It had to happen eventually: I have ventured into the many-worded world of the writer known as JK Rowling. I say “known as” because, fortuitously for the maintenance of her ever-growing wealth, she was revealed (with PR precision timing) as labouring also under the name of Robert Galbraith.
It is through her use of this pseudonym, to denote authorship of two voluminous but non Harry Potter works, that I have been making her acquaintance. Specifically in my favourite genre of crime fiction and her book titled Cuckoo’s Calling.
As a crime novel, it sort of works. True to form, the solver of the crime is dysfunctional in career and private life. He does, of course, have a brittle relationship with women and, just as inevitably, is fighting the demon drink. To provide further traditional sauce to an already rich pudding, Rowling arranges for him to lose a leg while serving in Afghanistan and be labelled wherever he goes as the illegitimate son of an infamous Jagger-like rock musician. But, as the man in the advert says, there’s more. The rich confection is topped off by naming him Cormoran Strike – a moniker right out of Hogwarts School.
The crime that this pastiche of private eyes has to solve is reasonably mundane. A bright young socialite/model/popstar plunges unseen to her death from her Mayfair apartment. Did she jump or was she pushed? Around this situation – deemed suicide by the police – Rowling weaves a satisfying web of suspects, intrigues, alliances and even dalliances.
But, at the end, the reader is left with one question still unanswered: would this somewhat over-long and book of “clever” writing have received the sales and attention had not JK Rowling been unmasked so precisely at launch time as its author?
The pantheon of crime writing – the fastest growing fiction genre – is replete with innumerable writers whose work matches and frequently outstrips Cuckoo’s Calling. So much of it is given over to incidents and chapters where one can visualise Rowling sitting at her desk muttering “look at me, look at me” as yet another set piece, that adds little to the tale, tumbles forth.
It is like reading a series of assignments submitted by the cleverest pupil in the creative writing class. The wordplay is frequently entertaining, there is Smart Alec humour in many of Strike’s ripostes. Descriptions are thesaurus-rich. But after a while it’s all a bit like watching a street entertainer adding another ball to those he is already juggling. One more? OK. Can do. Another? Of course.
Fascinating or amazeballs, as modern parlance goes. A fun way to spend an idle moment before moving on. There are, after all, so many others able and willing to enthral, mystify and entertain us.
Contrary to what the PR machine maintains, JK is not the only one – not by a long way. But at least she gets people reading; and that’s no bad thing.