Everyone was aware that Robert Galbraith was a pen name for JK Rowling, which we found more off-putting than encouraging, as we weren’t sure how a children’s writer would tackle an adult book. But we needn’t have worried. Many of the group had read the Harry Potter books and felt that, although there are similarities in the writing, (for example the strong character description) this book was quite different in style and content.
We thought that the characters were very well drawn and really liked the relationship between Strike and Robin. Matthew was seen as a bit of a wimp, a boring person who was very different to Strike, with his military background. We thought that Matthew was jealous of Strike and felt threatened by him, although he would never admit it. Robin was originally very happy to be newly engaged and the centre of attention, but that slips away later in the book. Matthew has very definite ideas of what a relationship should be, and Robin is originally happy to fit into this. But working for Strike, and enjoying doing something that she has always been interested in, she begins to fell constrained by Matthew’s rather old-fashioned views. We liked Robin and thought that she should definitely go for what would make her happy, but we did also discuss how she would feel if things were the other way round and Matthew had suddenly started a job he loved with a woman boss that he greatly admired – that helped us to better appreciate his point of view!
We thought the plot was intricate, but that the clues were there to be found amongst the red herrings, so the finale made sense. The facts and motivations behind the murder are summarised towards the end of the book and some people found this useful (as an aide-memoire) while others thought it a little contrived, a bit like the TV programme “Death in Paradise”.
We discussed what impact the fact that Strike is an amputee had on our feeling towards the character, and we decided that it leant him an air of vulnerability but that although we did feel sorry for him we also respected him more for his determination not to let his injury define him.
Fame is a recurrent theme in the novel. Strike is the son of a famous rock star but chooses not to capitalise on his father’s name. However, it is clear that fame opens doors and other characters are much more susceptible to its allure. We wondered if the characters are based on real people – for example, we felt that Evan Duffield was like Pete Doherty, and his need for the attention that fame brings was very obvious. There are references to social injustice in the book and we thought that reflected the two halves of JK Rowling’s own life – the difficult years when she was trying to make it as a writer, and the sudden change to being in a position where everybody knows who she is and wants to be her friend.
Some of the group had lived in London and said that the descriptions of the city were very accurate. Also, the cover was very atmospheric and gave a sense of place. The things that we didn’t like were minor. We wondered why the book was called the Cuckoo’s Calling, when the only person that called Lula Cuckoo was Guy. This felt forced, as if it had only been written that way to justify the book title. Also the use of the Latin aphorisms at the beginning of the chapters was felt by some to be rather pretentious.
Overall we thought this was a well-written book, with well-described characters who drove the plot, and written in an “old-school” detective style. We gave the book 8.5 out of 10, with 8 being the lowest score.