Like the rest of the world, I was surprised last Saturday night to learn that Robert Galbraith, debut author of THE CUCKOO’S CALLING, is actually JK Rowling.
I case you’ve somehow missed the news, THE CUCKOO’S CALLING came out last April to little fanfare. It got some terrific (trade) reviews and a few tepid to negative ones. Exact numbers vary, but by any measure, it had not set the world on fire sales-wise.
THE CUCKOO’S CALLING introduces us to private investigator Cormoran Strike and his assistant/sidekick (she starts out as the former and becomes the latter), Robin. The case Strike and Robin investigate revolves around the apparent suicide of a supermodel.
Until Saturday night, I thought I had never read JK Rowling. I have nothing against her and I know many people I adore and respect love the Harry Potter books, but the whole kids-wizards fantasy was just never my thing. I considered reading THE CASUAL VACANCY, but didn’t because with all the attention it received, it didn’t need me as a reader, and I know with certainty that I will never be able to read all the books I’d like to in my lifetime.
So why did I read THE CUCKOO’S CALLING back in April? A few reasons. First, the book had compelling blurbs from a bunch of authors I respect, including Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, and Duane Swierczynski. Also, it was published by Mulholland (in the US) and Sphere (in the UK), and I like the books they publish more often than not. It had positive reviews from some UK bloggers I respect greatly, too. Then there was the fact that it was by a first-time author. This actually influenced my reading it quite a bit; as a reader, I like few things more than discovering a brand-new crime fiction talent.
And what did I think of the book? I thought it was…decent. I liked Strike and Robin a lot, so much that I had already decided to read the next book. I wasn’t crazy about the plot of or characters around the case they investigate, though. I can’t recall a single redeeming characteristic about them, and worse than not liking them, I was really indifferent about the case and characters other than Strike and Robin.
I expect readers who enjoy stories about celebrity culture and The Beautiful People would enjoy the book more than I did. For example, if you watch TMZ and read People or Hello magazines, you’ll dig it. If you like a strong PI character and an even better kick-ass (in her own way) sidekick but don’t cotton the aforementioned celebrity stuff, you might want to wait for the next in the series.
That said, the story absolutely moves along at a clip. I didn’t notice the book’s substantial length. At a couple of points I thought the editing could have been tighter, but I was ok with this because I figured being a first time author, this might well improve in subsequent books.
You might have read about the Latin phrases used throughout the book. These bugged me tremendously. They did not fit with the style, tone, pace, or content of the book. I didn’t they belonged at all. In the last week, I’ve seen references to this being a Rowling “thing,” but I’ve also read that she published under a pseudonym because she wanted honest feedback. So that’s my honest tip for her: take the Latin out of the Strike books. It doesn’t work.
I’m grateful to have read THE CUCKOO’S CALLING without knowing JK Rowling wrote it, because while I didn’t love it to death, it was a good read, and had I known, I never would have chosen to read it. Not knowing also allowed me to reach a conclusion about the book and characters without being influenced by the author’s fame, which I absolutely would have been.
I’ve read both positive and negative reaction to the Rowling Revelation. I was curious to know whether the blurbers knew when they read it, and so I asked them. They did not. I was also curious whether the marketing folks knew. Again, they did not.
Some people seem quite angry about the whole ruse and subsequent revelation, and frankly, I think this reaction is silly. This is not the first time a celebrity author has written under a pseudonym. Stephen King did it. Robert Ludlum did too. There are others. I don’t feel duped for having read the book not knowing; as mentioned above, I’m glad I didn’t know.
To JK Rowling I say: well played. To Robert Galbraith: keep writing. Your sophomore effort will likely be even better.