J K Rowling’s Undercover Detective Novel: A Review of The Cuckoo’s Calling

Galbraith_TheCuckoosCalling_HC-1As soon as the world discovered that J. K. Rowling had written a detective novel, I hopped down to the local library to grab a copy before the queue formed. I have read every other book that Rowling published, so I figured I might as well keep my streak alive, even though this one is written under the pseudonym “Robert Galbraith.”

The Cuckoo’s Calling falls into the hardboiled genre of crime fiction. The hero is a down-and-out detective and a bit of a cynic who has experienced a great deal of pain in both his professional and personal lives. His name is Cormoran Strike. This name alone should be a clue that Rowling had fun writing The Cuckoo’s Calling.

To contrast the hardboiled Strike, at the beginning of the story Rowling gives her hero a new secretary named Robin. Robin is clever and hardworking, and she’s also fascinated by detective work. But Robin provides the perfect counterpoint to Strike because she still possesses innocence and wonder. The two make a satisfying team from a literary standpoint. Strike’s investigation of sordid affairs drives the story, but Robin’s character anchors the novel to a more conventional world. Through Strike and Robin, the reader understands that two different worlds occupy the same time and space in modern-day London.

The plot revolves around a supermodel’s apparent suicide. Lula Landry died after falling from her balcony, but the circumstances seemed suspicious. Lula’s brother hires Strike to prove that she was murdered. Rowling devotes the majority of the book’s 450 pages to describing Strike’s interviews with various witnesses and suspects. Everyone in this high-flying world of glitz and glamor has something to hide. Everyone seems as though they might have had a reason to kill Lula. The book is light on action, but the fascinating set of suspects keeps the reader from getting bored with the pages of interviews. Everyone tells his or her side of the story. More than once, I found myself flipping back and forth comparing testimonies. The book keeps you guessing right up to the end.

The Cuckoo’s Calling contains some pretty rough language. However, Rowling’s use of profanity didn’t seem as forced as it did in The Casual Vacancy. Readers should expect rough language in a hardboiled detective story. Considering the subject matter and the genre, the book contained much less violence and sex than I expected. It’s mostly a series of interviews with eccentric people.

Now that we know who Robert Galbraith is, it’s easy to recognize the book as a Rowling novel. Like the Harry Potter series, The Cuckoo’s Calling is replete with allusions to mythology, some of them quite obscure. Latin quotations head the various sections of the book. The book contains some social criticism along the same lines as The Casual Vacancy, but The Cuckoo’s Calling is much more effective because it is not heavy-handed and pretentious. Rowling needs to write more books like this one, and she needs to stop trying to write “important” books like The Casual Vacancy. Adult fans of Rowling who are interested in this genre will probably enjoy this latest book.

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