A Cuckoo in the Nest

n426684So, yesterday I am having lunch with a friend of mine and raving about a new first novel I’m reading.  I wrote a post sometime ago bemoaning the fact that there were no British crime novels featuring private detectives other than those set between the wars.  Now, here was a book to fill the gap, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith.  A hundred pages in I was completely hooked.  As I said in my previous post, I read a lot of crime fiction and I know a good ‘un when I meet it.  So, it seems to do the reviewers.  That’s how I first picked up on it, because the reviews when it was published back in April were universally excellent.  Having finally persuaded the library to buy a copy, I find that other writers feel the same way about it.  The front cover proclaims Val McDermid’s view that

‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ reminds me why I fell in love with crime fiction in the first place

while Mark Billingham calls Cormoran Strike

One of the most unique and compelling detectives I’ve come across in years.

And, when I finally put the book down last night, now half way through, I was agreeing with them whole-heartedly and hoping that Robert Galbraith was contemplating a very long series.

Well, this morning I would still endorse that view even though I now know that there are two pieces of fiction contained in this book.  The second is on the back fly leaf which tells us that

Robert Galbraith is married with two sons. After several years with the Royal Military Police, he was attached to the SIB (Special Investigation Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for protagonist Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who have returned to the civilian world. ‘Robert Galbraith’ is a pseudonym.

Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym.  Well, you can see why that might be the case.  In his line of work he probably wouldn’t want to be identified. Except that this morning’s Sunday Times has revealed that the writer hidden behind the pseudonym is actually J K Rowling.

Now, this was clever – more than that, this was sensible.  The novel was reviewed on its own merits.  There was no hype, no question of comparison being made, no one was judging the writer, just the book, which is as it should be.  And, I repeat, the book, at least the first half, is excellent.

If I have one quibble about this revelation it is that I could wish they had waited a week so that I could have finished the novel without knowing who the writer really was.  I would have liked to review it here completely cold.  And initially I was worried about the possibility that this would also mean that it was a one off.  However, that concern was removed by the last sentence of the newspaper article.  Apparently the second novel is already with the publishers.

Anyway, that’s my reading for today laid out.  The copy I have is the only one in the Birmingham Library system and by tomorrow morning I would imagine that the reservation list will be running into three figures, so I’d better try and finish it quickly.  I hope the publishers have enough ready to deal with the demand.


21 thoughts on “A Cuckoo in the Nest

  1. The whole thing has been done very sensibly and very cleverly. JKR has as you say been able to publish a novel that is judged on its own merits and now of course several months later – suddenly eveyone is talking about it – and no doubt sales will soar.
    I don’t read very much modern crime fiction – I like the Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers era of crime and Sherlock Holmes, however even I am a bit interested in this novel – although I have resisted buying it so far.

    1. I’ll do a full review when I’ve finished it, Ali, but at the moment my feelings have been that the style is something akin to PD James and that isn’t the worst of praise you could offer!

  2. It’s so impressive that they managed to keep it under wraps for so long. I’ve been amused to see how surprised Val McDermid is this morning on Twitter, clearly this book won its praise and reviews solely on merit alone.

    1. I think she was hoping to keep the secret rather longer. Apparently the second book is already at the publishers. It would have been interesting to see what the crime awards would have made of it had the news not got out.

      1. Ooh yes. I saw that Val McDermid had actually invited Galbreith to the Theakston’s Crime Fiction Festival and been told he was unavailable for the date but I wonder if the initial buzz caused by early readers and reviewers would have grown into real word of mouth recommendations and real impact at awards…

  3. As soon as I saw the news, I started wondering if anyone I knew has read it. I don’t remember hearing much about it before, but now I’m tempted to visit my local mystery bookstore and see what they’re saying. I’m also interested to see how long the library list has gotten overnight!

    1. The UK papers all reviewed it very positively which is why I looked for a copy in the first place. I’m now wondering whether to buy my own copy. I have all the Harry Potters, do I want to start collecting Cormoran Strikes as well?

  4. Interesting – while I never thought it was JKR or indeed anyone else, I have wondered for some time why this book, ostensibly a crime debut, was receiving so much hype. (So I’m guessing some people in the business at least knew the secret.) It’s been everywhere you look, although not many people have been reading it, to go by the number of reviews on Amazon (though that figure has gone up amazingly this morning!). TBH, the blurb you quote put me off reading it – I’ve never really had good experiences from ex-military basing their fiction on their own experiences.

    I’m glad to hear that you were enjoying it before you knew – it’ll now garner so many glowing reviews that it’ll be hard to sort the real ones from the fans.

    1. Believe me, it’s nothing like the normal military novel and I reckon it earned its place in the bookstores on merit. Now that I know it’s Rowling I can pick up some of her idiosyncrasies of grammatical style but otherwise I still think as highly of it as I did yesterday.

  5. I’m looking forward to your review. I don’t expect that the revelation will alter your view of the book as you like JKR’s HP books, but it may have some effect. Have you read The Casual Vacancy? I didn’t fancy it.

    1. No, I didn’t fancy ‘The Casual Vacancy’ either. I suspect she is a writer who is happiest in genre fiction. Philip Pullman would tell us that that is where you find all the real storytellers. What I have found myself doing, now that I know who the author is, is pulling up short every now and again at a grammatical structure that is typical of Rowling’s work. That’s what I did for a living and I believe it’s how The Sunday Times tracked her down, as well.

    1. I suspect the publishers are glad it’s all out in the open. They’ve already rushed out another impression. Sales must have gone through the roof.

  6. It wasn’t clear from the S Times article how this revelation came about. I’ve seen comments about the numerous clues but nothing to indicate how she was revealed. Do you know?

    1. What made them suspicious that she had actually published something, I don’t know but as far as I can gather the first suspicions that it was Galbraith came about because they had the same agent and editor. What I think they then did, and it’s certainly what I would have done, was do a linguistic comparison between The Cuckoo’s Callingand the rest of her output. Basically, you feed all the work you know to be by a writer into a computer programme and then look for comparisons with the unattributed work. You could go for corpus lines, but the method that has been most successful with anonymous Elizabethan plays has been to look for what we call triples; that is idiosyncratic three word combinations that turn up in both the known and the unknown texts. That is very oversimplified but gives you an idea. By the way, Shakespeare did not write Henry VI Pt I and this method proves it.

  7. There is something bothering me about all this – not that JKR has used a pseudonym, but that the author’s bio on the back cover is a fiction. To me that’s a misrepresentation. Maybe I’m being naive but I read the bio as being facts, I don’t expect another fictitious character to emerge. It seems to me that the publishers wanted to give ‘Robert Galbraith’ some authority for ‘his’ writing, whilst also acknowledging that it’s a pseudonym.

    1. Yes, I know exactly what you mean, Margaret. It would have been perfectly possible to write something very general that could have applied to Rowling and a hundred thousand other people as well.

  8. I’m glad you at least got to start the book before all was revealed, but slightly saddened you didn’t get to finish it too.Once you have the knowledge it can’t be undone and nor can you read the book in quite the same way.

    It seems that JKR has the best of both worlds. The book has been judged on its merits and now word is out, sales will soar anyway.

    I agree with Margaret. The detailed bio would make me feel I’d been cheated somehow.

    1. I’ve just finished it, Karen, and I’m sure I’m now judging it in a very different way because I know that it is not by someone who has set out from the onset to be a crime writer. It is very different from most modern crime fiction and rather than seeing it as a really original voice I am trying to follow the lines of development from her other work.

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