J.K. Rowling's 'The Cuckoo's Calling': What are reviewers saying now that the secret's out?

Many publications are reviewing 'The Cuckoo's Calling' now that it's public knowledge that the mystery was written by J.K. Rowling. Most reviews are positive but NPR's critic says she's 'read better.'

By , Staff Writer

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    'The Cuckoo's Calling' was billed as written by Robert Galbraith but later discovered to have been penned by J.K. Rowling.
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Few titles make reviewers sit up and pay attention more than a new book by J.K. Rowling.

So when it was revealed that the novel “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” billed as written by Robert Galbraith, was actually by the “Harry Potter” author, some publications that had originally failed to review the book (that is, most of the big players) went back to take a second look at what had originally looked like a low-profile mystery by a debut novelist.

Most of the critics now taking a look at the book are saying that they're impressed.

Recommended: JK Rowling: 15 quotes on her birthday

New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani enjoyed it, calling “Cuckoo” “a highly entertaining book that’s way more fun and way more involving than Ms. Rowling’s sluggish 2012 novel, ‘The Casual Vacancy’” and calling detective Cormoran Strike “an appealing protagonist.”

“In ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ Ms. Rowling – er, Mr. Galbraith – seems to have … studied the detective story genre and turned its assorted conventions into something that, if not exactly original, nonetheless showcases her satiric eye … and her instinctive storytelling talents,” Kakutani wrote.

Entertainment Weekly writer Thom Geier was also favorably impressed, awarding the novel, which he called “cleverly plotted,” a B+, though he said he was less impressed with the character of Cormoran Strike than he was with secretary Robin.

“Rowling is better at developing Robin, a resourceful Yorkshire gal thrilled to be in London and helping a real live PI, and at capturing the colorful celebrity culture,” Geier wrote.

USA Today writer Charles Finch gave the novel three-and-a-half stars out of four for his review.

In the book, “she returns to the strengths that made Harry Potter great – the beautiful sense of pacing, the deep but illusionless love for her characters – without sacrificing the expanded range of 'The Casual Vacancy,'” Finch wrote. “In doing so, she's written one of the books of the year…. 'The Cuckoo's Calling' presses too hard on the theme of fame in the tabloid era – not an unworthy subject, but stale by now and without fresh treatment here. Still, that barely seems to matter when the characters are so full and when Rowling has never written more nuanced, considered prose.”

However, NPR reviewer Maureen Corrigan was not as enthralled, running her review with a headline that read “The only surprise in Rowling’s ‘Cuckoo’s Calling’ is the author.”

Corrigan remembered shipping off her review copy of “Cuckoo” with others she had donated to a library weeks before.

“The library is welcome to my review copy and whatever funds it may raise,” Corrigan wrote after reading “Cuckoo” via her Kindle. “'The Cuckoo's Calling' falls into that vast middlin' range of fiction that I mentally shelve in the "I've read worse, but I've read better" category. I couldn't even find a memorable quote from this novel.” 

Corrigan said she was put off by what she saw as old-fashioned behavior on the part of secretary Robin.

“Throughout much of the story she serves coffee to clients, makes cow eyes at Strike, and tidies up the office loo,” she wrote. “The most intriguing unsolved mystery in 'The Cuckoo's Calling' is why, in this post-Lisbeth Salander age, Rowling would choose to outfit her female lead with such meek and anachronistic feminine behavior.”

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