If you are the kind of person who can memorise the whole of the London Underground map, including the overland intersections, major bus stations and airport connections and then navigate across the capital without ever needing to consult an A-Z, I think you will love ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling.’ If, on the other hand, you are like me and need to check your pocket guide just to remind yourself that there are two stops between Waterloo and Leicester Square, my guess is, you will hate it. My point being, there is only so much information you can hold in your head without it feeling as if you are cramming for an exam; reading Robert Galbraith’s (aka JK Rowling) first detective novel was like plotting an interminable mind map.
The author sets out a deceptively simple story; a famous model falls to her death from the balcony of her flat. The official verdict is suicide, but her brother is unconvinced and hires private detective, Cormoran Strike, to prove the death was murder. You will notice that I have described that scenario in just two lines, but I promise you it is an accurate summary. So how come it takes 549 pages for the crime to be solved? From start to finish, the narrative is a seemingly endless stream of vaguely related ‘facts’ surrounding the suspicious death; pages and pages and pages of them. Phone calls, taxi rides, scenes in shops, flats and nightclubs, drug-taking, adopted children, secret affairs, inheritances and so on. I found it absolutely impossible to remember more than the most basic of details, rendering the reading of the book virtually pointless. By the time I got to page 522, when Strike sums up his evidence and delivers his version of the events surrounding the demise of Lula Landry, I was ready to hurl myself from a tall building.
Cormoran himself is an interesting character, but the rest of the book’s cast is sketchily drawn and two-dimensional. Lula and her boyfriend, Evan Duffield, are pale imitations of Kate Moss and the wayward Pete Doherty, whilst the dying mother, camp fashion designer and money-grabbing lawyer are sadly stereotypical.
This book is the perfect vehicle for show-casing what JK Rowling does best i.e. write really intricate, complicated plots and use 23 words when 4 would probably do. And this time, all without the charm of Albus Dumbledore or the wit of Ron Weasley. If you must tackle ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling‘, I suggest you read up to about page 40 to get the gist. Then skip to page 540 for the conclusion – save yourself 500 pages and instead swot up on the Tube map or the Periodic Table. It will probably be an infinitely more enjoyable use of your time.