The Cuckoo’s Calling   7 comments

Cuckoo's Calling - British Cover

The first edition, British Cover … which has very little to do with the book, IMHO.

The problem, of course, is that a new author won’t get the time of day from most publishers. Even when their name is Robert Galbraith.

But there was a publisher that was very interested in this book, as they knew Mr. Galbraith wasn’t really Mr. Galbraith.

The publisher was Little, Brown. Why were they interested? They knew the he was a she:  Galbraith was actually JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series.

Now, understand from the beginning that I believe the Harry Potter books are Great Literature. They inspired a generation to read (yes, read). Colleges across the country still have clubs that try and emulate playing Quidditch on flying brooms. The Harry Potter series changed our world for the better … it made our youth a more literate group that read really thick books … 7 of them … to follow the exploits of the world’s favorite adolescent wizard.

So, heavy is the mantle of success on Ms. Rowling, as she now must find a new muse to inspire books that may not be as spectacular as the Harry Potter books (how could they be?), but the new books must be very good. Very, very good.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, released under the Galbraith pseudonym, got solid reviews and little notice. Supposedly, only about 1,500 printed editions of the book had sold 60 days after its release.

And then word leaked that this book was by JK Rowling.

Sales, of course, exploded and the book became the # 1 bestseller on Incidentally, Rowling is adamant that she did NOT leak her authorship; it’s unknown who did that deed. The secret is now out, though, and I bought the book (or would that be I bought the .mobi for my kindle?).

Honestly, I probably would not have read this book as long as Rowling’s secret held. I do like murder mysteries, but often avoid the English authors working in this genre. Their prose is just different enough that it doesn’t scratch the itch for me.

The American Cover

The American Cover … which is at least representative of the main victim of the book. Better cover, IMHO.

On the other hand, I LOVE Lee Child’s books, and his Jack Reacher series is about a retired military policeman that’s now on his own solving crimes … just like Rowling’s Corcoran Strike in The Cuckoo’s Calling. I should like this book!

The title comes from “A Dirge” written by Christina Rosetti in 1865, which sets the tone for Galbraith/Rowling’s tragic character called Cuckoo by her friends:

Why were you born when the snow was falling?
You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling,
Or when grapes are green in the cluster,
Or, at least, when lithe swallows muster
  For their far off flying
  From summer dying.

Why did you die when the lambs were cropping?
You should have died at the apples’ dropping,
When the grasshopper comes to trouble,
And the wheat-fields are sodden stubble,
  And all winds go sighing
  For sweet things dying.

The book’s prologue can now be seen to speak on multiple levels … Rowling’s efforts to shield her role and have the work evaluated independently of her fame complements the heroine’s celebrity:

Is demum miser est, cuius nobilitas miserias nobilitat.

Unhappy is he whose fame makes his misfortunes famous

– Lucius Accius, Telephus

The book is about a super model that committed suicide … according to the police. Cormoran Strike (another wonderful character name from Rowling!) is hired to investigate and see if a murder happened. This seems like Rowling should be right at home … the Potter books were mysteries, after all.

Like Potter, Strike is scarred when we meet him. Potter had the lightning bolt on his forehead; Strike lost a leg in Afghanistan. Rowling likes her heroes to be hurting!

My biggest quibble with the book is Rowling’s verbosity in the beginning. She never met a qualifier that she doesn’t want in print, apparently. The prose begins to sound untrue to the characters being described … to my American ears. Perhaps Brits want a different type of exposition in their crime novels, but I prefer mine a bit more hard boiled. Here’s what I’m talking about:

By nature methodical and thorough, Strike had been trained to investigate to a high and rigorous standard. First, allow the witness to tell their story in their own way: the untrammeled flow often reveled details, apparent inconsequentialities, that would later prove invaluable nuggets of evidence. Once the first gush of impression and recollection had been harvested, then it was time to solicit and arrange facts rigorously and precisely: people, places, property…

And here’s another:

The act of shopping for what he needed, and of setting up the bare necessities for himself, had lulled Strike back into the familiar soldierly state of doing what needed to be done, without question or complaint.

But then there are times that her love of language and a wonderful turn of phrase just takes over:

“She wuz depressed. Yeah, she wuz on stuff for it. Like me. Sometimes it jus’ takes you over. It’s an illness,” she said, although she made the words sound like “it’s uh nillness.”

Nillness, thought Strike, for a second distracted. He had slept badly. Nillness, that was where Lula Landry had gone, and where all of them, he and Rochelle included, were headed. Sometimes illness turned slowly to nillness, as was happening to Bristow’s mother … sometimes nillness rose to meet you out of nowhere, like a concrete road slamming your skull apart.

Once Rowling caught her stride, the book was great. The characters definitely grew on me … good thing. Rowling has already announced that the 2nd book in the series is already written:

“Yes, I intend to keep writing the series as Robert. I’ve just finished the sequel and we expect it to be published next year.”

Happy to recommend this nice mystery to you. It’s not going to change the world, but it is a great read with a surprising, satisfying ending – and an enticing denouement. The promise of more to come is icing on the cake!

JK Rowling

JK Rowling


The Times of London’s review

The Guardian’s review

7 responses to “The Cuckoo’s Calling

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  1. Thanks for the information on this book, especially the Christina Rosetti poem from whence the title emerges. I just may have to download this latest entry from Rowling!

    • I never read her first post-Potter novel. The reviews were poor, and the topic didn’t intrigue me. This book is worthwhile, IMHO, and especially if you like mysteries, you should like this one.

  2. J.K. Rowling is also a pen name which I created as I created Harry Potter. There are many ghostwriters in the industry.

    • Yes, there are many ghostwriters. There are also many people that are actually who they say they are. It’s just hard to know the difference. Sometimes.

      • Not in the entertainment industry. Most artists, including writers of all types, actors, producers, directors, use pseudonyms.

        I made up James Cameron’s pseudonym using James Bond and the actor Earl Cameron who appeared in the 1965 James Bond film “Thunderball”. I made up the pen name for Tom Clancy while working on ideas for my Jack Ryan character. Clancy was named for actors Tom Cruise and Clancy Brown after I worked on script ideas for Top Gun and Highlander. I liked using the name “Jack” (Titanic) and used Meg Ryan’s surname for my Jack Ryan character.

        It is show biz, hun…nothing is what it seems.

  3. Just listened to a CBC radio show discussing JK writing under a Pseudonym. Guess some of us (well actually I’m too lazy to even try) will never be discovered. Might have to check out this book.

  4. Pingback: Great Read: The Silkworm |

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