The Cuckoo’s Calling was written by J. K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Rowling created this pseudonym so she could have the freedom to write without expectation and receive honest feedback from editors and critics. She did not want her latest novel to be judged against her past—the Harry Potter series. Her pseudonym is a man who worked in the Special Investigation Branch of the military, which would explain why his photo was not included on the dust jacket or the lack of author appearances.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is about a military veteran, turned private investigator, who is living in his office due to financial and relationship problems. His new temp begins the day he is offered a very lucrative and seemingly impossible task: to discredit the police ruling that a famous model committed suicide and find her murderer.
When reading a Rowling novel, you realize she has moved her book onto the level of literature. When I was younger I could not discern contemporary literature from books; as a result I read a lot of deceased authors. Now that I’ve matured and read a great deal of established literature, it’s easier for me to realize which writing is art. Developed characters; authentic dialogue; character reason and accountability; proper use of punctuation (unless it’s postmodern); an original style; and either a creative plot or a new way of telling an old story are some of the marks of great literature. Rowling delivers all of these and more.
Using her three main characters to explore drastically different lifestyles and public perceptions, Rowling shows us fame, wealth, race, working class, and post war life. The private investigator interviews some wealthy women who used to know the deceased model:
“They were both as pristine and polished as life-size dolls recently removed from their cellophane boxes; rich-girl thin, almost hipless in their tight jeans, with tanned faces that had a waxy sheen especially noticeable on their foreheads, their long, gleaming dark manes with center partings, the ends trimmed with spirit-level exactitude. . . . The unbuttoned neck of her thin silk shirt revealed an expanse of butterscotch skin stretched over her bony sternum, giving an unattractively knobbly effect; yet two full, firm breasts jutted from her narrow ribcage, as though they had been borrowed for the day from a fuller-figured friend.” Galbraith, 142
These wealthy women are minor characters and yet I see them completely. Each character, however minor, in The Cuckoo’s Calling is fully developed, described, and actions explained. The handsome driver, who was always requested by the deceased model, is an actor and enjoys people wondering if he had an affair with his employer. The temp who fights with her fiance, “waited until he had walked away into the sitting room before turning off the tap. There was, she noticed, a fragment of frozen pea caught in the setting of her engagement ring.” (Galbraith, 73) These short sentences are completely unnecessary to the plot or characters and yet they add so much to the development of Robin the temp. When we first meet Robin she is staring at her ring and reinterpreting everything she sees under a new context, that of an engaged woman. Finding the pea in her ring indicates that this beautiful life can be marred when she is not paying attention.
Rowling is a master storyteller and a true artist. Unfortunately she is often judged by her past and her fans do not allow her to move forward into further worlds and characters. While the idea of a pseudonym is somewhat exciting, (you never know who truly wrote that book) it is sad that a woman felt the need to choose a male pseudonym twice. Initially her publishers feared that little boys would not read the Harry Potter series if they knew the author was a woman so they encouraged her to use only her initials. She has become one of the most powerful writers in the world and yet twice she has faked being a man for her art.
Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling) The Cuckoo’s Calling. New York: Muholland Books, 2013.