I don’t think I need to explain who J.K. Rowling. But on the off chance you don’t already know, Robert Galbraith, the author of the Cormoran Strike mystery series, is a pen-name of Rowling. And if you are looking for a Harry Potter-esque fix in this dark, post-Harry Potter world, I can’t recommend the Cormoran Strike series enough. (Yes, I realize The Cursed Child play is technically a Harry Potter story post the seventh book, but I’ll save my thoughts on that for another post.)
It might seem strange to compare these two series – one is fantasy, the other hard-boiled realism, one is ostensibly aimed at kids, the other is definitely not for kids (or overly-sensitive adults). I could go on, but suffice it to say, yes, there are many differences between the two. However, beneath this surface level, they are strikingly similar in the three areas Rowling succeeds in brilliantly: world-building, characterization, and plot structure.
World-building might seem like a strange thing to discuss when talking about Cormoran Strike novels, which all take place in London. But an author doesn’t need to be writing sci-fi or fantasy to be able to create a world. And as someone who has never been to London, I’m grateful that Rowling is as detailed as she is about every street, pub, and alley the characters visit. Like the London of Sherlock Holmes, Rowling’s London feels rich and full, and though creating an alternate world might seem to offer more opportunities for invention in terms of location, Rowling proves how much the real world has to offer if you know how to use it properly (and can set a scene as efficiently as she always does).
In terms of characterization, it’s true that Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott, aren’t the household names that Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger to name just a few (the variety and memorability of her vast cast reminds me of Dickens, who created over 800 characters over his career). But this is due mostly to the immense pop cultural impact the earlier series had and the fact that it has appeared in so many other venues since. And I suspect Strike and Ellacott will be far more well-known once the BBC mini-series airs. In any case, trust me when I say that the characters in these mystery novels are just as easy to get invested in. Plus the villains, who are surprisingly dark and menacing in every novel, but especially the third, are unnerving in a way Voldemort never could hope to be.
Finally there’s the plot structure. Harry Potter was meticulously well-paced and I suspect, when the whole series is done, Cormoran Strike will prove just as expertly planned. Of course, these books don’t have the continuous story Harry Potter did, but there are two or three arcs that have developed slowly over just these first three entries. I think it was especially wise of Rowling to leave the door open to a climactic case between Strike and his nemesis (the who and why of that I won’t spoil) on the off chance she decides she wants to end the series not with just one more case, but the most important case of all. And another thing – every Harry Potter plot was essentially a mystery, as Rowling has said herself, so it makes sense she’d succeed with novels explicitly in that genre.
But above all else, these books are just plain fun. Addictively so, in fact. You won’t want to put any of them down and, as someone who spent significant nights of my childhood staying up reading her earlier books, this connection between the two series is particularly fun to reflect on.
So go read them. Now.
(But not The Casual Vacancy.)
Note: Because I’m so helpful, here are the titles of all three currently released books:
Book 1 – The Cuckoo’s Calling
Book 2 – The Silkworm
Book 3 – Career of Evil