Unless you’re blissfully out of touch with literary news, which is unlikely considering this blog is for readers, you’re well aware that The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith is actually written by JK Rowling. It’s why most of us have even heard of it, but from what I understand it was getting good reviews even before she was outed as the ‘man behind the curtain,’ so to speak. Since I knew who really wrote it when I picked it up, I admit I am incapable of having an unbiased opinion about this book.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first in a new series on Cormoran Strike, an English veteran of the war in Afghanastan, recently-dumped, permanently one-legged, and seriously in debt. Strike’s private investigation business is really slow until John Bristow walks into his office with an interesting case. Bristow’s famous sister, Lulu Landry, fell to her death one snowy evening a few months prior; John is convinced Lulu didn’t commit suicide and will pay Strike double his usual fee to prove it. The money is too good to refuse and though initially skeptical, Strike finds himself wondering if Lulu’s brother might be right.
Calling was my book club’s selection for May, and since I didn’t finish the book prior to the meeting, I had the mystery spoiled for me. It’s a rule – if you don’t finish you can either skip the meeting, or risk spoilers. I didn’t really mind and I was pleased to realize that I’d been correct in some of my suspicions. That isn’t to say that the mystery is too easily solved. In fact, once you find out what’s really going, you may even think that some of Strike’s connections are a lucky stretch more than great detective work. I really enjoyed meeting Strike and his temp, Robin. Robin is a delightful woman who by chance lands a temp job with Strike at the beginning of the novel but has always harbored a secret desire for detective work. Her employment is much to the chagrin of her fiancé Matthew, so we’ll probably see that come up as an issue in future installments of the series. She’s down to earth and realistic and definitely someone you’d want to hang with. One of the things I have always enjoyed when reading Rowling’s work is her Dickensian gift for character names. This novel is no exception: Cormoran Strike, Lulu Landry, Tansy Bestigui.
Since Harry Potter is a young adult series, people tend to forget that it’s also essentially as series of mystery/thriller/adventures. Rowling has a gift for pacing and suspense; I think her attempt to divert from that, Casual Vacancy, was less successful really because she didn’t play to her strengths. In starting a new mystery series around Cormoran Strike, she’s come back to her roots, so to speak, and I’m excited to read the next installment.
I think some people might criticize this book as reminiscent of the Case Histories series about Jackson Brodie. I’ve not read the books myself, just seen the BBC show, so I can’t really say for sure. My only thought in response to that is since when does Atkinson have the monopoly on troubled, surly detectives? I do wish we didn’t know that Rowling was the real author here. I’d like to see if most people like it because she wrote it (or the reverse), or if reactions are really based on the merit of the book. In any case this was a fun (if lengthy) read, and definitely a breath of fresh air after Invisible Man.