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

Posted October 13, 2013 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 29 Comments

Book Review: The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)
The Cuckoo's Calling by J.K. Rowling
Published by Mulholland Books on Apr. 30, 2013
Pages: 455
Genres: Crime, Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

As most of you surely know by now, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I read The Casual Vacancy when it came out last year, and although it wasn’t my cup of tea, I thought it was a strong piece of literary fiction. When Rowling’s authorship of The Cuckoo’s Calling was revealed over the summer, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it. I love me some JKR, but crime novels aren’t really my thing. In the end, curiosity won out and I picked up a copy. I finally read it in the last few weeks, and it restored all of my Rowling love that was lacking after TCV. It even made me interested in crime fiction!

Cormoran Strike’s life is kind of falling apart. His private investigator business is failing, he can’t get his office’s landlord off his back about overdue rent, his amputated leg may be getting infected, and he has split up with his fiance, moved out of her swanky apartment, and is now effectively homeless.

But then John Bristow pays him a visit and is willing to pay through the nose for Strike to investigate the death of his adopted sister, Lula Landry. Landry, a super model with mental issues and an abusive boyfriend, had fallen from her London balcony and died a few months earlier. Given her turbulent lifestyle, the police rule her death a suicide. John, however, is not convinced. He thinks his sister was murdered, and he wants Strike to find out who did it.

Accompanying Strike in his investigation is Robin, the secretary sent over by a temp agency after he let his last secretary go. Although he can’t afford the agency’s fees, he is immediately impressed by Robin’s efficiency, initiative, and intuition. With her help, Strike works to solve the mystery of Lula Landry’s death. His investigation introduces him to her druggie rock star boyfriend, glamorous models and designers, and millionaires with secrets to protect.

I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Like I said, I don’t usually read crime novels, but I couldn’t put this book down. The writing style is classic Rowling, and I lapped it up. I also loved her descriptions of London. Based on a few toss-off remarks, I think she must have been writing this book during the semester I spent in London three years ago, so I got a kick out of that. She does a great job of bringing the city to life, describing the concrete grittiness of some areas and the lush, gardened streets of nicer areas.

I don’t know how The Cuckoo’s Calling compares to other crime/detective novels, but I thought it was very good. It was more character based than plot based, which I appreciated. I enjoyed getting to know Cormoran as a person as the novel progressed and Rowling filled in his back story. The dynamic between him and Robin was also quite fun, although I wished she would dump her jealous fiance! As for the mystery, I thought it was interesting; it kept me guessing, and I enjoyed trying to puzzle out the roles of the people Strike questioned. I also really liked Rowling’s examination of the price of fame.

I had a lot of fun with The Cuckoo’s Calling, and I definitely plan to read future books in the series, as well as anything else J.K. Rowling writes (duh). Reading this book has also made me more open to the crime genre in general. I have no plans to read junky mass market thrillers, but I’m no longer going to let myself be turned off by any synopsis containing the words “murder” or “mysterious crime.” (I know Elena will be thrilled.) Hooray for expanding my horizons!

Have you read The Cuckoo’s Calling? If so, how does it stack up to other crime novels? How do you think it compares to J.K. Rowling’s other work?

  • I liked The Cuckoo’s Calling in general but what were stood out to me were the awkward moments between Strike and Robin and how this added a humorous tone to the novel. I loved how neither of them commented on Strike sleeping in the inner office as well. I enjoyed seeing the mystery unravel but I think I wanted to know more about Strike and his background and Charlotte so I’d definitely check out the other books in the series for that.

    • Yes! Their interactions were funny, and just so human and relatable. I felt like I didn’t get to know Robin as well as I wanted to, though. I’m sure we’ll find out more about her and Strike in the next books!

  • I haven’t read this book. And I am having a hard time deciding if I would want to. I did read all HP’s more than once, plus Casual V, but I’m just not sure this is one to pick up. I’m conflicted.

