Book #53: The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013)

9780751549256author: Robert Galbraith—oh who am I kidding, J.K. Rowling!
language: English with quotes in Latin
length: 955 minutes (15 hours 55 minutes)
finished listening on: 23 Mar 2014

This was Rowling’s “secret” novel, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The story is now fairly famous, so I won’t recount it fully here – suffice to say, I heard about it after the news broke last year, and I decided to go for it, as it was being promoted on Audible.

Immediately it was a much more engrossing listen than two other books I’d been trying to listen to before that – both of those came from the Humble Audiobook Bundle and both were terrible teenage fantasies and Twilight clones, which almost put me off the other Audiobook Bundle books. But I’m not here to talk about those. In contrast to the other two that I could barely listen to for half an hour at a time, I listened to the first two hours of The Cuckoo’s Calling continuously. There’s something about Rowling’s writing style that is addictive – maybe it’s that her sentences flow very well, and build up a coherent narrative gradually.

The story here is about two main characters, Robin, a temp secretary, and Strike, a private detective, working in London. They get the job of a lifetime when they’re asked to reinvestigate the death of a famous model called Lula Landry, who’d fallen off a balcony months before and whose story had been all over the news in Britain, presumed to be suicide, but her brother is insisting that she was actually killed. The rest of the novel mainly involves dialogue, between the two main characters and every person Landry had come into contact with in the days leading up to her death. I was a little surprised at how much the conversations didn’t feel like they were repeating themselves, even though they ostensibly were, because each character has something wildly different to say about their encounters. Like all the best murder mysteries, the reader is kept in titillating suspense right until the last moment when the killer is revealed.

Like all the best audiobooks, the narration plays a huge part in how the book comes across. In this case, the narration is very high quality, and each character is given a distinctive voice by the talented narrator – helped in part by Rowling giving them all different accents, which at times feels like we’re doing a tour of the world of English accents (for instance, Strike is Cornish and Robin is from Yorkshire, while many of the other characters have varying London accents). This does help a lot in making the otherwise-similar conversations feel more distinct even than I think they would in print. The narrator is also skilled at portraying emotions, which can be make-or-break for an audiobook.

The characters are definitely the best aspect of the book in general – even small characters are fleshed out to an extent, and the main characters all have their life stories fleshed out fully, even where this is not strictly relevant to the plot. Strike’s family life is discussed at length, in a secondary plot which never truly becomes entwined with the main murder mystery plot but helps to emotionally develop the character fully.

On the flipside, the fact that there so many characters becomes confusing, especially when characters are mentioned again in passing after a long time – and as is the curse of audiobooks, I can’t just flip back to remind myself who they were talking about. The other point here is that because Strike’s and Landry’s family lives have quite striking comparisons, and likewise contrasts, to be made, it became at times difficult to remember whose family was whose.

I enjoyed listening to this book a lot. I’m now eagerly anticipating the next one, if this turns out to be a series. I’d also be interested in finding out for sure what Rowling will be writing next – I heard she might be returning to the Harry Potter universe. Well, I can live in hope.

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