Off The Shelf @ Your Library - The Cuckoo’s Calling

By Kathy Pillatzki
Assistant Director
Henry County Library System

As main characters go, Cormoran Strike is less than appealing. When we first meet the private investigator he is essentially homeless. His fiancé has thrown him out, forcing him to sleep in his office, in his clothes. He’s unshaven, dish-eveled, overweight, hard-drinking, chain-smoking and sporting a black eye courtesy of the now ex-fiancé and a well-aimed ashtray.

Through a clerical error at a temp agency, he finds himself saddled with Robin, a cheery new secretary that he can ill-afford. Did I mention he’s also dead broke? Deep in debt, with virtually no clients? But all that is about to change. Enter a man with deep pockets who can pay any price if Strike will reinvestigate the death of the client’s famous sister, which police ruled a suicide.

Egged on by Robin, Strike finds himself swept up in a world of high fashion and unfathomable wealth, secrets and lies, exploring the blurred line between reality and fantasy. From the haunts of the super rich to seedy nightclubs and drug rehab clinics, every witness seems to be telling half-truths - out of fear, self-preservation, shameless self-promotion, or more shadowy motives.

As Strike, aided by the clever and capable Robin, peels back layer after layer of carefully constructed secrets, a remarkable thing happens. The reader begins to see beneath Strike’s own layers. Just small revelations at first, but eventually a portrait emerges of a fascinating character with a rich and storied past.

The mysterious death that is the focus of The Cuckoo’s Calling makes for a tantalizing story on its own, but the real strength of author Robert Galbraith is character development. As the plot unfolds, so does the diverse cast. Even characters glimpsed only in passing seem significant and fully-developed.

Truth be told, The Cuckoo’s Calling is a book I almost didn’t read. It was published in 2013 to critical acclaim but modest sales for a first-time author. Interest skyrocketed, however, when the publisher revealed that Robert Galbraith was the pen name of J.K. Rowling. While this news set the publishing world abuzz, it wasn’t Rowling’s first novel for adults.

After she concluded her blockbuster Harry Potter series in 2007, Rowling made an initial foray into writing for grown-ups under her own name with The Casual Vacancy in 2012. Like many established Rowling fans, I was anxious to read it, but I’m far from alone in saying it was a bit of a disappointment. Though it got decent reviews, I found the plot tedious and the characters unappealing, so even when I found out that Galbraith was really Rowling, I was in no hurry to read The Cuckoo’s Calling.

In fact, someone gave me a copy of the audiobook of The Cuckoo’s Calling, which I left in my car for ages. On a recent road trip, I found myself in an area with no radio reception and in desperation popped in the first CD. I was instantly hooked. From an opening scene that could come straight out of a 1950s film noir detective story, Galbraith develops a modern, smart mystery with an ever-evolving, constantly-shifting cast of heroes and suspects.

Galbraith/Rowling has already released a sequel, The Silkworm, which is next on my reading list. Long live Cormoran Strike, one of the most engaging, albeit oddly-named characters to grace modern fiction.