It took three months before The Sunday Times and The Guardian shed light on the fact that the quietly published The Cuckoo’s Calling, debut piece by a mysterious author named Robert Galbraith, is – in fact – the first detective fiction novel of the universally acclaimed novelist, J K Rowling. As The Evening Standard reported a few days later (16 July 2013 pp. 20-21) sales of the novel rose by 500% after the authorship had been discovered. Of course, nowadays it would be hard to completely forget that the mask of Galbraith had already been removed, yet there is something in J K Rowling’s writing that helps her monopolise book charts more or less continuously since the beginning of the new millennium. But what is traditional and what is unique in Rowling’s crime fiction?
Considering the plot of The Cuckoo’s Calling, J K Rowling undoubtedly followed the rules of the so-called Golden Age detective fiction, though deliberately modernising the tools a 21st century detective can work with. Her half-legged Afghanistan veteran, Cormoran Strike struggles to maintain his almost non-existing credits as a private investigator after his tempestuous relationship finally came to an end. Shortly following the arrival of the temporarily hired secretary, the inventive and resourceful Robin Ellacott, a man walks into Strike’s office wishing to actually pay for the private eye’s services to investigate who murdered his sister, Lula Landry, even if the police had already closed the case stating that Laundry, the beloved supermodel, committed suicide. Sounds familiar, isn’t it?
The frame of the novel is indeed a classic one: we have a finite number of suspects, including liars, ones with hardly credible alibis, and at least one mysterious man who is just purely entitled to be identified as the murderer, just because currently untraceable. Yet, on the other hand, the duo of Strike and Robin makes up for the boredom a contemporary reader might experience when reading a vintage Christie. Strike acts quickly and thinks logically. Despite his disability, he is surprisingly fast when timing is important, while Robin is far from being experienced enough to act on the spur of the moment if that would be necessary. Yet, much to Strike’s surprise, the temporal agent proves to be a magic box of resources when it is about finding information online or screening people.
Next time we are going to examine the tradition of Rowling’s strong female characters and argue that Robin Ellacott is indeed one of them, as well as elaborate on the future of Rowling’s crime stories based on some cryptic but authentic sources while seeking reasons for the continuous popularity of the Golden Age detective fiction.