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Literature / The Cuckoo's Calling

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The Cuckoo's Calling is a 2013 detective mystery by Robert Galbraith, and the first Cormoran Strike Novel. It was revealed that "Robert Galbraith" was actually J. K. Rowling. Yes, that J. K. Rowling.

The beautiful model Lula Landry jumps from a balcony in a case that temporarily dominated the British Newspapers. Three months later, we meet Cormoran Strike, a Shell-Shocked Veteran turned private eye who is dead broke and suffering through a messy breakup. Robin Ellacott, a new temp, has just arrived at his doorstep when Strike gets a new client: John Bristow, adopted brother of his former childhood friend Charlie and of Lula Landry. John remains unconvinced that a woman with such a bright future ahead of her would take her own life, and, with no one else to turn to, John implores Strike to help him find out what really happened.


The second Cormoran Strike novel, called The Silkworm, was released in 2014, again under the name Robert Galbraith, and the third novel, Career of Evil (yes, named after the song) in 2015. Lethal White followed in 2018 and Troubled Blood in 2020.

Adapted into the first season of the TV series Strike.

This book contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The novel was published in 2013 but is set in April-May 2010, with events from the leadup to the 2010 general election mentioned in passing.
  • Abusive Parents: Guy's father used to beat him for drawing dresses.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: It becomes clear towards the end of the novel that John Bristow is not exactly right in the head. Cormoran offers a few suggestions as to what is wrong with him during The Summation, but recognizes that after all, he's a military man turned private detective, and not a psychologist, and feels that the police will do a better job diagnosing him.
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  • Animal Motifs: Lula Landry with the titular cuckoo — a bird that is abandoned by its parents in another bird's nest, where it will often grow large and strong at the expense of its siblings and even its new caregivers.
  • Anyone Can Die: It's J. K. Rowling, people. Amazingly, she shows surprising restraint by killing off only one major character, Rochelle Onifade, obviously excluding Lula's Plot-Triggering Death.
  • Be as Unhelpful as Possible: Freddie Bestigui, with good reason.
  • Big Fancy House: The Bristows lived in one, which gave young Cormoran the completely baseless impression that they're well-adjusted.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Bristow/Landry family.
  • Big Secret: All the major red herrings have one. Except Duffield, who is just much more of a softie than his drug-addled rocker lifestyle would have you think.
  • Blackmail: Several cases:
    • Tansy is expecting a very substantial divorce settlement from her husband in exchange for not revealing the true location of where she overheard Lula Landry and her killer — as that will cause his domestic abuse to come to light.
    • Rochelle is blackmailing John regarding the existence and whereabouts of Lula's will.
    • John blackmails Tony into giving him an alibi the day Lula died by threatening to out his affair with Ursula May to her husband.
  • Blinding Camera Flash: Strike escorts Ciara into a club through a gauntlet of paparazzi — "Strike's retinas were in sudden, dazzling whiteout." After they make it through the door of the club, Ciara compliments him on his sense of direction.
  • Buy Them Off: Freddie to the many women he's wronged; John to Rochelle.
  • Cain and Abel: John actually kills both of his favoured siblings. Magazines apparently take note.
  • Camp Gay: Guy Somé the clothes designer, who swivels his hips when he walks, wears a tight, spangly t-shirt, and speaks with a camp voice. He does however catch Strike by surprise with the strength of his handshake.
  • Camp Straight: Strike's POV narration considers Evan Duffield, noting that most womanizers are vaguely effiminate, and wondering whether womanizers get that way from spending a lot of time with women or if they do it to get them to let their guard down. Evan is portrayed as rather "camp", wearing tight pants and swiveling his hips almost as much as the Camp Gay Guy Somé does.
  • Cassandra Truth: The main reason that Lula Landry's death was ruled a suicide was because Tansy's statement was deemed by police to be entirely false. Strike's investigations reveal that she was telling the truth about overhearing Lula arguing with a man before she fell — but lied about where she heard it due to her husband's bullying her into silence.
    • Lula Landry's biological mother is convinced that Lula would never have become a supermodel if she inherited her father's ears. Robin and Comoran initially wonder if she really does know who Lula’s father is but when they are looking at a picture of her half-brother, it's noted that his handsomeness is offset by his almost comically large ears.
    • Lula's mother was also telling the truth about her father being a student she was in an actual relationship with, when Strike and Robin had wondered if it might have been a random sexual encounter.
