J.K. Rowling wanted to keep her pet project a secret. She was venturing into new literary territory with The Cuckoo’s Calling, a whodunit mystery novel akin to the Sherlock Holmes series, so penned it under the name Robert Galbraith. Unfortunately for her little experiment, her true identity was revealed, and book sales exploded. Despite the certain financial success of the novel (although I doubt Rowling is hurting for cash), Rowling must be disappointed, as she didn’t get the unbiased perspective she was looking for. (The lawsuit she won suggests she really did want to keep her pen name a secret.) What a bittersweet conundrum, to be such a successful writer in one genre, and crave unfettered reviews on a new project.
Cuckoo’s Calling introduces a private detective by the name of Cormoran Strike. His maladies and colorful family history provide much of the texture in the novel, as it’s clear that Rowling intended to make this a series – the second book of the series, Silkworm, releases this summer – thus focusing largely on character building. Down on his luck and recently dumped by his girlfriend, Strike is desperate for a new case. In walks John Bristow, the brother of a childhood friend.
Bristow’s sister, Lula, a superstar in the world of high fashion, has recently plummeted to her death from her apartment’s balcony. The police ruled the death a suicide, but Bristow doesn’t buy it; he wants Strike to investigate.
Along the way, we meet other characters in Strike’s life – police detectives, old war buddies, an overbearing sister, and most notably a new temporary assistant named Robin. She quickly proves her worth and becomes Strike’s trusted Watson.
As Strike is piecing together the clues, he becomes endeared to you for his soft underbelly as much as for his cunning detective skills. Although Robin’s storyline is painfully predictable, she is a fitting sidekick, excitedly navigating her new role as a PI’s office.
I won’t ruin it for anyone who still has this on their nightstand, but I will say I found the ending unsatisfying. Although there were many diversions and possible suspects presented, I guessed at the true story midway through the book (maybe it was all the Nancy Drew I read in my youth). Where Rowling succeeding in character building, she woefully underdeveloped the plot. Some of the details in the final “gotcha” moments were far-fetched, and, for me, eye-rolling.
The Cuckoo’s Calling was a book I pushed through, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a page turner. If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, you’ll likely find Rowling’s first foray into mystery novels a little flat. I’m hoping in the next novel she finds a better balance with a more compelling plot line, but I’ll give her a pass on this one. She’s clearly still honing her skills in this genre; perhaps that’s why she wanted to keep it a secret.
What did you think of The Cuckoo’s Calling? Will you read Silkworm? Share your thoughts in the comments below.