The Cuckoo's Calling
First edition, hardback cover
(Little, Brown & Company)
|Followed by||The Silkworm|
The Cuckoo's Calling is a 2013 crime fiction novel by J. K. Rowling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. It is the first novel in the Cormoran Strike series of detective novels and was followed by The Silkworm in 2014 and Career of Evil in 2015.
In 2010, Cormoran Strike, a private investigator who is an ex-SIB investigator who lost part of a leg in a bombing in Afghanistan, and also is the illegitimate son of a famous rock star (by an affair with a notorious groupie), is broke, and his birth father's business agent is calling in the loan that he gave to Strike to open his office. At that point, Strike is hired by John Bristow, the adoptive brother of supermodel Lula Landry who had fallen from her balcony three months previously. Bristow wants Strike to investigate his sister's supposed suicide. Bristow's other sibling, a brother named Charlie, had been a schoolmate of Strike before his death, which came when he fell into a quarry while riding on his bicycle. Strike also meets Robin Ellacott, who has been sent to be his temporary secretary despite the fact he can barely afford her. Robin has just become engaged to her longtime boyfriend Matthew, with a wedding set for December. Although Strike only hires her for one week, she turns out to be much more competent than he expected, and they end up extending her stay.
Strike is initially sceptical about John Bristow's claims, having read extensive media coverage following the case, and he is unwilling to reopen such a thoroughly investigated case. However, because he needs the money, he proceeds with the investigation, interviewing Lula Landry's security guard, personal driver, uncle, friends and designer. Each character recounts their recollections of Lula as Strike comes to realize that the circumstances of her death are more ambiguous than he had imagined.
Strike is especially intrigued by the statement of Tansy Bestigui, Lula's downstairs neighbour, who says she heard Lula fighting with a man and then falling from her balcony. It is clear she could not have heard it from two floors below through the triple glazed windows, so her statement had initially been dismissed. However, in reality, her husband had found her with cocaine and then pushed her out onto the balcony and locked her there, where she overheard the attack on Lula Landry. Tansy did not reveal her true location to the investigating officers, because it was -10 °C outside when her husband had pushed her onto the balcony, and her husband had demanded she remain silent, as he was fearful of being arrested for abusing Tansy and attempting to pervert the course of justice. Later, Rochelle Onifade is found dead, killed hours after leaving a meeting with Strike. Strike realises that she must have been in contact with Lula's murderer, though he doubts that she knew the person to be the killer.
Lula, as a mixed-race girl adopted into a wealthy white family, took a special interest in investigating her biological roots before her death. Strike discovers that Lula was murdered for the ten million pounds she possessed, although the police ignore his discoveries. Strike then figures out that John, his client, is in fact the murderer, hoping to get Lula's money, and that he was also responsible for Charlie's death years before. John was using Strike in an attempt to frame Lula's biological brother Jonah for her murder, suspecting (correctly) that Lula had made a will leaving her fortune to Jonah. John planned that if the will, which he had been unable to locate, eventually surfaced, Jonah would be unable to inherit if he had been convicted of Lula's murder. He had hoped that Strike's friendship with Charlie would endear him to him. When Strike presents the truth to John, John attempts to stab him, resulting in a physical altercation. Strike is saved when Robin returns to the office during the struggle.
Near the book's end, before Robin leaves for her next job, Strike gives Robin a green silk dress she had tried on and loved when they had gone searching for information at a dress shop that Lula had frequented. Finally, the two decide that Robin will stay on; both are happy about the decision, though Strike reflects that Matthew, Robin's fiancé, would not be happy about the fact that he had purchased the gown for her. The novel closes with Strike at a doctor's appointment for his injured leg.
- Cormoran Strike is a down-on-his-luck private investigator. He has few clients, a large debt, and is obliged by a recent break-up to move into his office on Denmark Street. He lost his leg in the Afghan war.
- Robin Ellacott, aged 25, is Strike's temporary secretary, and has recently moved from Yorkshire since becoming engaged. She is enthusiastic about detective work and is very intelligent and competent.
- Lula Landry (Bristow), a 23-year-old professional model who died from a fall three months prior to the events of the novel. The object of Strike's investigation is to determine how Lula was killed.
- John Bristow is Strike's cilent and Lula's adoptive brother. He also killed his sister following a heated argument on her balcony which he pushed her off to her death. He was also responsible for Charlie's death after pushing him into a quarry when Charlie was 9–10 years old. He pleaded for Strike to investigate into Lula's murder but was really an act to get Jonah convicted of his sister's death. However, at the end of the book, when Strike backed up his evidence to prove that John was the killer (which was true) he attempted to stab Cormoran to death but was stopped by Robin.
