Orion editor Jemima Forrester reviews the surprise crime hit of the year, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith.
I know I’m speaking for a fair majority of the population when I say I LOVE Harry Potter! I might go so far as to say I’m a bit obsessed. Only for the Harry Potter books have I got up early in the morning to be one of the first people in the bookshop on the day of release.
I saw all the films, and now have the complete special edition box set. I even have a Harry Potter app on my phone (I probably shouldn’t admit to that, should I?). So yeah, super-fan, right here.
Years ago, when rumours emerged that J. K. Rowling might be writing a crime novel, my interest was piqued. Could she write an adult novel as brilliantly wonderfully awesome as the Harry Potter series? Would a book without Hagrid, Quidditch and Veritaserum be a crushing disappointment? I was curious, and not a little sceptical.
I have to admit, despite my general adoration of, and admiration for, J.K., The Casual Vacancy didn’t really sound like my cup of tea. In fact it’s still sitting, unopened, on my ‘to read’ shelf. But when the news broke that J.K. was actually Robert Galbraith, and that she’d only gone and penned a crime novel on the sly, I immediately rushed to pick up a copy (yep, I was too late – mine is a second edition, dammit).
So I started The Cuckoo’s Calling with my Harry Potter mega-fan head on, pretty certain that, while I might quite enjoy it, I would spend most of the book wishing she’d just written another Potter tome. That’s where her skills really lie, right?
Well, wrong, actually. The Cuckoo’s Calling is a brilliant, compelling, clever crime novel. Unsurprisingly accomplished, and with characters so unique and perfectly realised that when I put the book down they still felt real to me.
The plot centres on an investigation into the death of a famous singer, Lula Landry. Cormoran Strike is the hero of the piece. He’s a crippled war veteran turned private detective, who is struggling to make ends meet.
He falls on his feet when he meets Robin, a temp who opts to stay working for Strike despite her fiancé’s disapproval and the option of better, more lucrative placements elsewhere.
Strike’s investigation, rather like those of his classic crime predecessors (think Poirot or Holmes), is built on cleverly conducted interviews and carefully observed analysis of his suspects.
And it really does have all the ingredients of good old-fashioned crime. A cast of characters – from hard-nosed lawyers, to simpering socialites, to bitchy designers – who all have fairly hefty motives for murder; an unlikely pairing of detective and sidekick; and a plot that weaves back and forth with red herrings galore.
And of course, J.K. does what J.K. does best – characters. It’s the diverse, colourful characters and her attention to detail when it comes to description and dialogue that makes this book so real – and therefore so readable. And in that respect, it is actually very much like Harry Potter.
So while I might still miss the howlers, the house-elves and the hippogriffs, when it comes to crime, The Cuckoo’s Calling gets a big thumbs up from me. Bring on the next one, J.K.!
The Cuckoo’s Calling is out in hardback and ebook now.
For more great detective fiction, visit The Murder Room shop.