Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling) (Plus what I’ve been up to)

Hello all! Sorry for missing my blog day yesterday; I had a rather busy weekend. Better late than never, however, so here we are.

Firstly, just wanted to let you read the post I wrote for The Vagenda last week. The Vagenda is my favourite e-zine and I’d been reading it for well over a year when I decided to pitch to them, so needless to say I was thrilled. Read my post here; it’s called ‘It’s a Baby! – The Card that Nobody is Sending’. I’d welcome feedback!

Otherwise, on to my review!

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Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling

This one’s been sat on my shelf for ages. With thrillers and crime stuff, I much much prefer reading in one big chunk so as not to forget any of the key detail. I read it over a three day period, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

My first thought, however, was that The Cuckoo’s Calling, advertised as a crime novel, was most definitely not a crime novel. I know I’m speaking with the benefit of hindsight, but I found an incredible similarity to A Casual Vacancy – both have intense, action packed plots, but both focus really on unpicking the characters much more than anything that could possibly be classed as ‘story’. I loved it. Strike, the protagonist, approaches the people around him as people – love interests, people he can help, families comparable to his own. This is quite a contrast with the normal did ‘he or didn’t he’ approach to characters found in a lot of crime fiction.

Class seems to be a huge thing for Rowling; it permeates her work. In a very Sartre-like portrayal, she demonstrates (both here and in her Casual Vacancy) the degree to which characters are shaped through their environments and are at once a product of the society they live in and the things that have happened to them. Both The Cuckoo’s Calling and A Casual Vacancy present intimate, almost satirical portrayals of each class tier, with interesting and slightly disconcerting results. The most sympathetic characters seem to be the most middling; they are neither rich nor poor, highly educated nor illiterate. Strike and his assistant Robin are two such characters, and almost everyone else has significant tinges of the unpleasant.

The actual crime elements were well detailed, with hints dropped and enough detail given that it never felt like information was being given for a specific purpose. The pace was quick, but without feeling rushed. Robin and Strike’s personal lives are sketched out in sufficient detail that they are much more than their roles as crime solvers, and they let their personal lives get in the way of the investigation to the perfect degree. This, for me, is what makes The Cuckoo’s Calling a novel that features a crime, rather than a crime novel. Much in the bent of Donna Tartt’s A Secret History, where we are told from the very first paragraph that the protagonist had killed, crime is central to the story, but without being the story. For me, this type of crime fiction is much more satisfying and allows for a more sophisticated read. Highly recommended.

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5 thoughts on “Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling) (Plus what I’ve been up to)

  1. Thanks a lot for this, Sam ! – for some reason I haven’t been drawn to read A Casual Vacancy; but your review tells me I should indeed read The Cuckoo’s Calling. Goodonyer.
    Loved your article about baby cards, btw, and consider your eventual solution The Only Way To Go.

  2. I loved both The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo’s Calling. I have to agree with you that while she does weave a good story, the real appeal is in the complexity and texture of her characters. She makes them real and believable – for aren’t we all tinged with good and unpleasant?

    • Exactly! And whilst this isn’t in evidence quite so much with the Harry Potter books, it’s significantly there, particularly the further through the series we stray. Thank you very much for the comment.

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