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THE CUCKOO’S CALLING by Robert Galbraith: Book Review

By now pretty much every reader in the world is aware that Robert Galbraith is the pen name of J. K. Rowling.  You know, the author of the Harry Potter books.  Her idea was to see if she could depart from the Potter series and receive good reviews on her own, with reviewers having no knowledge of who she was.

I love Mark Billingham’s blurb on the back cover of The Cuckoo’s Calling.  He writes in part, “…Strike [the protagonist] is so compelling that it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel.”  He was right on, wasn’t he?

The novel’s hero is Cormoran Strike, a British war veteran who was wounded Afghanistan and now has an artificial leg.  He’s just been thrown out of the sumptuous flat he shared with his very wealthy girlfriend and, having nowhere else to go, he’s living in the small London office where he’s eking out a living as a private investigator.

The novel opens with the “suicide” of supermodel Lula Landry.  It’s a media sensation for a while, but then the buzz dies down and the world goes about its business.  Three months later, Lula’s older brother, John Bristow, comes into Strike’s office with a plea for the detective to investigate his sister’s death.  He tells Strike that the police investigation was perfunctory, that given Lula’s history of depression and drug use it was “apparent” to the authorities than she had thrown herself out of the window of her fourth floor flat.

Strike tries to persuade Bristow to comes to terms with his sister’s suicide, but Bristow will not be dissuaded.  He insists that Strike take the case, offering him twice the usual retainer.  Bristow reminds the detective that Strike and Bristow’s younger brother had been childhood friends before the brother’s tragic death.  Now, Bristow tells Strike, his father is dead, both his siblings are dead, his mother is dying, and soon he’ll be the last of his family.  “All I want,” he says, “is justice.”  So Strike decides to take the case.

The second most interesting character, after Strike, is Robin Ellacott, who comes to Strike’s office for a temporary position as a secretary while waiting for a full-time job to open up.  The opening chapter has the newly-engaged Robin just about to enter Strike’s office when the door bursts open from the inside and Robin is propelled backward toward the metal flight of stairs behind her.  When I tell you I let out a loud gasp and said “oh, no” aloud, you will see what an incredible picture J. K. Rowling had painted of Robin in less than four pages.  That was my aha moment, the instant I knew that I was about to read one fabulous story.

All kudos to Ms. Rowling for being willing to be judged on her merits as a mystery author rather than as the author of the Potter series who also writes mysteries.  The Cuckoo’s Calling proves that her risk paid off.

You can read more about Ms. Rowling’s reasons for writing this novel under a pen name at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.