This debut novel by Robert Galbraith was published in the spring and attracted admiring notices from fellow crime writers Mark Billingham and Val McDermid. It’s since emerged that it’s J.K. Rowling using a pseudonym and there are certainly plenty of clues this is an author who might not be a fan of the tabloids (Rowling was a witness at the Leveson Inquiry). Her crime novel about the death of a supermodel begins with sardonic description of the media feeding frenzy in the days after Lulu Landry falls from her Mayfair balcony. Yet Rowling avoids striking a high moral tone by virtue of being wickedly funny. “So many columnists made allusion to Icarus that Private Eye ran a special column,” she writes of the coverage of the suspected suicide.
The first book in a new series introduces the gruff, ale-drinking, ex-army private detective Cormoran Strike and his young temp Robin, whose nascent ability for investigation contrasts with the burden of sensible career expectations she expects will consign her to an office “full of gossipy women… all engaged in activities that meant nothing to her”. But I suspect we’ll see more of this double act.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is an ingenious, evocative mystery that takes in London high-life and low-life and Rowling tackles celebrity and wealth with a sly wit. Her insight into football and media rights shows a less sure touch: somehow Strike manages to watch Spurs v Arsenal live on a Saturday afternoon on a portable TV he’s just installed in the Soho office where he’s been camping out since splitting with his girlfriend. And I’m almost pedantic enough to investigate the appearance of handstraps on the Bakerloo Line in Rowling’s novel, though it is set in 2010. A braver editor might have cut some of the descriptive passages but this is still a stylish reinvention of the classic whodunit and a gripping read that will keep you guessing until the end.