Book Review: “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith
J.K. Rowling does it again. Only this time, the best-selling author pens her latest novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, as Robert Galbraith, recently revealed as her pseudonym.
The following review is SPOILER FREE.
Just as in The Casual Vacancy, this new crime novel departs greatly from Rowling’s Harry Potter days, so Potterheads jumping into the author’s new book should expect such a gap. That being said, similarities to both Potter and Casual Vacancy can be found littered throughout this skillfully plotted and exciting investigative novel.
The most obvious match to Casual Vacancy is that The Cuckoo’s Calling starts off with a death that drives the entire story. Readers are met with this tragic death of supermodel Lula Landry, also known as Cuckoo. The media begins to run the celebrity’s death, judged as a suicide, just as we would expect in our own world: without any end in sight. But soon enough, the journey for the real story behind the Cuckoo’s death and the calling from her flat begins.
Enter Cormoran Strike: a private detective, returned from Afghanistan after losing his leg, who is short on both business and cash. Following his unexpected pairing with new temporary assistant Robin Ellacott, the sleuthing begins.
Throughout the novel, Rowling addresses deep societal woes with which many of her readers are familiar: racism, celebrity privilege, media obsession, and lacking police work, just to name a few. She skillfully weaves these themes into her characters’ lives and the ongoing plot, then leaves them, appropriately, just as they are in our own lives: far from resolved.
Fans of Rowling’s work in Harry Potter will rediscover the author’s unmatched skill at characterization. She fully brings her characters to life, through unique names and very vivid descriptions. She gives us a protagonist, Strike, who is very real. Not only does she avoid taking the basic route of making him fully “good” or “bad,” but she even avoids the popular route of creating an in-between, “grayish” character. He is precisely what you would expect as a private detective, holding close to his own life and the problems it contains. The military background provides reasoning behind his sometimes hard nature, as well as his ability to push through the toughest of obstacles.
He is brought more to life by the growing relationship he builds with Robin, his new assistant. While there certainly could have been more on the development side of the determined partner, she brings a compelling contrast to the world of celebrity obsession. Rowling is a genius in using characters as foils to plot points, and she does that again masterfully with Robin.
As for the story itself, it is a true crime novel to the core. The reader slowly gathers the clues, tries to fit oddly-shaped pieces together, meets a few startling surprises and probably often switches between potential suspects. Even after Strike has clearly come to a conclusion, the reader is left to solve the mystery alongside Robin until, at last, the true story comes forth. As someone who does not often pick up detective and crime novels, I found myself rather engaged throughout, particularly as the last pieces begin to come together in the last quarter of the novel.
It is a completely new journey for the author, and she has certainly come a long way since introducing us to Harry outside the front door of Number 4, Privet Drive. But through a series about a boy wizard, a novel about small town relationships and politics, and now a London crime novel, one thing has remained consistent through the pages of J.K. Rowling’s writing: her unparalleled ability to make one read, pause, and reflect on how the story’s bigger themes are so present and relevant in their own lives, making the story feel that much more intimate.