Did You Read J.K. Rowling's Secret Mystery Novel?

Now, be honest here, because you probably did not read J.K. Rowling's novel written under a pseudonym that was released to great critical acclaim and dwindling sales. 

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Now, be honest here, because you probably did not read J.K. Rowling's novel written under a pseudonym that was released to great critical acclaim and dwindling sales. Gosh, do you remember the hype and promotion that followed Rowling's release of The Casual Vacancy last September? It was her first post-Potter novel and the world was rabidly awaiting what the writer could do when stripped of wands and wizardry. There was some sex involved, which ruffled a feather or two, but it was her first foray into writing for adults. What did they expect? Anyway, most adults liked the book well enough, though it didn't knock any socks off. The preparation and promotion and expectations were at an all time high, and she either did or didn't deliver, depending on who you ask. You couldn't blame Rowling for wanting to escape those pressures to just write.

And apparently that's exactly what she did, an investigation by The Sunday Times revealed late last night. A Little Brown imprint, Sphere, released a book called The Cuckoo's Calling, about a retired special agent investigating a mysterious death, by a first time author in April. Robert Galbraith was a retired former member of the Royal Military Police who started writing fiction about his experience in the service, according to the publisher. But Robert Galbraith is actually J.K. Rowling writing under a pseudonym so she could escape the trappings of being That Lady Who Wrote Harry Potter. "Being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience," she told the Sunday Times.  "It has been wonderful to publish without hype and expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name."

The little biography she created for her alter-ego is kind of hilarious in retrospect. Here's the author profile on Little Brown's website:

Robert Galbraith is married with two sons. After several years with the Royal Military Police, he was attached to the SIB (Special Investigation Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for protagonist Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who have returned to the civilian world. Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym.

That bolded sentence is the only ounce of truth in that entire spiel.

The Sunday Times' quest to discover Galbraith's true identity started with a mysterious anonymous tip sent to the paper's arts editor, Richard Brooks, he told The New York Times. One of the paper's reviewers tweeted how she didn't believe the book was written by a first time author after she had enjoyed it so much. Then a mysterious reply popped up with a major accusation, before disappearing without a trace:

“After midnight, she got a tweet back from an anonymous person saying it’s not a first-time novel – it was written by J.K. Rowling,” Mr. Brooks said in an interview. “So my colleague tweeted back and said, ‘How do you know for sure?'”

The person then replied “I just know,” and then proceeded to delete all his tweets and his entire account, Mr. Brooks said. “All traces of this person had been taken off, and we couldn’t find his name again.”

What followed was an investigation examining editors, agents and linguistics experts cross referencing similarities between The Cuckoo's Calling, The Casual Vacancy, and the last Potter novel. Eventually they cold-called Rowling's reps and said they knew the truth. Rowling's people decided to "fess up," Brooks said. 

Brooks and the Times float the theory that this is all a promotional tool for a novel that only sold about 1,500 copies before Rowling's name was attached to it. And, well, it could be true. Her name carries serious weight and The Cuckoo's Calling rocketed to the top of Amazon's best seller list within the last 12 hours

We suspect it'll be there for a while. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.