- Charlie Bristow is John Bristow's brother and a boyhood friend of Strike's. Charlie died when he fell into a quarry when he was around nine or 10 years old. Charlie was about six years older than Lula Landry (Bristow).
- Alison Cresswell is dating John Bristow. She works as a secretary for Tony Landry and Cyprian May.
- Tony Landry is Lula and John's maternal uncle. He disapproved of Lula's lifestyle.
- Lady Yvette Landry Bristow is Lula and John's adopted mother. She is terminally ill during the events of the novel, and her relations with Lula were strained.
- Sir Alec Bristow is Lady Bristow's husband. He founded his own electronics company, Albris. Sir Alec was sterile and could not have children of his own. He and Lady Bristow adopted three children: John, Charlie, and Lula Bristow. Lula was adopted when she was four years old, shortly after Charlie's death. Sir Alec died suddenly from a heart attack.
- Cyprian May is a senior partner at the law firm where John Bristow works.
- Ursula May is Tansy Bestigui's sister and Cyprian May's wife.
Lula's social circle
- Evan Duffield is Lula's on-off boyfriend, an actor with various problems with drugs. He was the initial suspect in the media at the time of Lula's death, but has numerous witnesses to an alibi. He argued with Lula before her death.
- Rochelle Onifade is a homeless friend of Lula from an outpatient clinic.
- Guy Somé is Lula's designer. He is the one who calls her "Cuckoo", as in the title of the novel. He was in Tokyo in the week leading up to her death and is an astute character witness.
- Deeby Macc is an American rapper who was supposed to arrive in the apartment below Lula's on the night of her death.
- Kieran Kolovas-Jones is Lula's personal driver who has aspirations of fame as an actor.
- Ciara Porter is a model and a friend of Lula's.
- Freddie Bestigui is a film producer and neighbour of Lula's. He is difficult to contact and has a reputation of being difficult. He and his wife Tansy are in the process of divorce.
- Tansy Bestigui is Freddie's wife and a key witness, claiming to have overheard some of the events of the night of Lula's death. Her plausibility is an issue for Strike and the police. She is the sister of Ursula May.
- Bryony Radford is Lula's personal makeup artist and one of the people she meets on the day of her death.
Lula's biological family
- Marlene Higson is Lula's biological mother. She sells her story to the press at every opportunity and lives in much poorer circumstances than Lula's adoptive family. She had two sons after giving birth to Lula, but Lula was not interested in helping Marlene find them. Both were taken away by social services.
- Jonah Agyeman is Lula's biological half-brother, and served in the British Army in Afghanistan.
Cormoran and Robin's friends and family
- Lucy Strike is Cormoran Strike's judgmental younger sister. Strike attends her son's birthday party during the novel.
- Jonny Rokeby is Strike's famous pop-star father and has only met him twice in his lifetime.
- Leda Strike is Strike's mother, a 'supergroupie' of Jonny Rokeby's. She had a drug addiction and died of an overdose when Strike was 20. He has always suspected his stepfather had something to do with her death, though nobody else agreed.
- Charlotte Campbell is Strike's longtime, rich and mercurial fiancée whom he dumps just before the beginning of the novel.
- Matthew Cunliffe is Robin's fiancé and works as an accountant. He proposes to Robin at the beginning of the novel. He does not approve of her working for Strike, whom he considers to be a shady character.
Over the years, Rowling often spoke of writing a crime novel. In 2007, during the Edinburgh Book Festival, author Ian Rankin claimed that his wife spotted Rowling "scribbling away" at a detective novel in a cafe. Rankin later retracted the story, claiming it was a joke. The rumour persisted with The Guardian's speculating in 2012 that Rowling's next book would be a crime novel.
The BBC reported that Rowling sent the manuscript to the publishers anonymously, and at least one publishing house declined it, including Orion Books. It was eventually accepted by Sphere Books, which is an imprint of Little, Brown & Company, with whom Rowling had collaborated on her previous novel, The Casual Vacancy (2012).
The first printing of the first UK edition ran to at least 1,500 copies, with a cover that features a quote from Val McDermid, while the back cover has quotes from Mark Billingham and Alex Gray. All three are fellow crime novelists, who deny having been told Galbraith's true identity. It was stated on the book's dust jacket that "Robert Galbraith" was a pseudonym, but the adjoining biographical details provided about Galbriath's time with the Royal Military Police suggested that the pseudonym was employed simply to protect the identity of a government official, somewhat in the manner of John Le Carre.
The copyright page does not have a number line but simply states, "First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Sphere." The copyright page of the second printings of the first UK edition does not have a number line either, but in addition to the "first published" line quoted above has a second line stating "Reprinted 2013 (twice)". (Trade paperback editions and hardbacks share the same imprint page, and this page lists the number of reprints; it is updated each time there is a reprint. In this case, the trade paperback reprinted prior to the hardback). The reprint also features an amended back cover with additional quotes, while the revised inside flaps now acknowledge Rowling's authorship.
