Pick of the Week: The Cuckoo's Calling
Being a big J.K. Rowling fan, I had to read The Cuckoo’s Calling once I realized Rowling had written the book – and I wasn’t disappointed. This is a mystery in the classic style, featuring a hardboiled PI, Cormoran Strike, and his office assistant, Robin Ellacott. Don’t be misled into thinking these characters are caricatures; they’re not. Rowling has made them nuanced and believable. Strike, a military veteran, lost a leg in the Afghan war and has recently lost both his home and his fiancée. Robin, initially sent to Strike’s office by a temporary agency, has given up university to follow her fiancé to London, and is struggling to figure out her career path and her identity. As they investigate the apparent suicide of a world-famous London model, Cormoran and Robin strike up an unlikely partnership. With these characters and the unfinished business in their lives, Rowling has obviously set the stage for an ongoing mystery series.
One of Rowling’s greatest strengths as an author is her ability to create detailed, realistic dialogue and description, so that you feel you are standing right amidst the action. This is what made Harry Potter so great, and it is equally strong here. Right off the bat, the novel hooks you with a description of the crime scene that is realistic and powerful, and the remainder of the book continues in this vein. The mystery is well-plotted, the characters carefully drawn, and the plot holds no loose ends.
A notable subtext of the book is a not-so-subtle commentary on fame and the perils of a public life. Rowling repeatedly demonstrates how powerful the media and paparazzi can be in influencing the lives of public figures. As Strike pieces together the life and final days of the dead model, it becomes apparent how fearful she was of the press, how unsure she was of whom she could trust, and which of her friends were genuine or just looking for a piece of her wealth and glamour. This must be colored by Rowling’s own experience with worldwide stardom, and it’s ironic that her attempt to publish this book anonymously failed because of an individual who couldn’t keep a secret.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is a strong mystery – well-paced, descriptive, and character-driven. I’m delighted that a talented author like Rowling continues to provide us with new stories, even if they are far from the magical world of Harry Potter. I’ll happily anticipate the next book in the series.