Robert Galbraith put together an enticing cast of characters, rich in complexity and distinct in their agendas. I would not expect otherwise, since Robert Galbraith is actually a pseudonym for none other than Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling (the cat’s been out of the bag for years on that one though, they actually reveal that fact on the back of the cover).
The Cuckoo’s Calling is a solid murder mystery, reminiscent of Agatha Christie, whose books I loved growing up. Slow. Deliberate. One clue given after another, sprinkled with a little suspense here and there. This, however, also means that the novel feels somewhat dated. Strike’s most prominent MO as a private detective is interviewing witnesses. As a repeated action it begins to feels very flat chapter after chapter. There isn’t much wit to just asking questions and dissecting the answers you get. And as distinct as each character’s voice is, Galbraith’s penning of adult dialogue pales in comparisons to her YA utterings. In this novel, they come with so many British-flavored repetitions. ” [INSERT STATEMENT HERE], isn’t that?”, “[INSERT ANOTHER STATEMENT HERE], weren’t they?”, “… doesn’t it?”, “… innit?” often multiple times within the same paragraph. It completely annoyed me by page 200, and the book is more than twice that long.
The odd thing jumping out to me? We get a glimpse into the modern world of celebrity foxes, complete with rock star boyfriends, groupies, and hanger on-ers. There are cell phones and security cameras. We are definitely in present day England, but it seems they sweep forensic analysis under the rug over there. Crimes are solved by talking and by google search engines.
Rowling was in need of a good editor and publishing house that didn’t fear cutting her precious words. I’d have thought it golden, if all the extraneous fat had been trimmed, but that’s the thing with the masters at the very top. No one dares to correct them. I reckon that was the whole point of writing under a pseudonym from the get-go. She has already earned her place in literary and movie history, so I can see why there was a need for a different persona when starting off in a brand new genre far far away from Hogwarts.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first of three in the Comoran Strike series (really love that name by the way) and was released in 2013. BBC is turning it into a TV series this year. While I’m not completely sold on Rowling as a murder mystery author, I am curious to see what the adaptation will bring. Creator Ben Richards is also including the other two titles The Silkwom and Career of Evil in the show. Strike himself is an interesting enough character to get me to tune in. He’s doesn’t have washboard abs, has a wooden leg from serving his country during war, is broke and was just dumped and therefore heartbroken, and yet at he isn’t so emo about his life that he can’t appreciate the joys of a good beer and the thrills of solving a crime. Above all, he displays appropriate behavior at the work place, which I think is a redeeming quality in media. He was written by a woman, but hey, polite woke heroes do exist.
Though I’m giving it an average rating only (gasp! Sorry, Mrs Rowling, you are a true master and I do learn a lot from you!), I’ll be back for more. Just to see how Strike and Robin do in this world.
Also published on Medium.