Author: J.K Rowling (writing as the pseudonym Robert Galbraith)
Published: 2013 (this edition 2014)
J.K Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling centres on the death of Lula Landry, a famous model who fell from her balcony in an incident officially ruled as a suicide. However, her brother is unwilling to accept this verdict, and calls in Private Detective, and ex-military police officer, Cormoran Strike to investigate further. Predictably, he soon uncovers damning evidence missed by the police, and realises his determination to find the killer could well place him in harm’s way.
Let me start by saying that The Cuckoo’s Calling is a book I’ll find very hard to review, as I felt very differently towards the novel at different points in the story. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the first hundred pages of the novel, and found myself engrossed as I tried to guess who could possibly have killed Landry. Yet, its lengthiness meant my interest waned a little towards the middle, as I felt Rowling lost her compelling storyline in the midst of fruity metaphors and dense description.
So, I’ll start by discussing said prose. I’ll also remind you all that I have always adored Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and will always maintain that said series is beautifully written, before you all appear on my doorstep, pitchforks in hand, due to my criticism of Queen Rowling. Because the truth is, The Cuckoo’s Calling just isn’t a well-written book. Rowling has always had a unique writing style, packed with description and formal dialogue, that worked beautifully in Harry Potter, as its descriptive style really brought the magical world of Hogwarts to life, and the formality of the dialogue simply made characters like Dumbledore sound even wiser. Unfortunately, her prose does not fare well in this novel as, simply put, descriptions of life in the wizarding world are engrossing; descriptions of everyday life in London are not. In fact, this book could have lost many a tedious page if Rowling had only gone to town on description of evidence that was relevant to the Landry case, rather than describing every aspect of Strike’s existence in painstaking detail. His observations when interesting suspects are necessary information if the plot is to be comprehended; his Pot Noodle preference is not. The same writing that brings a world to life in a fantasy novel, seems tedious and excessive in a crime novel, which is why I think Rowling is best when she writes for young readers, showcasing her vast imagination. As a side note, before moving on to discuss the characters, I’d just like to say one more thing: I understand that Rowling initially didn’t want the public to know she had written this book but, in her desperation not to sound like herself, did she really have to include so much swearing?! Even speaking as someone with a famously foul mouth, the cursing in this novel grew vulgar and excessive, and soon lost its shock-value.
The characters are a definite redeeming feature of the novel, especially Strike himself. He’s certainly a rough character, but something about him makes him a loveable rogue- perhaps it’s the intelligence lying beneath the rough exterior. It’s actually refreshing to see a Private Detective character who doesn’t read like they’ve come straight out of Eton! His extensive investigation certainly takes the audience on an adventure, and I liked the fact he and his assistant Robin constantly bounce ideas about the case off each other. There was also something entertaining about seeing the straight-talking ex-military policeman interacting with Landry’s various rich family and friends, and one gets the sense Rowling may have enjoyed creating the contrast, mocking the vain world of modern celebrities. Said celebrity characters are often fairly bland, as are Landry’s family, although they do serve their purpose- providing the audience with an insight into the dead model’s whirlwind lifestyle.
One thing I always admired about the Harry Potter novels was Rowling’s unique way of keeping characters who are dead before a novel has even really begun, like Harry’s parents, seem as though they are still influencing the plot, and to make us feel like we know them. Rowling pulls the same trick here, making Lula Landry one of the most influential characters in the novel. From various comments her friends, family and boyfriend make about her life, we can piece together quite a bit of her history, including her mental health problems and unrest in the wake of her adoption. By the end of the novel, the audience will realise they likely dismissed Landry as a spoiled diva far too soon, and the various insights we receive into her life actually make one feel quite sympathetic toward her. All of this makes the reader want to know what happened to her, keeping them invested in the search for her killer.
The one area in which The Cuckoo’s Calling cannot be faulted is its plot. I just loved the premise- the idea of someone going over evidence that has already been gathered and a potential disagreement with the police always bodes well for a murder mystery, and the conclusion was brilliant, as Strike meticulously pieced together tiny bits of previously ignored evidence in order to unmask the killer. Without giving too much away, I will say that there are plenty of twists too, and plenty of people who are revealed as having the motive to harm Landry. Ultimately, I did guess the identity of the killer, but not until the last hundred pages, so it’s safe to say I was kept guessing for a while. Whilst I’ll never be a fan of the actual style Rowling uses when writing for adults, I will say that her plots are as imaginative as ever. These plots, and learning more about Strike himself, who is still somewhat of a mystery, will keep readers wanting more. This is far from a perfect book, but it kept me hooked, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the Cormoran Strike series.