    • Tony Landry correctly deduced that Charlie's death was not an accident, and that John was the one who pushed him. However, the Bristows refused to believe him and cut all contact in the wake of his accusations.
    • Even Freddie, who knew that she was out on the balcony where he'd locked her in her underwear, and not inside, seems surprised to realize that his wife really did overhear the murder.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The personalised hoodies which Guy gifts Deeby Macc, as one of them winds up being the a vital piece of evidence that ties the killer to the crime scene.
    • Strike is receiving weekly death threats from a former client, usually threatening him with a knife. The murderer makes use of this by attempting to kill Strike in this way, hoping that the former client will be blamed for this. And was intentionally tricked into doing so by Strike, in order to further incriminate himself.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: J. K. Rowling's post-Potter career is filled with these. Pretty much every character swears at some point, but probably the biggest culprit of all is Guy Somé.
  • The Confidant: Rochelle Onifade is the only person Lula guarantees will never blab about her to the press. Nonetheless, she's kind of a gold-digging scumbag, and the trope is ultimately subverted when she's shown to indeed be selling Lula's secrets — just not to the press.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: Evan Duffield, before Lula's death is ruled a suicide. A major theme of the book is that public opinion can turn on a dime.
  • Country Matters: As with the Cluster F-Bomb, Jo is also fond of the word "cunt". It should be noted that in the British English in which the book is written, this is much less offensive.
  • Crash into Hello: How Robin meets Strike. He hastily prevents her from plunging head-first into the stairwell... by grabbing her boob. The romantic elements between them never actually rise above subtext, although Strike frequently notices her body.
  • Defective Detective: Strike is a war-wounded amputee with a tempestuous on-and-off relationship, death threats from a former client, and debt up to his eyeballs. Although what sets him apart is that he is surprisingly free of internal strife and self-destructive personality demons. All of his problems are external, not internal.
  • Detective Patsy: A classic example in John Bristow.
  • Deuteragonist: Robin, who becomes Cormoran's Girl Friday and provides invaluable assistance in solving the mystery.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Matthew is presented as one, but as of the end of the novel, he's still with Robin — if unhappy about her career path.
  • Distant Prologue: There's a three-month time gap between the prologue, which features the police at the Lula Landry death scene, and the story proper that starts when both Robin and John Bristow show up at Strike's office within minutes of each other.
  • Drink-Based Characterization: Whether he's interrogating witnesses, setting up information swaps with the police, or simply relaxing, Strike will order a pint of Doom Bar, a Cornish ale that reminds him of home.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Strike gets very drunk at a bar after finding out that Charlotte has gotten engaged to her old boyfriend.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Early in the novel Strike calls "a friend" who gives him a tip, which Strike uses to get a copy of the Landry file from Eric Wardle. This friend, obviously a criminal sort, is introduced in book #3 as Shanker, and is an important character in later novels.
  • Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: Guy Somé has models for an ad posing "like Christine Keeler on a back-to-front chair".
  • Enfant Terrible: John, who murdered his brother when he was very young.
  • Exact Words: Strike interviews Tansy Bestigui, who has been tabbed by the police and press as an attention-seeking liar and is going through a messy divorce, so she demands that Strike not write down any notes. He agrees... and instead surreptitiously switches on his phone's sound recorder.
  • Fall Guy: This was intended to be Lula's half-brother, Jonah, but Strike seemed very close to homing in on Tony, which the killer would probably have been satisfied with.
  • Gay Best Friend: Guy Somé for Lula, though he's devoid of most of the stereotypes.
  • Girl Friday: Robin, definitely. Cormoran thought about cracking a Batman and Robin joke when they first met, but didn't think it was very respectful.
  • Gold Digger: Several characters of both genders are accused of this, romantically and otherwise. Most definitively, Tansy and Ursula.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Robin, though Cormoran is no Pointy-Haired Boss.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: Lula Landry's suicide is a media gold mine, and only becomes more so upon proper examination.
  • Ineffectual Death Threats: Robin is concerned about the death threat letters that Strike keeps receiving, but he tells her to just put them in the nutter file. A number of these are from the same client, a guy who was convinced that his wife was cheating on him, but Strike discovered that she wasn't. He refused to believe it and when Strike sacked him as a client, began sending him a series of increasingly elaborate death threat letters, each with more fantastical and unbelievable threats than the last.
