[Content Notes for the whole spork so I don’t have to worry about missing a tag in later posts: racism, classism, ableism, sexism.]
So, after this post about The Casual Vacancy, it’s time to move on to Rowling’s other non-Harry Potter work, before its sequel comes out and I have to make myself read it. Oh, sorry, ‘Robert Galbraith’, not Rowling. Credit where it’s due, the timing of the leak concerning his true identity was superb, it coincided nicely with the paperback release of The Casual Vacancy and helped to keep Rowling in the public eye in the dead time between the Potter franchise ending and the announcement of the forthcoming Fantastic Beasts film. (Which is now going to be a trilogy, because of course it is. I don’t know whether to describe this as overmilking the cash cow or flogging a dead horse, but either way the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Metaphorical Animals should be informed.)
Let’s start once again with the official synopsis from Rowling’s website – she continues to maintain a separate site for Robert Galbraith despite the fact that he doesn’t exist (by the way, I hate her websites. I have to disable most of my security settings before they will load properly):
When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts, and calls in private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into the case.
Strike is a war veteran – wounded both physically and psychologically – and his life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline, but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model’s complex world, the darker things get – and the closer he gets to terrible danger . . .
A gripping, elegant mystery steeped in the atmosphere of London – from the hushed streets of Mayfair to the backstreet pubs of the East End to the bustle of Soho – The Cuckoo’s Calling is a remarkable book. Introducing Cormoran Strike, this is the acclaimed first crime novel by J.K. Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.
Who writes these things? When I read a plot synopsis, I don’t want to read how wonderful the book is, I’ll judge that for myself once I’ve read it. Also let me just say right now that this summary sounds a lot more dramatic than the actual book proves to be. Taken paragraph by paragraph, the opening is fine. The second paragraph seems to be about a different book that sounds more fun than the one I read. And the third is just the publishers raving about how amazing it is and can be ignored.
A note about the title: it appears to be purely because Rowling wanted to include a poem at the start of the book, “A Dirge” by Christina Rossetti. It’s every bit as depressing as it sounds, and also has no bearing whatsoever on the novel in any way. We’re being very intellectual and pretentious in this book, each part opens with a scholarly quote of some sort, mostly Latin. I have no problem with this, I do it myself in fics and I like books that do it, but these quotes don’t have anything to do with the actual content and are apparently just there to show off. Anyway, in an attempt to make the poem relevant, we will later find out that our murder victim’s nickname is Cuckoo – I’m not doing a ‘title drop’ count because it’s only mentioned two or three times and only one character ever uses it.
There are five parts to the book, which at least helps me divide it up nicely between multiple blog posts. This book gets far more coverage than The Casual Vacancy, because it’s a better book and because I read it far more recently. No rape scenes, hurrah! There is a lot of weirdness though, as you’ll soon see.
Onwards then, to the prologue.
We’re plunged straight into the plot, opening with a crime scene. Our victim has been found dead after apparently jumping from the balcony of her apartment, and the police are trying to keep the public and the press away while they try to sort things out. Descriptively it’s fairly well done, you can picture the scene quite well, but there are some odd grammar mistakes and a lot of comma abuse in this short four-page scene. The POV character for this scene is a policeman, I won’t bother with a name or a description because he plays no further part in the story and is there purely because Rowling wanted to write the dramatic suicide scene and couldn’t plausibly get her main character there. There’s not a lot else to say here, it’s a decent scene, it lets us know this is probably going to be a crime story even if there’s no evidence of an actual crime yet.
Next time: part one, when we meet our main characters and the plot starts and then not a lot happens.