Book Review: ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

“The Cuckoo’s Calling reminds me why I fell in love with crime fiction in the first place” is quoted proudly on the cover of Robert Galbraith/ JK Rowling’s foray into contemporary London rather than magical Hogwarts.

Sadly, it reminded me why I tend to find crime fiction impossibly irritating. Stereotypical characters with unlikely names, an implausible plot, random coincidences, a denouement that makes you think “Pull the other one, that cannot be it!”- they are all there. Some taut and good writing are not able to rescue what ultimately becomes a pedestrian and laboured book, which failed to grip me. I only finished it because I was on holiday, and I really hate giving up on a novel. Hope over experience, I always think they will get better.  This one got worse. The first third was actually quite engaging and pacy. By the end it was limping. In more ways than one (but I will not reveal the ending)

I view it as a punishment for being seduced by the drama of the pseudonym reveal. How shallow am I? After all, I would not have read it otherwise. I do not even like Harry Potter that much (death threats are not welcome)

So what specifically made it grate? The emotionally and physically damaged private detective, with a troubled family history, and a turbulent love life. Yes, straight out of central cliché crime/thriller genre casting. The pretty, chirpy, positive, efficient PA with a slightly stifling fiancé. Another tick. A glamorous mixed race model, her volatile druggy boyfriend, her promiscuous but intelligent model best friend (who just happens to throw herself at the one legged detective) a gay fashion designer, the poor ugly fellow rehab patient the victim befriended, a rich Valium addled mother- tick, tick, tick….There was not a single character that felt fully rounded and real.

And the plot was similarly strained. Clues scattered around with the subtlety of a game of Cleudo. Spilled water here, a fluffy designer jacket, letters hidden in handbag linings, a logo there.

Interestingly, it made me think that perhaps JK Rowling had been given all the characters and the story line and then been told to write the novel using only those elements. No changes allowed. A bit like a great actress trying to rescue a dreadful play, her talent of undeniably crisp writing was wasted on the ingredients.

If there is another Cuckoo it won’t be calling out to me.

Liz Walker

ArtsArts Reviews

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