Robert Galbraith’s debut novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, was released on April 30 this year, to little fanfare. It was, however, received well by critics, many of whom commented on what a brilliant effort it was for a first novel from an unknown author. But despite great critical reviews, the book didn’t fly off the shelves and was likely to have only been picked up by dedicated readers of the crime genre. But then the news slipped that the book wasn’t written by Robert Galbraith at all. It was a pseudonym. When the world found out that book was in actual fact written by J.K. Rowling, it quickly sold out and was reprinted within weeks. The obvious question was asked, “did she leak the secret herself?” Regardless of whether she did or not, the fact that the book was praised before people even knew it was her work, speaks volumes of her quality as an author. Naturally as a sucker for all things Rowling, I was ridiculously excited to read her latest book – no matter what name it was published under.
The Cuckoo’s Calling isn’t anything out of the ordinary in terms of being a crime novel. A model falls to her death and the police prescribe it as suicide – though not all believe that to be the case. So there’s a death that needs to be solved, a bunch of characters with some dark secrets and as always, more than one suspect in the crosshairs of the investigator. But what I did find different from the few other crime novels I’ve read, was the main character and detective, Cormoran Strike. Unlike his counterparts in other novels, I actually really liked Cormoran Strike. Normally I find it difficult to like these sorts of characters as they are usually a little too damaged for my taste. They all have a dark past which normally has the death of someone close to them attached to it. They carry this death with them into all their investigations and the case always seems to have some sort of profound effect on them in the end. But this is not the case with Mr Strike.
He has come home from the Afghanistan war not quite whole physically, but mentally he’s not in bad shape. He’s the illegitimate child of a groupie and a rockstar, has a failing business and a failing relationship. But despite all of this (or perhaps because of it), he is endearingly normal. I had no sympathy for him. What I felt was probably something closer to admiration – he got handed lemons and he made lemonade. There is mention throughout the book of past occurrences that have shaped the character, but Rowling has not let the character dwell on these. It’s as though they have been mentioned purely as a way of helping the reader understand the character, but they have not impacted on the characters actions in the present, nor does it overly impact on his attitude towards others. Strike could not necessarily be called “nice” towards other characters, but he is certainly not nasty or rude to them, as I have found many other fictional detectives to be. He has a job and he gets it done, not sacrificing his integrity in the process.
The story itself, while following a reasonably typical crime mould, did keep me guessing until the end. I had my suspicions as to who the potential killer was from the outset, but there were definitely enough twists and turns along the way to throw me off the scent. It was particularly difficult to pinpoint a motive which just made it all the more intriguing it had you wondering whether the death was a suicide after all, or the result of something more sinister.
I don’t think that we should have been surprised that Rowling could write a quality crime novel. After all, Harry Potter himself was always trying to unravel a crime/mystery, so Rowling has certainly had plenty of practice. Cormoran Strike is sort of like a grown up Harry but without the magic, so if that’s you’re thing, you’ll definitely enjoy reading this book. If it’s not your thing, then you will simply be able to enjoy it as a decent crime novel. It has been confirmed that there will be more Strike novels and I think he will be a very interesting character to see develop over a few more books, in particular his relationship with his secretary, Robin. My only question is, will they bother to publish it under the name Galbraith, or now that the secret is out, will the author’s real name make it’s way to the cover?