Aside from feminist comediennes and sport-based biographies, mysteries are the audio books that keep my legs rolling forward.
A few months ago, I would have told you that mystery is not a genre I choose. This would have been a lie. Apparently, I’ve selectively remembered my childhood obsession with Nancy Drew (remind me to post my Nancy Drew shelves, where I’ve collected 90% of the original 56 tales with their classic covers) and my favourite recommendations from my days as a bookseller, which were, at their hearts, mysteries (The Thirteenth Tale, The Rule of Four, Gentlemen and Players). I should not have been surprised that I like mysteries so much. But I was. So much for self-awareness.
I started off with The Girl on the Train, because everybody seemed to love it. Mass appeal equals a relatively uncomplicated style plus a fast-paced plot: the perfect equation for an audio book whose primary purpose is distraction. I did not enjoy The Girl on the Train. I’m not sure why anyone does. It’s not suspenseful, it’s boring. It’s like only reading the second half of Gone Girl. I tried running to it twice and stopped because it was making me (or time) slower. I finished it while digging out new gardens in the front yard, the physical work thankfully distracting me from the book’s tedium (this is the polar opposite of its intended purpose). Not a successful first choice.
But I didn’t give up, mostly because when I continued to Google “best audio books for running,” a host of mystery novels kept popping up among Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling and Born to Run. Sure, many lists recommended The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl (and these articles were quickly nixed), but one in particular suggested Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling.
Now, for all of you regular humans, Robert Galbraith is a pen name of the goddess J.K. Rowling, author of the much-lauded and world-shifting Harry Potter series. I, by consequence of being a bookworm, a fantasy nerd, a person with splendid taste, and someone who was born in 1988 and thus grew up with the characters as the series progressed, am a deeply committed Harry Potter fan. But I had never read any of J.K.’s adult fiction. There was no reason to believe that I wouldn’t like it, and there were many reasons to believe I would be highly diverted by her storytelling prowess, so I downloaded The Cuckoo’s Calling and introduced myself to Strike and Robin.
It was love. This was exactly the type of mystery made for running. Once I warmed to the characters, which, admittedly, took a good third of the novel, I enjoyed the dynamic plot. It’s a modern private eye novel, where ex-SIB investigator Cormoran Strike and his temp assistant Robin Ellacott look into the suspicious death of a tabloid-favourite model. I won’t give anything away (nor will I share any deep reflections on the next two books in the series, The Silkworm and Career of Evil, though I quickly downloaded and ran to those as well), but I will say the following: I love that Strike is better at his job than I am.
Part of the fun of a mystery is trying to get to the “whodunnit” before the characters do, but there’s also something deeply dissatisfying about anticipating the big reveal/twist. It’s irritating to get to the end already knowing who the killer is, or that a dead character is really alive, or that it was a memory all along, or whatever. Most of the time, Strike made connections more quickly than I could make predictions, and even when I figured out one element, the mysteries were layered enough (or convoluted enough in some cases) that not all was spoiled. Yay!
Another thing to enjoy about these novels is the relationship development between the characters. If we must give Rowling only one compliment, it’s that she’s great at writing characters who feel familiar. They are human, and we care about them.
— To be continued again —