I believe everyone now knows that Robert Galbraith is J.K. Rowling, and I think I may be one of the ten people on the planet who has yet to have read anything by her. The Cuckoo’s Calling is Rowling’s second foray into adult literature, and I was impressed. The plot is nothing terribly unique. A down-and-out private detective, Cormoran Strike, is given the task of investigating the death of supermodel Lula Landry by her brother, John Bristow, who believes she was murdered. The plot is solid and I was more or less kept guessing right up to the end. However, it is not in the plot that this book shines.
It is the descriptions of London, the characters, and the response of these characters to Strike’s investigation that really illuminate Rowling’s prose talent. She deftly fills each location, each character, with detail that comes close to the baroque, but manages to stay her hand just at the point where any more detail would be equivalent to adding too much spice to a dish. Whether they be vapid, wealthy celebrities, well bred lawyers, cynical policemen, or misfits like a socially stunted computer hacker, Rowling gives life to these characters. They feel authentic. And she really outdoes herself when she juxtaposes a flamboyantly gay fashion designer and the rough-around-the-edges detective. Both men, being fully drawn characters, avoid the stereotype and silliness that they could easily have fallen into. Instead we see people who are complex, funny, intelligent, and sympathetic.
I hope this becomes a series of books because I really do want to read more of the London, and the detective, that Rowling has created.