While we were on vacation, I succumbed to curiosity and read J.K. Rowling’s pseudonymous mystery novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling.
For those who don’t know the story, J. K. Rowling published The Cuckoo’s Calling in April of 2013 under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Understandably, she wanted to try something new without being judged according to her previous success with the Harry Potter series. Unfortunately for her, that July someone leaked Galbraith’s real identity. Although sales increased dramatically, the book received mixed reviews and was the subject of much controversy. Some readers defended her purely because she’s J.K. Rowling. Others ripped into her, saying things like “she’s just coasting on her fame . . . she probably leaked her own identity because it wasn’t selling . . . she can’t write for adults . . . she was never a good writer to begin with . . . this was no Harry Potter . . . ” etc.
Because I’d read so many speculations concerning Rowling’s leaked identity; and equally as many passionate arguments about the actual quality of the book, I picked it up with few expectations. I’m glad I didn’t expect to be dazzled, because I wasn’t. But I did find the story engaging and the characters interesting, which is all I ask of most authors.
The story takes place in London and follows a private detective named Cormoran Strike who is hired to investigate the much publicized suicide of supermodel Lula Landry. Though it is somewhat long, it only drags occasionally. The mystery itself is fairly well done. I correctly guessed the identity of the murderer right at the beginning, but I doubted myself all the way through. It reminded me of a Christie mystery, in that there were a myriad of well-fleshed out characters who could have easily filled the murderer’s role.
I thought Strike, in particular, was a strong and unique character. I can easily see him starring in several more books, and I’m planning to read the second mystery that was published in 2014. Rowling wrote him as a very complex and detailed character, and left herself plenty of material for future use. I liked him.
Several of the negative reviews I read complained that the book was slow, overly detailed, and used strangely formal language. That didn’t bother me, but I understand the argument. I tend to like big adjectives and complex phrases, and I don’t mind slow stories or old language. However, if you like writing styles that are quick and punchy, you might have a difficult time with this book. It definitely read like an old-fashioned detective novel, with the addition of modern surroundings and lots of strong language. That being said, I don’t think that aspect was inconsistent with the Harry Potter series, which is chock full of wonderful details and is written in a classic style.
In conclusion, it’s certainly true that The Cuckoo’s Calling is no Harry Potter. But it wasn’t supposed to be. If it doesn’t appeal to everyone, that’s okay . . . it doesn’t make J.K. Rowling a lesser author. In fact, I think The Cuckoo’s Calling was a rather gutsy move. Many authors, after experiencing her success and fame, would be unlikely to attempt something so drastically different.