“Career of Evil” by Robert Galbraith (Mulholland Books, 2015)

Cormoran Strike is back with a new case to solve, only this in addition to being of a usual garish and repulsive nature, is a lot more personal. It all begins when his assistant and now admitted partner receives a special package at the office. Thinking it a possible gift from her fiance, she opens it up and discovers a woman’s severed leg inside.

It’s a personal attack on Cormoran, through his assistant Robin Ellacott. Their other cases soon start disappearing when word gets out and they know they need to find who’s behind it all before they go out of business. Strike comes up with four potential suspects from his past, and while he’d like to keep Robin locked up in a safe place, she won’t hear of it and refuses, as he knew she would.

Strike gets the police involved and gives them everything he’s got on the suspects. The police want to focus on a particular man that the private detective thinks isn’t involved, leaving the other three potential murderers for Cormoran and Robin to deal with. In their most intense and tolling case yet, they have to track down where these suspects are now, since it’s been years since Strike last checked in on them; find out what’s been going on around them and find out who the likely killer will be.

The case forces Cormoran and Robin to understand their unique dynamic as partners and how much they care about each other, while their respective girlfriend and fiance rarely see them, straining their relationships. Galbraith shows another side to the characters in this case that hits a lot closer to home, as the reader gets plenty of their personal lives, as well as their professional ones, making them feel like real people. Readers will be just as hooked with this third installment and wanting more.

Originally written on February 3, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Career of Evil from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Cormoran Strike
J. K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike mystery novels, penned under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, are set to become a BBC TV series.

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“The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith (Mulholland Books, 2014)

starstarstarstarHalf Star

While the cat is long out of the bag that the secret identity behind Robert Galbraith is none other than Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling, it seems that the Cormoran Strike mysteries are books that Rowling has wanted to write for some time. She doesn’t hold back with the characters or the story or the language, and in this second installment, The Silkworm, Rowling goes all out with a twisted gory murder of a lesser known author.

Owen Quine is a novelist who has achieved some notoriety with his books but not of the bestselling caliber he would perhaps like. Now Quine is missing and his wife needs private detective Cormoran Strike to see if he can find Quine or at least find out what has happened. Strike is now doing pretty well for himself after the success of his solving the Landry case in Cuckoo’s Calling and takes the high-profile case, which he thinks is about a missing person.

After tracking down a piece of property co-owned by Quine, inside Strike finds the brutally murdered and destroyed body of the author and it now becomes a murder investigation. The police don’t think too highly of Strike after he showed them up last time and don’t give him much help, but he’s still able to talk with the right people and work on putting the pieces together, though there are a lot of pieces.

The entire publishing world is angry at Owen Quine for attempting to publish a work of satire that ridicules the entire literary crowd, including Quine’s own editor and agent to an embarrassing degree. While the book hasn’t been published yet, titled Bombyx Mori (Latin for silkworm), a few copies have been made that end up in the wrong hands and pretty soon more copies are made and everyone is reading it. So Quine’s list of potential murderers is considerable.

Rowling clearly had fun writing a dark murder mystery set within the heart of the publishing world, as well as not holding back with the grisly details and unlikeable characters. Like Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm is a fun mystery that keeps the reader going until the resolution and the murderer is found. One hopes Rowling will continue to write more of these great mysteries that she clearly has a talent for.

Originally written on September 24, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Silkworm from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Cuckoo's Calling

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith (Mulholland Books, 2013)

Cuckoo's Calling

Originally The Cuckoo’s Calling was supposed to be an experiment to see how well a catchy well-written mystery from a new author would sell and be read, but when someone in the know told the wrong person, the story broke out that Robert Galbraith was in fact a pseudonym for an author named J. K. Rowling. Rowling wasn’t happy about this, and someone probably lost their job over it, but the secret is out and sales for the mystery immediately went through the roof. Nevertheless, The Cuckoo’s Calling is a great example of what a good mystery is and shows Rowling’s breadth as the talented writer she is.

