Robert Galbraith a/k/a J.K. Rowling, “The Cuckoo’s Calling”

You heard about this, right? Obscure first novel by an author nobody’s ever heard of. Gets good reviews; a few of the reviewers are struck by the assurance, confidence, competence of the writing. Nevertheless, the sales are dismal, and The Cuckoo’s Calling meets the fate of the vast majority of other novels, i.e. commercial failure. A recent New York Times story suggests that in U.S. sales hovered around 500 hardcovers sold.

Then, whoosh! A curtain is drawn back and “Robert Galbraith” is revealed to be, not a military veteran, but J.K. Rowling trying to sneak into the market and be assessed on her own merits as a writer and not on the basis of her immense fame. Instantly — the very same day Rowling is unmasked — the book hits the top of the Amazon best seller list. It’s still selling like hotcakes as an e-book but of course print versions aren’t to be had for love or money.

Lula's nickname is "Cuckoo," and the bird has a distinctive call.

Lula’s nickname is “Cuckoo,” and the bird has a distinctive call.

Well, heck, I was curious, aren’t you? And The Cuckoo’s Calling is a murder mystery, the kind of thing I read constantly anyway. In fact I would probably have read “Robert Galbraith’s” book months ago — if only I had known about it. But I didn’t, which just reinforces how inefficient book marketing is. Nevertheless, that inability to bring together readers and writers did permit Rowling to experience, for a few months, the average writer’s freedom to write without scrutiny or expectations.

And you know, once you’ve read The Cuckoo’s Calling, you may rethink the whole “rich and famous” trope, because in Rowling’s telling, it really isn’t much fun. Lula Landry is a supermodel who, on a snowy winter night, falls from a balcony in Mayfair and dies. The police call it suicide; her half-brother doesn’t accept the verdict. So he calls in a private detective, a  tall hairy military veteran with the wonderful name of Cormoran Strike.

As a character, Strike is really good news. (Remember? Rowling’s great at this.) He served with the military police in Afghanistan. He lost part of a leg and left the armed forces. His private agency is failing, he’s just broken up with his poisonous but beautiful girlfriend, and this new case may keep him going a while longer, even if he is sleeping in the office. He reminds me of some of Dick Francis’s wounded heroes like Sid Halley, with a complex back story and a mind like a steel trap.

Cormoran is also far more appealing than he seems to grasp, because he gets an astounding variety of people to talk to him. Rowling’s description of a night out on the town, with supermodels and their hangers-on and the resultant mob of paparazzi, reminds us that this may be a familiar world to her. It’s a world of tapped cell phones and drivers on call and security guards. No privacy, and precious little sincerity. You can see how someone with Rowling’s fame would want to be anonymous from time to time.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
This entry was posted in anglophilia, contemporary fiction, mystery and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Robert Galbraith a/k/a J.K. Rowling, “The Cuckoo’s Calling”

  1. Alex says:

    I read this half and half as it were. I read the first half last Saturday, thinking it was by Robert Galbraith and the second half on Sunday knowing it was by J K Rowling. I had seen the reviews and picked up on the back of those and fortunately was far enough into the book when all the hoo-ha broke to be able to continue enjoying it. Like you I thought Strike was the star of the show but I worry how well she is going to be able to keep up the Private Detective theme. It isn’t as easy to second guess the police these days with the reliance on technological evidence that a PD won’t have access to and the ruse she used this time won’t work again.

  2. carolwallace says:

    That’s a good point, Alex — and she already had to use the ploy of suborning a former colleague. How did it cross your path as “Robert Galbraith?”

  3. Amy Lee says:

    It was a publicity stunt. J.K. Rowling is also a pen name. I made up the name while working on ideas for Harry Potter. “Malfoy” is an anagram for “of Amy L”…and that is me.

  4. Mrs Madrigal says:

    I do think it was a convoluted gimmick I’m afraid. I’m sure it was nice for Rowling to publish a book and have it reviewed without the albatross of ‘being JK Rowling’ hanging round her neck, but the rise she has got in book sales through the reveal just seems too fortuitous. She has had more press for this than she would have had if it had just been published. Plus this news was released after Goodreads listed ‘The Casual Vacancy’ as the second most abandoned book of last year!

    • carolwallace says:

      Oh, that is interesting about “The Casual Vacancy.” No question but that the JKR identity was the ace in the hole for her, salvaging her from the ignominy of failure. But apparently the secret was leaked by a friend of the wife of her attorney…. sounds like a little dinner party gossip gone ballistic!

  5. Always love your take on things, Carol. Reading your posts makes me long to be strolling in the vast back garden of an English chateau in non stop conversation. Then back inside for tea and more talk. Or better still, I eat the cakes and you keep talking, I’ll take notes.

    • carolwallace says:

      Mary, we don’t need a chateau or even a garden; a pair of folding chairs just about anywhere would be fine!

  6. Pingback: Robert Galbraith, “The Silkworm” | Book Group of One

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