I previously wrote about The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Matthew Effect, in the aftermath of the big reveal of J.K. Rowling as the true author and Robert Galbraith as her pseudonym.
I’ve been putting off a full review of The Cuckoo’s Calling because I think it is so hard for me to separate the actual book from the hype surrounding J.K. Rowling. In a way this shows how relative everything is – how much an opinion of a book can be influenced by factors other than the actual text of the book itself. Books just can’t be read in a vacuum, so life goes on.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is like this: Idolized celeb-model falls out apartment window, police deem this a suicide. Down-on-his-luck, ex-military, prosthetic legged PI Cormoran Strike and his eager, recently acquired temp worker Robin are approached by the model’s family to investigate the death.
The concepts here are current – J.K. Rowling has crafted a plot which is culturally relevant and very now . The focus on our obsession with celebrity culture and the paparazzi reminded me of Between You and Me by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus.
Rowling is clearly a wonderful writer, and there are scenes throughout the book illustrating this. In one scene Rowling describes Strike’s experience amid the paparazzi snapping photos madly as he tries to escort a model out of a club. The description of the madness of being submerged in this sea of cameras is vivid and almost horrifying, and makes me have a bit of sympathy for celebrities who are constantly caught in flash bulbs. Rowling also aces internal dialogues, all that talk/fear/story each of us has going on in our head. PI Cormoran Strike and his temp worker Robin have wonderfully depicted internal debates about their interactions with each other, as so often happens in reality.
That being said, I think the appeal here of both subject matter and characters is strikingly female. As other reviewers have mentioned, it would have been difficult to believe that this book came from a man, a war veteran, as Robert Galbraith is presented. Strike’s concerns in life seem written by a woman to me and incongruous with his character – he waits until his temp is gone to use the restroom, is constantly spraying air freshener in his office, is hesitant to speak his mind to Robin or reveal to her that he has only one leg. Cormoran Strike is not truly a gruff PI, but perhaps what a woman would love a gruff man to be. Presented with the popular Scandinavian mystery characters of our time, Strike appears rather tame. Think of Inspector Erlendur of Jar City, who abandoned his wife and children as a young man and only visits his home to fall asleep in a lounge chair; Lisbeth Salander, a bisexual, unfriendly hacker who tortures for revenger; Jo Nesbo‘s Harry Hole, who sinks into opium addiction and leaves his job at the police force entirely. Strike’s character works for the tone of the book, and will appeal to readers who enjoy cozy mysteries more in the style of Agatha Christie than the currently popular fare of bleak dysfunction.
The great joy of the true cozy mystery is its simplicity – instead of hackers, serial killers, torture, gore, chase scenes, or other bells and whistles, cozies present a crime, a scene of the crime, a list of suspects. Rowling has created a baffling mystery out of these simple elements.