Whether or not it was her way of sticking two fingers up at her critics, I think it was pretty clever of J. K. Rowling to publish ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith after receiving mixed reviews for ‘The Casual Vacancy’ last year. Interestingly, the feedback for ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ was unanimously positive from both critics and readers before the identity of the real author was revealed. But does it live up to the hype?
Cormoran Strike is a private detective living in central London who is hired by John Landry to investigate the death of his adopted sister Lula, a famous model who fell to her death from a third-floor balcony in Mayfair some months earlier. The official verdict was suicide but other evidence that was never fully investigated at the time of the original inquiry points to a rather more sinister conclusion.
An ex-military policeman with a prosthetic leg and a troubled past, Strike is an intriguing character. Some other reviews of ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ have drawn comparisons between Strike and Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie character although I would say that Strike has a much more compelling background story. The relationship between Strike and his super efficient temporary assistant Robin Ellacott is a very convincing double act which also brings some nice comic moments to the story. The writing is more literary in style than is perhaps typical for crime fiction and the focus is very much on the characters but the plot is complex and well paced. In particular, the ending was skilfully unravelled and very well thought out. I also really liked the balance between the contemporary setting of modern-day London and the classic whodunnit mystery storyline.
Although it was unfortunate for Rowling that the truth about Robert Galbraith was revealed so quickly, I doubt it would have stayed secret for much longer. The book had already been selling reasonably well for an unknown debut author and sooner or later, someone was bound to notice certain things about the style of writing which were certainly unusual for a male crime fiction writer such as the descriptions of women’s clothing. I can see why ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ is generally more popular than ‘The Casual Vacancy‘ but I enjoyed both of them pretty much equally. Nevertheless, as I said in my review, I am still pretty sure that the latter would have received more positive reviews had Rowling decided to publish it under a pseudonym too.
‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ is the first in a series of Cormoran Strike novels. I certainly look forward to reading more as ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ is a brilliant introduction to an intriguing private investigator.