by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling
Published by Bloomsbury
This book hadn’t even stalked across my radar, even though I’m a crime fiction addict, until I saw the controversy about the author. Shock! Horror! Robert Galbraith was a sock-puppet - supposedly a debut author with an army background. An unknown quantity who didn't actually exist. Apparently the book had sold less than 500 copies in more than three months, despite having wonderful reviews, and bookshops weren’t stocking it. This will come as no surprise to fellow mid-list authors of well-written, well-constructed books who don’t have the benefit of celebrity, a serial following, or their publishers' (strictly rationed) publicity machine, to sell their books. Then, overnight, someone’s sister-in-law tweeted that the real author was JK Rowling herself in disguise. Result? A stampede to the cash tills. Bloomsbury had to order 300,000 copies from the printers overnight! It’s a depressing story, unless you’re JKR.
So, I thought, is the book really any good? I was one of those who couldn’t get past the first pages of the Casual Vacancy, so I was dubious. I downloaded a free sample onto my Kindle and thought I’d take a quick look.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is a good read. There are plenty of people out there willing to knock JKR - I’m not one of them, but neither am I a slavish admirer. She knows how to tell a story and construct a plot and she can write persuasively. Harry Potter was a stroke of genius that hit a nerve at exactly the right moment and created a world of magic that both children and adults could get carried off into. As a mainstream author her books aren’t in that special category, which is a big problem for her.
I started to read the Cuckoo in the evening just before I went to bed and when the sample ran out, I wanted to read on and so I bought the book. Woken by a thunderstorm in the middle of the night and unable to sleep for the crashing and flashing, I kept on reading. I found her characters believable and appealing. Cormoran Strike, the private investigator, isn’t original, but he’s good to spend time with - just enough of the rough to appeal to women, but smooth and intelligent when it matters. The temp who turns up on his doorstep at the wrong moment, Robin, is a woman who believes her life is already mapped out for her, but finds that it isn’t. The case of the celebrity super-model who falls from a top floor window, takes us into the world that Rowling inhabits - running from the paparazzi, having your phone hacked, parties and night clubs and designer clothes as well as the normal ups and downs of human life. I found some of the lengthy detail of the criminal investigation a bit boring sometimes, but this is Rowling/Galbraith’s first crime novel, so some leeway is allowed.
This is the literary end of the crime spectrum, with a lot of focus on character, motivation and psychology. The plot is just a framework to hang it on. It’s not quite in the Kate Atkinson category, but I’ll be reading the next Galbraith. The real crime is the fact that The Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t getting any attention because it was by an unknown author.
Crime Fiction you might not have discovered yet:
Avril Joy’s Blood Tide
John AA Logan: The Survival of Thomas Ford