Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: The Cuckoo's Calling By Robert Galbraith-Simply Brilliant Fun

Yes by now you know that the author of this book was none other than J.K. Rowling. As "Robert Galbraith" this crime mystery was a critically acclaimed novel. I will honestly say though, that if I had not known that she was the author I would never have picked up the book. And without a doubt I would have lost out on a good read. In truth, Ms. Rowling really is a generational true talent.

When thinking about The Cuckoo's Calling think "A brilliant mystery in a classic vein." Think crime noir and The Maltese Falcon. Think Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot. Think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. Think the beginning of a new and exciting British mystery series.

Having been a huge fan of the Harry Potter series I wasn't quite sure what to expect in this very adult drama. I know Rowling can add mystery to any amount of information. She has an uncanny knack for weaving the minutest detail into her story and then making it a major part of the plot. She brings into play our esoteric understanding of society and then throws into it a mix of suspicion, intrigue and human failings.

Her hero, Cormoran Strike (can you think of any name more British), is not an anti-hero. Her hero is an actual injured Afghanistan war hero with a convoluted childhood, a dead drug addled mother and absent world famous father. He is the lost soul that every woman wants to save, who is hopelessly intrigued by selfish narcissistic unbalanced women. Of course what else does such a damaged human being become, but a private detective. His sidekick, and every good murder mystery needs a good sidekick, is a youngwoman forced out of college due to family issues, engaged to a rather austere boring youngman. She's smart, pretty and excited to walk on the dangerous wild-side.

Meanwhile into Cormoran's world of empty pockets, broken engagements and screwed up dreams, walks an old acquaintance from childhood. The client's sister had just committed suicide and he is not in agreement with the inquest findings. He wants Cormoran to find her killer. And off we go.....

Rowlings brings you into the world of London. You see the rich and famous alongside the down trodden. She shows you what its like to be hounded by the paparazzi, the world of chic parties, designer goods and multimillion dollar apartments. She also introduces you to the sordid world of poverty and need in one of the premier cities on the globe. (A world that she had inhabited while she wrote the beginnings of the Harry Potter novels.) When she writes, you know she has lived much of what is before you.

One of the fun aspects of this book was the language. Yes, Britain and the United States technically are both English speaking nations, but it is interesting just how different that expression can become. This book then is a bit of an incite into the English psyche that is simply fascinating. Even the way she describes attitudes and ideas are so thoroughly British that you do know and understand that you are also taking part in a bit of an anthropological expedition while reading this book.

So what more can I say about The Cuckoo's Calling? Just that it kept me guessing. Really kept me guessing. Every little detail is there for a reason. Every simple argument, description and idea has a meaning to how the whole entire story unfolds. Rowling gives you no unnecessary information. Follow along closely. I thought I had, but I truly was a bit surprised by the ending. Funny I had thought not much in books could surprise me anymore. I was completely wrong.


In many ways, I am a book snob. I am loathe to try a new author, especially one that is critically acclaimed. I have been sorely disappointed everytime I have broached a new writer this way. I enjoy good literature, but simply I find that the critics have no idea whatsoever about what is and is not good authorship. I find that their overindulgence and lauding of lamentations and self-flagellation to be, to put it mildly, quite mentally unhealthy. Sorry, but I really don't need to review my inner psyche or discuss my dreams and failings. When I pick up a book it is to escape the real world and try to enjoy a fictional, and quite unrealistic look at the world around me. In other words, I don't need a lesson on what some literary critic thinks is morality and ethics. I simply need to have a good time.

But maybe after the contretemps about the writings of Robert Galbraith I need to take a closer look at what the critics think. Maybe I should not just assume that every critic is a self-important jerk thinking that us plebeians need a lecture about life from a more sophisticated and deserving strata of society. Maybe some critics actually know the difference between lecture and literature afterall.



  1. I wasn't very thrilled about The Casual Vacancy, JKR's entree into adult fiction. In fact, it wasn't my thing at all. I couldn't even finish it.

    But with The Cuckoo's Calling JKR's done it again. She's brought back the warmth I always associated with Hogwarts in this solid muggle detective story! The writing is BRILLIANT- with lines I found myself highlighting and smiling at. I love the quirkiness in her descriptions and how well fleshed out the characters were. Their accents, their airs, the mannerisms- all so beautifully captured, just like she did in Potter!

    The main character is this stand-up guy whose back story reminded me a lot of Dr. Watson from Sherlock Holmes! His secretary, Robin, made a great partner-in-crime-solving(?)! I do hope we see more and more of her. YES, there is more. This is only the first book in a series and I'm already waiting for the next book! It's also a pretty good mystery. I couldn't solve this whodunnit till the very end of the book when I was surprised to find out who the murderer was.

    I guess the bottomline is this:

    The Cuckoo's Calling, plot-wise, is NOTHING like Harry Potter. It's an adult detective novel, for godssake. BUT it comes closest to being as warm, as amazing, as engrossing and as much of a treat as a Potter novel! The characters leap out of the page! Even better, since it's an adult novel, the characters don't hold back at all! The mystery is tightly knit, hard to solve! Descriptions of food- even if it's Pot Noodle and sticky toffee pudding rather than pumpkin juice, chocolate frogs and treacle tart- will make your mouth water. When you near the end, you will feel yourself slowing down, not because you're bored but because you don't want it to end.

    An all too familiar feeling, isn't it?


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