Book No 13 (2015) : The Cuckoo’s Calling

Robert-Galbraith-The-Cuckoos-CallingIf you are the kind of person who can  memorise the whole of the London Underground map, including the overland intersections, major bus stations and airport connections and then navigate across the capital without ever needing to consult an A-Z, I think you will love ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling.’ If, on the other hand, you are like me and need to check your pocket guide just to remind yourself that there are two stops between Waterloo and Leicester Square, my guess is, you will hate it. My point being, there is only so much information you can hold in your head without it feeling as if you are cramming for an exam; reading Robert Galbraith’s (aka JK Rowling) first detective novel was like plotting an interminable mind map.

The author sets out a deceptively simple story; a famous model falls to her death from the balcony of her flat. The official verdict is suicide, but her brother is unconvinced and hires private detective, Cormoran Strike, to prove the death was murder. You will notice that I have described that scenario in just two lines, but I promise you it is an accurate summary. So how come it takes 549 pages for the crime to be solved? From start to finish, the narrative is a seemingly endless stream of vaguely related ‘facts’ surrounding the suspicious death; pages and pages and pages of them. Phone calls, taxi rides, scenes in shops, flats and nightclubs, drug-taking, adopted children, secret affairs, inheritances and so on. I found it absolutely impossible to remember more than the most basic of details, rendering the reading of the book virtually pointless. By the time I got to page 522, when Strike sums up his evidence and delivers his version of the events surrounding the demise of Lula Landry, I was ready to hurl myself from a tall building.

Cormoran himself is an interesting character, but the rest of the book’s cast is sketchily drawn and two-dimensional. Lula and her boyfriend, Evan Duffield, are pale imitations of Kate Moss and the wayward Pete Doherty, whilst the dying mother, camp fashion designer and money-grabbing lawyer are sadly stereotypical.

This book is the perfect vehicle for show-casing what JK Rowling does best i.e. write really intricate, complicated plots and use 23 words when 4 would probably do. And this time, all without the charm of Albus Dumbledore or the wit of Ron Weasley. If you must tackle ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling‘, I suggest you read up to about page 40 to get the gist. Then skip to page 540 for the conclusion – save yourself 500 pages and instead swot up on the Tube map or the Periodic Table. It will probably be an infinitely more enjoyable use of your time.

Films Nos 11 – 18 (2014) Harry Potter Series

HP & The Philosophers StoneTo coincide with a visit to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, we watched all eight of the Harry Potter movies. That is approximately 19 hours of watching a nerdy boy with glasses cast magical spells.

I doubt there are many amongst us who have not had any encounters at all with the wonderful students and staff of Hogwarts and its associated company of wizards, witches, goblins, dwarves, giants, elves and monsters – not to mention the all-powerful Dark Lord, Voldemort. Harry Potter has become part of our popular culture, a publishing and marketing phenomenon.

Watching the earliest films, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ and the ‘Chamber of Secrets’, what struck me most is that without the context of the later stories and movies, they are simply excellent films. The characters are young and the stories have more of a fairy tale, action adventure air about them. If I were a younger viewer, they would have transported me in my imagination to another world. But J.K.Rowling’s genius is the development of the plot and its cast – in particular Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny and Neville. The whole premise shifts almost imperceptibly from a fun idea, into something much more sinister and encompassing than sticking a wand up a troll’s nose!

The death of Cedric Diggory in ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ is pivotal within the development of the plot and its players.cedric All of a sudden, the power of magic becomes more than a useful tool and its full potential is realised. As the characters move through puberty and into adolescence, their whole emotional maturity grows as they grapple with grief, guilt, responsibility, loyalty, love and jealousy. The fearless trio seem to battle as many demons inside their own minds as they do outside of them.

Excuse the terrible pun, but I was spellbound! The lure of the imaginary world and the detail of the plot are more captivating when watching the films in close succession. Occasionally I got lost in the twists and turns of the storyline and its 200+ characters, but that’s OK, nobody likes anything too simple.

emmaAt the end of the final film (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II’) I was left with just one burning question.

How did Emma Watson grow up into someone so good-looking?

And Daniel Radcliffe, well, so…not?

Incidentally, the Warner Bros Tour is amazing. You don’t have to be a raving HP fan to enjoy it, I think most people would enjoy seeing how they manipulate Computer-Generated Images and construct animatronics. The facilities are excellent, and even the refreshments are reasonably priced. Butterbeers and Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans all round!