  • Informed Flaw: Virtually everyone describes Ciara Porter as a combination of Dumb Blonde and Alpha Bitch. When Strike meets her, she's a bit fluffy, but is otherwise perfectly pleasant and one of the few people to be completely honest with him. She even quotes some Oscar Wilde and mentions she has a place to read English at Cambridge. This is very likely intentional, showing how the media tends to feed on itself and perpetuate its own rumor mill.
  • Intro Dump: Robin and Cormoran read an article about Lula Landry's funeral, one which introduces (as mourners) almost every character in the Landry case, except John Bristow, already introduced when he hired Strike.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: Considered and rejected; the security guy was real, but unwittingly let the killer overhear the key code.
  • Kavorka Man: Cormoran Strike looks like a boxer who’s had his nose broken too many times, is incredibly hairy, lost half his leg and, at the time of the story, is overweight. And yet, his on-again, off-again girlfriend Charlotte is described as supermodel gorgeous, and over the course of the story, he has sex with an actual supermodel without even trying.
    • Interestingly, a conversation with Lady Bristow implies that at least part of his plain looks, as well as the sexual magnetism are inherited from Jonny Rokeby.
  • Lonely Funeral: Rochelle gets one, which is thoroughly lampshades. mourners and a minister who did not know her name.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Lula, who comes from a rich family and gets a lot richer when she starts modeling, but has few friends she can trust. And her family is a horror show.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Lula may have let fame go to her head, but witnesses tend to remember her as kinder than your typical troubled starlet. The same is true of Ciara.
  • Mama's Boy: John Bristow. Distressing his dying mother is a sure way to send him into barely-concealed hysterics.
  • Meaningful Name: "Cormoran" is a giant in Cornish folklore, especially Jack the Giant-Killer. "Strike" is appropriate for one who had a fighting career. "Robin", as noted by several reviews, is an apt name for a sidekick.
  • Misery Poker: Yvette Bristow is a consummate player.
  • My Beloved Smother: Lady Bristow spoils and smothers her children. Subverted for John — the fact that his mother didn't smother him, compared to Charlie and Lula, is implied to be a major factor behind his insanity.
  • Naked People Trapped Outside: Freddie locks Tansy outside on their balcony in only her underwear on the night Lula dies, which is where she overhears Lula's confrontation with her killer. Tansy being caught in a contradiction after she lies about where she heard said confrontation in order to keep Freddie's domestic abuse quiet, coupled with her shivering being attributed to her being high on something, lead to her whole testimony being ignored by the police.
  • Never Suicide: Well, duh. However, it's played with in the sense that Strike does consider suicide to be the most reasonable explanation until evidence proves otherwise.
  • Noodle Incident: An "incident" is what causes Robin to drop out of university, missing out on a psychology degree. The specifics of what happened aren't revealed until book #3, Career of Evil.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: When John Bristow first meets Strike, he breaks into hysterical tears when recalling the day Lula was first brought into the family. At the time, the reader assumes that the tears are due to remembering his dead sister. Much later, during The Summation, Strike brings up those hysterics again — only this time he muses that they stemmed from John remembering the day that he once again was sidelined by his family in favour of his sibling.
  • Only Sane Man: Lula's half-brother turns out to be the only one related to her who isn't messed up in some way. Cormoran speculates that this is why she called him to visit her the night she died. She'd just learned that her adopted brother might be a murderer and wanted to be with the last relative she could trust.
  • Paparazzi: A looming presence throughout, taking on all sorts of plot and thematic functions.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": The passcode to Bristow's safe is, naturally, the date he murdered Charlie. Strike alludes to this, saying it would be the first code he'd try.
  • The Perfect Crime: It would have been, if not for the killer's Complexity Addiction. John Bristow's murder of his brother Charlie as a child was considered an accident. Lula's murder was deemed a suicide. Rochelle Onifade's murder considered an accidental overdose by a long-term drug addict. And it all would have stayed that way, if John Bristow hadn't hired Cormoran to track down John's rival for Lula's fortune. Tony Bristow suspected Charlie's death was no accident, but he never would have said anything due to a combination of family loyalty, no proof, and John having dirt on Tony.
  • Pretentious Pronunciation: The narration usually notes whether Guy Somé's first name is being pronounced like the English "gai" or French "ghee". Strike deliberately switches back and forth depending on the social class of the person he's questioning.
  • Private Detective: Strike, natch. Robin thinks this is the coolest thing ever.
