It's such a shame that J K Rowling's pseudonym 'Robert Galbraith' was outed so early in the piece because I would have been interested to have read more 'blind' reviews of 'The Cuckoo's Calling'. As it happened, the crime debut received a few reasonable reviews before the big news was let out by a publishing insider, and the book became a best-seller. After reading Rowling's 'The Casual Vacancy' last year, and enjoying it immensely, I had her crime novel on my 'to read list': with the second in the series just released I decided I better hop to it to see if the hype was warranted. Without any attachement to the Potter series, which passed me by, I really do enjoy Rowling's writing style. Her characters are eccentric enough to be interesting and charming, but not unbelievable: her protagonist, Cormoran Strike "had the high bulging forehead, broad nose and thick brows of a young Beethoven who had taken to boxing, an impression only heightened by the swelling and blackening eye".
Rowling's use of dialogue is the clincher for me, realistic and appropriate, her portrayal of all levels of society in Britain ringing true: "When ya gotta driver it don't matter, does it? You jus go wherever you want, don't cost you nothing extra, you just get them to take you, don't ya? She was passing so she come in to tell me that she wasn't gonna stop because she 'ad to get 'ome to see fucking Ciara Porter".
I find myself smiling at her descriptions of people and situations, her use of humour understated but always present. Like 'The Causal Vacancy' which skewered middle class village life through a satire of the parish council, 'The Cuckoo's Calling' makes barbs at the world of fashion modelling and the cult of celebrity, with its murder of top model Lula Landry the focus of an old fashioned who dunnit. The most charming aspect of Rowling's crime debut is Strike himself, war veteran turned Columbo style sleuth - he has all the trademarks of a hard drinking, hopeless in love archetype, but Rowling is so warm in making him completely appealing, that the reader engages almost immediately. Much has been said of the old fashioned nature of this novel, even though its references and language are very much contemporary - Strike works in a dingy office with filing cabinets, and has a quaint romantic tension with his delightful temp, amateur sleuth Robin. I really enjoyed the fusion of the genre tropes with the contemporary setting, and must admit that the absence of the now ubiquitous sensationalised gore and sexual violence of the crime genre was a refreshing change.
Of course, Rowling has lived between the two worlds of working class England and the very wealthy upper class, and her knowledge of those two worlds shape her characterisations. She paints the wealthy with a deft touch, especially the calculating designer handbag set, and shows a keen understanding of those who straddle both worlds, particularly in the character of fashion designer Guy (pronounced 'Gee' Cormoran notes drily): "I just cannot believe she committed suicide. My therapist sais that's denial. I'm having therapy twice a week, not that it makes any fucking difference. I'd be snaffling Valium like Lady Bristow if I could still design when I'm on it, but I tried it the week after Cuckoo died and I was like a zombie".
The essence of the crime is wrapped up neatly and the reader is left satisfied that Cormoran and Robin will live to uncover another mystery. I can't say if I would have enjoyed this novel as much if I was reading under the notion that it was a debut author, although my instinct tells me that Cormoran Strike would have stood out on his own merit. We'll never know. J K Rowling's stamp is on it now, and in reality it doesn't matter how well it is written, such is Rowling's enviably powerful brand.
Why reading and writing is the road to happiness...
This blog started years ago as a place to muse on the life projects keeping me entertained. It is no surprise then that it has morphed into a blog about my reading as that has been my lifelong project. Here I review lots of different types of books, with an added focus on Australian women writers. Hope you enjoy - feel free to contribute to the conversation!