If a Cuckoo’s Calling, hang up

51MGP2dlH5L._SL500_AA300_PIaudible,BottomRight,13,73_AA300_Okay, so we all know that The Cuckoo’s Calling (Hachette Audio, 2013, read by Robert Glenister) wasn’t really written by the bogus Robert Galbraith, whose name graces the cover. The book was in fact written by J.K. Rowling, who created the Harry Potter franchise and who, at last count, has sold 32 gazillion books in that series. I happen to be one of the four sentient creatures on Planet Earth who doesn’t get it. I listened to the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and said, “Okay, that’ll do it for me.” I generally don’t like books about the supernatural (if you don’t count science fiction and some of Stephen King’s work). But if I ever again read or listen to a book about people who ride brooms it will be because someone is holding a large caliber weapon to my head and saying something about how it’s the most powerful handgun in all of Christendom and will blow my head clean off, etc. etc. etc.

I also doubt that I’ll be reading any more books about Cormoran Strike (assuming any more are written about him). Strike is the private detective who is involved in efforts to determine whether or not a supermodel named Lula Landry killed herself by jumping out of her apartment window (presumably located on one of the upper floors) or was pushed out. Or thrown out. To accomplish this task Strike interviews people. Lots of people. But wait, let me take a step back for a moment and talk about Mr. Strike. He is a former military cop (as I understand it) who has gone out on his own as a private detective. The back story on him is that he has had something of a chaotic childhood (his father is a famous rock star… need I say more about his upbringing?); he’s just broken up with his longtime girlfriend with whom he’s had a tumultuous relationship; he drinks a bit too much and is currently down on his luck client-wise; he is provisionally “living” in his office, which needs the attention of a perky new secretary named Robin to tidy things up. And also did I mention that she also turns out to be his amateur sleuthing partner? (Holy Namesake, Batman!)

Does any of this sound familiar? If it does, (and it should) it’s because Rowling doesn’t demonstrate much originality in terms of Strike’s character. I truly think that Rowling gave him such a distinctive name (Cormoran? Really?) because there is nothing else that distinguishes him from about 1000 similar characters. Maybe that was Rowling’s intention, but I can’t see why. I also can’t see why anyone would actually care whether Lula Landry jumped or was pushed. Lula is a Celebrity Supermodel; like most of the other celebrities in this novel —  fashionistas, actors, producers and similar dreadful types — she inhabits that rarefied and fickle dimension called Fame, prey to a roiling sea full of paparazzi in darting schools (to mix as many metaphors as possible). Rowling does a fair job of exposing the vacuity, narcissism, petulance and general weirdness of this crowd. For example consider the “marriage” of Lula and her significant other, Evan Duffield. They call it a “commitment ceremony” which I guess is the equivalent of a wedding ritual. They exchange bangles and recite poems to each other and they seem to be taking this all very seriously.

What comes through in the testimony of Lula’s friends is that she has no more personality than a Barbie doll. But don’t we already know that these people are pathologically inane? Self-absorbed to the point of toxicity? Do we learn anything new or different from Rowling?

I have no complaints about Robert Glenister’s reading. He is competent and convincing. Okay, well maybe just a couple of times he sounds like he’s doing a bad imitation of an imitation of Michael Caine.

Maybe he’s doing it on purpose. To add some humor. Because this novel is almost devoid of humor. I realize it is a murder mystery but The Cuckoo’s Calling (by the way, did I mention that I don’t get the title—I know one of the characters calls Lula “Cuckoo,” but I still don’t get it) is dreary even for that genre. Rowling could learn a few things from Nelson DeMille whose concepts are every bit as serious–maybe even more so–as Cuckoo’s, but we still get a chuckle now and then. DeMille may overdo it at times, but a couple of laughs wouldn’t hurt.

I’m trying to think of something to recommend this book but I’m having some difficulty. Oh, hell there isn’t that much good to say about it. Maybe it is a bit of a joke. The Latin quotes that start each chapter would suggest that. Rowling can’t really be serious with those, can she?

The efforts at misdirection are weak – almost amateurish — the dialogue isn’t all that interesting and the story is not all that compelling. Ms. Rowling seems like a very reasonable and authentic person and writer and it’s certainly difficult to argue with her success, but IMHO her wizardry lies elsewhere.

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