Sales and reception
Before Rowling's identity as the book's author was revealed, 1,500 copies of the printed book had been sold since its release in April 2013, plus another 7,000 copies of the ebook, audiobook, and library editions. The book surged from 4,709th to the best-selling novel on Amazon after it was revealed on 14 July 2013 that the book was written by Rowling under the pseudonym "Robert Galbraith". Signed copies of the first edition are selling for $US4,000–6,000.
The book received almost universal critical acclaim. Most of the reviews came only after Rowling became known as the author, but the early reactions were generally complimentary as well. After the revelation of the author's identity, Declan Burke of The Irish Times gave a very positive review, particularly enjoying its "satisfyingly complex plot that winds through the labyrinth of London’s vulgar rich" as well as its characterization, and deeming it to be "easily one of the most assured and fascinating debut crime novels of the year." Writing for USA Today, Charles Finch echoed this sentiment, also writing: "In both its broad strokes and in dozens of flairs of perception like this one, The Cuckoo's Calling shows that all great fiction — even if it only concerns our workaday world — has its own kind of magic." Slate's Katy Waldman also reacted favorably to the book, lauding its narration and characters and drawing parallels between the book and the Harry Potter series.
In The Plain Dealer, Laura DeMarco hailed Rowling for "fully flesh[ing] out her cast", elaborating: "It's a testament to Rowling's skillful way of imbuing humanity to her characters that although Lula is killed months before the story starts, she comes to life a flesh-and-blood woman in the way many fictional crime victims do not." Publishers Weekly  and Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times concurred, with the latter opining: "Strike and his now-permanent assistant, Robin (playing Robin to his Batman, Nora to his Nick, Salander to his Blomkvist), have become a team — a team whose further adventures the reader cannot wait to read." Another positive review came from The Huffington Post, whose David Kudler praised the book as a "taut, well-written mystery that does a wonderful job of reviving an all-but-dead genre" but considered the psychology behind the crime "a bit of a stretch." The Hindustan Times also enjoyed the book, calling it "an entertaining story with characters who hold the reader's interest" but one noted that the conclusions drawn seemed "a little too out-of-nowhere." Jake Kerridge, in his The Daily Telegraph review, awarded the book four stars out of five and summed up the novel as "a sharply contemporary novel full of old-fashioned virtues; there is room for improvement in terms of construction, but it is wonderfully fresh and funny."
Thom Geier of Entertainment Weekly, who gave book a "B+", and wrote: "Despite the contemporary milieu and sprinkling of F-words, The Cuckoo's Calling is decidedly old-fashioned. Rowling serves up a sushi platter of red herring, sprinkling clues along the way, before Strike draws a confession out of the killer in a climax straight out of Agatha Christie." London Evening Standard gave a mixed review, commending its satirical tone and classic plot, but criticising its "extraordinarily clunky, over-descriptive style that Rowling has made so much her own." A negative review came from NPR's Maureen Corrigen, who slammed the book for being a clichéd "'Mayhem Parva' school of British detective fiction" and its weak characters, writing: "the most intriguing unsolved mystery in The Cuckoo's Calling is why, in this post-Lisbeth Salander age, Rowling would choose to outfit her female lead with such meek and anachronistic feminine behavior."
On 10 December 2014, it was announced that the novels would be adapted as a television series for BBC One, starting with The Cuckoo's Calling. Rowling herself penned the script and will also collaborate on the project. The number of episodes are yet to be decided.
Rowling confirmed in a statement published on her website that she "fully intends to keep writing the series", and would do so under the pseudonym. The title of the sequel, The Silkworm, and its publication date, 19 June, were announced on 17 February 2014. It saw Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott, investigating the disappearance of Owen Quine, a writer in possession of a damaging manuscript. A second sequel, Career of Evil, was published in 2015.
Rowling's authorship was revealed by The Sunday Times on 13 July 2013 after it investigated how a first-time author “with a background in the army and the civilian security industry” could write such an assured debut novel. The Times enlisted the services of a British linguistics expert and Pittsburgh's Duquesne University professor Patrick Juola, whose software program ran four separate analyses of the novel and other Rowling works. However, it was later reported that Rowling's authorship was leaked to a Times reporter via Twitter by the friend of the wife of a lawyer at Russells Solicitors, who had worked for Rowling. The firm has since apologised and made a "substantial charitable donation" to the Soldiers' Charity as a result of legal action brought by Rowling.
After being revealed as the author, Rowling said she would have liked to remain anonymous for a while longer, stating: "Being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience… It has been wonderful to publish without hype and expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name."
Awards and honours
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