JK Rowing’s secret life



It’s just come to light that a well-reviewed crime writer, Robert Galbraith, is actually JK Rowling, writing without the full glare of expectation and scrutiny – and doing rather well.  (Doing rather well for a first time crime novelist is somewhere in the region of 500 hardback sales so far.  It’s hard to assess how the paperback sales would have held up – given that the hardback has shot up more than 500,000% on the Amazon chart..)

THE CUCKOO’S CALLING was published as a hardback back in April as a crime debut.  Which brings up some interesting ethical questions.  It was absolutely a crime debut, but it certainly wasn’t a first novel by the author in question.  The glowing reviews mention how impressed they were with such a stunning debut.  Are we kinder to novelists when they’re starting out?  She’s chosen a male pseudonym, is gender still a factor when you choose to read an author?

Putting that to one side, I am absolutely delighted to hear that JK Rowling is writing crime.  My overwhelming feeling after reading THE CASUAL VACANCY was that crime would be a terrific genre for her – so I downloaded the e-book this morning to have a quick read.

A perfect blend of a strong whodunit and a Private Eye with a complicated past.

The author’s sharp eye catches the celebrity world without pity, but manages to make the characters who are inhabiting it more well-rounded that you would expect.  As the illegitimate son of a rock star, Strike can get a day pass in, despite his complete estrangement from his father.

Strike is the typical struggling private detective, on the verge of bankruptcy when a rich client walks through the door in the nick of time.  This client arrives just as his temp secretary, Robin, starts to take charge of his dilapidated office.

Robin has recently got engaged and moved to London and is looking for a job in HR, but has a secret yearning to become a private detective.  She gets caught up in the case trying to prove that glamourous model Lula didn’t commit suicide.

The client, John, is Lulu’s lawyer brother, and sought out Strike because he used to be friends with his brother – who died in an accident as a child.

According to the publishers, this is the first of a series, which means there are more Strike novels to look forward to.  I’ve read this in the full knowledge that JK Rowling is the author – unlike those who bought the first 500 hardback copies – and unlike the reviewers who gave it such glowing reviews.

Apparently Rowling was unmasked because it was so much better than a debut novel.  I’m not sure it’s fair to complain that this was coming out under false pretences.  No, it’s not her first novel, but it is her first crime novel, and writing in a new genre does feel like starting again.

I’m indulging in a very pleasurable spot of ‘I told you so’s today – as I have always felt that Rowling’s style would lend itself well to crime – and it really has.  In a lot of ways she’s all about the plot, the strands, the rooms, the motivations and locations – but the flaws I found in THE CASUAL VACANCY just didn’t appear here.   In her first official adult novel, her characters were thin, and seemed to be include to provide a political point, or to show Rowling’s full understanding of the human condition. In CUCKOO’S CALLING – the only character who remained sketchy was Lula  – and that’s only to be expected of a character who dies on the first page.

There will be a lot of reviews over the next few days, and it is very hard to write about a novel when the author’s position holds such prominence, but I hope the readers will try and enjoy the book on the level it was published – a good ‘debut’ crime novel.

Have you read it?  What do you think?

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July 14, 2013

One response to JK Rowing’s secret life

  1. Sandra Danby said:

    When I first read the headline I was thrilled that she’d written under a pen-name. But I must admit to being disappointed then to read that Robert Galbraith has the same agent and editor as JK. I had hoped she’d submitted anonymously too, as an unknown writer without publishing contacts. Ah well.