If there’s any proof to the power of a name, it’s The Cuckoo’s Calling. Released back in April under the name of Robert Galbraith, a man who supposedly served in the military and has turned an author, the book managed to get good reviews and sell a few thousand copies.
Flash forward to July and to a mishap at a law firm, the person behind the Robert Galbraith pseudonym is revealed. It took the book 15 minutes to run from the bottom of the Amazon charts to the very top. That is the power of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.
The Cuckoo’s Calling has since been much better received than her previous outing “The Casual Vacancy,” a book I thoroughly enjoyed but can understand not being accepted by all.
Cormoran Strike is a British war veteran who, having lost a limb in the Afghanistan war, has returned to his homeland to work as a private detective. He is the bastard son of a famous rockstar. He burns through secretaries faster than the cigarettes which never exit his lips and the latest addition, Robin, doesn’t seem like she’ll last. He is down to one customer and even lower on funds. Creditors are knocking on his door and he doesn’t think he’ll last that long in the profession of his choice. Until his door is knocked by John Bristow, the brother of Lula Landry, a supermodel who jumped to her death on a cold January night three months prior to the events of the book.
Bristow is convinced his sister’s death wasn’t a suicide. He is alone in thinking as such. Many think his pursuit is that of a bereaved man who can’t seem to let go, including Strike whose only reason to take on the case is the money in it. What he will find, however, is a world of dysfunctional families like his own, celebrities, models, designers, film producers, paparazzi and tabloids, the likes of which he had never seen before.
The Cuckoo’s Calling – J.K. Rowling or not – is a great book in itself and a return to basics for the author. She is here doing what she has proven she does best: work with a mystery, compose a plot that works flawlessly and build on characters that are engrossing in their insecurities, flaws, pursuits and aspirations.
The detective work is excellently mapped. Each witness leads to the next in a systematic way that keeps the flow of the logic with which Cormoran Strike is working intact. The book’s spine is decent, running at 469 pages. But it never feels redundant. On the contrary, it moves at a breakneck pace despite it dwelling on all the different theories, alternative explanations and scenarios of the detective work at hand. This proves to work – simply because Rowling has this capacity to get you invested in the pages she has set forth.
The theme of the book – celebrities and fame – aptly summarized with quotes from infamous books preceding each of the book’s five parts, is not exactly new. However, Rowling’s take on an issue which she knows very well is witty and is considered social comedy at times, especially with her intelligent use of different speech methods to convey how different characters behave, giving each of them – especially the ones you are led to believe are shallow – depth.
I hope the revelation that Galbraith is indeed Rowling means we’ll see more novels of Cormoran Strike. Because underneath the detective work, the cut-throat aspect of many of the novel’s facets, lies a story – like Rowling’s earlier offerings – of characters, of blossoming friendships, growing trust, hardships, heartbreaks, of growth. I’ve read many detective novels. This is one of the better ones.