SPHERE BOOKS
SPHERE BOOKS

Harry Potter is the standard of literature for our generation. In my own life, characters from J.K. Rowling’s books inspired five of my first 10 Halloween costumes. In the real world, Rowling’s children’s franchise is the best-selling book series of all time. In recent years, however, Rowling has been faced with the difficult transition from childhood icon to adult author. Some make this transition with grace (I often think of Jodi Foster in the original The Parent Trap). Others seem to have gone off the deep end entirely. (Need I juxtapose Hannah Montana with today’s Miley Cyrus?) For Rowling, evolution has been slow, and last year’s A Casual Vacancy didn’t garner a great reception in the adult fiction market. But under the pen-name Robert Galbraith, Rowling has made an impressive step toward genuinely and effectively appealing to an adult audience with The Cuckoo’s Calling.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a mystery novel that tells the story of private investigator Cormoran Strike. Strike is called in to investigate the death of supermodel Lula Landry, who fell to her death from her third-floor apartment in London’s West End. Strike and his office temp Robin look into many facets of Landry’s past — her career, her personal life, her childhood, her origin— in order to get to the bottom of the crime. The two are badgered by the police, who assume Landry’s death to be a suicide, and angry members of the press. The plot is fairly basic overall; no shocking twists, turns or complications change the course of the book until the very end. Strike merely plods along, uncovering a few predictable clues and conducting interviews with Landry’s friends and family.

It’s fair to wonder how else Rowling managed to fill over 400 pages with such a simple story. The truth is, it’s easy to tell that she tries — almost desperately — to appeal to a mature audience by adding more intimate, personal details of both Strike’s and Robin’s lives, reminiscent of the strangely emotional and somewhat unpopular A Casual Vacancy. Pages upon pages are filled with the struggles that both Robin and Strike have with their significant others — details that end up being extraneous and never contribute to the novel in any significant way. They don’t help us solve the mystery or add any new captivating details to the story. In this aspect, it’s easy to tell that the author is out of her element.

Although the characters are fairly unimpressive and poorly developed, Rowling manages to effectively add critical undertones directed toward media outlets and the fetishized celebrity culture, especially in England. Above all, the conflict between Strike, the police, Landry’s family and Landry’s friends ensures that the paparazzi and the sensationalized media coverage of celebrities are two common enemies of all characters. Rowling succeeds in this aspect of adding depth to her story, which is far more successful than her failed attempt to subtly weave the characters’ personal lives into the fabric of the main story.

Although the plot was somewhat of a letdown, Rowling’s writing is a pleasure to read. Like the Harry Potter series, The Cuckoo’s Calling is written in a clear and straightforward fashion, featuring a fun and creative diction that no other writer has managed to adequately reproduce. Even through the more unnecessarily emotional sections of Calling, Rowling’s extensive and creative vocabulary contributes to the general readability and levity of the book. It’s easy to tell that Rowling gets caught up in the musical descriptions of each awkward situation, the visualized image of every character and the life-like portrayal of each room where a scene occurs.

Rowling has announced that she will continue to write Cormoran Strike novels under the Galbraith name — and I am greatly looking forward to the next one. Although she is clearly out of her element,The Cuckoo’s Calling demonstrates that her Galbraith experiment has great potential to help her bridge the gap into the world of adult fiction. I am confident that the next book will build on what she has started and that the Strike novels will help her accomplish her literary goals.

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