J.K. Rowling’s sneaky attempt to release a crime novel under pseudonym Robert Galbraith quickly backfired after one of her lawyers carelessly revealed her secret. It’s an annoyance to her, but to us, it’s like Christmas arriving early.
We accompany the almost bankrupt, borderline unemployed, homeless private detective Cormoran Strike as he uncovers the apparent suicide of supermodel Lula Landry. He’s unwittingly sent a temporary PA, Robin, who he can’t afford to pay; on the same day, the wealthy brother of the deceased model, John Bristow, pays Strike a hefty sum to re-investigate the death. Initially dubious of Bristow’s sanity, Strike refuses to re-open the case. However, since he no longer has a home or a fiancée to go to he grasps the job with both hands and, with Robin’s help, unveils some very ugly truths on the way.
Harry Potter hasn’t dried up Rowling’s ability to pen deep, believable characters and The Cuckoo’s Calling is notably lacking likeable personalities. We meet several disagreeable celebrities and their many hangers-on – obsessed, determined paparazzi and snooty rich people. Truth be told, the plot itself isn’t as compelling as the insight into the lives of the characters. Rowling is no stranger to spinning juicy, intricate and surprising storylines, but the investigation of Lula Landry’s death lacks the special touch that she usually places on her stories. The unravelling of the mystery is not as smooth as one would expect, and when the secret of Lula’s death was revealed, I wasn’t in a fit of hysterics, shouting at inanimate objects in my immediate surroundings or clutching my chair for support.
Aside from the whodunit murder mystery theme, the novel is thick with social issues that Rowling is so prone to criticising: celebrity culture, drugs, politics, social class and the vicious media. It’s thought provoking and funny, and those who don’t worship the best-selling author needn’t be put off reading it. The emotional attachment to our favourite characters and our soul-crushing disappointment when tragedy occurs may be missing from this particular adventure, but it’s still worth a read.