Monday, November 11, 2013

Cuckoo, Cuckoo

The Cuckoo's Calling is JK Rowling's latest novel, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.  starts with death of a beautiful young model in London.  Lula Landry fell off her balcony late one winter night.  Her death was ruled a suicide, but her brother insists that it was murder.  He comes to detective Cormoran Strike to investigate the murder.  Strike descends (ascends?) into the world of the glitterati, where people do drugs, wear clothes that cost 5 figures, and become friendly with those who are likely to bring them the most fame or money.  Luckily, Strike has a very efficient and intelligent secretary, Robyn, to help him!
The Cuckoo's Calling

I never read Rowling's The Casual Vacancy, so it was very difficult for me to read The Cuckoo's Calling (a title that, even after finishing the novel, I do not understand) without the weight of Harry Potter on its shoulders.  And it really is difficult to read The Cuckoo's Calling and not try to see similarities and differences in everything.  The first I noticed was Robyn.  She's like a beautiful, older Hermione Granger.  She's kind, she's smart, she's intrepid, and she has an independence that I think will only grow as the series continues.  I really liked Robyn.

I also really liked Strike, though he seemed pretty typical for a detective to me.  He's a wounded warrior that just broke up with his stunningly beautiful fiancee and lost a leg in Afghanistan.  He has the dry sense of humor that we all expect in private investigators coupled with the vulnerability that is so attractive in a character that we want to get to know better over time.

Robyn and Strike were pretty much the only two characters I wanted to get to know better.  My complaint with mystery novels is that there are generally no likeable characters in them as everyone is a murder suspect.  And that's pretty much the case here.  Rowling is scathing in the way she represents the rich - both those who were born to wealth and those who came to it more recently.  They are all drug addicts, they have affairs like other people have dinner parties, and most of them are shallow, unhappy people.

But Rowling treats the poor in much the same way - they have mental illnesses or view themselves as victims of circumstances.

It was hard for me to reconcile this author as being the same one who thought up the game quidditch and brought the Weasley twins to life.  Harry Potter had a lot of darkness, too, but at least there was humor to soften the mood, and strong friendships to help you make it through the day.  In The Cuckoo's Calling, there are very few friendships and not a lot of humor.

That's not to say that it isn't a good book.  It is!  Strike and Robyn are great enough characters that I was quite happy to spend time with them, getting to know them better.  And the plot, while very murky to me (as most mystery novels are, quite frankly), seemed to dip and swerve and then finally get tied up very neatly at the end.

I usually listen to audioboks only on my commute to and from work, but for this one, I listened at the gym while on the bike, I listened while walking around the city on the weekend, and then I listened while getting dinner ready tonight until I finished the book.  I thought the narrator did a great job of bringing the characters to life, playing each one with a slightly different tone and personality and accent.  I'm so glad that the audiobook version of this novel was made available so quickly - that's the only reason I was able to read it so quickly as waiting lists for audiobooks at the library are always so much shorter than those for the physical versions!

I don't know if saying this makes any sense, but I'd guess that if you're a fan of the mystery genre you would really enjoy this book.  But if you are looking for JK Rowling a la Harry Potter, then maybe not so much?  Rowling's skill for details and descriptions is definitely present here - she brings London to life in the way she brought Hogwarts to life - but the humor and the friendships have been replaced by cynicism and one-upmanship.  While it's not a pretty picture, it's a good way to spend several hours of your week.


  1. My fiance listened to the audio of this one and liked it. I did ask him if he could "see" or "hear" Harry Potter in this book and he said yes. It's just funny to think of that style, or bits of it, carrying over to such a different novel. I haven't read it just because I'm not big on mysteries or detectives.

  2. I have yet to read anything by JK Rowling. Maybe this will be my first. Initially I took issue with her pretending to be a man with military experience as the author of the book. I'm not opposed to publishing under a different name so that your work can be evaluated neutrally, but pretending to have expertise that you don't and knowing that readers may buy the book b/c of that expertise seems wrong. Can I just pretend to be a mother of 4 to sell my fictional story about raising a family? Also, ugh, will anyone ever avenge the death of an average-looking woman?

  3. I want more of the friendship. The reason I'm going to read more books by "Robert Galbraith" is that I want Strike and Robin to be best friends more than they currently are. I know that JK Rowling can write amazing friendships and SHE WILL DO SO. (I hope.) Because I like her better at that speed than the cynicism one.

  4. I tried reading Casual Vacancy twice but the timing is never right when it comes to that book. Eventually I realized that much as I like her writing and her quirky descriptions of her characters, I liked Harry Potter for all those reasons plus the awesome plot. Without that kind of a plot to pull me in, her other books aren't intriguing enough for me.


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