The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith: A Review

Date finished: March 27th 2016

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: every author has a strength. Whether it’s plot, or world-building, realistic dialogue, a knack for explaining complicated concepts, or what-have-you; every great author has a discernible talent. J K Rowling’s is storytelling, and that’s some of the highest praise I can bestow. Realistic characters or dialogue and well-described concepts are all important things but individually they can’t carry a novel. Ultimately, we read for stories, so storytelling is far more important, and Rowling has it in spades, as she proved with Harry Potter. Not only this, but she has a skilled hand over her characters, concepts, world-building and dialogue too. You don’t even have to agree with me here but, in a purely empirical sense, I think J K Rowling is possibly one of the most all-round talented authors there is.

‘But what does this have to do with anything?’ I hear you cry. Well, for anyone who wasn’t aware ‘Robert Galbraith’ is just a pseudonym for J K Rowling; a way for her to reach another audience without being dismissed as ‘that woman who wrote that book with the wizards’. It was a smart move because readers are a fickle bunch.

So this is J K Rowling, but writing a completely different genre. And this is worth noting as her rather distinctive style shines through and gives a unique taste to this story, which follows the investigations of Private Detective, Cormoran Strike (Rowling’s penchant for weird names remains undiminished) as he is asked to look into the supposed suicide of the UK’s most famous model, Lula Landry, by her distraught brother. In the process, he ends up taking on secretary Robin Ellacott, who proves a very capable worker and an important asset in the case.

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It’s a fairly standard set-up, but it’s infused with Rowling’s state-of-the-nation storytelling which delves into the private lives and personal prejudices of every character, building up a web of compelling, three-dimensional characters – all of whom are guilty until proven innocent. She manages to get to the root of London in a subtle way – its people, classes and race; its divisions and unifying features – suffuse the novel, lending the city to the novel and achieving a level of realism that other authors can only hope to achieve.

Again, when it comes to the plot it’s the storytelling which plays the most important role. This isn’t an investigation involving DNA analyses, prison cells and red tape. Strike undertakes the investigation purely through observation: of relationships family and business, of allegiances and vested interests, of what suspects had to gain and lose – and for all this its a much more compelling tale than your run-of-the-mill police investigation.

With a wealth of vivid characters, snappy dialogue, and clever twists Rowling has suffused the traditional detective novel with her own innate ability to write a good yarn. It’s an effortless read that’s by turns gripping, funny and involving. Rowling’s greatest invention may not be Harry Potter or Cormoran Strike. It might just be Robert Galbraith: an author as good as – with time, perhaps even better than – herself.

8/10

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