If you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years1, you’re probably wondering who the hell Robert Galbraith is and how J.K. Rowling has anything to do with him. Newsflash, people: J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith are the same person.
Jo2 pitched The Cuckoo’s Calling to a number of publishers under the assumed name of Robert Galbraith, hoping to get a bid based on the quality of the writing and not the name attached to it. I can’t blame her; when you get that famous, scads of people are going to go out and buy your book regardless of whether it’s any good, and they’re going to write glowing things about it on the internet even if it’s not as good as your previous work because they’re already so attached to everything else you’ve done.3 So yeah, if I were J.K. Rowling, I’d relish the opportunity to be a “first-time author” in a different genre.
The Cuckoo’s Calling sold modestly; some articles cite approximately 1,500 copies sold, but I’m not sure how that breaks down (hardcover, paperback, ebook; US or UK edition; etc.). I could find out if I had access to Nielsen BookScan, but alas, I don’t work in the sales department at the MIT Press. The book received good reviews and the publicity department got some good blurbs for the cover and front pages, but it wasn’t making J.K. Rowling kinda sales, y’know what I’m sayin’? It can be hard to make a name for yourself in genre fiction, though, so that’s understandable. People started to suspect it could be her since she and Galbraith shared the same agent and editor, but it wasn’t officially confirmed until July 2013, when it was revealed that a partner at the law firm representing Rowling told his wife’s best friend about the Galbraith-Rowling connection, and said best friend subsequently leaked it on Twitter. Aside from the fact that a lawyer should never share confidential information, this fellow, Christopher Gossage, apparently also forgot that J.K. Rowling is litigious as hell. Unsurprisingly, she took Gossage and the family friend, Judith Callegari, to court, and won a £1,000 settlement, which she subsequently donated to charity (along with other court fees levied against the lawyer, and a “substantial” donation requested from the law firm) because she’s a classy lady.4
There was some ugly talk that the whole incident was staged for publicity, which Rowling and Little, Brown categorically denied. Think about it logically, though: this is J.K. Rowling we’re talking about. She needs extra publicity like I need a hole in the head. She wrote four tiny short stories for Pottermore about magic in North America and the Internet lost its damn mind.5 There’s a three-film series coming out based on a 128-page book she wrote for charity, because she accidentally wrote a screenplay that would work for it. Not to mention that there’s a two-part play coming out about the post-Voldemort years, centering on Harry’s son, Albus.6 Girlfriend’s got more publicity than any human could possibly handle; can’t you imagine how she might like to write something where she isn’t under any pressure to deliver like she is with anything Potter-related?
Regardless, there are now three Cormoran Strike books (and a fourth in the works, thank goodness7). Oxford dropout Cormoran Strike is ex-army, a former Special Investigative Branch officer who lost the lower half of his right leg when a convoy he was traveling in during a tour of duty in Afghanistan exploded around him and his companions. He is subsequently invalided out of the army and upon his recovery and return to civilian life starts a private detective agency. His personal life is pretty much a shambles: aside from the whole amputee business, he’s the illegitimate child of a rockstar and a groupie, he’s been in an on-again, off-again relationship for sixteen years, and he’s in a significant amount of debt. His only saving grace is that he’s damn good at his job. This is the Strike we’re introduced to at the start of The Cuckoo’s Calling.
The other key character of the series is Robin Ellacott, a 26-year-old native of Yorkshire who moves to London after her fiancé, Matthew, is offered a position at an accountancy firm there. She works as a temp in between interviews for real jobs and ends up being assigned as a temporary secretary in Strike’s office because he forgot to terminate his contract with the temp agency. As it turns out, Robin has nurtured a secret desire to work as a detective since she was a child, until her university career was cut short by unfortunate circumstances.8 For Robin, being placed with a P.I. seems like a sign that she might not have to give up her dreams after all… but Strike can’t afford to keep her on at the outset, and Matthew doesn’t like the nature of her work or the pittance it pays, which causes strain at home.
What I love most about this series is that Jo is so wonderful at writing characters you can empathize with. There’s lots of layers to them, so it’s easy to identify with certain aspects of the character. Anyone who’s had trouble with money or weird family issues, or struggled with a relationship or body image could see a little bit of themselves in Strike. And anyone who’s felt stifled at work (or alternately so glad to be doing something they love for a living), or has had to deal with infidelity, or assault, or being a woman doing what is often seen as a man’s job probably knows what it’s like to be in Robin’s shoes. These fully realized characters of Jo’s are what made so many people fall in love with Harry Potter, and the characters in the Strike novels are just as lovable and relatable.
I’m going to make a list of other things I like and questions I want answered because my mind is all disorganized and I don’t want to spoil the plots, because mystery novels are slightly less fun when you know whodunit.9
- I wonder if we’ll ever see Charlotte (Strike’s ex) again. I’d love to get a clearer picture of her character; we mostly get snippets from Strike’s recollection and a single phone conversation with Robin.