  • Profiling: John Bristow puts a special emphasis on a black man filmed acting suspiciously around the scene and time of his sister's suspicious suicide, nicknamed The Runner. His uncle Tony, who has had a great influence on the boy, is a total bigot. But actually, Bristow knows perfectly well who The Runner is — the guy with a legitimate claim to Lula Landry's inheritance — and is trying to frame him.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Lula is said to be a replacement for Charlie.
  • Rich Bitch: Naturally, a common presence in Lula's social circles.
  • The Schlub Pub Seduction Deduction: The plain Cormoran met his volatile and beautiful ex-girlfriend Charlotte when he daringly chatted her up at a student party, after which she publicly dumped her fellow Blue Blood Jago Ross for him. She later admitted that she initially slept with him to get back at Ross for a perceived transgression, having stepped into the wrong party intending to commence Operation: Jealousy with the first man who approached her. Averted with Cormoran and supermodel Ciara Porter.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: A mild example — Bristow persuades aloof celebrity witnesses to talk to Strike with copious bribes/tip-offs that Strike is the son of a rock star.
  • Sesquipedalian Smith: "Cormoran Strike".
  • Sibling Triangle: A throwaway gag near the beginning of the novel has Cormoran reveal to his one client that her husband is indeed cheating on her...with her sister. Robin is horrified.
  • Sit Com Arch Nemesis: Duffield and Guy get in a lot of (seriously meant) insults about each other.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Deeby Macc is mentioned a lot, by almost every character and his impending arrival at Lula's building proves instrumental in the way the murder was committed. However, the closest he comes to appearing in the flesh is a YouTube interview that Cormoran and Robin watch.
  • Smarter Than You Look: Ciara, the glamorous, long-legged fashion model, also has a chance to "read English at Oxford" that she is putting off to model. Strike can't conceal his surprise when he hears this. Later in the same conversation she drops an Oscar Wilde quote.
  • Stealth Pun: After their Crash into Hello, wherein Strike saves Robin from toppling backward by grabbing her chest, he states that it'll be easy to remember her name. He had intended to refer to "Batman and Robin" but refrained, not thinking it very respectful. Robin blushes anyway. Why? Presumably because she thinks he means that she's a Robin redbreast.note  On the other hand, it would still be appropriate for a detective; 'Robin Redbreast' was a Regency-era slang term for the Bow Street Runnersnote  who are considered Britain's first police force, due to them wearing red waistcoats as a badge of office - much like how robin redbreasts were called that for their red chests.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Despite all the difficulties Strike is experiencing, he maintains some degree of discipline in confronting his demons. It's notable that most of his struggles are external, while his internal conflict is somewhat minimal.
  • Spoiler Title: Cuckoo chicks kill their adoptive siblings by pushing them out of the nest; similarly, John Bristow pushes both of his siblings to their deaths.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Averted with Strike, who looks nothing like his famous father. Played straight for Lula Landry — who inherited most of her supermodel features from her biological father. Her half-brother also shares these features, as her shocked killer discovers.
  • The Summation: In traditional Rowling fashion, Cormoran delivers this over the course of pages while alone with the killer, who makes no real attempt to stop him until he's done outlining all his points. Though Strike does lampshade that an innocent man would have left in a rage long before he was done — it's highly implied that the killer was hearing him out to try and find out what evidence Strike had on them.
  • Sweater Girl: In the first chapter, Robin is described as "curvaceous"; in the third chapter, Strike notices that she is wearing "a snugly, even seductively fitting cream sweater."
  • Tell Me About My Father: Lula was obsessed with finding her biological parents.
  • Thanks for the Mammary: In the first chapter Cormoran comes barreling out of his office and crashes into Robin, who goes careening towards the handrail of the stairs. She nearly falls over the railing to her death, except Cormoran saves her by shooting out a hand and grabbing—her breast. Their relationship is awkward for quite a while after this.
  • The Unfavorite: John feels this way, which drives him to kill.
  • Up Marketing: Guy Somé's entire fashion business, ranging from the sort of thing you buy at Neiman Marcus to items that are unique. Wearing his product can thus become a plot point.
  • Wedding Ring Removal: Duffield says that at their last meeting at the club, an annoyed Lula took off the bangle he'd given her at their "commitment ceremony" and threw it at him.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Lula's two biological maternal half-brothers, who were also taken from their mother by social services. In-Universe she passed up on her mother's desire to track them down as well due to being more interested in her father.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: "Cormoran Strike" — justified given his mother's... eccentricities.