Latest from King and Rowling

Two of my favorite authors have recently come out with some stories that don't fit their traditional genres, but are good reads nonetheless.

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling, 4 stars

I confess, I'm not one of the 1,500 people who tried out a new author, but one of the hundreds of thousands who bought this to read JK Rowling's new book. The big difference between this and The Casual Vacancy is that the Cuckoo's Calling is a detective thriller, the sort of book I read all of the time (and have written a couple myself), while I never would have picked up the earlier work if it wasn't by Harry Potter's creator.

Ex-Military Policeman Cormoran Strike, aided by his secretary/sidekick Robin Ellacott, investigates the apparent suicide of a supermodel, hired by her brother to prove she was murdered. The plot is twisty with an unexpected, but appropriate, ending and I enjoyed the fact that Rowling made it clear that Strike had solved the case about 75% of the way through the story, leaving the audience to try to guess the significance of his investigative actions and figure out what clues we'd missed along the way. I also enjoyed that she parceled out hints about Strike's past throughout the book, without giving all of his backstory away (I suspect saving a good portion of his history for further novels).

Cormoran and Robin are slightly offbeat characters who make wry observations about the world around them. To put it in the context of other detective stories, the vibe was similar to Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar, Robert Crais's Elvis Cole, and Meg Gardiner's Evan Delaney, rather than the more serious Harry Bosch or Tempe Brennan. There's also more than a hint of Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently (minus the SF/fantasy elements) in Cormoran's demeanor.

I'm glad Rowling got away with keeping her secret as long as she did, but wish it had stayed under wraps longer. It would have been great to discover Robert Galbraith as a new voice of detective fiction, only realizing after 5 or so books that it was JKR. I hope she keeps publishing the series, after all, Stephen King still lets Richard Bachman put a book out every few years.

Joyland, by Stephen King, 5 stars

Quintessential King: a coming of age story set in the past but narrated from the present, a young boy with supernatural gifts, an evil man hiding behind a kind face, plus some spooky stuff going on in an amusement park full of quirky characters who speak in a carny vernacular that would sound forced in a writer with lesser skill than King.

Another satisfying read from King. My only complaints are that it's short (by comparison to his other works) and not available as an e-book, as the Hard Case Crime imprint is in the retro-pulp fiction game.