Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling, by J.K. Rowling

I’ve made no secret of it – I think J.K. Rowling is one of the smartest, wiliest broads out there.  After writing one of the most successful book series in the history of western literature (if not the most successful), she could have just rested on her laurels and never written another word.  Rather, she recently published The Casual Vacancy which rocketed to the top of best seller lists.  Also recently, and very quietly, a book called The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith was published.  It was met with positive reviews by critics and other authors, but for the most part joined the mass market of books that are published every year without making much of a blip.  It wasn’t until new leaked that Robert Galbraith was a pen name for J.K. Rowling that The Cuckoo’s Calling exploded on  the consciousness of most readers.  I read online that within a week of the news getting out that Rowling had published again, sales for The Cuckoo’s Calling exploded by 507,000% - since you couldn’t get a copy anywhere, I believe it.

What’s all the fuss about, you ask?  The Cuckoo’s Calling is the story of Cormoran Strike, former military police investigator turned private eye who has been hired by the brother of a childhood friend to investigate the death of Lula Landry, supermodel and media lightening rod, who purportedly through herself from the balcony of her penthouse apartment.  Strike, down on his luck in love, health, and money, takes the job at twice his usual rate in hope that it will turn his luck around.  What follows is Strike’s attempts to unwind a complex web of lies and secrets woven by almost everyone even remotely involved in Lula’s life.  The payoff of the plot, when it comes, is satisfying and interesting and a little out of left field; it was a great way to end a who-done-it mystery.

In terms of plot, the work is strong, but a plot has to be carried by capable characters.  Rowling doesn’t fail in that regards either.  Cormoran Strike is at once flawed and loveable, which makes for an engaging main character – suffering physically from his last tour of duty in Afghanistan, and emotionally from his last tour of duty with his on-again/off-again girlfriend, Strike is a good guy that finds himself in an unenviable position.  Regardless of that, he’s not one to wallow, and is constantly looking for forward movement in his life.  

The supporting characters in The Cuckoo’s Calling are equally strong; Robin, Strike’s temporary secretary is an adorably competent young woman who, at first blush, seems like she could be steam rolled, but proves that assessment wrong very quickly.  Lula herself, though the reader never ‘meets’ her, is a well developed and fleshed out character; the reader gets to trace her character development from age 16 to her death.  And for the other handful of secondary characters that either sit at the periphery of the main story, or are central too it, all are eminently believable and engaging, though some may not be likeable.

In terms of writing style, I find I have mixed impressions.  The writing style contributes to the relatively quick pace of the forward movement of the plot (there are lags), but it was almost as if Rowling had been watching some film noir while writing her exposition passages – they’re full of boarder-line cheesy analogies and similes that don’t add to the feel of the book, but rather detract.  While a hell of a lot stronger than The Casual Vacancy, this book is definitely missing the spark of the Harry Potter series.  

A last nit-picky word on the book itself.  When I order this work on-line, it was implied the work was sold out and Chapters was waiting for new copies from the publisher (understandable with a 507,000% spike in sales), so I knew the publisher was doing another print run.  I figured that would mean they’d have another chance to fix some typographical mistakes – not so.  There is an instance of repeating a word, and several instances of mistakes with punctuation.  If the publisher had enough time to switch out the previous author’s biography (which paints a picture of Robert Galbraith as a real person) in favour of an explanation that Galbraith is a pseudonym for Rowling, you think they would have cleaned up the rest of it.  Well, since the cat’s out of the bag, you’ll notice that this post identifies the author as Rowling and not Galbraith; lets be honest with each other on that point.

So, final verdict?  Of course, it’s read this book.  Once again, Rowling has contributed in a wiley way to the public zeitgeist.  The Casual Vacancy wasn’t very well received, so she got sneaky with her publishing intentions and found a new and interesting way of presenting the world with her efforts, and I have no doubt that she’ll be turning this book into a series.  While the book itself is strong and interesting in and of itself, I would recommend you read if for the simple fact that it’s now a significant piece of the western literary history, and there’s no point being left behind on this one.  

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't very thrilled about The Casual Vacancy, JKR's entree into adult fiction. In fact, it wasn't my thing at all. I couldn't even finish it.

    But with The Cuckoo's Calling JKR's done it again. She's brought back the warmth I always associated with Hogwarts in this solid muggle detective story! The writing is BRILLIANT- with lines I found myself highlighting and smiling at. I love the quirkiness in her descriptions and how well fleshed out the characters were. Their accents, their airs, the mannerisms- all so beautifully captured, just like she did in Potter!

    The main character is this stand-up guy whose back story reminded me a lot of Dr. Watson from Sherlock Holmes! His secretary, Robin, made a great partner-in-crime-solving(?)! I do hope we see more and more of her. YES, there is more. This is only the first book in a series and I'm already waiting for the next book! It's also a pretty good mystery. I couldn't solve this whodunnit till the very end of the book when I was surprised to find out who the murderer was.

    I guess the bottomline is this:

    The Cuckoo's Calling, plot-wise, is NOTHING like Harry Potter. It's an adult detective novel, for godssake. BUT it comes closest to being as warm, as amazing, as engrossing and as much of a treat as a Potter novel! The characters leap out of the page! Even better, since it's an adult novel, the characters don't hold back at all! The mystery is tightly knit, hard to solve! Descriptions of food- even if it's Pot Noodle and sticky toffee pudding rather than pumpkin juice, chocolate frogs and treacle tart- will make your mouth water. When you near the end, you will feel yourself slowing down, not because you're bored but because you don't want it to end.

    An all too familiar feeling, isn't it?