Robert Galbraith’s début novel; The Cuckoo’s Calling, was published in the U.K. in April 2013. Reviews were positive, if not universally enthusiastic. By the end of June, however, sales had amounted to only about 1500 copies and the book seemed destined to go the way of many début detective novels. Enter Twitter.
Like most of the world, I first heard of The Cuckoo’s Calling in July when it was reported by The Sunday Times, based on a reader’s Tweet, that Robert Galbraith was not, as the book jacket indicated, a former military cop now working in private security but a pseudonym for “Harry Potter” creator J.K. Rowling. Sales skyrocketed. I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across a copy on the shelf of my branch of the Harper’s Valley Public Library.
A law firm representing Ms. Rowling acknowledged that the Tweet came from a friend of the wife of one of the firm’s partners. With anger, embarrassment and apologies all around there were online reports of an undisclosed financial settlement which Rowling donated to a charity that provides support to wounded veterans. When it was later suggested that the entire leaking incident had been a stunt to boost sales of the book, Rowling committed to donating her full profits from the sale of the book to charity. In a more light-hearted comment about the controversy, Rowling released a statement;
“Robert fully intends to keep writing the series, although he will probably continue to turn down personal appearances”.
The Cuckoo’s Calling has all the elements of a post-modern ‘who-done-it’. Lula Landry, supermodel and muse of fashion mogul Guy Somé, who calls her “Cuckoo” as a term of endearment, jumps to her death from the balcony of her luxurious penthouse apartment; or was she pushed? Authorities rule Landry’s death a suicide but her adopted brother, John, is not so sure.
John seeks out the services of Private Detective Cormoran Strike. Strike, an amputee veteran of the war in Afghanistan, is struggling as a private investigator. He has creditors calling. He has broken up with his girlfriend. He can’t afford to pay his temporary secretary. He’s living out of boxes and sleeping on a cot in his office. He is also the illegitimate son of a rich-and-famous rock star and a late, legendary groupie.
Robert Galbraith / J.K.Rowling
Strike’s investigation takes him on a journey from penthouses to homeless shelters where he meets bumbling police detectives, street people, supermodels, fashion designers, drug-addicted rock stars, ex-con rappers, B-movie producers, upper-class lawyers, African college students and other vets of the Afghan war.
I thought it was an enjoyable book. I confess I had correctly guessed ‘who done it’ before it was revealed in the book but there were enough twists and turns in the details that I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time reading the last 150 pages. Set in contemporary London, the slang and idioms are unfamiliar enough to add interest but not so foreign as to be confusing. There is plenty of unexplored back story in our detective’s life to lead us to additional novels in this series, not to mention the developing, so far only professional, relationship with his new secretary.
If I have a disappointment in the book it is that it lacks glamour. The book is focused, and rightly so, on introducing Strike and solving the mystery at hand. The novel is populated with supermodels, rock stars and upper-class Brits but I never got a sense of ‘fabulousness’ from the glimpses into their lives. The world-building Rowling did for the ‘Harry Potter’ series was so richly detailed I expected more jet-set glamour than complaints about paparazzi and a couple of snotty waiters.
That said, I will probably seek out the sequel when it arrives on my library shelf. It was recently announced that “Cormoran Strike #2” titled The Silkworm, will be published in the U.K and the U.S. in June.
The Cuckoo’s Calling
by Robert Galbraith
Mulholland Books / Little, Brown and Company
hardcover, 455 pages