I’ve got to be honest, I hadn’t heard of The Cuckoo’s Calling before it was revealed to be J.K. Rowling writing under a pseudonym, and I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if I hadn’t know that. But since having this information, I’ve been very excited to give it a try. J.K. Rowling, author of the amazing and unrivalled Harry Potter series turning her hand to one of my favourite genres, crime? I couldn’t wait.
A lot of the reviews that I have read for this book seem to focus on the fact that J.K. Rowling is the author, and try to compare the mystery to some of the more mystical elements of Harry Potter. I won’t be doing that much, because as soon as I picked up the book, I forgot all about J.K. Rowling and found myself immersed in a gripping story.
We are introduced to Cormoran Strike and Robin, two characters whose lives couldn’t really be more different. Robin is on top of the world, having just been proposed to by her long-term boyfriend Matthew, whilst Strike is an ex-military police amputee and struggling private detective who has just broken up with his fiancee, Charlotte, and is currently living in his office. Their two lives come together when Robin is sent to temp as a secretary for Strike.
As soon as the two have met, we are thrown into a case. Strike receives a visit from John Bristow, the half-brother of supermodel Lula Landry, who fell to her death from her apartment balcony a few weeks earlier. Lula’s death was pronounced as suicide, but John feels that there was more to it. Although the model was diagnosed bipolar and regularly dabbled with drugs, he doesn’t believe that she would have killed herself. At first Strike tries to turn him down, convinced that the brother is blinded by love for his beautiful sister, but the lure of a large paycheck and John’s determination persuades him to take the case on.
And so we are plunged into a glamorous, seedy world, with a plethora of colourful suspects in the form of fashion designers, rappers, models, rock stars and lawyers. It couldn’t get much better as a crime story for me; Rowling packs it full of characters we love to hate, and lives which we envy and rebuke in equal measures. She seems to really have her finger on the pulse of modern culture, depicting celebrity and London life perfectly for me (although bear in mind that I am definitely not a celebrity and I don’t live very near London). I could certainly recognise a lot of the popular culture references, and I enjoyed the book more for that.
Although I may be contradicting myself after having rhapsodised about the modern cultural references, the other thing I loved about this book is the distinctly old-school vibe. Most modern crime books focus around the police force’s investigation, rather than a private detective, and this book hailed back more to the Christie era of Poirot and Miss Marple for me. It depicted one man and his faithful assistant, working independently to solve a crime by any means they can find. They are two characters who you really care about, and the crime and lifestyle of the victim is absolutely fascinating.
For me, this was a great story in its own right, regardless of the author, and I’m sure any crime fiction fan will enjoy it. The writing throughout was excellent, which I think is what has triggered many people to say in hindsight that there is no way it could have been a debut. As it turns out, it’s not a debut, but it is the start of something which I hope will be a successful series in its own right. After the glitz and glamour of an unstable supermodel’s life, I was concerned about how Rowling would follow this one up, but having read the synopsis for the next Cormoran Strike novel which is out in June this year, I’m very intrigued and thoroughly looking forward to finding out what’s in store for Strike and Robin.