Welcome, readers, to the third post of The Cuckoo’s Calling, where a very small amount of plot happens in between large chunks of attempted character building.
Part Two opens from Strike’s point of view, with Robin reading to him from the blog of a Skeeter-clone feminist-bitch stereotype saying nobody cares about Lula’s death and making racist comments because she was half-caste, and implying that she deserved it for being too skinny and known to be on drugs. This is honestly a completely unnecessary scene, it adds nothing to the plot or to anyone’s characterisation, and it’s also not remotely relevant to the case so Robin and Strike have no reason to be reading it. We’ve now met or heard mention of seven women; one’s the victim, one’s Perfect Robin, one’s a ‘witness’ on coke who was found to have lied to the police about things she couldn’t possibly have heard from her location, and the other four are bitches. Rowling seems to be hating on her own gender for no reason; a bad move when you’re writing under a male pseudonym. Well, it’s a bad move for a woman as well, obviously, but you know what I mean.
Our Heroes do very briefly discuss what little they know of the case from the notes John Bristow helpfully left for them, mentioning a few people they want to talk to. We have mentions of some unfortunate black stereotypes – the gay black fashion designer Lula worked for, Guy Somé, and the ‘ghetto’ black rapper who was her friend and lives in the same apartment building, Deeby Macc. There are lots of people of colour in the book, but so far all pigeonholed as tropes. Strike’s mostly busy wangsting about his ex-fiancée Charlotte still, of course.
He then suggests he and Robin go for a long walk despite us being told repeatedly last chapter that his prosthetic hurts, so yeah, we’re just going to continue to ignore his being an amputee. Detective-noir does often involve a lot of walking around, meeting witnesses and people associated with cases, meeting informants, examining important locations, etc. – but not when there’s a good reason for the detective to not want to walk around too much, and not somewhere with such a solid network of public transport as central London has. There have been thoughts from both him and Robin on several occasions now about her engagement ring meaning it’s safe for them to talk and be in the same environment, because men and women can only interact if the woman belongs to a man, preferably the one she’s interacting with but if not then another man is acceptable. I’m a terrible person, I frequently spoke to men when I was single! Sometimes I still speak to men who don’t know that a man has claimed ownership of me! [Edit by Mitchell: in case anyone doesn’t pick up on the sarcasm, I obviously do no such thing! Ownership of people is a terrible and deeply harmful construct, even disregarding slavery and confining it to romantic notions only.] On the plus side the comma abuse seems to have been reduced, though it’s still there.
Anyway, they’re checking out Lula’s apartment building and surroundings… and Strike jumps to catch the top of a wall and pull himself up to look over. Despite being out of condition and having a badly-fitting painful prosthetic leg. Facepalm. To add insult to injury he then admits to himself he’s only doing it to show off to Robin even though she’s not as pretty as the woman he’s just left. No, seriously, he genuinely thinks that and makes that comparison. I hope they don’t pair up. He’s 35, she’s 25 – that’s okay by me, most of my ships leave a ten-year gap in the dust, but in Rowling-land thus far age differences in couples simply don’t exist (with one somewhat disastrous exception we’ll discuss in the upcoming HP shred, at length). Plus Strike constantly thinks of her as ‘girl’ not ‘woman’ and they’ve known each other a day and a half. And she is engaged, as stated many times because it’s a defining trait of what passes for her character. Also we’ve had enough romance angsting for several books by now, and I’m only on page 84. Rowling then mentions his prosthetic makes it hard to walk on uneven surfaces, like the cobbled road they’re standing on now – so stop making him go for walks all the time! They don’t seem to see anything useful on this scouting trip. If they do, Strike doesn’t mention it, aloud or internally.
We meet Robin’s fiancé Matthew for the first (and only, it turns out) time, in a ‘chapter’ less than two pages long. He mocks her job, laughs at her, insults her boss and is implied to be jealous. What a great first impression. I’m sure you all feel like you can see where this is heading, yes? Still, this is a nice glimpse of Robin’s point of view, which is already becoming annoyingly scarce.
This is followed by another two-page non-chapter of Strike going to collect his stuff from Charlotte’s house, angsting over how pretty she is and how out of his league she is and how things always went wrong. It’s been implied throughout that he left because of something bad she did, but despite his obsessing over it constantly he’s yet to think about what it actually was.This is a serious problem with this book – Rowling doesn’t want to infodump everything on the readers at once, which is certainly fair enough, but she can’t stop herself hinting at everything she’s going to explain later. So we have characters constantly thinking in circles around subjects, which becomes extremely irritating very quickly and also makes the characters sound either insane or stupid.