- I definitely want more of Strike’s friends to make appearances (Nick and Ilsa, Dave Polworth, even Anstis if he gets over himself after the events of The Silkworm)! Finding out bits of Cormoran’s past through his friends is really enjoyable. He’s a complex creature, our Corm.
- I’d really like Robin to leave her SOB fiancé but as of Career of Evil I don’t see that happening.
- I’m dying to find out the theme of the next book’s epigraphs. In Cuckoo it was classic poetry, lots of epics and Greeks and all that. In The Silkworm it was Jacobean poetry and drama. Career of Evil was really fun because they were all lyrics from Blue Öyster Cult songs.
- Are we ever going to find out who killed Strike’s mother? Or did she really die of an overdose?
- I’d honestly love to see Strike and his nephew Jack actually connect, because Jack’s hero worship and Corm’s inability to talk to children is inherently hilarious but also kinda sad.
- I’d like to see Cormoran in his element on a trip home to Cornwall to see his aunt and uncle.10
- I’m dying for Robin to lead an investigation. I know she will someday because she’s super capable but man, I just love her and I want her to do great things.
- I wonder if Robin will start taking night classes and finish up her psychology degree. That might be really helpful for them in the long run.
- They’re going to need to take on another secretary so that Robin can work full-time as an investigator; I wonder what that relationship will be like.
- I want Cormoran and Matthew to get in a knock-down drag-out fistfight and yet I really, really don’t.
- Similarly, a tiny shameful part of me wants Robin and Cormoran to get together, but I feel like that would totally ruin their relationship and thus the whole series. Also, it would prove Matthew right and I hate that little shit.
- More Shanker! His devotion to Strike is sweet if a bit violent. And his interactions with Robin are hilarious.
- Carver gets sacked from the Met! And Vanessa plays a larger role!
- I wonder if Cormoran and Robin will ever have to travel outside of the UK on a case. That could be cool.
- WHEN’S THE DAMNED BBC/HBO TV SERIES COMING OUT??? I honestly check the news every week and nothing new has been written about it since November 2015, and the BBC announced that the series had been picked up in December 2014. All I ask is that Strike isn’t some Hollywood hottie like Tom Hardy and that Robin has proper strawberry blonde hair. And that they can act worth a damn. THAT’S ALL I WANT.
This list is getting a bit long and I need to be off to bed, but I wanted to put down at least a few of my thoughts about this series so I can launch straight into it once Strike #4 comes out. In the meantime, if you haven’t read the series, DO IT ALREADY!!!
- And apparently a lot of people are, because the number of people I’ve spoken to recently who had no idea that J.K. Rowling had written three mystery novels under a pseudonym is staggering
- I’m gonna call her Jo because I’m a longtime Harry Potter fan and that’s how everyone talks about her, like we’re all close friends. Let me sit here and pretend that I’m friends with J.K. Rowling, okay? It’s a Monday, I need this.
- This basically explains my behavior over the past seven years as a die-hard Muse fan. No more concept albums, Matt Bellamy!!! But if you write another one I’ll buy it anyway, because as Britney Spears put it so perfectly, I’m a Slave 4 U.
- Even better, she donated it—along with three years’ worth of royalties from The Cuckoo’s Calling—to The Soldiers’ Charity because they helped her with research for the Strike series.
- Mostly for very good reasons. There’s some ignorant nonsense in there about Native Americans and magic that set people off, and a lot of Americans were irritated at her lack of research into American History in general. We did learn about why Americans Muggles (or No-Majs) are more frightened of magic, but it sucked that a woman was to blame for it. It wasn’t what anyone expected from Jo.
- I’m going to see it next March on my very! first! trip to London and I’m so goddamn excited. I have an enormous Word doc on my computer detailing all of the things I want to do while I’m there for ten glorious days. I CANNOT WAIT.
- And she says she’s got material for, like, six more, at least. I was the happiest person alive to read that .
- SPOILER: She was raped while at university, and had to drop out because she was suffering from anxiety, depression, and serious agoraphobia. I haven’t experienced much beyond your garden-variety sexual harassment, so I can’t speak on this as an authority, but I really liked how JKR handled Robin’s backstory. I don’t feel like it was just a plot point; it doesn’t even come up until the third book, and Robin only mentions it because she was trying to explain why her fiancé’s infidelity was such a betrayal—because it had happened while she was recovering. But I feel that she’s a wonderful example of a survivor in modern literature. She finds strength in the fact that she was able to put her attacker behind bars with the evidence she gave, and takes self-defense and advanced driving courses to get herself out of the house, skills which come in handy in the books. “It was twenty minutes of my life,” she says in Career of Evil (p. 147). “It was something that happened to me. It isn’t me. It doesn’t define me.” Her biggest worry, really, is that Strike will think she’s not tough enough to do the work that he does. Strike is a worrier where she’s concerned, though, partly because he’s fond of her and partly because he knows Matthew will kill him if anything happens to her.
- Although the strength of the characters and the descriptions of London make these books well worth rereading.
- I have an unbearable fondness for Strike’s warm and fuzzy side. It’s why I like his serious conversations with Robin so much.