Review/Discussion: The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

On a cold winter’s night, a beautiful supermodel, Lula, falls from her condo balcony to her death. The ensuing chaos results in multiple interpretations: it was suicide, it was murder; a man could be heard fighting with the victim seconds before she fell, but witness testimonies did not jive and based on such testimonies, there was no way (due to soundproofing) that anyone could be heard. The police rule that the death was a suicide; friends and family are not convinced. Lula was happier than anyone had ever seen her in the days preceding her death; she simply wouldn’t commit suicide.  It is at this point that The Cuckoo’s Calling introduces its main character, Cormoran Strike.

When reading The Cuckoo’s Calling, I was constantly comparing it to the Rebus series by Ian Rankin. This is not to say that The Cuckoo’s Calling is simply a copy of Rankin’s police procedurals, but they are similar in skill and technique. Like Rankin, Robert Galbraith has written a top-notch P.I. novel, with such story-telling skill, that readers can continue to have faith in the good, old-fashion mystery novel.

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Part of the greatness of Galbraith’s novel lies in its main character: Cormoran Strike. Truly the exact opposite of the ‘usual’ hero of a story, Strike is a down on his luck, ex-military policeman, who is trying to run a private investigation business. He instead finds himself simply in debt with zero clients. There is also great detail regarding the ‘looks’ of Strike. He is not like the ex-military heroes that are found in romance novels. He is quite large, has the shape and face of a boxer (which brings to my mind a marked up facade). Having lost half of his leg in the war, he struggles with pain and irritation that his prosthetic leg causes because of weight gain. Last but not least, Galbraith is constantly referring to Strike’s hair, which covers most of his body and head, as ‘pubey.’ His problems also go quite deep; he is near losing his business, he has broken up with his fiancé and must now live in his office, and a previous client has consistently been sending him very detailed death threats. All of this bad luck begins to change when the case he needs comes to his office, along with a very eager and efficient receptionist from the temp agency.

There is a well-developed story with Cormoran Strike. He is certainly a well-rounded character, which leads readers to becoming interested in his back-story, as well as the current issue regarding the death of Lula Landry. These are the types of novels that I love; it is not simply about the current conflict, but the characters driving the story. These are the novels that will lead to series that I will follow throughout numerous books (i.e. Rankin’s Rebus series is currently totaling 18; Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is currently totaling 8, with numerous short stories and spin-offs).  With these authors, and such skill, it is the characters that the readers fall in love with, and forever want to know more about; the story of each novel almost becomes a secondary pleasure. Strike is one such character; he will become a part of many readers’ lives, and will continue to be so. The more novels that Galbraith chooses to write featuring Strike, the stronger that feeling will become. Strike will become like a friend to many readers, and that is the best compliment that I can give to a writer.

This is an old-fashioned police procedural from the perspective of a private investigator. With this type of novel, there needs to be a sense of direction, with absolute clarity regarding the minute details of the investigation. It takes great skill in keeping all these details straight and consistent, along with writing in such a way without having the readers’ eyes glaze over. Galbraith’s skill in writing is absolutely beautiful, and has a level of skill that very few authors ever reach. This is talent, through and through. I really cannot express how impressed I was with the writing level in The Cuckoo’s Calling, except for this: not once did I come out of the world created by the story. I was fully devoted and entrenched in the case of Lula Landry.

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The Controversy

This level of skill evidenced throughout The Cuckoo’s Calling is what brought about a level of controversy, which cannot be overlooked. The ‘About the Author’ section stated that this was a debut novel for Galbraith, an ex-military man himself. This was quite difficult for some to swallow, because the skill in this novel is way beyond what a debut novel has possibly ever delivered. Writing is a skill that becomes developed as individuals write more and more, and so it is more often than not, that a first novel from a well-developed author lacks a level of skill that their current publications have.

Only a few months after The Cuckoo’s Calling hit the shelves, it was publicly released that Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. Once this was announced, the sales for The Cuckoo’s Calling, understandably, increased exponentially. The question, though, was continuously asked: why did Rowling choose to write under a pseudonym?

Pseudonyms were and continue to be used for multiple reasons. During the early 19th century, many female authors utilized male pen names in order to become published. Such well-known authors are Anne Bronte as Acton Bell, Charlotte Bronte as Currer Bell, Emily Bronte as Ellis Bell, and Mary Ann Evans as George Eliot. This allowed females to slowly begin to infiltrate the male-dominated profession.

Nowadays, there are a few reasons that authors choose a pseudonym: two of these include making one name for a team of writers (saves space on the cover) and to avoid confusion if the author chooses to write in different genres. Numerous examples can be found: when Ian Rankin wrote a story separate from his Rebus series, he chose the name Jack Harvey; Nora Roberts, a well-known romance author, began publishing mysteries under the name, J.D. Robb; Jessica Bird published romances under her maiden name, but became J.R. Ward when she began writing paranormal romances (in fact, she seems more well-known as J.R. Ward than Bird); and an example of a team pseudonym is P.J. Tracy, which consists of the mother-daughter writing team (Patricia and Traci Lambrecht). Despite the many different ways in which a pseudonym is used, the most common and underlying theme for the device is privacy.

This is why J.K. Rowling’s use of a pseudonym is intriguing: it is not only the fact that she used a pseudonym, but that she went back to the tradition of early authors, and chose one of the opposite sex. The sales for The Cuckoo’s Calling when it was first released were not that outstanding, which leads to the question: why? With the success and fame of the Harry Potter series, Rowling has amassed a fan-base that will most likely purchase her novels no matter the topic or storyline. She quickly reached that level, and with her skill in writing, it is not difficult to understand how she got there so quickly. Although I am not one of these individuals for Rowling, herself, I do have a number of authors that I simply purchase the novel because it has his/her name. Authors at this level of fame can expect a particular level of success for each novel, because people simply flock to the name. But does this truly make an author a talented writer? Does this give any indication of the level of skill a writer has?

Rowling tried something that few authors have done: after finding great success quickly and due to a long-running series, she may have wanted to make sure that her success continued, not because of her name, but because of her merit. The two are closely connect: Rowling is an amazing writer. Despite this, I can understand the need to see if it is not just the name that carries the sales, but the novel itself. Nowadays, authors have a bit more limelight in front of the cameras, but the product they are selling is not themselves, instead a piece of written literature.

I will admit that this is my first Rowling novel, and I only did hear about it when her identity as the author was revealed. That being said, I love mysteries and police procedurals and if I had come across it when it was only the unknown Robert Galbraith as the author, I still would have picked it up. It was the story line that grabbed me, not the name. This is why I’ve listed this review under her pseudonym; I feel that what Rowling attempted deserves some recognition and respect. Her skill and talent is obvious, and even though I have yet to jump on the Harry Potter bandwagon, I’m sure it will be on my to-read list in the near future.

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