The Mysterious J.K. Rowling

cuckooscalling_usAs you’ve no doubt heard, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has written a new book. No, I’m not talking about last year’s The Casual Vacancyit was recently revealed that mystery novel The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith was actually written by Rowling herself, using a pen name. Soon after the news broke, demand for the book soared: on Friday there were no holds on the book, but on Monday there were 400, then 500, and now there are over 800. (Don’t worry – we’re ordering more copies! And you can read an excerpt here.)

Why might Rowling publish under a pseudonym? Her explanation was “to publish without hype or expectation” and “get feedback under a different name.”

What is The Cuckoo’s Calling about? Here’s the jacket copy in full:

Cuckoos-Calling_uk“After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office. Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, thelegendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.”

Reviews of the book were good even before it was discovered that Galbraith was really Rowling. Here are a few excerpts:

“[The Cuckoo’s Calling] is instantly absorbing, featuring a detective facing crumbling circumstances with resolve instead of cliched self-destruction and a lovable sidekick with contagious enthusiasm for detection. Galbraith nimbly sidesteps celebrity superficiality, instead exploring the ugly truths in Lula’s six degrees of separation.” –Booklist

“Laden with plenty of twists and distractions, [The Cuckoo’s Calling] ensures that readers will be puzzled and totally engrossed for quite a spell. Galbraith’s take on contemporary celebrity obsession makes for a grand beach read.” –Library Journal

“In a rare feat, the pseudonymous Galbraith combines a complex and compelling sleuth and an equally well-formed and unlikely assistant with a baffling crime in his stellar debut.” –Publishers Weekly

Rowling even created a backstory for the fictional Robert Galbraith: “After several years with the Royal Military Police, Robert Galbraith was attached to the SIB (Special Investigative 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 Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who returned to the civilian world. ‘Robert Galbraith’ is a pseudonym.”

Interestingly enough, back in August 2007, author and Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings called the Harry Potter books classic mysteries, not just fantasy books. He wrote, “Structurally, these aren’t fantasy novels at all. They’re fair-play mysteries in wizard’s clothing–novels with not just plots and characters and setpieces, but “solutions” as well. J. K. Rowling is justly praised for her elaborate and meticulous world-building, but I’m convinced that a lot of that endless detail is just there for standard detective-novel purposes: to distract, to confound, to envelop the real “clues” in a Cloak of Invisibility.”

Jennings made a good argument for this position, and concluded by predicting, “I bet Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter book–talk about a hard act to follow–will be a classic mystery of some kind. I don’t know if it’ll be a hard-boiled gumshoe case, a true-crime police procedural, a classic manor-house throwback, or what, but it’ll be a mystery novel. She’s been writing them all along, after all. It’s just that no one’s noticed.” If you overlook The Casual Vacancy (which you shouldn’t – it’s a great book!), Jennings’ prediction was spot-on.

harrypotterWhile we’re on the topic of Rowling, here’s another interesting piece from an adult reader who avoided Harry Potter growing up, but then read it all at once – someone who lived through the phenomenon without participating in it, then dived in after all seven books had been published. How is that reading experience different? He writes, “Like Harry entering the wizarding world, I was surrounded by those who already seemed to know everything that was new to me…. Just as Harry was alone on Privet Drive each summer, I had no one to share my thoughts.” Read the rest of this fascinating article here. If you, too, are one of the holdouts, maybe it will inspire you to pick up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and start at the beginning…



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