JK Rowling Writes a Crime Novel

Chris Simmons from Crimesquad discusses the news that JK Rowling has published a crime novel under a pseudonym.

A few months ago I mooted the subject about ‘literary’ authors now nudging their way in to crime fiction when only a few years ago it would have been unheard of for an author to ‘cross-pollinate’ from one genre to another. Now, at Harrogate, the Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival will be highlighting many authors who started out as ‘literary’. These include festival guests, Susan Hill, Kate Atkinson and now even Tony Parsons has announced in the last week that he is to write a crime series. But, days later, even Parsons’ news has been trumped by the latest news to rock the world of literature.

This weekend, with the flavour of a crime denouement dreamt up by Christie herself, there was a revelation and an unmasking. A few months ago a new author, Robert Galbraith debuted with his crime novel, ‘The Cuckoo Calling’. Now it transpires that ‘Mr Galbraith’ doesn’t exist. He is the pseudonym of Harry Potter creator, J.K. Rowling.

What is it with all these writers who suddenly want to write a crime novel? Have they finally seen the sales figures (which have been widely known for many years now) and seen that crime fiction stands for a third of all books sold within the UK alone? Do more people want a slice of that huge portion of the pie? Does this mean that writers of crime fiction can no longer wail at being treated with contempt and looked upon as the poor relation?

This revelation also shows the power of the name. Under the guise of Robert Galbraith the book sold 1500 copies. Now after the ‘big reveal’ the book is now at number one in the book charts on Amazon. So, what can we say about this deception? Was it fair or not to lead the readers (well, 1500 of them, anyway) and more importantly, the crime writers who gave this ‘debut’ those glowing reviews, such a merry dance?

Galbraith’s publisher, Sphere/Little Brown was keen to garner good reviews and I was bombarded with emails from them asking if I was planning to run a review on Crimesquad.com. I read the prologue of ‘The Cuckoo Calling’ and found it far too flowery and over-descriptive that my mind already started to wander. This is never a good sign. So, you won’t find a review of this book on Crimesquad.com. With hindsight, I am pleased that I wasn’t also sucked in to what is being cited on Amazon by reviewers as ‘the great con’. Already, despite not having read the book itself, Amazon reviewers are throwing one star reviews at Rowling just because of her nerve! However, for me, I will now go back to the book with a clearer perspective.

I am sure that some of those writers who heaped praise on this alleged ‘debut’ will feel slightly cheated by Rowling’s unveiling and there will be some that will shrug or even give her a round of applause for the sheer cheek of it. Whatever you feel about it, I am sure that it will be a big issue of debate at the forthcoming Theakstons Crime Writing Festival that starts this Thursday. To me, the timing couldn’t be more apt if it tried! One of the panels at this years’ festival is ‘Social Media – Who Are You’. This is a direct result of Leathergate and sock puppetry which so consumed the whole festival in 2012. Now, I am sure that the issue of Rowling and her deception will also be discussed from varying points of view.

So what do we think? Was Rowling honestly trying to write books that would be credited for what was inside the covers rather than the name that adorned the dustjacket? Or was this all planned from the beginning and Rowling was to be ‘found out’ and therefore turn her average selling crime novel into a huge bestseller. To me, this plotline certainly smells a little contrived with too many plot holes. But it will make for great conversation in Harrogate in three days’ time!