In brief

The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith, Sphere, RRP£16.99, 464 pages

Now that the secret is out and we know the Harry Potter author JK Rowling is behind the pseudonym “Robert Galbraith” we are all playing catch-up with a book that created barely a ripple when it was published in April this year.

So: is The Cuckoo’s Calling any good? After all, Rowling’s first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy (2012) attracted a mixed critical response, which did nothing, however, to damage its prodigious sales figures. In fact, The Cuckoo’s Calling turns out to be an accomplished piece that thoroughly deserves its retrospective success.

As the beleaguered private eye Cormoran Strike is called on to investigate the apparent suicide of a client’s supermodel sister, we are granted a measured but involving reworking of crime novel mechanisms as the detective moves across a variety of class divides, finding that the police have got things wrong.

And in Strike, a one-legged former military policeman, Rowling gives us a distinctive addition to the overcrowded ranks of literary private eyes.

Review by Barry Forshaw

The Riot, by Laura Wilson, Quercus, RRP£20, 368 pages

Laura Wilson sets her DI Ted Stratton novels in the London of the 1950s, and is influenced by a great novelist of that period, Patrick Hamilton. The Riot is the fifth outing for Stratton, this time set in August 1958. The Hamilton influence is once again strong – and that is no bad thing: as well as being a crime narrative of great authority, the texture of the piece is immensely evocative.

Stratton has been unhappily relocated from the centre of town to west London: “St James, Soho and the surrounding area – certainly had its problems, and a fair amount of poverty, too, but there wasn’t anything that approached the sheer, unrestrained squalor he’d seen on his brief tour of the Colville and Powis area.”

He is investigating the murder of notorious Polish rent collector Danny Perlmann, and The Riot takes us into a world of angry prostitutes and working-class Teddy boys full of resentment at their new black neighbours. It’s an accomplished reminder that the Notting Hill of 1958 was not the chic place it is today.

Review by BF

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple, Phoenix, RRP£7.99, 304 pages

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is Seattle-based writer Maria Semple’s second novel and was shortlisted for the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction. It’s a passionate account of a loving but dysfunctional family in free-fall, told through emails, memos and messages, all funnelled into an exhilarating narrative by the remarkable teenager Bee Branch.

After a feud with a neighbour, cult architect Bernadette Fox has left Los Angeles for a reclusive life in Seattle, nurturing her daughter Bee while husband Elgie makes serious money at Microsoft. She’s still not afraid to be disliked and makes sideswipes at the “gnats” – the gossipy parents at Bee’s school. When cyber crime and a timely mudslide ratchet up the tension, Bernadette flees – and this time her family have to go to the ends of the earth to find her.

Semple’s exuberant tale is buoyed up by deft plotting and pitch-perfect characters, whose idiosyncrasies and wrong-headed interactions are by turns comic, tender and craven. Excellent stuff.

Review by James Urquhart

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