The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – review

Cuckoo's Calling, with alternative cover art.
Cuckoo’s Calling, with alternative cover art.

John Kenneth (JK) Galbraith was a Canadian and American economist, public official, and diplomat, and a leading proponent of 20th-century American liberalism.

JK Rowling is the well-known author of children’s fiction.

Ro(bert) Galbraith is the pseudonym chosen by Rowling to publish a series of pleasingly old-fashioned detective novels. This is the first.

At first, I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. Descriptions of the familiar wreckage of the Crossrail building works at the end of Tottenham Court Road? An office in Tin Pan Alley (Denmark Street)? An unwanted temporary secretary who turns out to be frighteningly competent? A down-at-heel (down one heel, anyway) detective who mostly handles divorces but finds himself investigating a murder?

Check, check, check. After a while, you just go with it. It’s fun. She’s having fun. He’s down at heel, you say? Correct. He’s so down at heel, he has to wear a prosthetic leg. Boom-tish.

I started reading this on the weekend that Peaches Geldof died. The story concerns a supermodel who has died of an apparent suicide. There’s a feeding frenzy in the press, everyone poring over pictures of her. Phones were hacked. It was quite disconcertingly real, given the familiar London settings.

I’ve never read any Harry Potter. But I like a good detective novel, and what I like about this is that it’s unashamedly in love with the genre. Detectives are unlucky in love, hopeless at relationships, damaged, but still better than the sweaty doughnut munchers who miss all the clues and don’t investigate properly.

I’m not going to blast this for being clichéd, because it’s too much fun. And what Galbraith/Rowling has obviously spotted is that nobody does this kind of thing anymore. A good old-fashioned yarn, featuring a detective with an office, and a secretary, a pile of pot noodles, and a camp bed in the corner.

This is the antidote to the fashion for the doom-laden grimness of Scandi-noir. Very enjoyable.

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