Cormoran Strike lost his leg in Afghanistan and is now a private detective who doesn’t really have any cases, has a lot of debt, and the love of his life just left him. He’s in a bad place and not sure where to go next. He gets a new secretary from the temp agency, who he can’t really afford, but she seems nice and he can’t say no to her at first.

Then John Bristow walks into his office who knows of him through a family connection. His sister, the rich supermodel, Lula Landry, known to her friends as Cuckoo, plunged to her death from her penthouse apartment months ago. The police ruled it a suicide, but Bristow doesn’t believe them. So he hires Strike to find out if she was murdered and who did it.

Strike may be in dire straits with a lot of things, and may not have much respect amongst his friends and family, as well as anyone else who knows of him, but he is a good detective. And with the help of his new secretary who quickly becomes fascinated by the work, they slowly put the pieces together and find out way more than they bargained for.

Rowling does a great job of writing a compelling novel in the style of Agatha Christie but with a good modern feel. The reader is kept hooked, wondering on the full story and who’s behind it all until the very end. The book is also listed as the first of the Strike series, so presumably Rowling will be penning more of these mysteries, and fans will no doubt be delighted.

Originally written on September 27, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Casual Vacancy” by J. K. Rowling (Little, Brown, 2012)

The Casual Vacancy

After the unfathomable success of the Harry Potter series, with over 450 million copies sold worldwide, likely making it one of the biggest phenomena of our lifetimes, J. K. Rowling is now back with her first new book in five years.  She now turns to a much more adult story about a quaint little English town where everything is most certainly not as it seems.

In the idyllic west country town of Pagford, where things pass at their own pace and everything stays pretty much the same, a change is about to happen.  A respected citizen of the community, Barry Fairbrother suffers a sudden brain aneurysm and dies unexpectedly.  It is a very sad time for the family and for the community, as he touched many lives during his time, as well as being an important member of the town’s council.  But Barry’s passing is also the lighting of a spark that sets off an explosive chain reaction, as the empty space on the town council starts many wondering who should fill his seat, and a number of unlikely candidates come out of the woodwork.

The Casual Vacancy is also the story about a number of the characters of this community, and how they begin to act and react when this person who had an effect on their lives is gone and is no longer there to provide aid and advice.  The book is by no means a happy novel, as these characters make terrible decisions that lead them down a downward spiral of despair.  By the end of the book, the reader is left hoping their might be some sort of cathartic uplift, but Rowling is going for a harsh true-to-life approach here, where things don’t all of a sudden get magically better.

Overall the book comes off as a letdown, slow and dragging at points, with nothing to drive the reader along to keep reading, as things get worse and worse for just about everyone it seems.  Rowling is perhaps pulling from some earlier experiences in her life before her fame and riches, as there are characters dealing with drug addiction, poverty, marital problems, and a whole host of unsavory issues.  The book also comes off somewhat amateurish, as Rowling constantly references many places throughout this imaginary town that confuse the reader, and could have easily been aided with a handy map at the beginning of the book.  Then there is the large host of characters, featuring many couples of about the same age, some even with the same first letters of their names, which often makes things confusing, and could’ve been helped with a simple cast list.  Finally, there is the constantly switching P.O.V. from paragraph to paragraph, without any break in between, so that the reader becomes quite untethered and lost at times.

The Casual Vacancy was an experiment by Rowling in seeing what happens to a town when an important member dies and all the people he’d had an effect on begin making bad decisions that then effect the rest of the town.  By the end of the book the reader is sad over the events of the book, though Rowling makes it clear that if any of the characters had made the decision to not think of themselves for a moment and to notice that nearby person suffering and help them, things would have come out quite differently.  But because this social message is buried in the clunky format and pitfalls of the book with no satisfactory resolution, the reader is left wondering what was the point of reading this book to the last page.

Originally written on January 8, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Casual Vacancy from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Quidditch Through Ages” & “Fantastic Beats & Where to Find Them” by J. K. Rowling (Arthur A. Levine, 2002)

A Pair of Hogwarts Specials

Quidditch & Beastsstarstarstarstar

The most recent Harry Potter books to be released was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which came out during the summer of 2000.  The next book in the series of seven, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has been slated for a summer/fall 2002 release.  The question remains to the many, man fans is what to read in the meantime?  Fortunately J. K. Rowling has produced two chapbooks, Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, whose proceeds go towards Comic Relief.

