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The Cuckoo’s Calling, part three

16 May

Part Three opens with Strike implausibly and illegally getting the police case file from the policeman he interviewed before, and going through all the statements etc. Seriously, fiction authors of the world, policemen don’t do that. They will not hand crime files over to random people because their friends said so or because they asked really nicely. Disregarding that, Strike gets the file and sorts through everything the police have so far. Honestly this ought to be interesting, it’s fairly well done, but the plot’s received so little attention up until now that it’s almost impossible to be invested in it at almost half way through the book. Especially as, again, Strike has no thoughts about what he’s reading, he just reads it, so we just get a dry list of names and places and facts. I won’t even try to summarise them; it’s things like the autopsy report, CCTV footage of someone running down a nearby street around the time it happened, the visitors’ book from Lula’s apartment block, witness statements from various people, the contents of her laptop. Oh, also Strike’s mother died years ago of a heroin overdose because all protagonists need dead mothers. No, this doesn’t have anything whatsoever to do with the story, but if I had to read it randomly shoehorned in here then so do you.

On to Strike going to his nephew’s birthday party (seriously, Robin’s featured in half a dozen lines in as many chapters and her POV has vanished totally). He’s refusing to tell his sister Lucy that he’s left Charlotte for some reason he doesn’t bother thinking about. He does think that he’s never wanted children, though, which is again very unlike a Rowling protagonist; I approve. He then starts watching the security footage from the police file in an empty room at this party of about fifty people, because that’s a sensible thing to do – the DVD drive on his computer doesn’t work, apparently. He’s interrupted by his nephew, gives the kid his present which he should have done when he first got there, and then proves that brief lone glimpse of PTSD was complete and utter bullshit by happily playing soldiers with the kid and pretending to get gut-shot.

Non-chapter of him asking John for Lula’s laptop because the police file only had her emails in it. This would have taken a couple of paragraphs as a phone call within another scene. Even padded it only just stretches to two pages. That’s not a chapter, book.

Robin reappears briefly next chapter, just so Strike can feel happy she’s lying to the temp agency and not going for any job interviews because she loves working for him so much. I would be happy to see her again, but this isn’t a good chapter, as you’ll see. Strike takes her shopping to some smart boutique Lula visited on the day she died. Robin promptly turns into another annoying female stereotype and starts squeeing about the fun of trying on pretty shit she can’t afford, and starts trying on skintight revealing dresses and modelling them for Strike because it’s not like they’re investigating a murder or anything or that she’s engaged to someone else. This is every bit as random as it sounds. They’re there to interview people, so she picks up some skimpy dresses she can’t hope to afford and starts posing and walking in front of Strike in them. She does actually talk to the assistants about Lula though, which is more than he’s doing since he’s too busy drooling at her, and they learn that she was talking to someone on the phone. What a revelation, that absolutely justifies this scene, thank you.

Robin vanishes again next chapter and Strike goes for yet another long theoretically-painful walk which he mostly spends daydreaming about her modelling the dresses for him. Murder? What murder? He’s meant to be meeting John, but John and Lula’s uncle Tony shows up instead and says John is half-nuts and has invented it all. He rants about how terrible Lula’s adoptive mother (his sister) is as a parent, how crazy John is, and makes a few racist comments. He’s a lovely bloke, can’t you tell? Yet so far he’s the only male character we’re meant to dislike, as opposed to at least half a dozen female characters.

John shows up, Uncle Tony buggers off, there’s another non-interview about nothing really relevant or interesting with no emotional input from Strike, blah blah blah. I’m trying to be interested in the plot, I really am, but when none of the characters give a shit (and one suspects the author doesn’t either) it’s unreasonable to expect the readers to. Oh, turns out there were rumours that Lula was going to leave everything to John – how many millionaire 20-something drug/party/high life models make wills, do you suppose? This isn’t entirely sarcasm, I genuinely don’t know, but it doesn’t seem as though it’s the sort of lifestyle that encourages planning for the future. There’s no reason given for why John when their mother is still alive and so is Lula’s biological mother, and Strike doesn’t ask, or wonder privately, because you could replace him with a cardboard cutout for half his scenes and it wouldn’t make much difference.

