NOVEL: The Cuckoo’s Calling
AUTHOR: Robert Galbraith
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2013
This debut detective novel didn’t make much of a splash when it appeared in April of 2013…it got a few (mainly good) reviews, sold a few thousand copies, and was at #4,709 on the Amazon best seller list when the news broke: Robert Galbraith was none other than J.K. Rowling, the phenomenally successful creator of Harry Potter. The Sunday Times revealed the true author three months after its publication, claiming to have identified the woman behind the pseudonym with the assistance of an expert linguist and a computer program created by an American academic. While they may well have done the analysis, it turns out that actually they were tipped off by a friend of the wife of an attorney who had worked for Ms. Rowling…secrets this good are apparently pretty hard to keep. In any event, it soon became a best seller (making a quick ascent to #1 on the Amazon list) and the BBC reported that Ms. Rowling had initially sent the manuscript out to publishers anonymously (and that it had been rejected at least once).
It’s a great backstory, and really, who could blame the author for wanting to try something a little different? But is it worth reading?
I think so. Whether you like or dislike Harry Potter, you may want to give this one a go. You can complain, with some justice, that Ms. Rowling’s writing style is pedestrian, and that her fantasy world building is flawed. But even her harshest critics will admit that she’s a damned good storyteller.
Here we’re introduced to Cormoran Strike, a war veteran and financially struggling private investigator with a complicated personal life, and his extremely competent and bright temporary secretary, Robin Ellacot. These (well-drawn and likable) characters team up to investigate the death of a supermodel who has fallen from the balcony of her London apartment. The reader is quickly plunged into the world of models, fashion designers, musicians, and paparazzi (along with assorted chauffeurs, shop clerks, makeup artists, bodyguards, and hangers-on), and although the plot is not particularly original (untrustworthy relatives, a missing will, rather stupid cops) it’s rather compulsively readable, and very good fun. And what author is possibly going to know more about the perils of the press and of sudden celebrity than this one?
Her second novel of what looks likely to be a long series, The Silkworm, about the bizarre murder of a novelist, isn’t nearly as entertaining. Although I enjoyed getting to know Cormoran and Robin a little better and seeing their working relationship progress, it was harder to care about the outcome, as all of the suspects were pretty loathsome specimens of humanity. Still, I’m looking forward to the next one. J.K. Rowling recently spoke at a crime literary festival: “It’s pretty open ended,” she said of the future of the series. “I don’t know that I’ve got an end point in mind. It’s one of the things I like about the genre, unlike Harry when there is a story arc, beginning and ending. This is a discrete series – while he lives you can keep giving him stories.”
RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3 Whistles
HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon
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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.
Laura can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org