The Cuckoo’s Calling is a murder mystery by JK Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Rowling, of course, is most famous for the “Harry Potter” series.
The protagonist in her new book is Cormoran Strike, a London private detective who is a British Army veteran and who can barely afford a secretary. He had lived with a stunning woman, Charlotte, with whom he has had an off and on relationship. But since she threw him out, he has had to live in his office. He lost a leg to a land mine in Afghanistan and wears prosthesis, and he routinely gets death threats in the mail from an unhappy client and is behind in paying off a large debt.
When he asks a temp company for a secretary, Robin comes to work for him. She is a quick study and enjoys helping solve cases.
Cormoran’s life changes when John Bristow, his only client, walks in and asks Cormoran to find out who killed his sister, Lula Landry. She died three months earlier, and the police decided it was a suicide, but Bristow is convinced that she was murdered.
Lula was a famous multiracial model who was adopted into the wealthy Bristow family. The Bristows had two boys, Charlie and John, but Charlie died when he was 9 by falling into a quarry. The family adopted Lula to fill the void.
Lula was discovered by a modeling agency when she was 17. She quickly became internationally known and was worth $10 million when she died. The police think she jumped off her balcony because she was depressed; she had been seen arguing with her boyfriend earlier that night. But a neighbor in the apartment below hers heard Lula arguing with a man before she fell to her death. Also, footage on CCTV (closed circuit TV cameras placed throughout London) show a man walking toward her apartment 20 minutes before the fall and running away shortly afterward.
Cormoran is reluctant to get involved because police had ruled out foul play. Bristow wants Cormoran to take the case because Cormoran had been a classmate of Bristow’s brother, Charlie. Also, he knows that Cormoran was in the special investigative branch in the service and had been honored for valor. Cormoran takes the case - and the sizable money Bristow is able to pay.
Cormoran finds that there are fewer suspects in Lula’s possible murder than there are reasons for her to commit suicide. One suspect is her ex-boyfriend, Evan Duffield, who was a drug addict and with whom she had argued before her fall.
Another possibility is that the unidentified man was an obsessed fan and pushed her over the balcony. She had been taking medication for depression and was harassed by the paparazzi to the point that they were tapping her phone.
What’s more, her adopted mother’s cancer weighed heavily on her. Complicating her life, Lula had reconnected with her birth mother, but realized that relationship would go nowhere. She also had searched for her father.
Cormoran wades through the evidence and finds out who the killer is. It’s sure to surprise even astute amateur detectives.
Cormoran is a likeable character, and I’d enjoy reading other books featuring him and his secretary, Robin, who ends up becoming a permanent employee.
Rowling, by whatever pseudonym, is a gifted writer and storyteller and shows versatility in this crime thriller. The story was a good one, but the book sagged in the middle and seemed about 100 pages longer than was necessary.
Maggie Braun is a teacher at Manhattan High School.