Review: Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Cuckoos Calling
Robert Galbraith/Mulholland Books

“He had never been able to understand the assumption of intimacy fans felt with those they had never met.”

The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling by J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith is about an ex-army man and private investigator Cormoran Strike and Robin, his pretty, young, temporary assistant, and their quest to get to the bottom of an unexpected suicide. Although they are concrete characters, neither are particularly interesting.

The heart of The Cuckoo’s Calling is the compelling and heartbreaking story of Lula Landry, a beautiful but dead superstar model who was harassed constantly by the paparazzi, and how their interference led to her ultimate decision to commit suicide.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a fictional account and an allegorical dig about the world today, and how obsessed we are as a society with the lives of celebrities, dead or alive, and how even friends and families of celebrities are not immune to being the subjects of overblown stories in the media. Society treats these actors, models, musicians and the myths surrounding them as reality, when there is so much we don’t know and are not supposed to know about other people’s private lives.

The novel goes through the process of Strike slowly uncovering bit by bit pieces of the truth surrounding beautiful Lula Landry’s death by trying to experience life through her eyes–he goes out on a night drinking with a model friend of Lula’s, Ciara Porter, and Lula’s ex-boyfriend Evan Duffield; he meets with Lula’s homeless friend Rochelle, who is oddly murdered only hours after meeting with Strike; and he and Robin snoop around Lula’s favorite clothing shop, where they find more answers from the gossipy saleswomen about how Lula was acting on the day she died.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is Rowling’s second jab at writing in the mystery and crime genre. It was not an easy book to read and I could only read a few chapters at a time, since much of the writing felt flat. It is a solid mystery, but not one that I would recommend as my first choice. There are much better mysteries and thrillers that are far more engaging like those from Gillian Flynn or classics from Agatha Christie. If you are just getting started in the mystery genre, I would consider picking up something from a more established writer of these tales. The Cuckoo’s Calling won’t blow you away.

Is it J.K. Rowling or isn’t it?

Today’s story about J.K. Rowling and her book The Cuckoo’s Calling, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is an interesting example of what name recognition and branding can do for authors.  It is also a message for first time writers.  Everyone wants the same kind of attention they see other authors getting in the media based on the quality of their books, but without the fame to go with it, it is a bit more challenging.

I am a self-professed book-nerd.  When I was a kid I was in the Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary fan clubs.  I read all of their books as well as anything by S.E. Hinton, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and more.  I loved buying the box sets of an author’s work so I could look forward to a somewhat long future with a person whose stories I loved.

I still read that way, when I can.  I will read a single author’s work consistently until I get to one or two books that I don’t like, and then I know it’s time to move on.

But J.K. Rowling is a special case because not only is she a well-known author, she’s sold more books than anyone in my lifetime (or it certainly feels that way).  She’s the George Lucas and Steven Spielberg of books.  The Julia Child and Rocco Dispirito of novels.  The Rolling Stones and the Beatles of wizardry.

So to know that her “debut” novel written under an alias had only sold 1,500 copies in the U.K. since its April publication is a very sobering fact.  Especially since it was reviewed well by the critics and in the U.S., bookstores were promoting it for summer reading.  We know that it was a well-liked book, yet breaking into a strong mid-list showing in sales was not happening, yet.

Today after a reporter got a linguist to compare the writing of The Cuckoo’s Calling to one of the Harry Potter books in order to determine that yes, this book is the real McCoy and the story broke in the papers, the book went up some ridiculous percent on (over 5000%) to the top spots and second print runs, sold out retailers, and all sorts of other book selling mechanisms are going into effect.  The news itself is momentarily taking over the publishing industry.

What can you say to those debut novelists who don’t have J.K. Rowling as their secret identity?  It’s cliche, but success really doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes time building interest, word-of-mouth, reviews, and a reputation that will encourage people to take a chance on a new name. Also keep in mind that 1,500 copies isn’t too shabby for the U.K. market for a debut, which probably would have sold more slowly over time had J.K. Rowling’s identity stayed a secret.

There’s nothing wrong with a certain degree of anonymity.  Rowling appreciated it, and actually savored the opportunity to be treated like a “regular” author.  The grass is truly always greener, isn’t it?