AYINDE J. STEVENS
Student Voice Editor
By now we all know the story about how J.K. Rowling managed to pull herself out of what she considered rock-bottom to become one of the wealthiest women in the world – all with the idea of a skinny kid who has magical powers.
Rowling has continued her success with her new novel, “The Cuckoo’s Calling.”
The novel, which takes place in contemporary London, has Detective Cormoran Strike looking into the suicide of Lula “Cuckoo” Landry, a supermodel whose death even had, hypothetically, the BBC talking about it. Landry’s adoptive brother, John, asks Strike to take up the case, utterly convinced it was murder.
Strike, who knew the Landrys briefly through John’s long-deceased brother Charlie, seems reluctant to take the case.
He is, however, enticed into this “locked-room mystery” because he is up to his neck in bills and is reduced to living in his own office after his fiancée kicked him out. In short, he needs the money.
There is a lot people don’t know about Strike, such as he is missing half a leg and he is the illegitimate son of an acclaimed British rocker. Still, he has an exceptional knack for looking at details and piecing seemingly incompatible pieces to the puzzle that lead him to the killer, by way of an intoxicatingly glittering world of fame, fashion, paparazzi, sex, power and drugs that populates the dark side of the current celebrity culture; a world that Strike chose to avoid due to his complicated past.
While investigating, Strike discovers that, like himself, Cuckoo is more intelligent than she lets on and her circle of friends all have motives and perceptions about her death, while they prove that they were the better friend than the others.
Aiding Strike in this seemingly wild goose chase is Robin Ellacott, a temporary assistant who jumps at the chance to help Strike. Ellacott proves to be just as resourceful and persistent and her discretion proves to be the biggest asset that makes her more than being another Miss Lemon to Strike’s Poirot.
What makes the novel interesting is its simplicity, Rowling takes the more classic route for her debut detective novel. While eschewing the more high-tech and suspenseful mystery novels of today, she uses the simple detective story as pointed critique of the celebrity culture, especially in regards to the paparazzi, which gets a fair yet at times whining thrashing by some of celebrities in the book.
I also found it interesting that Cuckoo, who has a white mother and black father, seemed to be the tragic nexus of everyone wanting a piece of her which made me more sympathetic to her and not to the rest of her lot as I discovered who she was to them.
It should also be noted that Rowling has managed to do a thorough job of creating complex and intricate backgrounds for both Cuckoo, who was dead before the first word was read, and Strike, who is still a mystery despite the expansive back story Rowling lays out in the book.
While I will caution you that the climax will come at you from well beyond the stands of left field, the explanation gives true meaning to the phrase ‘I didn’t see that one coming.’
This might have been due to Rowling creating the mystery. She created a very long trail for the reader to follow, which made the explanation both a tad shocking and at the same time disappointing.
In some ways it makes sense that Rowling wrote a mystery novel because if you really think about it, the “Harry Potter” books were mysteries in their own right.
After all, that’s what kept readers up all those nights trying to keep up with Harry, Ron and Hermione, figuring out who was the Half-Blood Prince, what the sorcerer’s stone does, and who opened the chamber of secrets both times.
Her creation “Harry Potter” has become a massive brand worth $15 billion, all of which comes from the books, films, a theme park and studio tour and tons of merchandise sales.
We know that Rowling is one of those celebrities who is fiercely private and has fought to keep herself from the prying eyes of the press while trying to prove to the rest of us that she isn’t done writing just yet.
I observed during the hype and subsequent reviews for Rowling’s first post-Potter book, “The Casual Vacancy,” that she was a bit annoyed about the hype.
So, after being prematurely outed as the identity of Robert Galbraith in July, Rowling admitted to writing the book because it felt liberating to do something without the hype attached.
In a way she was going back to the basics with this novel.
And while it’s not the “Harry Potter” series, Rowling seems poised to create more novels featuring Strike and Ellacott with the next book in the series due to be released next year. She might just have the magic to revive the old detective genre.