Strike goes back to his office, finally remembering for about ten seconds that his leg hurts. This continues to annoy me. He’s not taking painkillers, he’s not treating the probably inflamed stump, he’s certainly not going to his doctor or anything else; you can’t just forget that you’re in chronic pain all the time. He spends several hours ‘lost in thought’ (insert joke about ‘it was unfamiliar territory’ here), though of course we’re not told what he’s actually thinking and he is apparently just staring vacantly into space. He takes Lula’s laptop to a friend with a degree in computer science (because that makes you an expert hacker better than the police techie department, of course) then goes to sleep in his office angsting about Charlotte again. At least it’s not unprovoked this time; Charlotte has just texted him asking him to call her as soon as possible. Naturally, he doesn’t. On his trip down Memory Lane we learn they met 15 years ago at a party, where she slept with him to piss off her boyfriend at the time, and apparently their entire relationship has been like that. Whatever, Rowling, I’m not going to hate a character I haven’t seen just because you want me to, especially when frankly Strike’s coming across as a total asshole regarding her and I’m not willing to believe his take on things.

Another ten-second non-POV appearance from Robin, at this point you might as well just assume the rest of the book will be Strike, then he buggers off to talk to Lula’s homeless friend Rochelle. Who is fat despite being long-term homeless and poor, has greasy skin, acne, badly dyed hair, wears terrible cheap and tacky clothes, and speaks with such an exaggerated ill-educated accent she sounds barely human (yes, worse than Hagrid). Remember everyone, poor people are awful, they smell and they’re stupid and we should look down on them all the time. Did you think that attitude was just for The Casual Vacancy? It’s not. Strike clearly doesn’t like her and thinks she’s hiding something, though since he has no internal monologue we have no idea why and it doesn’t appear to have been triggered by anything. She’s just yet another female character we’re meant to hate.

Back to the office where he finds Robin talking to his sister Lucy; Robin buggers off and his sister asks if he’s split with Charlotte, then rants about what a bitch she is, starts crying with rage and generally acts like a complete lunatic. Strike and his sister aren’t close. He showed up late to her son’s birthday party and didn’t stay long and it appears to be the first time in a long while that they’ve seen one another; he refused to tell her he had left Charlotte. There’s no reason why she would react so strongly to this. Pointless chapter, but Robin gets a POV again afterwards, reliving their conversation before Strike got back. Obviously the main content of it was Lucy implying something between Robin and Strike, eyeroll. Also she’s been offered a job that she’s accepted but she hasn’t told Strike yet, and we’re back to the fanfic. Rowling clearly doesn’t realise that every single reader knows she’ll never take this job, there is no suspense whatsoever.

Lucy then reveals that their mother died of an overdose that was named suicide but that Strike thought was their stepfather murdering her. This would be far more believable if Strike had ever had any thoughts whatsoever about the nature of the current case being too close to home; it’s a textbook example of what I call exam-conditions writing. I’ll be covering that in more detail in the Harry Potter shred that should be starting relatively soon, but it’s basically writing in a great hurry with no time to go back and edit to make sure things make sense; it leads to instances like this, where something is clumsily stuck in with no foreshadowing or natural introduction and is never mentioned again. Rowling is guilty of this quite a lot – in this case it could have been fixed with a sentence or two in a couple of places; generally the problem can be sorted with a couple of minor changes that for one reason or another weren’t done.

It turns out not to matter, because Robin ignores this in favour of obsessing over seeing Strike with one button of his shirt not done up the other day and seeing a square inch of his stomach, which is mentioned five or six times over the previous two scenes from her POV (and always as ‘hairy’ or ‘furry’; Rowling seems obsessed with the fact that her male protagonist is old enough to have substantial body hair, which is slightly weird). I’m going to stop mourning your lack of POV chapters now, Robin, because whenever you do show up you turn into man-obsessed fluff with a few tantalising glimpses that you might have a brain somewhere.

And that’s the end of part three for some reason, even though nothing much has happened and it’s not a natural stopping point. There are five parts in total, so this is the middle chunk of the book; you’d think there would be more to it than this, wouldn’t you. Coming in part four, Our Heroes remember they’re meant to be investigating things and we get a lot more interviews that are actually relevant; for once quite a lot happens, since we get close to the end of the book, but most of it is pretty bad. Also, racism.

