As with every other J. K. Rowling book I’ve read, I couldn’t put The Cuckoo’s Calling down. I suppose I should clarify, for anyone who doesn’t know, that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym of Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling. Rowling definitely has a way of writing that seems to increase my reading speed. Her writing flows incredibly well, there are no hard to fathom sentences, no unnecessary additions. It is written economically and simply – and it works.
I’ve never really read a crime novel before, assuming, perhaps wrongly, that they weren’t really my cup of tea. I think the closest I’ve ever come to the crime genre is Daphne du Maurier or, perhaps, An Inspector Calls or To Kill A Mockingbird both of which I studied for my GCSEs aged just sixteen. I really enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling, it is written with a very matter-of-fact tone, there’s no sensationalism and the characters seem very ordinary. I think what I’d always been nervous about where crime fiction is concerned is that it wouldn’t seem real. You watch crime dramas on television and the people in them often seem very two-dimensional. Much as I enjoy and am entertained by dramas such as Midsomer Murders and Jonathan Creek they have never seemed particularly credible to me. Thankfully, I did not find this with The Cuckoo’s Calling.
I think Rowling (or Galbraith, not entirely sure who I should be crediting) has done a very good job of creating a legitimate and believable private detective. Alright, he does have a slightly overdone name, but Cormoran Strike is a compelling narrator and his relationship with his assistant Robin augments the crime narrative well. The novel is also well plotted and kept me guessing right up until the final chapter. I had many wild and wonderful theories about who was responsible for Lula Landry’s death, Rowling deftly throws in lovingly crafted red herrings and incriminating titbits of evidence so you’re never quite sure who to trust.
I also admire Rowling for the breadth of society she manages to capture in her novel. When I read The Casual Vacancy I blogged about how impressed I was by the spectrum of British society depicted and this is something I praise Rowling for again. From my limited knowledge, it seems to me, that many crime dramas are set against a very middle-class social backdrop, perhaps they think murder is more shocking when it’s surrounded by Waitrose shoppers grasping a nice glass of chardonnay? With The Cuckoo’s Calling I think Rowling has cleverly shown the web that weaves one level of society to another. From titled aristocrats, to immigrant cleaners, to wealthy celebrities, to starving homeless girls…there is a vast array of life to be met with in Rowling’s novel.
I also think Rowling has a particular gift when it comes to writing speech. I often think that the way speech is written in books is somewhat different to the way in which people actually speak away from the page. We rarely complete our sentences, frequently miss words out and often interrupt one another. While I’m not suggesting that it’d be a good idea for an author to write speech exactly as it sounds – it would make for rather an incoherent conversation without the levels of body language and eye-contact that we benefit from in real life – I do think Rowling has done a good job in making her dialogue more true-to-life than in a lot of fiction. Her characters speak in short sentences, they break off from what they’re saying and Rowling doesn’t use the character’s speech to over-explain their actions, feelings and motivations (something that is done so often and has always seemed an incredibly clumsy way of writing, to me).
As for me, well, it’s my birthday today and I’m happy to say I’ve been presented with a nice big box of books. Encouraged by my love of the television series, I have decided to embark upon George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books.