Book review: The Cuckoo's Calling, By Robert Galbraith (AKA JK Rowling)

Whodunit? Now we all know, but enjoy the intrigue on its own terms

It's probably best, for the moment, to forget Robert Galbraith's real identity; this is a very good book in its own right.

Get money off this title at the Independent's book shop

If it was turned down by other publishers who had no idea of who the author was, that is as much a criticism of the constraints under which modern editors work as of the book itself. It is a classic detective story which takes its time to get where it is going because its detective is a systematic investigator doing due diligence. The mapping of one witness's story over the next, the search for inconsistencies and alternative explanations, makes for a leisurely read and a lot of pages – but there is almost nothing here that can be described as redundant.

Cormoran Strike, one-legged bastard of a rock star, military policeman turned private eye, is not doing very well in his new career. He has finally broken up with his long-term, on-off, lover and is sleeping on a camp bed in his office; he thinks much of this is other than obvious to Robin, his new temp.

Hired by her brother John to investigate the apparent suicide of supermodel Lula, Strike almost doesn't take what looks like an open-and-shut case; the woman was troubled, had a bad relationship, was alone when she fell from a balcony into the street. One of the serious strengths of this book is that it does not insult the intelligence of the police who, it gradually turns out, got things wrong – this is a book, amusingly in the circumstances, about how we see what we think we are going to see.

It is a book about looking and listening – “The dead could only speak through the mouths of those left behind and through the signs they left”. Cormoran, and Robin as she becomes invested in his work, spend time in Lula's world – rappers, actors, designers and lawyers. Cormoran, who has only met his famous father twice, finds himself moving in a world where he feels like a fish out of water, but is thought of by its denizens as belonging. There are some touches here of very sardonic social comedy, interestingly reminiscent of Margery Allingham's classic The Fashion in Shrouds. Allingham's snobbery, though, is mostly missing – not entirely, since Lula's working-class birth mother is something of a Daily Mail caricature.

There is an intelligent ear here – the speech rhythms are caught convincingly enough that we don't need the occasional descent into phonetic spelling. Galbraith is generous in sometimes surprising ways; Lula's obnoxious, vaguely abusive boyfriend turns out to be a more complex character than we and Cormoran at first assume.

It's also a book about using loss to develop emotional intelligence, and about friendship. Cormoran learns to care whether Lula killed herself, from her friends, and at the same time builds a relationship of trust with his new temp. Cormoran has been damaged by a romantic obsession and his inability to save his drug-addicted mother; Robin, who has a fiancé already and is fascinated by his work, is the equal female friend he precisely needs. If, as a result of the revelation that Galbraith is JK Rowling, this is the first of a series, that is good news.

Roz Kaveney's books include Superheroes! Capes and crusaders in comics and films (IB Tauris)

The Cuckoo's Calling By Robert Galbraith Sphere, £16.99. Order at a discount from the Independent's book shop

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on