    • I was surprised by how much I liked it, so I think it’s worth reading. But of course it’s up to you!

  • I haven’t read it yet, but the cover is awesome 🙂

    • I probably wouldn’t have picked this up based on the cover, but it’s grown on me 🙂

  • I don’t think it’s much like a typical crime novel… but for me, that’s a good thing! There was just so much more to it than solving the mystery. I love Rowling’s writing, even when I’m not much interested in the story (The Casual Vacancy… any other author and I never would have stuck with that one to the end) and will definitely pick up anything else she writes.

    • I think crime novels maybe tend to be more plot based than character based? This book worked so well for me because, like you said, there’s a lot more to it than just the mystery. I’m with you on The Casual Vacancy 😛

  • Other than Into the Woods and The Last Policeman, my crime fiction reading is woefully slim, but I’ve been interested in this, too. Good to hear it’s worth picking up, even if you’re not familiar with the genre!

    • I think it worked really well for me because I think most crime fiction is more plot based, and The Cuckoo’s Calling is more character based. So although it’s crime, it still has the literary elements that I love. Definitely worth reading!

  • I’ll be reading it very soon. Either this month or next. I’m looking forward to it.

    • I hope you enjoy it!

  • I’m glad you enjoyed this and think it’s great that you tried a genre outside your comfort zone. I don’t read crime fiction either, but your review has me interested in giving this a try 🙂

    • I have done VERY little reading outside my comfort zone lately, so this was a really nice surprise!

  • I’m in the middle of this and enjoying it so far. Thanks for not posting spoilers! 🙂 I feel the same as you — I’m surprised by how much I like it.

    • I try not to post spoilers here; where’s the fun in that? I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

  • I’ve been toying with the idea of tackling this one, because OMG Rowling. But still, thrillers and crime novels are not my cuppa. I’m glad to hear you liked it! An endorsement from Leah goes a long way. As does a sale price on Amazon…

    • That’s what I thought, too, but it’s a really good crime/literary fiction crossover. Thanks!

  • I stood with this book in my hand last weekend at the bookstore, and wasn’t sure if I should pick it up or not. I don’t read crime fiction that much, but the ones I have read (Netgalleys) I actually liked. I think I will buy this book, maybe next month!

    • You should! I think it’s a really good crime/literary fiction crossover.

  • I am, I am!! I just finished it and I loved it although there was an unaswered question that really bothered me. Anyway, I think it compares greatly to other crime novels: this is classic, English detective fiction. And don’t get me started on Rowling’s perfect rythm and timing. One of the worst things you can get in a crime novel is an uneven or slow rythm, but Rowling manages to catch your attention for 450 pages!

    I just didn’t get why John would hire Strike. That and Robyin being so intelligent yet tolerating her boyfriend’s jealousy were the only two flaws I could find.

    • That’s awesome to hear!

      You’re totally right; I kind of wondered about that when the big reveal happened, but then the question slipped from my mind. Maybe just because he’s a psychopath? As for Robin, it’s sad, but I think some intelligent women do put up with that kind of behavior; it’s hard for some people to separate reason from emotion, which might be the case with her.

      • I know! But well, let’s see what happens on the second installment. Will you read it?

        • Absolutely!

          • I see a read-along coming for us in 2014, then!

  • I loved The Cuckoo’s Calling. It’s a classic example of great crime fiction. I would suggest you maybe start with the master, Agatha Christie, especially since her books are way more character based. A crime occurs, yes, but Miss Marple or Poirot or Tommy and Tuppence sort them out by looking at the people affected. Glad you’re back on the Rowling wagon!

  • I’m with you on the not reading a lot of crime fiction, but this one reminded me why it can be good. Plus I will always read whatever JKR puts out 🙂

  • I am definitely going to read this at some point because of all of the hullabaloo surrounding it. This goes well with your new HP rereads 🙂

    • It definitely put me in the mood for JKR’s writing! I hope you like it!