Our copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling came with a carefully-stuck on round label, announcing that the book’s author is “JK Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith”. This little fact is now quite well-known, thanks to an anonymous tweet and some smart and meticulous reportage by London’s Sunday Times. But this nugget is purely incidental to the book, except that now that the identity of the author is known, The Cuckoo’s Calling is a bestselling book.
Rowling/Galbraith’s book is a fairly enjoyable read when it comes to the genre of crime novels. The story’s protagonist is the magnificently etched out Cormoran Strike, a war veteran turned private investigator. A massive hairy man, Strike resembles a grizzly bear, but his sharp memory and keen intellect are what make him intriguing. When the book starts, we find out that he is veering on the edge of bankruptcy and has once again broken up with his gorgeous but impetous girlfriend. He ends up living on a camp bed in his tiny office.
Yet little fazes Strike, including be-kittened death threats from a disgruntled former client (invoking the ghost of Dolores Umbridge for some). The perfect foil to Strike is Robin Ellacott, a temp secretary who ends up liking this strange detective work a lot.
Three months after Lula Landry, a beautiful but troubled model falls from the balcony of her posh Mayfair House, her brother approaches Strike to investigate the death. The police have dubbed it as a suicide but the brother John Bristow isn’t quite convinced. What follows is a journey into the seemingly lustrous world of modelling where designer labels and contracts are ominous objects of desire. Then, there’s Landry’s dysfunctional adopted family – a dead brother, an ailing mother, a charming but suspicious uncle. Strike, with Robin at hand, has to sift through multiple suspects including Landy’s famous boyfriend and an elusive girlfriend, but then he is a resourceful sort of bloke.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is Rowling’s second adult novel, after the much anticipated The Casual Vacancy. But it manages to engage the reader, mainly because of the meticulous detail that has gone into painting the characters. For instance, Bristow has “rabbity teeth and blotchy skin”, while Landry is “dark, luminous, fine-boned and fierce”. Physical appearances apart, most of the characters are complex enough to keep the page turning. Yet, there’s a pitfall – sometimes the story becomes too detailed and ponderous. Rowling/Galbraith isn’t always charitable, especially when it comes to writing about the bourgeoisie or members of the richer class.
The story visits the murky realms of drugs, alcoholism and racism, touching the subjects lightly. But what makes the book immensely readable is the chemistry between Strike and Robin, and the reader gets the sense that there’s more to come in future books. Rowling/ Galbraith has said there’s another book in the pipeline. We can’t wait.
By Bijal Vachharajani on September 27 2013