he if his energies were so circumscribed? And what sort of father. (214-5)

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