We’ve also been told Charlotte has left Strike several times and he’s talked her into trying again, but now he’s the one that’s left it finally counts as being over. I mentioned this in the previous post, but I’m mentioning it again because it’s annoying. Also she’s totally nuts and therefore deserves it, according to the lovely narrative; Charlotte is fulfilling our hysterical ex-girlfriend slot here, since when he told her it was over she gave him a black eye and scratched his face. You may recall that Robin noticed this when they first met and yet failed to even wonder what happened to herself, let alone ask him. That’s because Robin is a nicer person than the author, at least in some respects, and recognises that this was completely unnecessary and serves only to make sure we all absolutely hate this woman we’ve yet to meet.
The following chapter once again opens inside Strike’s very self-absorbed brain, and we find out a bit of his backstory. Apparently his father is a famous 70s rock star. Why was this necessary? Why does he need to be famous? (Clearly Charlotte the beautiful fiancée was just a gold-digger. If that’s where this is going I will punch someone.) This doesn’t explain how Strike’s in debt and sleeping in his office now he’s left her. Unless Daddy hates him so he can play the victim. I hope not. Anyway, this is apparently far more important than Strike and Robin dealing with a random client who’s devastated since he’s photographed her husband kissing her sister. I thought on first reading that this would be relevant to something later, but it’s not, it’s just there to remind everyone that Strike is a private investigator. I can understand how the readers might forget that, since we’re almost a hundred pages in and so far all he’s done is read a blog and walk past an apartment building. I can’t remember if he charges by the hour or not, but at least Bristow is a lawyer and can deal with being ripped off if so.
Anyway, this client gets bundled out the door as fast as possible so Strike can start angsting about Robin’s one-week contract as his secretary expiring. God, this is straight out of those overdone Hermione-as-Snape’s-assistant fanfics. He flatteringly compares how he feels to when he was a boy and caught a grass snake and begged to be allowed to keep it, because every woman is just a pet. Once again, I am sadly not exaggerating. This possible drama is resolved in a single paragraph when Robin decides she doesn’t want to be a temp and he can cut out the agency and hire her directly with all the money he doesn’t have, and he agrees because this is how book characters behave when the writer is working to a checklist rather than a plot outline. In a sense this is better than it dragging on for chapters like the fanfics do, since it spares the reader from having to put up with it, but seriously.
More inner monologue slowly revealing Strike’s backstory, which is apparently all going to be dumped on us at once. Yep, Strike gets to play the victim because of his terrible low-class slut-shaming childhood. Mummy was a groupie and a junkie, he has various half-siblings, they lived in a squat, etc. Mr Rock Star is publicly known to be his father (so why Robin didn’t know until someone tells her in a later chapter, I don’t know; certainly a lot of random minor characters seem to recognise Strike’s name and we learn later he’s listed on his father’s Wikipedia entry) so I’m not clear on why he obviously didn’t pay any form of child support.
We finally get back to a bit of plot, Strike interviewing Derrick Wilson, the security guard from Lula’s apartment building. They get talking about Afghanistan first and Strike reflects that the army wanted him to stay on after he got his leg blown off because he was just so amazing. In the real world, or at least in a different book, he’d possibly have turned them down Because Trauma, but this is Rowling, so obviously there hasn’t been so much as a sniff of PTSD in 100+ pages and I suspect there never will be (I was proved wrong on this score. There are exactly two small scenes, which are completely unconnected with anything in the book and are never mentioned again). He doesn’t say why he actually said no. In fact, confirming this lack of trauma anywhere, the security guy is totally unbothered when describing how he discovered the body of this young model with her head smashed in and brains leaking everywhere; he’d show more emotion talking about the football scores. He’s also black, and Lula’s personal driver – Kieran Kolovas-Jones – who shows up to be interviewed afterwards is mixed-race (and apparently very pretty, though I don’t know why this matters). Our protagonist and sidekick and their love interests are almost the only white people, which is a jarring change from Rowling’s usual cast. (Later we will learn the main reason why there needed to be a lot of black people in the story, and it’s terrible.)
The interviews are very boring to read, with lots of names mentioned with no context that the reader can’t hope to keep straight.It’s a shame because this is the first solid bit of concrete plot we’ve had, and it’s not even Rowling’s fault because it’s an interview, it’s not going to be that interesting anyway. What the scene needs is Robin present, so she and Strike can discuss the content of the interviews during and afterwards and help explain to the reader who everyone is and whether we’re meant to care or not. A few of the names that crop up turn out to be at least semi-important later – Ciara Porter, Lula’s fellow model and friend/rival; Rochelle Onifade, a friend of Lula’s from rehab who is currently homeless and still a junkie (I’m not convinced a celebrity would publicly stay friends with someone in those circumstances, but if Lula in fact did, she could have used some of her riches to help the girl out, surely?) and Evan Duffield, Lula’s on-off boyfriend, who from the remarks made about him is going to be the stereotypical pretty male junkie pop star everyone hates and thinks is a loser.
