The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

cuckoo's calling


I’m putting my hands up to this.

I did not like this book.

Yes, I know that Robert Galbraith is J. K. Rowling and the sainted J. K. can do no wrong in the eyes of many… but this did not work for me.

The plot was decent enough: the death of Lula Landry, the eponymous cuckoo, was dismissed by police as a suicide; a private detective, Cormoran Strike, is hired by her brother to prove that her death was, in reality a murder. There were some vivid characters to interview. A crime scene to explore. A dysfunctional family to investigate.

But the writing in the book was not good. It was – dare I say it – a little juvenile? The client, John Bristow, adoptive brother to Lula Landry, was described in the following terms within three pages:

distinctly rabbity in appearance with a short upper lip that failed to conceal large front teeth…this whey-faced leporine man…with his pink eyes, the resemblance to an albino rabbit was heightened.

I don’t need to be told that three times? Does – let’s call the author Galbraith – Galbraith not know that rabbits and hares are different? What was the point in that description being so laboured? Really? And what on earth of the point of the word leporine? It just seems – as a number of other examples I could have used do – as if Galbraith was consciously trying to shoe-horn in as many words as he could that did not sound like a young adult vocabulary. What happened instead was that Galbraith took me out of the novel and made me think about his thesaurus instead.

Equally, the opening pages when Strike nearly knocks Robin, his new temporary secretary, down the stairs and saves her by grabbing hold of her breast – yes, her breast – was very odd. It didn’t seem realistic from a physics point of view; it felt like a cheap titillation; it felt forcedly not-young-adult. And the swearing. In a novel which was primarily juvenile in its language use and forced in its descriptions, the swearing didn’t fit. I’m no prude. I can cope with swearing and with breasts. But in this novel, in this style, they didn’t work for me.

And even worse than that, Galbraith alternates between the points of views of Robin – the temp secretary who becomes permanent at the end of the book – and of Cormoran Strike himself. Now, in and of itself, that’s fine. But it felt very badly handled here. Clumsy. Yes, clumsy is the word that comes to mind a lot as I read the book. Clumsy and clunky.

And borderline offensive. The depiction of Guy Somé, the fashion designer for whom Lula worked, was so stuffed with stereotype and cliché with his

“eyes exopthalmic so that they appeared fishlike, looking out of the sides of his head… He held out a hand with a slight crook of the wrist… looking up into Strike’s face, his voice was camp and faintly Cockney. “Much butcher though.”…”Bring us some tea and bicks, darling.””

I actually came close to stopping reading at this point. But again, consider the clumsiness and self-consciousness of this metaphor: “Strike felt abnormally large and hairy; a woolly mammoth attempting to blend in among capuchin monkeys.”

And, let’s look at Strike: ex-military police, injured in Afghanistan, the product of his mother’s fling with a rockstar and having had a turbulent childhood as a result. Consistently described in terms of his size and clumsiness, gauche, yet sleeping with the super-rich and models. Again, it didn’t work for me.

As I said, the plot was intriguing enough and, without the title of the book, I might not have been able to predict the killer. And that’s probably a good thing in a novel. But the writing and structure – it was bloated and needed a damn good editor – were bad enough that I am not rushing to read the next in the series.

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