I remember the media mutterings a few years ago — as may you — when it came out that the JK Rowling, author of the beloved, bestselling, millions-earning, movie-adapted Harry Potter series, had sneakily published a detective novel under a pseudonym. That pseudonym is Robert Galbraith, and The Cuckoo’s Calling is that novel. It’s also now a television show.
Private investigator Cormoran Strike, a war veteran fallen on hard times, is approached by lawyer John Bristow and asked to investigate the death of Bristow’s adopted sister, supermodel Lula Landry, who fell from her balcony in what was ruled a suicide. Bristow thinks otherwise, and as Strike follows the trail, he begins to agree.
Admittedly, I don’t read a lot of crime fiction — as fun as it can be to follow the carefully laid clues, making up your own theories about who the killer is, until the inevitable conclusion proves you either right or wrong. In my opinion, speaking as someone who reads a lot of fiction if not crime fiction, the reader should be on the same page as the detective protagonist by the time the tell-all denouement comes along. Surely the identity, means, motive, and opportunity wouldn’t suddenly be revealed out of nowhere in a massive dialogue fest towards the book’s end, finally linking together pieces of evidence that were noted but never explained and conspicuously absent from the detective’s thoughts until this point? Surely not! In summary: an interesting mystery, with a disappointing, reaching conclusion.
Clearly many would disagree with me, since The Cuckoo’s Calling received mostly positive reviews. Maybe I’m wrong in thinking that outlandish revelations are better off foreshadowed rather than coming out of the woodwork at the eleventh hour… except I’m not, but hey! To each their own. To be honest, the conclusion was just the bitter icing on the cake.
The real problem with The Cuckoo’s Calling is that Rowling’s style — sorry, “Galbraith’s” style — just doesn’t work for me. It’s the same formal-leaning, almost cutesy, sometimes excessively descriptive writing that worked so well for Harry Potter, with the addition of swearing, and thrice the indecipherably spelled-out accents. Remember how Hagrid’s dialogue was hard/annoying to read sometimes? Yep. It’s even worse here.
My personal rule is to give a book a hundred pages to interest me before I give up on it, but I broke that rule with The Cuckoo’s Calling because I wanted it to be good; I tried to like it. I’m usually good at liking things! The actual mystery is intriguing, I will say; and following the clues is always fun. Rowling’s style, in the context of adult fiction, just isn’t for me.