We drop the plot again in favour of a long description of Strike setting up home formally in his office, walking half a mile to the laundrette and back on his painful false leg without a problem, wangsting about Charlotte, being happy Robin’s coming back, blah blah blah. Oh, a tantalising single sentence sort-of hinting at a bit of depression, while he writes up his notes from the interviews and reflects that he still thinks Bristow’s a lunatic and Lula killed herself; this is then dropped before it can develop into characterisation, and instead we get a pointless phone call to a half-sister, Lucy. He hasn’t told her he’s split up with Charlotte so this is a good excuse to shoehorn in some more angst in case there’s still one reader left who isn’t sick of it.
He then moves on to Googling people in a vague attempt by Rowling to pretend he’s actually doing any fucking work. Since he has yet to do any research on the victim beyond the single bitchy blog we opened with, he looks her up. According to the Internet, Lula was definitely a junkie, maybe a whore, and had bipolar disorder (with an unpleasant undertone suggesting these factors all mean she somehow deserved it; I don’t like this book very much). She also had a very noticeable self-harm/suicide attempt scar on her arm that wasn’t Photoshopped out of a single photograph, because that’s absolutely how the fashion industry operates. Strike looks at some Lula fan sites so Rowling can mock online fans of things; they all have bad spelling and weird obsessive adoring attitudes. We then segue into some more angst, this time about Strike missing the army and about how he never fit in there because he’s Special somehow, because that’s more important than investigating a possible murder.
In the next chapter Strike goes looking for this homeless girl Rochelle at a hostel and meets some other junkies with incomprehensible accents, because apparently only terrible and stupid people end up homeless (Rowling is apparently forgetting her hero is sleeping in his fucking office). There are separate scenes of both Strike and Robin being bizarrely excited to get texts from each other; it might be cute except she’s engaged, he’s on the rebound and they’ve known each other for a week.
Strike wanders around on his aching bad leg for a while (seriously, this is all happening in central London; he’s taken the Tube once and never gone near a bus or a cab, wtf) – this would be a good chapter showing the legwork involved in being an investigator if it was accompanied by any sort of thought process and him actually thinking about the case, but he’s apparently not thinking anything at all while he wanders around a couple of places people have mentioned in passing, so we’ve no real idea why they’re important or what he’s looking for or whether he thinks he’s made any progress. He doesn’t even seem to have decided if he believes Lula was murdered or not. Apart from romance angst he seems to have less of an internal monologue than Harry. That’s how bad this is.
He interviews one of the policemen involved. Aside from the guy being way too willing to discuss a crime with a stranger who hasn’t even shown him any ID, the scene is actually done pretty well, it fills in some gaps and helps get the story straight. It would have been much better earlier on. As far as I can tell the main suspect is Lula’s boyfriend Evan Duffield, since his alibi apparently involves him wandering around half of London in a fucking wolf mask for some insane reason so the narrative’s obviously saying it wasn’t really him some of the time. Second suspect is the rapper Deeby Macc, who lives in the same building as Lula and is a black guy into hip-hop so therefore must be a suspect (numerous people have mentioned him and none of them have given any possible motive for why he might have done it).It could also be some movie director guy living in the same building, but aside from being a jerk he doesn’t seem to have any sort of connection or motive and I don’t really know why people keep talking about him as though he’s part of the story.
Oh, turns out Rock-star Daddy (his name is John Rokeby, for anyone who cares) isn’t part of Strike’s life because he’s illegitimate and some of the half-siblings aren’t? Maybe? I’m not sure why this didn’t come up earlier, but it still doesn’t explain the apparent lack of child support or actual contact.
Strike (still no Robin, she’s hanging around the office answering messages as far as I know; that is her job, of course, but she keeps almost being a main character and then fading into the background again) has an interview with the movie director’s wife, who was the coked-up ‘witness’ from the beginning. Rowling is trying for celebrity satire I think, they’re in a really well-known restaurant and she and her friend are stuck-up rich bitches slut-shaming half the famous people walking past. The wife insists she heard some kind of argument between Lula and a man right before she fell but the police have already proved she couldn’t have heard anything. No idea what’s actually going on there or why it matters. Nothing new is being said, anyway. Strike doesn’t think she’s lying even though it’s been proven that she must be, though naturally he fails to continue thinking and thus tell us why or suggest possible theories, and in a better book this would be interesting but the entire plot is being treated as something annoying getting in the way of the protagonists angsting about romance, so it’s really hard to care at this point.
We then have a completely bizarre jarring scene of Strike going into a toy store to buy a birthday present for his nephew (the basis of the phone call from his sister earlier) and stopping to stare fixedly at some military dolls – it would actually be a very good depiction of PTSD if there had been anything else earlier in the book to hint at it. I want to give Rowling credit, since as far as I recall it’s the first time she’s ever written plausible psychological trauma and it is genuinely well done, but at nearly 200 pages in it’s too little too late and just seems totally out of place.
And that’s the end of part two. Very little has actually happened still despite it being the longest section of the book, and Robin seems to have vanished over the past few chapters. Next time, the plot picks up a bit without getting any more interesting, there’s more unnecessarily drawn out pseudoromance, and I start getting really fed up.