The Cuckoo’s Calling, J.K. Rowling; 2013
Alright. Harry Potter was my childhood/is my life, so I really want to be there for J.K. Rowling in my twenty-something-hood. It goes without saying that she is an amazing writer and storyteller. But. I tried The Casual Vacancy a few years ago and couldn’t make it past the halfway point. (I was later told that I should’ve seen it through, because it all comes together at the end, but…) Then I picked up The Cuckoo’s Calling at a library sale about a year ago and I thought: a mystery! This is definitely something that she can do well. Harry Potter is full of CRAZY MINDBLOWING PLOT TWISTS!
And yet –
Here’s a disclaimer that The Cuckoo’s Calling is a detective novel. It’s branded as such, but I didn’t really give much thought to that. Nancy Drew was equally my childhood, and I read Mary Higgins Clark voraciously through middle school. These days Mo Hayder is my mystery queen. I’m going to go ahead and loosely call myself a connoisseur of fast-paced mystery/thrillers.
I think maybe if I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes or other “classic” detective stories, this would be more my speed. Cuckoo is meticulously constructed and extremely detail-oriented. Every clue is laid out carefully. Consequentially, it makes for a tedious, occasionally dull, read. It’s dialogue heavy; most of the book is Strike having long conversations with different suspects.
We meet Cormoran Strike, who reminded me of a Hagrid-Mad-Eye-Moody combo: large, haggard, prosthesis leg, and a war veteran turned private detective. “Galbraith” stops just short of describing him as ugly, but this guy can somehow catch a handful of beautiful ladies. ANYWAY…
It’s about the suicide-suspected-murder of Lula Landry, a supermodel who was potentially driven to suicide by fame and paparazzi and either jumped or was pushed out of her balcony window. Strike is hired by Lula’s brother to investigate her death, which he adamantly believes was murder. There are greedy lawyers, a sick mother, rappers, loser boyfriends, fame-hungry limo drivers, other models, etc. I will say this: it comes together with a mostly satisfying ending. Strike is an enjoyable detective protagonist; he’s flawed and complicated. I couldn’t quite figure out what to make of Strike’s relationship with his assistant, Robin.
A few people asked me while I was reading it if I could tell it was J.K. Rowling. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-read the HP series, so I feel like I know her style pretty well. When I started reading Casual Vacancy, I definitely felt like I was reading a Rowling novel. But when I read Cuckoo, I didn’t necessarily see her on the page even though I knew it was her going into it. J.K. loves her adverbs, and they are definitely present in Cuckoo. Her writing is clean and clear, as always. Otherwise, I felt like it was a true – perhaps even if it’s just slight – diversion from her usual style. I’m not sure if this a good or bad thing – just a thing. (What REALLY weirded me out was reading bad language written by her. My poor childhood.)
I won’t say I’ll never read the rest of the series, especially now that I heard that the most recent installment is about a serial killer. I’m just not going to run to read the rest of the series any time soon. What I’m trying to say in a very-longwinded fashion is that this is actually a good book, it’s just not my personal kind of mystery. So maybe just disregard this entirely and go read it.