Celebrated author J.K. Rowling’s beloved “Harry Potter” series has sold more than 400 million copies. Her first publication outside of that series was released under tremendous pressure and scrutiny and is reported to have sold more than one million copies in its first three weeks in print. It makes sense then that Rowling craved the ability to create without the pressures of fame, and in the blissful anonymity from which “Harry Potter” sprang. She did just that when she published “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, a taut mystery, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith in April of 2013. Her secret was short-lived however, as the news of her “secret book” blew wide open in mid-July, turning it into an overnight bestseller. What must have been most wonderful for Rowling, other than the lack of pleasure, was receiving criticism based solely on the work and not on her name. Before Rowling’s unmasking, “The Cuckoo’s Calling” received universal praise from critics, and for good reason. No matter what name she chooses to write under, Rowling knows how to spin a good tale.
The events of “The Cuckoo’s Calling” surround the death of supermodel Lula Landry, ruled a suicide by police, and the subsequent investigation, conducted three months after the fact, by private detective Cormoran Strike. Strike is an unlikely hero to say the least. A large, burly man (though not too big to be allowed, a la Rubeus Hagrid), Strike is a former military investigator who lost a leg in Afghanistan is swimming in debt, and newly short his longterm girlfriend, forced to live in his office. So, when John Bristow (Landry’s adopted brother) shows up believing that Lula was murdered,and offers an exorbitant amount of money for Strike to look into the circumstances of his sister’s death, Strike agrees to take on the job despite his own skepticism that it could have been anything but a suicide. However dismissive Strike is of the possibility of murder initially, he is a thorough man determined to do thing properly, regardless of his personal suspicions. Soon enough his leave-no-stone-unturned investigative approach leads to discoveries that lead Stirke to believe there really could be more to Landry’s death than a desperate leap out a window--and he sets out to find the truth with new resolve with only his enthusiastic and bright temporary secretary, Robin, at his side.
It will come as no surprise to the legions of “Potter” fans across the globe that Rowling has a real talent for weaving a mystery--after all, the question at the heart of Harry, Ron and Hermione’s adventures is, more often than not, some form of whodunit? Here though, Rowling uses deduction, human nature and a classical approach to a detective story to create a need-to-know-now sense of urgency in her pages. As we follow Strike’s interviews with the main players in Landry’s life and his careful analysis of the evidence, we can clearly sense that something more is right there, and the answers are just out of reach.
Certain turns of phrase are seemingly singular to Rowling, including the use of the word “Rabbity” to describe a grown man, but if anything about “The Cuckoo’s Calling” might have given away to readers that the words they were reading were not those of Galbraith, but someone with whom they are more familiar, it is the incredible way in which the characters feel lived in. Reading the first couple of pages is all it takes to feel that Robin is a lifelong chum, and mere to know that Strike is formidable but moral; he’s as endearing as he is intimidating.
Rowling moves into a new genre seamlessly, crafting an enjoyable tale full of intrigue and life. To reveal further details would be to rob readers of the joy of watching this fantastic tale unfold. So instead, just make your way to your friendly neighborhood bookstore, pick up a copy and hope for a nice rainstorm to set a sleuthy tone.