I am, unabashedly, a J.K. Rowling fangirl. I grew up with Harry Potter and my devotion the series has only deepened over time, and in my eyes, Rowling can do no wrong. Although I still haven’t gotten around to reading A Casual Vacancy yet, I most certainly will at some point. However, given the mixed reviews of her first foray into adult literature, I’m glad that The Cuckoo’s Calling (written under a pseudonym) was my first exposure to her non-Harry Potter work.
I do want to say that I think I would have loved this book even if it hadn’t been written by Rowling. I might not have ever had the opportunity to pick it up, given that it wasn’t hugely successful before the reveal of its author’s true identity, but I would have definitely still liked it. And if I hadn’t liked it, I wouldn’t have given it a strong review just because of who the author is (as much as I adore her).
The Cuckoo’s Calling is an old-school detective novel, featuring the hardened-yet-lovable protagonist of Cormoran Strike, a former soldier in the British army and a current private eye, struggling to make ends meet and dealing with a recent breakup with his beautiful ex-girlfriend. He’s approached by a wealthy lawyer who wants Strike to investigate the suspicious death (deemed a suicide by the police) of his sister, a beautiful and famous model named Lula Landry. With his new assistant, Robin (a practical young woman caught up in the excitement of detective work), in tow, Strike sets out to find out what really happened to Lula.
I could not stop reading this book. It was just so, so good.
I appreciated, first and foremost, that this was simply a really good mystery. Nowadays, I feel like a lot of mysteries are closer to the horror and/or psychological thriller genres, which can be good, but aren’t my favorite. What can I say–I’m a scaredy-cat. This was just a fun read, with nothing too grim or disturbing to weigh down the enjoyment of figuring out whodunnit. It’s a lot like an Agatha Christie mystery, complete with the dramatic, chapter-long monologue at the end revealing who the culprit of the crime is, and I loved that.
In that same vein, Rowling keeps the tone light and the prose fast-paced. This is where her years of Harry Potter experience really benefited her, because she was really able to use her (underrated, in my opinion) knack for humor here, while also keeping things moving and giving the reader some exciting action and a twisty, unpredictable mystery (along with the requisite red herrings, which were convincing and deployed well).
Rowling is also so good at creating unique and memorable characters, as evidenced by the amazing cast of the Harry Potter series. She lives up to that reputation here. Not only is Cormoran Strike a perfect protagonist (something of an anti-hero, complex, with a good backstory), but her supporting characters are brilliant as well. Robin is a great foil to Strike–somewhat naïve, but smart and capable too–and the people they encounter throughout the investigation are just so well-rendered and so believable that they practically jump off the page. She also doesn’t disappoint with her creative names, which were one of my favorite things about the HP series–we’ve got Lula Landry (a superstar name if I’ve ever heard one), Guy Sommé (a flamboyant fashion designer), Deeby Macc (a popular rap star), and Tansy Bestigui (a young and obscenely wealthy housewife), just to name a few.
I’m pretty sure this is going to become a series (I’d be disappointed if it didn’t), which makes a lot of sense. There’s a lot more to discover about Strike, I think, and I’m excited to see where his relationship with Robin goes (and what mysteries come next). Given how good this book is, it seems like Rowling may have struck gold twice in terms of successful series.
I really don’t have anything bad to say about this novel. With it, Rowling has proved that she’s not just a kid’s writer, and can hold her own as a writer of adult fiction as well.