Believe it or not, this is the first book I have ever read by J.K. Rowling. Of course, on paper, The Cuckoo's Calling is the debut novel of Robert Galbraith, but by now, most of the world has learned that the book is actually the latest from the Harry Potter author. And I was curious to see how Rowling would handle a detective mystery. Also, this book has been nominated in the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, which isn't at all surprising, especially considering its leap in popularity after everyone discovered who the true author was.
The Situation: Supermodel Lula Landry has fallen to her death from her London apartment. The police are more than ready to rule it as a suicide, as the model had a history of mental health issues. And if there was someone that would have murdered her, pretty much everyone is ready to blame her unlikeable on again off again boyfriend Evan Duffield, except he has an iron-clad alibi. The press are all over the story, the family is distraught, but everyone does their best to move on.
The Problem: Lula's brother, John Bristow, isn't even remotely convinced that his sister would have committed suicide. That is why he has insisted on reaching out to private detective Cormoran Strike, a veteran who lost his leg in the Afghan War, to investigate the entire incident, and is even willing to pay double the going rate. At first, Strike is going to refuse the offer, except he badly needs the job and the money. A recent break-up has him living out of his office, and debt collectors keep calling him demanding payment. Even so, he could be taking Bristow's money only to find out Lula did commit suicide, but then again, what if John is right and her killer is still out there. Strike's investigation gives him access to the types of people the paparazzi climb all over themselves just to get pictures of as they walk down the street. And Lula's family has the kind of money and connections that could protect them from almost anything. Everyone Strike interviews seems to have wanted something from Lula or were using her for something, and almost all of them have a secret to hide, something that keeps them from telling the whole truth. And if Lula was murdered, she may not be the one and only victim.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a detective mystery, or crime novel, almost in the classic sense. It is also clear that Galbraith (or Rowling if you prefer) intends to keep the story going as a series, bringing Strike back to investigate more crimes. While an obvious theme may be the high cost of fame, another one is the complication of adoption, as all three of the Bristow children (John, Lula, and an already deceased older brother, Charlie) were adopted by Sir Alec and Lady Yvette. The adoption of Lula is further complicated by Lula being an African American child adopted into a rich white family. And then of course, there is also greed and jealousy coming from everyone on all sides over various things, mostly money, but also over attention and fame.
Rowling initially sent the manuscript for The Cuckoo's Calling anonymously, and at least one publishing house declined it. Interestingly enough, it was eventually picked up by a publisher that is affiliated with the publishing house that worked with her on The Casual Vacancy. After it was revealed that Rowling was the author, the book soared to the top of the best-selling novel list on Amazon.com. Rowling's authorship was supposedly leaked via Twitter (of all things) to a reporter at The Sunday Times by the wife of a lawyer who had worked for Rowling.
My Verdict: I will probably always be suspicious of any post-Harry Potter book by Rowling that gets rave reviews, simply because people like to ride the wave and acclaim any book by an author who has already lead them through one of the most beloved stories of all time. I'm not saying The Cuckoo's Calling was bad, in fact, it was actually quite good and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. And usually with most contemporary novels, my disappointment lies in the ending, particularly with mysteries. But that was not the case with this novel. Rowling has Strike methodically and thoroughly unravel this mystery before arriving at the inevitable conclusion. At some points, Strike's methods and questioning did make for a boring story, but usually not for very long. I doubt Rowling fans will be filled with the same sense of awe and wonder and excitement they had with Harry Potter, but The Cuckoo's Calling is still worth a read.
Favorite Moment: When the bulky 6'3" Strike gets the chance to enter a trendy club with a supermodel in front of paparazzi.
Favorite Character: I am tempted to pick Strike, because I do like him a lot as a main character, but I think instead I will pick Robin, his secretary at his office. Robin is fairly integral in holding Strike's life together. He is more than a competent detective, but Robin still proves incredibly useful in getting Strike information he couldn't get on his own. She is also polite enough to never bring up the fact that he currently lives in his office.
Recommended Reading: I am not terribly big into detective mysteries. And there is only one true crime novel I have ever read, but I enjoyed it immensely. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is the true account of the murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Capote wrote about the investigation that followed and even spoke to the suspects himself before they were hanged.