November 5, 2016
Hardback, Faber and Faber, £10, out now
This is a very welcome collection of four new short stories from the much missed author of exceptional psychological crime mysteries. Val McDermid’s introduction commends James for taking us to places that are “dark, vicious and shocking. But always beautifully written”.
My favourite is the deeply menacing and highly believable A Very Commonplace Murder, which reminded me of a Shirley Jackson short story in its precise and convincing suburban horror. A man asks for a key to view a rental flat, and the house agent suspects he is not genuinely interested in renting it. The agent is right. “It was the first time he had been back since it all happened sixteen years ago. He came neither as a pilgrim nor a penitent. He had returned under some compulsion which he hadn’t even bothered to analyse”. And so we are compelled to find out what happened in this flat, and what this man’s relationship to it was.
I was glad to meet favourite detective Adam Dalgleish again in The Twelve Clues of Christmas.
In a lovely small hardback edition, this is great gift for fans of crime fiction, especially those who thought we’d never have another new thing from P D James to savour. If you’re buying one Christmas crime book this year, make it this one.
Review by Bethan
July 27, 2013
This debut novel by Robert Galbraith was published in the spring and attracted admiring notices from fellow crime writers Mark Billingham and Val McDermid. It’s since emerged that it’s J.K. Rowling using a pseudonym and there are certainly plenty of clues this is an author who might not be a fan of the tabloids (Rowling was a witness at the Leveson Inquiry). Her crime novel about the death of a supermodel begins with sardonic description of the media feeding frenzy in the days after Lulu Landry falls from her Mayfair balcony. Yet Rowling avoids striking a high moral tone by virtue of being wickedly funny. “So many columnists made allusion to Icarus that Private Eye ran a special column,” she writes of the coverage of the suspected suicide.
The first book in a new series introduces the gruff, ale-drinking, ex-army private detective Cormoran Strike and his young temp Robin, whose nascent ability for investigation contrasts with the burden of sensible career expectations she expects will consign her to an office “full of gossipy women… all engaged in activities that meant nothing to her”. But I suspect we’ll see more of this double act.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is an ingenious, evocative mystery that takes in London high-life and low-life and Rowling tackles celebrity and wealth with a sly wit. Her insight into football and media rights shows a less sure touch: somehow Strike manages to watch Spurs v Arsenal live on a Saturday afternoon on a portable TV he’s just installed in the Soho office where he’s been camping out since splitting with his girlfriend. And I’m almost pedantic enough to investigate the appearance of handstraps on the Bakerloo Line in Rowling’s novel, though it is set in 2010. A braver editor might have cut some of the descriptive passages but this is still a stylish reinvention of the classic whodunit and a gripping read that will keep you guessing until the end.