Joanne K. Rowling has a way with words. That’s certain. I think that the prose is my favourite thing about The Cuckoo’s Calling. There are vivid and subtly, darkly humourous descriptions of characters. It’s incredibly evocative and probably the main reason that the book entertained me. I neither found the protagonists nor the plot that exceptional, I was not gripped and dying to know who the killer was! But the writing itself kept me afloat. I did not really expect to come away with that impression, because I cannot remember thinking much about the writing style of Harry Potter. But that was a wholly different creature, of course.
Well, it is a detective’s novel, and every murder method and murder motive has been done a million times over. An author can only sneak originality in by somehow locating truly fresh POVs and characters that avoid resembling the common archetypes — or create a totally cool narrative voice. JKR definitely didn’t care for the former, but opted for the latter. And she totally succeeds in creating a prose that’s full of evocative observations and amusingly cruel descriptions of utterly flawed characters. But it is also true that the main characters make no attempt at being anything but totally familiar archetypes.
One day, there will be a detective with a stable and happy relationship and a supportive family, no traumatic memories or fucked-up personal history. But not today.
Wait. Look what I did there. I used “the F word”. I “dropped the F bomb”. Have you taken a look at the Amazon reviews for The Cuckoo’s Calling? I love reading one-star reviews of things. In the case of this book, there are surprisingly many people who hate that JKR uses “crude” language. Mostly in dialogue, of course, because many of the characters are the sort of people who, let me be frank, don’t give a fuck about not calling people they dislike “cunt“. It’s a book about crime! Murder! Blackmail! Things like that. I will never understand how some people can be fine with reading about characters who do terribly things, but as soon as the same character says “shit”, some line of decency has been crossed forever. Artistic integrity, lost!
I’m not kidding, these reviews are hilarious.
Anyway … where does that leave me? I have a new appreciation for JKR’s prose, but I am secretly hoping that she manages to use this for a more original story the next time around. In whatever genre. I don’t care. As long as it’s aimed at adults and she places no limitations on herself. Cuckoo definitely had JKR unafraid to paint her characters as complicated creatures full of nasty traits. And that was awesome. (Loved the “cat’s anus” line. Have been quoting it at random people. It’s so deliciously mean!)
Oh, I did not actively try to guess the killer, but for the sake of completion: I didn’t see it coming. Liked it, though. Everyone else would have been a let-down.
P.S.: There are a few words that I cannot type very well, where my fingers just jump to the wrong keys, or the right keys in the wrong order. “Cuckoo” is one of these words. It’s been difficult to write this post.