1. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
Let's be honest. I would never have read this book if a) it weren't written by J.K. Rowling and b) my friend hadn't gotten it for me for Hanukkah. I don't like mysteries. I don't like thrillers. I don't like detective novels. But there are always exceptions. And this is one of them.
Cormoran Strike, a former military police officer, has opened a mildly successful private detective agency and just split with gorgeous fiancé Charlotte. He owes mysterious loans to a rock star dad he barely knows, and receives regular death threats from a former client. Enter Robin Ellacott, newly engaged, working as a temp until she can sort out her "proper interviews." Robin hits the ground running as Strike's new secretary, and the two become a crime-solving duo that is compatible and efficient (a relief from Odd Couple type pairings).
Rowling's trademark character development, plot development, and particular genius for red herrings are evident here, but I was honestly most surprised by the language and writing style. While the Harry Potter series is quite detailed, the actual writing was probably its weakest point. I can't count the number of times Harry's heart "beat a tattoo," or Hermione "remarked acidly," or "snogging" was invoked extremely awkwardly. Not only do none of those terms make an appearance here, but the writing is smooth, fluid, enjoyable to read in its own right, and not just to pull the plot along. I wonder if this is because the publishers edited more heavily, either not initially knowing Rowling was the author, or just wanting to get a new series off to a good start. Whatever happened, I hope Rowling and/or her editors keep it up. If I had to criticize the style, I would say there's an unnecessary plethora of colon and semicolon usage; sentences are competitively lengthy. However, they were all used beautifully correctly, and I could take any passage at random to demonstrate correct punctuation usage to my classes.
Just read this exquisite sentence that showcases both Rowling's character development and freshly fluid style:
"Somé looked as though he had been carved out of soft ebony by a master hand that has grown bored with its own expertise, and started to veer towards the grotesque" (250).
The conclusion of the case and events leading up to it did not terribly surprise me, but the fun part is meeting all the characters and watching events unfold. While the case is summed up neatly at the end, there's plenty of loose strings left in the protagonists' lives to fuel a series. I may or may not continue with the sequel, just due to my own interests, but I would highly recommend this to those who are mystery/thriller/detective fans. Harry Potter fans--you're out of luck. The only reminiscent hint was the death threat letters, delivered in pink envelopes of gamboling kittens *shudder*.