Best Book Ever: Sally Lockhart Vs. Cormoran Strike

Book covers for Sally Lockhart series and the Cormoran Strike Series.

Wow, after the powerhouse of last week’s match-up, this one feels lackluster, but make no mistake, I love both of these books. Will the modern day Londoner win out against the 19th century version? Let’s find out.

The Sally Lockhart Chronicles by Phillip Pullman

Book covers for the Sally Lockhart series.

A few contenders on the list feel too childish to be included against the likes of everything else in the world that could have been here (A Separate Peace, The Canterbury Tales, some other super prestigious novel). But it’s been 20 years since I read the bulk of this series, and I can still tell you everything about it. Am I biased to books with strong female characters? Yes. The end.

The Sally Lockhart series takes place in London in the late 1800s. After her father’s merchant ship disappears into the South China seas, Sally, now an orphan, must fend for herself. In a London that thinks she should be in finishing school and nothing else, Sally scraps it out becoming a financial consultant, in part to satisfy her own interest in business, but also to search for answers regarding the disappearance of her father. Was the wreck the chance of bad weather or a way to dispose of evidence in the highly volatile opium trade? The series takes place over several years, spanning Sally’s move from displaced orphan to a successful mistress of her own making, albeit sometimes troubles by the gangsters of her past and present. With the flair of the new Sherlock Holmes movies, the Sally Lockhart saga offers a gripping story with progressive views.

  • Goodreads Score: 3.84
  • Length: 3 -Being that these are young adult novels, everything but the final book, The Tiger in the Well doesn’t quite cut it in length to qualify as a good adult read.
  • Readability: 2 -Easy to fly through because it’s a detective novel. It doesn’t leave you grasping for more at every page, but you are glad you’ve read it.
  • Language: 2- Phillip Pullman is outstanding at building worlds. He achieves this by engaging your imagination, not from what he’s written on the page.
  • Characters/Plot: 4.5 -Once more, of course I’m going to rate the independent young lady of Victorian England highly, but Pullman carefully creates Moriarty type villains without becoming too much a Holmes mimic. His heroes are plucky, but with enough average-Joe so as to be believable, and his plots are complex and creative. I rate him a 4.5 for his characters and plot.

Overall Score: 15.34

Cormoran Strike Series by Robert Galbraith

Book cover for Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Gailbraith.

Typically, murder mysteries aren’t my cup of tea. Unless, of course, they’re written by J.K. Rowling. Unfortunately like most of the world, I came into the series knowing the author wasn’t some unknown security professional, it was the Harry Potter creator herself. Disappointed by “The Casual Vacancy”, I wasn’t sure how I would enjoy the novels, but in the Cormoran Strike world, Rowling proves she is not a one trick pony. She is a good writer.

Set in modern London, Cormoran Strike is a veteran of the Afghan war struggling to get by using his Special Ops skills to search for cheating husbands and wives as a private investigator. Until one day, when the brother of a recently murdered supermodel drops the high profile case onto his doorstep. With his temporarily assigned secretary, Robin Ellacott, fielding the phones and piecing together clues of her own, Strike seeks out the killer, proving successful and making a name for himself. In the years and cases that follow, he fluctuates in and out of the limelight dragging along his business as well as Robin. A former psychology student with a dark past, she decides to stick around, compelled by her fascination of their work and of Strike himself. Now heading toward book 5, Rowling’s legacy with Strike is here to stay.

  • Goodreads Score: 4.09
  • Length: 4 -Strike novels are an excellent “Week on the beach read” length though a little on the weighty side.
  • Readability: 3 -I’m always happy to have Strike, but never too disappointed to put it down.
  • Language: 3- While there’s no whining Harry Potter to be frustrated with, there’s also not a lot to be fascinated with.
  • Characters/Plot: 3 -There’s a few good twists in these detective novels, but too often, I found myself in the “I think I know what happens” field and proved to be right. While the characters are distinctive and endearing, they sometimes feel a little flat. I’ll grant you midrange for plot.

Overall Score: 17.09

The Verdict

Gotta say, I thought this one would be a little closer, and it’s hard for me to handle. I’m torn for my love of Sally – all the she’s seen, all the she’s been through. But, for every ounce of Sally’s will I love, Robin is there on the Strike novels to pick it up. For both, their determination and vulnerability keep me intrigued and rooting for them. And then, with the Strike novels, I get the bonus of Cormoran. Terse and cynical, yet still believing in the good, I can see how the ebbs and flows of his and Robin’s growth offers a better story. In either case, you won’t be disappointed by either of these sleuth series’, but the Strike novels win this round.

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