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling:
Introduction
Part One
Part Two
Part Four
Part Five

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11 Comments

Posted by on May 16, 2014 in loten

 

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11 responses to “The Cuckoo’s Calling, part three

  1. mcbender

    May 16, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    That dress shop scene sounds appalling; how does this dreck make it into published books? (Also, I’m still not sure whether I think it’s worse with a presumed male or presumed female author…)

    On the will thing – I can’t speak definitively, but as you know I have an uncle who’s an estate attorney and I’ve done some software work for him in the past, so I’m not utterly ignorant where wills are concerned (though I’m by no means an expert). I’m not sure how many people fitting the specific stereotype Rowling was going for here would have them but I’d actually be surprised if they didn’t. Even if it was something they didn’t think of for themselves, I suspect somebody else would talk them into it – either a parent or other relative, or possibly even an agent etc (I do know that sometimes an agent will take care of all the negotiation with the lawyer and the client will only show up to sign the documents). When large amounts of money are involved, people do tend to take precautions (if nothing else, to avoid estate taxes).

    So for better or worse, on that one I must reluctantly give Rowling a pass. Whether the sort of person Lula is supposed to have been would have put substantial thought into a will, rather than going with something boiler-plate, I’m not sure. (Incidentally, I did attempt to look up the British intestacy laws and it is unclear whether parents or siblings would be given preference in the event the decedent has no surviving spouse or descendants… which actually means it would be possible for John to inherit even in the absence of a will, though it doesn’t seem guaranteed.)

     
  2. Gowan

    May 17, 2014 at 10:39 am

    For me it’s worse if I assume the author is male. I can always pity women for their internalized misogyny, while with men, I have to assume they are doing it on purpose to reinforce their own dominance in society.

    Since I know some things about Rowling, I’m able to believe that she identifies with the female protagonist. Which is why I read that scene as Rowling finding an excuse for her protagonist to try on pretty dresses without it being unfeminist – after all, she’s doing it to find out who murdered Lula!

    (Some feminists, unfortunately, like pretty dresses. I admit that I love Eowyn’s white dress in the LotR movie. Of course, I would have no use for that kind of dress, as it’s very impractical and so on and so forth, but I like the look of it. Which is why the only occasion where I would wear it is … trying it on, look at myself in the mirror, take some photos, and then change into jeans again. From my point of view, it’s quite believable that Robin would feel the same way about pretty, expensive dresses, although I do not approve of the hinted-at sexual tension between her and her employer. That’s just icky.)

     
    • Loten

      May 17, 2014 at 11:40 am

      I have no problem with Robin trying on pretty dresses in her own time. I object to her wasting time doing it when she’s meant to be working on something pretty damned important, and I also object to her brain apparently going offline the moment she sees the pretty dresses. Her mindset defaults to ‘ooh, pretty, must show nearest available male and fish for compliments’. We’re told at some point early on that her lifelong secret ambition has been to be a private investigator, and yet she’d much rather think about random men than the actual investigation.

       
  3. Gowan

    May 17, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Interesting … I don’t really remember the scene like that (with Robin wasting time, that is), but that might be because I am a fan of Harry Potter, like J.K. Rowling, and therefore see her novels in the most positive light possible.
    I got the book from the library, so I can’t look it up.
    My impression was that she really did it in order to fish for information, and just allowed her mind to go into “ohh, pretty” mindset in order to be able to better fool the shop assistants. That might not have been what was in the book, just what I wanted to see, of course. I suspected that she might have forgotten about finding things out, and was relieved when she did get information in the end – I thought it was clever of her to let the conversation flow naturally and not just ask the interesting questions right at the beginning.

     
    • Loten

      May 17, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      The odd thing is that I’m a fan of Harry Potter too, and yet as you’ll see when we start the re-read of that I hate so many things about the series. It’s possible I am being too harsh on Robin here, but in general throughout the book the characters do not pay enough attention to what they’re meant to be doing and spend too much time angsting about their love lives.

       
  4. Gowan

    May 17, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    You’re going to do a re-read of Harry Potter? Awesome!

    The characters of Cuckoo’s Calling are thinking a lot about their love lives, yes … I wonder whether that is because Rowling is insecure about her ability to write crime novels and relies on her ability to write about love. There was a lot of lovestory in the background of Harry Potter, too.

     

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