In the world of publishing there are many routes to fame and fortune. Among them would be to write one of the most successful series of children's books with equal appeal to adults. Which, of course, is why the name J.K. Rowlings is known far and wide. So, after that accomplishment, and after her first adult book, "The Casual Vacancy" (which flew off the shelves in September 2012 despite critical warnings about its lack of "fun," [Publisher's Weekly]), the author wanted to know if she could write something that would measure the appeal of the writing without the magnetism of her name. Hence, "The Cuckoo's Calling" by her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith.
By now, the secret is known far and wide and, to some, seems like a deception on her public (even though it's a time-honored tradition).
After a slow response to its initial printing as a Galbraith novel, first by a London publisher then by U.S.'s Hatchette Group's Mulholland Press, word leaked out that Galbraith was Rowlings. Result: number one on the L.A. Times Best Seller List on August 10th, 2013. Even if unintended, leaks can be good for the bottom line. It's also fair to say that if there had been no leak, many a mystery/crime reader would have missed something not only good, but important in publishing.
First off, it's not just a mystery, but a whodunit. You know, Agathie Christie, P.D. James, Inspector Clouseau, et al -- The kind of mystery that invites the reader to solve the crime as the central figure, the detective, interviews all known suspects and, clue by clue, connects the crime(s) to the only person who could have done it. In this case, the mystery to be solved is "who shoved world-famous supermodel Lula Landry off the balcony of her posh condo?." The challenge, of course, is singling out the glut of suspects who might have had opportunity and motive from among so many lies, misrepresentations, ommisions etc. from all the classes in London from street opportunists to the wealthy in their high Victorian palaces. This demands a sleuth with 100% devotion to justice, even above that to his client.
If there's one thing Rowlings/Galbraith knows how to do, it's to create characters and imbue them with vices and virtues, sometimes colorful ones, that ring the bell of fantasy or reality alike. Take Cormoran Strike, her protagonist, for example: a methodical investigator, intuitive to human conduct and motive as any psychiatrist, able to strip away the BS in alibies and contradictory evidence until he forms a factual picture of actual events. But, he's also the illegitimate son of a well-known rock star, a relationship he would as soon everyone forget; an in-debt alcoholic struggling to stay sober; a vet with a prosthetic leg bedding down on a cot in his office, needing an outside facility to shower, and... he is mentally distracted if not tortured by the loss of his long-time lover Charlotte. Not a stirling bio but a guy we can definitely enjoy being with on his journey. Not a Harry Bosch, say; but maybe a Dave Robicheaux.
The case starts after his temp, Robin, shows up at his office door immediately after Charlotte has run out. Then, "rabbity, sandy-colored, trust-funded" John Bristow in a finely tailored suit enters with a tragic story about his adopted sister's death a few months ago. The police and the press have ruled it a suicide, given that Lula Landry, the famed supermodel with the "spectacular face" and cafe' au lait skin had presumably fallen from the balcony of her ritzy condo. The problem, the suited man explains, is that he thinks it was a murder, that the police failed to run down all the clues and alibis, and he needs a PI to prove it. And, for the struggling P.I., a well-heeled client at last.
Anyone still wondering about Rowlings as a writer of adult material should be noticing by this early scene, her ear for dialogue, eye for description, and sense of character depth. Her sub-plot is a joyful anticipation of whether Robin, the temp, as she contributes a Watson-like pro-activity and inventiveness to the procedure could, in light of Strike's load of debt, ever become a perm. The question is vitally important to the likelihood of more in a Cormoran Strike series of novels.
What is also apparent is Rowling's enjoyment of writing, which she makes evident on many a page, almost to a fault. Her finely constructed scenes and pitch-perfect dialogue are adept and revealing of so many elements, not the least of which is the precision of language and evasions common to the cross-section of British culture. But, she does allow scenes to go on until they, and some of us readers, are spent. If Rowlings has a fault, it's a certain lack of restraint that, to some who have weighed in on it, amounts to a plodding pace. But I have no doubt many a reader will consider that a non-issue, if not a strength.
For this reader, Rowling's magic literary wand is secure. All will turn to gold for a writer of this dimension. Her use of a pseudonym for the purposes mentioned should not be held against her, even though the question of how many of her book sales can be credited to the work alone remains unanswered. But, really, who cares? And, as for Robin the temp, [SPOILER] my patience eventually paid off. But, don't tell anyone.