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March 5, 2014 / ljbradburn-Smith

The Cuckoo’s Calling

Cuckoo

There’s Cormoran Strike – solid, perceptive and damaged, with an unwanted claim to fame.

There’s Robin – Dependable and astute, with a taste for adventure.

And then there’s Lula – beautiful, exotic, mysterious and Dead.

JK Rowling’s debut novel under pseudonym Robert Galbraith is a murder mystery set in modern-day London. The story begins on the night that adopted supermodel Lula Landry plunges to her death, from the balcony of her luxury apartment, giving the tabloids and paparazzi more to feast on than their recent diet of the latest designer creations and celebrity haunts. Unsatisfied with the ruling of suicide, and sure that there is more to his sister’s death than meets the eye, her adopted brother John Bristow turns up on the doorstep of Private Detective Cormoran Strike begging him to  uncover what really happened on that fateful night. As the mystery unfolds, Strike and his temporary secretary/sidekick, Robin, find themselves immersed in a world of jealousy, rivalries, deception and sheep in wolves’ clothing.

The first thing I noticed about JK Robert’s novel was how different, in style and tone, it was to her Harry Potter books. Whether it is fair or not to compare and whether her pen-name was adopted to avoid that very thing only she can say, but I just couldn’t help but it. I am a massive fan of JK Rowling and I think it is only natural to compare an author’s work to their previous books, which is why I kinda wished I hadn’t known, before reading The Cuckoo’s Calling, that Robert Galbraith was really JK in disguise. Unfortunately though you can’t un-know something and I can say, in all honesty, that I wouldn’t necessarily have read this book if the author’s true identity hadn’t been revealed!

I like to think that, had I not known, I may have recognised something familiar about the writing anyway and been the one to out Rowling. In fact when Tottenham Court Road was mentioned I convinced myself that I definitely would have done (I mean what kind of self-respecting potter fan wouldn’t have seen this as JK alluding to her real identity?!) But in truth, aside from that tenuous reference, the writing was really very different. For a start she dropped the c-bomb! I can’t imagine that ever coming up in conversation between Harry and Ron over a game of wizard chess, no matter how competitive they got!

I found the novel as a whole to be extremely wordy and I felt that this made it seem a bit clumsy in places, like Rowling had just reached over for a giant thesaurus and changed every word she didn’t think was interesting enough. I feel bad saying it but it was reminiscent of Joey’s adoption letter in Friends when he signs his name ‘Baby Kangaroo’. I appreciate that her vocabulary is extensive but I found that her choice of words often distracted me from the plot, as I spent time wondering why she choose to use a more obscure version of a particular word or finding out its definition. Since reading The Cuckoo’s Calling I am even more interested to read The Casual Vacancy though, to find out if Rowling’s writing style in her adult novels is always like this or if she was attempting to throw people off the scent by creating a completely new voice for Robert Galbraith.

Despite slightly frustrating me at times I really enjoyed this novel, I even dreamt about it! In my dream I was Robin about to realise my childhood ambition of becoming a detective, alongside the canny Strike, and I could taste the excitement Rowling described. There was also a strange dream sequence about buying a kettle from a creepy shop down the road but I don’t think I need to go into that bit!

Strike himself was an interesting protagonist, with Rowling gifting the reader glimpses into his troubled past and uncertain future. His experiences were often reflective of the Lula Landry case, with his own stories intermingling into the plot to create a novel with depth and history.

Throughout the whole book I was kept guessing, which is what I want from a Murder Mystery. The twists and turns were well planned and cleverly executed, with a big build up towards the end of the novel when Strike had the answers but as far as I was concerned there were still several suspects in the running. At this point, when the novel reached its climax, I simply couldn’t put it down. In fact I stayed up far too late to be allowed, on a school night, to finish it!

The Cuckoo’s Calling had an intriguing protagonist, a hint of glamour and a killer twist which ultimately left me feeling satisfied.

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One Comment

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  1. fallingthroughtheworld / Mar 22 2014 1:12 pm

    I agree. You wouldn’t guess it was JK Rowing at all! I was really impressed she took on a completely different style so confidently. It felt like she was having fun with the genre which meant I had fun reading! I don’t tend to read detective fiction so, like you, wouldn’t have picked it up if it wasn’t for it being written by her but am glad I did.

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