“The Cuckoo’s Calling”: J.K. Rowling’s first shot at crime fiction provides pure pleasure

  • In April, J.K. Rowling released a crime novel under the pen name “Robert Galbraith”.
  • Reasonably well received by critics, the book sold a respectable number of copies until the author’s real name was revealed.
  • Since then, sales of the English original have shot through the roof; the French version, which has just come out, is likely to follow suit.

 

Lula Landry, an in-demand supermodel, falls 15 meters from her balcony to the snow below and dies. The police label the death a suicide, and with good reason: the bipolar young woman had just fought with her fiancé and was known for her over-the-top reactions. The character is of mixed race – was J.K. Rowling (or Robert Galbraith, in this case) perhaps inspired by Naomi Campbell and some of the more infamous incidents attributed to her? In any case, there is no suggestion of foul play, and the case is closed.

 

Until, that is, three months down the line, when Cormoran Strike, a penniless private investigator who has just hired a new temporary secretary without necessarily possessing the means to pay for her, sees Lula’s adopted brother walk into his office. John Bristow selected Strike because he knew his brother Charlie, who died when he was a young boy, falling from a bicycle into a disused quarry. This is a family where people fall easily, and don’t get up. Bristow promptly hires Strike to properly investigate Lula’s death, as he does not go along with the official verdict of suicide.

 

And so begins a complex pursuit where no-one appears prepared to tell Strike the whole truth. Strike, formerly a respected military policeman until he lost his leg in the Afghan war, is organized, stubborn, doesn’t care whether or not there was a suicide, and has no interest in the actions of his suspects unless they reveal a potential motive. One thing drives him: discovering the truth. As he sets about doing that, he receives invaluable assistance from his secretary, Robin, who turns out to be much more astute than he realized and is almost as obstinate as he is.

 

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” (L’appel du Coucou) – “Cuckoo” is a nickname given to Lula by her designer – is a classic detective mystery, where at the end readers get to witness the traditional stand-off between the guilty party and the investigating hero, where the latter explains to the former, using undeniable logic, about all he has learned and how he unraveled the truth.

 

There is nothing revolutionary in the book, but Rowling demonstrates a certain mastery of her craft that allows the reader to enjoy the story to the very end. This is especially true of the moments of light humor that brighten up the otherwise dark tale. Fans of the book will be pleased to hear that a second work recounting the exploits of Cormoran Strike has already been written and will be published in English next year.

 

PIERRE MAURY

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