A few years ago, great brouhaha ensued when mystery writer Robert Galbraith was “outed” as none other than JK Rowling by the best friend of a wife of one of Rowling’s solicitors. Considering the massive fallout for the solicitor over this, I am assuming that best friend is no longer welcomed in his home. I know she wouldn’t be in mine.
Anyway, I largely forgot about it. I read mysteries, but they aren’t my genre de jour so they don’t stick to my frontal lobes the way other books in other genres might. It’s surprising, because I am quite the Rowling enthusiast. Not only am I a Potterhead, I read Rowling’s Casual Vacancy and it was a hella good book that displayed to the whole world that JK Rowling was our generation’s Charles Dickens. There are people who are not fans of Rowling’s work, but those people are wrong. Bless their hearts.
Not long ago I was reminded of the Galbraith/Rowling nom de plume and this time I remembered to buy the books. Boy howdy, am I glad I did.
The mysteries are, not to put to fine a point on it, excellent. The red herrings have red herring’s, but she never “cheats” and by leaving out information or crucial data. It’s like the Harry Potter series – sure, it’s obvious in hindsight where the plot had to go but at the time you weren’t sure what she’d do next. More importantly, the books are honest-to-goodness gritty, hard-boiled detective fiction and the characters are 3-dimensional rather than one-note props for the whodunit.
Then there is the elegance and depth of the writing. Rowling can phrase things in such a way that it paints vivid pictures in the readers mind, and imbues the reader with the “feel” of atmosphere the story takes place it. Let me give you some examples of this. The first two are from The Cuckoo’s Calling:
“The cameras looked like malevolent shoeboxes atop their pole, each with a single blank, black eye.”
“The silence had the slack quality that speaks only of the indifference of uninhabited rooms, and his footsteps sounded alien and overloud as he made his way down the hall.”
The next two are from The Silkworm:
“The old houses sat in a distinctive row, dark redbrick relics of a more confident and imaginative time …”
“Robin followed the sat nav’s instructions past quiet country houses topped with thick layers of glittering white, over a neat little bridge spanning a river the color of flint and past a sixteenth-century church of surprising grandeur to the far side of the town …”
I also particularly liked the way she described one character in The Silkworm, a publisher named Daniel Chard. For those who are familiar with autism, it was clear that Chard had autism, but Rowling never explictily stated it – never hit the reader over the head with it. The detective, Cormoran Strike (that is an awesome name for a noir detective, by the way), wasn’t familiar with autism enough to give Chard and armchair diagnosis and thus the reader was left to either figure it out or assume the guy was just a shy, socially-awkward dude who made eye-contact wrong.
After I read the books, I also understand why Rowling wanted the freedom of writing under a pseudonym. Some of her characters’ observations are cutting and this way she didn’t have to worry anyone she knew in person would see themselves in book when they weren’t and get their feelings hurt. For instance, there is this horrible but ingenious writer in The Silkworm who says, “But writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want a lifelong friendship and selfish camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.” Harsh, no?
In sum, these were excellent books and I recommend them without reservation to anyone who like the mystery genre even a single iota.