Crime novel fans were delighted to hear the news that JK Rowling, creator of the massively successful Harry Potter series, was publishing her second detective tome under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Last year, Rowling as Galbraith, published The Cuckoo’s Calling, her first crime novel. It was hailed critically and became a number one bestseller. Wait a minute! Why is perhaps the number one recognized author in the world writing under a pen name? The answer. Dead bodies lead to fame and fortune.
It is well know in literary circles that high brow literary critics look down their nose at crime novels and whodunits. They consider it a lesser form of fiction and do not place those authors in the upper echelons of fiction prose stylists. Thus, a number of authors in recent years have gone “underground” and written a crime novel with a pseudonym in order to express themselves in this genre.
A major case in point is John Banville, the Irish novelist who won the Booker prize in 2005 for his fourteenth novel, The Sea. Having won other literary accolades, Banville is often mentioned as an eventual contender for the Nobel Prize in literature. Some critics have heaped such praise on him as being the heir to Proust and Nabokov.
Starting in 2006, Banville began writing a series of detective novels under the pen name of Benjamin Black. The series, starting with Christine Falls, features a Dublin, Ireland-based pathologist named Quirke in the 1950s who helps detectives crack murder inquiries. His most recent novel is Holy Orders and later this year he will publish The Black-Eyed Blonde, a Phillip Marlow novel.
At first book buyers did not know Benjamin Black and John Banville were one and the same person until he was “outed.” Even before it became public that Banville was Black, the books received critical praise and strong sales. Banville has said in interviews that he did not think he would be taken seriously if critics and the public thought he had written a whodunit. He also suggested that he felt critics were dismissive crime fiction. The success of the Quirke series has spawned a TV mini series called Quirke featuring Gabriel Byrne in the lead role. It had been released in the UK and Ireland but the series has not made available yet in the United States. JK Rowling good fame and fortune from dead bodies bag ran coming Banville’s way.
When The Cuckoo’s Calling was first published last year, no one knew Rowling was the author. At first the novel had mediocre sales but garnered some nice critical reviews. A short time later, Rowling was outed as Galbraith and sales skyrocketed. Someone connected to Rowling’s publishing house let the secret slip. After a tweet, the news rapidly spread.
In The Cuckoo’s Calling, Rowling created a sympathetic London-based detective named Cormoran Strike who is disabled. His literary cousin might be Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. Strike and his freshman assistant have to track down a supermodel’s killer. Like Banville, Rowling knew that dead bodies lead to fame and fortune. The new Rowling as Robert Galbraith novel is called The Silkworm and will be available in June. Entertainment trade papers are already abuzz with stories about potential producers who want to turn Cormoran Strike into a celluloid hero.
Other writers who have used pen names to write detective fiction are Nora Roberts as JD Rule and Ann Rule as Andy Stack. Apparently publishers think readers like their detective fiction written by men, hence JK Rowling became Robert Galbraith.
The literary genre of crime fiction has elevated itself in recent years, notably from the force that was the late Steig Larsson who penned The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy. The wild critical and commercial success of those novels cast a world spotlight on an already large cannon of Scandinavian noir and such authors as Henning Mankell, Joe Nesbo, Karin Fossum, Lars Kelper, Hakan Nesser, Johan Theorin, Helene Tursten, Jussie Adler-Olsen, Ake Edwardson, Arnaldur Indridason, and the husand-wife team of Maj Sjowal and Per Wahloo.
The success of the Tattoo series caused tsunami of Nordic noir books to be quickly translated into English for the American market, a trend that continues to this day.
What critics and fans enjoy about Scandinavian noir is that the books are often more than one dimensional detective stores. They weave in layers of social issues and commentary such as immigration, domestic violence, the legacy of the Nazis, and gun violence. These issues are often coupled with brooding, psychologically intriguing detectives. Many of these books have been made into films and televisions shows. Nordic writers do not usually pen under a pseudonym. They already know that dead bodies lead to JK Rowling good fame and fortune.
By Jim McCullaugh