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VOL. 128 | NO. 154 | Thursday, August 08, 2013

Vic Fleming

Cuckoo History of ‘Cuckoo’s Calling’

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As I understand it, “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” a first-fiction item by one Robert Galbraith (not the retired doctor from Little Rock) was released last April. With generally positive reviews springing forth, 3,000 or so copies had been sold in England and the U.S. by early July. And then …

… London’s Sunday Times ran a story saying that Galbraith was one and the same with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. The paper said it had received a tweet from a solid source, and speculation ran immediately in Rowling’s direction. And then …

… Little, Brown and Co. commissioned 300,000 more copies of “Cuckoo,” which (surprise, surprise!) has raced to the top of best-seller lists worldwide. And then …

… A British law firm, Russells Solicitors, came forward to admit that one of its partners, Chris Gossage, “had let the information slip to his wife’s best friend, Judith Callegari.” Ms. Callegari’s Twitter account was deleted the next day. As perhaps only a group of solicitors could do, Russells issued a statement that “we apologize unreservedly” to Rowling, but …

“… Whilst accepting his [Gossage’s] own culpability, the disclosure was made in confidence to someone he trusted implicitly.” His wife’s best friend, huh? And then …

… Russells, which specializes in entertainment law, confirmed “that this leak was not part of any marketing plan and that neither J.K. Rowling, her agent nor publishers were in any way involved.” That makes us all feel better, right? And then …

… The Sunday Times rubbed it in, kinda, by asking language experts to compare Galbraith’s style with Rowling’s and other writers’, leading to guess what? A computer science prof at Duquesne quickly went on record fingering Rowling as the likely author of “Cuckoo.”

Thoroughly outed now, Rowling began to speak: “Only a tiny number of people knew my pseudonym and it has not been pleasant to wonder for days how a woman whom I had never heard of … could have found out something that many of my oldest friends did not know.

“To say that I am disappointed is an understatement,” she added. “I had assumed that I could expect total confidentiality from Russells, a reputable professional firm, and I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced.”

Robert Galbraith may now be the most talked-about pen name since Richard Bachman was unmasked as Stephen King in the 1980s. Whereas King discontinued that alias (saying Bachman died of “cancer of the pseudonym”), Rowling says she’ll keep the Galbraith gig going.

In “Cuckoo,” private detective Cormoran Strike, a former M.P. who lost a leg in Afghanistan, is deeply in debt; his girlfriend’s just dumped him; and he has only one client. As you might expect, a high profile case comes his way, and it looks as though he might just be able to change his luck.

As one reviewer wrote, Rowling “doesn’t break new ground in P.I. novels” with this book, but it’s a pretty good “series kickoff, no matter whose name appears on the cover.”

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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