Monday, December 01, 2014

Review: The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert Galbraith's debut novel, garnered positive reviews upon its April 2013 publication, but had sold fewer than 500 copies in three months. When it was learned that Mr. Galbraith was actually J.K. Rowling, the mystery/crime novel became an international best seller.

Rowling was both unhappy and angry at her unmasking: "I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name."

Cormoran Strike, a detective who lost part of his left leg in the Afghanistan War, is not in a very good place as the book opens: he has few clients, mounting debts, and has just ended a relationship. He is essentially homeless, sleeping on a cot in his office.

Strike is hired by John Bristow, the brother of supermodel Lula Landry, to investigate Landry's apparent suicide three months earlier. Bristow believes there may have been foul play and his sister may not have actually jumped to her death from her apartment balcony. Strike is assisted in his investigation by his secretary, a young woman named Robin Ellacott.

I have not read Rowling's first non-Harry Potter novel, The Casual Vacancy, but Laura, my partner, gave it a very positive review here:
There are multiple subplots of interlocking stories, which take time to unfurl (and which Rowling juggles brilliantly, by the way). Most importantly, it takes time to introduce so many finely drawn characters. A lesser writer of a more facile novel would give you a few sentences of cliches for each. Rowling offers each character's internal monologue - their fears, their frustrations, their pain, their dreams - and lets their personality come to you in their own thoughts. This takes time. Rowling's writing is precisely descriptive without being ponderous or self-conscious. The characters, for the most part, are authentic and complex.
Much of those characteristics apply to The Cuckoo's Calling, as well. Rowling may not spend as much time on each character here, but that is because a mystery novel should - like a shark - continue briskly along. However, Rowling trusts her talents (and her readers' willingness to stay with the story) to digress every so often, e.g., Robin's relationship with her fiance Matthew. The dialogue, especially when Strike is interviewing people who knew Lula or traveled in the same celebrity circles, following various leads, sussing out nuggets of information, is superb.

I'm looking forward to reading Galbraith/Rowling's second Cormoran Strike novel, The Silkworm, which was published this past June.

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