“Comic Relief is one of Britain’s most famous and successful charities.  Begin in 1985, the organization has raised more than $250 million for such charities as the Red Cross, Oxfam, Sight Savers, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, and Anti-Slavery International.  A special ‘Harry’s Books’ fund has been created where proceeds from the sale of Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them will go to support children’s causes throughout the world.  Every book sold counts!  Fifty cents will send a child to school for a week – and change his or her life forever” – A Note from J. K. Rowling.

Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp (WhizzHard Books, 56 pages. 14 sickles 3 knuts): For the first time ever, a most unique book has been published and released into the muggle world.  In these pages you will find not only complete details on how to play the amazing wizard sport of Quidditch, but also a comprehensive history of the game, from its beginning stages to how it is currently played.  There is also a complete listing of all the Quidditch teams of Britain, as well as some of the major international teams, including America’s own Sweetwater All-Stars from Texas, and the Fitchburg Finches from Massachusetts.

In this book will also be found a history of the many brooms  that have been used in the world of Quidditch, as well as a full listing of the major moves that can be performed during the game.  Enough of baseball and football, Quidditch is the game of the future!

Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander (Obscurus Books, 42 pages, 14 sickles 3 knuts): Paired with the release of Quidditch Through the Ages, there is the concise compendium of monsters and beasts.  You know you’ve seen strange things, shapes and shadows you can’t explain; monsters you tell yourself don’t exist, especially not in any book!  Well, with Fantastic Beasts you will find out the truth: what the beast is called, how dangerous it is, what it exactly looks like, and how to beware it.  The book is arranged in alphabetical order, along with a special foreword by none other than Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Together with a Ministry of Magic (M.O.M.) Classification on how dangerous the beast is: XXXXX – Known wizard killer/impossible to train or domesticate (like the Acromantula); XXXX – Dangerous/requires specialist knowledge/skilled wizard may handle (like the Demiguise); XXX – Competent wizard should cope (like the Fwooper); XX – Harmless/may be domesticated (like the Ramora); and X – Boring (like the Horklump).

This book is a must for all who wish to survive in this unusual world where you know everything that goes bump in the night.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing these books, click here.

Originally published on March 18th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Tales of Beedle the Bard” by J. K. Rowling (Scholastic, 2008)

Tales of Beedle the Bardstarstarstarstar

In this original collection, J. K. Rowling explores the mythology and fable world of Harry Potter.  So imagine all the great stories you read and were read to you as a kid, of fairy tales and heroes, with lessons to teach you, only add characters who are wizards and witches and warlocks who have real magic!  The five short tales in this collection are stories to treasure and enjoy over and over, lacking only in their short length.  Fortunately, Albus Dumbledore provides his own commentary to each story, as well as Rowling explaining some terms and concepts for Muggles.

In “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot” there is a magical cauldron that has a silver foot and hops around curing everyone of their illness and problems, only it’s new owner doesn’t care about anyone and has no intention of helping others, until the “Hopping Pot” has something to say about it.  In “The Fountain of Fortune” three witches and a knight travel up a hill to find the fabled fountain and cure their problems, but they must make sacrifices along the way, and in so doing discover true things about themselves.  “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” is a tale about a wizard who has always hidden his emotions from others and has never known love; through the Dark Arts he has trapped his heart away in a cage, only to finally discover love one day.  In “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump” an ignorant king and a charlatan use a witch and her powers for their own pride and fame, only to have the whole “show” backfire on them.  In the last tale, “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” three wizards find Death waiting for them and are each granted a wish to avoid death for now, but ultimately what they choose for a wish will determine how soon they will be meeting Death for the last time.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a wonderful collection of tales that make it a perfect holiday gift for anyone, regardless of how familiar they are with the Harry Potter world. Plus, with each purchase of the book, all sales are donated to The Children’s High Level Group, a charity co-created by J. K. Rowling benefiting impoverished children.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on December 6th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.