The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike #1) by Robert Galbraith or J.K. Rowling


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I was curious about the title after the revelation of who Robert Galbraith was and I’ve been waiting for another chance at her writing an adult novel other than Casual Vacancy. But thankfully I was able to read this book without any much bias and expectation about who Galbraith really was. So I treat it as such. I also listen to the audiobook narrated by Robert Glenister to help me dredge through this novel with some ease.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a mystery drama novel about a suicide of a supermodel and the investigation by a noirish private investigator, Cormoran Strike, at a request by her brother. The straight-forward novel revolve around Cormoran Strike interviewing and navigating through his suspect list until he uncover the truth in the end.

Divided in five parts, The Cuckoo’s Calling is nothing but not predictable. I’d suspect the reason why Rowling insisted on a pseudonym was to get a proper response to her own writing capabilities because this novel definitely is an amateurish attempt with lack of planning and wit for it to be more than a copy of anything in the market. The novel is a stereotyped pulp crime only with literary fiction style of writing which does nothing to the content except to add fillers in it.

The beauty of a complex crime novel especially with murder being covered up as suicide is in its planning and the breadcrumbs that lead to the end. This is what made “Cuckoo” bland and disappointing especially if you’re also a crime mystery fan such as me. I know that it was also intended to be social commentary on the upper echelon of London and its fashion industry but she could have just use her observation skill to a more practical use rather than churning out needless unnecessary imagery and details which bulk up the book but didn’t do anything to the strength of her puzzle. I adore puzzles and hers are more like a kindergarten-grade paper maze. This can be easily fix had Rowling did more research and planning or confide in anyone about her novel rather than publishing as it is.

Rowling even use the same stock characters in the crime fiction and the recurrent theme of incompetent of British law enforcement. Another male white with some war history and bad history with the ladies, near to middle age, probably pot-bellied which similar to Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) and imitating Hercule Poirot. In fact, Glenister perfectly conjured Coltrane in place of Cormoran that I suspect that Rowling envision the character to this image. Robin also another wink at the sidekick reference who is a temp for Cormoran who was in between job. Her characterization also fit to Hermione with accuracy. Lula is also a stereotypic model character with some added humanity to put her as a victim. Funny thing is, I pictured Freema Agyeman as Lula Landry and I had a laugh when the last name pop up suddenly while reading.

There’s a lot of things that I notice about the failings in her style of writing which tell a lot about her own stunted ability as an adult writer (for clarification, an adult could write a young adult novel and a young adult could write an adult novel). The contemporary setting doesn’t suit her at all. She could have work better if the story was set close to a noir classic era since her character’s interaction proven to be unrealistic and dull at most of the time. I know that its fashionable to write profanities in dialogues to portray some sort of realism in modern discussion but I genuinely think its distracting and didn’t add anything when the narrating style seem to stuck back in the 1900s.

Rowling could have use her extensive time to research on all types of crime novels instead of focusing on Roman literature reading and citation. I’ve read Virgil recently and I really don’t understand why she still insist on putting multiple Latin quotations between her stories rather than add more intricacies into her storytelling. To make the book appear more literary distinguished?

And I still can’t find myself praising her style since at times she does inserted her own politics and views within her narratives and her observation seem to focus more on superficiality and rather crass and inaccurate.

“I don’t know,” she said irritably. “Anything. Macc’s got a huge following; Freddie wasn’t going to pass that chance up. He’d probably have had a part written specially for him if he’d been interested. Oh he would have been all over him. Telling him all about his pretend black grandmother.” Tansy’s voice was contemptuous. “That’s what he always does when he meets famous black people: tell them he’s a quarter Malay. Yeah, whatever, Freddie.”
“Isn’t he a quarter Malay?” asked Strike.
She gave a snide little laugh.

Well, I am Malay although I am half Javanese on my dad’s side. We’re hundred percent Asian. I have nieces living in Birmingham who is quarter Malay but look white with blonde hair and blue eyes. So I’m not sure how JK Rowling herself would think that that was a funny or reasonable argument to lump my completely Asian race as African black.

There’s also another phrase that caught me by surprise:

Down a whitewashed corridor they passed an open door, and a flat-faced middle-aged oriental woman stared back at Strike through the gauzy film of gold stuff she was throwing over a dummy.

“Whitewashed” indeed. I still haven’t decided if she’s racist but I know that there’s wasn’t a feminist bone in her but frankly this is ridiculous. “Flat-faced”? And you wonder why rhinoplasty were the most common surgery next to double-eyelid surgery in Asia. Of all things to describe an aging Asian woman, she choose “flat-faced”. That is downright insulting if you did that to anyone – unless you’re a billionaire writer apparently.

As for the anti-feminist comment, I am confident that Rowling didn’t really view her sex favourably even without me having to read Casual Vacancy as a comparison. First with her choosing another male pen name. Female crime writers are rare as it is and often sideline for espionage or thriller novels which are dominated by male writers and she could have taken the niche in consideration. And what was up with her female characters always sidelined for the main male character despite having courage and intelligence to be a primary character. She even have her own rather contemptuous view on her women characters in this book. Lula, Cormoran’s ex-girlfriend, Lula’s mothers, Lula’s friends etc. The only positive character was Robin the assistant who is smart and loyal to the main character who by far without any relatable personality and probably based on Hermione and by default Rowling’s image of the perfect representation of herself. Was a woman’s role belong only in the sidelines as an assistant to a man without a back story of her own other than her male problems despite her inner strength and intelligence?

If I hadn’t known this book was written by her, I still would comment on how often the author write about nipples showing through their the female character’s clothes. Normally, this kind of objectification is what I abhor in male POVs novels and I know this is about a fashion model but if you want to do a social commentary about how soulless the industry really was, was it necessary to spend a long paragraph about how the nipples hardening and peeking through their layers and how white creamy breasts they have? I could have leave it off as a random coincidence but it does seem to pop up more than twice and weirdly enough it was dull as the rest of the narrating. I know that this is just a bland observation but there’s more to a woman’s figure than her boobs.

I wished this book could have been better at what it should have been. I don’t heavily dislike this book but I don’t think this book have a chance to compete with the others in the market as it is had Rowling haven’t been exposed. We already have Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Karen Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher, Lene Kaaberbol’s Nina Borg, Dashiell Hammett’s, Veronica Mars, Sherlock Holmes, Olivia Dunham, Bones and Booth, Gill Grissom, Hawaii Five-O etc. Cormoran Strike doesn’t shine as much as an original character and doesn’t differentiate itself from others. I don’t think this book deserve a continuation from the quality, the characterization, the storytelling and the mystery elements but sales from a famous novelists usually say otherwise. It’s barely a good case and its barely a good pulp. And its in dire need of a more critical editor service and beta readers if Rowling really want to continue on with this series because “The Cuckoo’s Calling” is boring, predictable and forgettable and in lesser known novelist, it wouldn’t even be in a bestselling list to begin with.


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