J.K. Rowling has a sense of humour. After it became public that Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym for her new crime novel series, she came to the Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival dressed in a suit and tie! Rowling has implied that the new series which started with ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’, will go the distance as long or longer than the Harry Potter series, with at least six or seven instalments. This second in the series was, in my opinion, way better than the first, so I think she is finding her stride in this genre, and with the characters of Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin. Although I don’t think this series holds any of the genius that she displayed with Harry Potter, I am looking forward to what is coming next. The series definitely now ‘has legs’, a pun in poor taste if you know that the protagonist is a war veteran with a debilitating injury.
‘The Silkworm’ is set in the literary world of authors and publishers and editors, perhaps because the author knows the publishing industry. When Owen Quine goes missing after writing a despicable controversial book, his wife calls Cormoran Strike to investigate. Quine has gone off before, but when it becomes clear that there are several people who are angry about the poisonous portraits he has written into the new book, and when his body is discovered in brutally bizarre circumstances, the investigator realizes there might be several people who wanted Quine silenced. I love how Cormoran gathers all of the suspects into one room near the end and flushes out the culprit – reminds me of the old classic whodunits. Cormoran as a character, in my mind’s eye, kind of reminds me of a younger, more handsome version of Fitz from Cracker (Robbie Coltrane).
Robert Galbraith even has his own website! (Robert Galbraith Website) I especially enjoyed the FAQs there.
In case you missed it in the news, J.K. Rowling wrote another book under a pseudonym to see how her writing would fare without the hype of her very own name attached to it. But the secret was leaked, and the book immediately jumped to the top of the bestseller’s lists. The war veteran’s charity, to whom Rowling committed all of the proceeds because she was touched by their plight while researching the novel, is laughing all the way to the bank. The main character in the story is a wounded war veteran, and the same charity also received a tidy sum from the lawyers who leaked the info, by way of apology to the author. All of this is beginning to sound like a plot for yet another story!
‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ is a nice little crime novel, complete with the requisite characters: 1) the struggling and troubled yet sharp private eye who despite his shortcomings, is still very loveable; 2) the ‘more than a pretty face’ assistant whose intelligence and quick thinking saves the private eye’s backside more than once, and enjoys working for him more than she thought she would; 3) the glam victim who ‘had it all’ but also had some reason to commit suicide; and 4) of course a whole host of dark and shady characters who all might have had a motive to commit murder in case it wasn’t suicide at all. At any rate, a crime novel ensues with a far higher vocabulary and complicated sentence structure than I have ever experienced in a book of this genre before. The Latin in the chapter headings should have been the biggest clue!
When the leak first hit Twitter, an expert at Oxford was consulted to use his algorithm program to do a little sleuthing work of his own. He submitted for testing, a Harry Potter book, her other non-Harry novel ‘Casual Vacancy’ and a number of other crime novels. The results were conclusive. This book had the same writing style, word usage, and sentence structure as the other books by Rowling, with less resemblance to the other crime novels. Busted!
Aside from all the hype, ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ actually was a good read. I especially liked the characters who were believable and well drawn. I do not think that this is Rowling’s best work though. A crime novel should have a bit more suspense and a bit less character development to satisfy the die-hard lovers of the genre. The genius she was capable of in the Potter series has, in my opinion, never been repeated in her other works, but I don’t blame her at all for trying. If Cormoran Strike reappears in a sequel, (and it has already been leaked that ‘Galbraith’ will produce a second in the series) I will definitely want to see what he and his indispensable assistant are up to next!
Riding on the coat tails of her huge Potter success, Rowling (by the way, her name rhymes with “bowling” not “howling”) had no need for much promotion of her new book for adults.
Being a Potter fan myself, I had to join the pre-order hordes and read the book as soon as it came out in late September. I travelled through two London airports shortly after the book’s release and it was amusing to see huge displays in the bookstores and many travellers with their noses in a fresh new copy!
The story is set in the pretty little town of Pagford, UK. All of the typical elements of small town UK are present in the book – very recognizable and enjoyable for me since I currently reside in a pretty small UK town exactly like Pagford. But underneath the charm and cobblestones, there lurks some pretty ugly stuff. A town council member suddenly dies and creates a ‘casual vacancy’ on the town council. Of course there are issues all around the filling of the vacancy and the town politics wreak havoc on the inhabitants. Everyone in Pagford seems to be at war with someone else – loveless relationships, problems within families and marriages, social tensions between rich and poor, friction between middle class and low income areas, cultural clashes, and so on. The best character in the book for me is Krystal, who bears the brunt of her position in life and in this town as a casualty of generations of horrible abuse and drug use. Her attempts to care for herself and her younger brother are heartbreaking and the harsh judgement and snobbish treatment of her by the villagers is appalling. One reviewer said “the book satirises the ignorance of elites who assume to know what’s best for everyone else.”
Rowling is a good writer, and her strength is in creating a lighthearted enjoyable story, but at the same time being realistic about the darkness that is ever present in this world. She brings hope by also serving up characters who are brave and bold enough to stick up for what is right and good. That is what she did with the magical Potter story and also with this darkly comic small town tale.