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J.K. Rowling's secret detective novel: How her alter ego was unmasked
The Harry Potter author penned The Cuckoo's Calling under a male pseudonym, Robert Galbraith
 
Former police officer and first-time novelist Robert Galbraith.
Former police officer and first-time novelist Robert Galbraith. Hachette Book Group, Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

You probably haven't heard of first-time author Robert Galbraith, whose debut novel, The Cuckoo's Calling, sold a lukewarm 1,500 copies in Great Britain since it was published in April. According to the New York Times, critics described the novel as "complex, compelling, and scintillating" — not bad for a supposed former police investigator who mysteriously decided to make the risky jump into fiction writing.

But The Cuckoo's Calling abruptly shot out of obscurity over the weekend, when the The Times of London revealed that Galbraith was actually the pen name of an author you may have heard of named J.K. Rowling, best known for work concerning pubescent wizards. As expected, The Cuckoo's Calling quickly blazed up the charts, and currently sits at #2 on Amazon's best-seller list.

So: How did The Times unravel the mystery? According to the New York Times, an anonymous Twitter handle sent a message to the paper's arts editor, Richard Brooks. When Brooks tried to follow up, the account was deleted. After a little digging, Brooks found out that The Cuckoo's Calling, published by Little, Brown, shared the same agent, publisher, and editor as the megastar Harry Potter author. Very strange, considering that Galbriath was a nobody.

Next, The Times had a pair of computer linguistics experts analyze and compare samples from The Cuckoo's Calling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and The Casual Vacancy — Rowling's 2012 jump into adult fiction, which landed with weighty expectations and so-so reviews from book critics — and found eerie similarities in all three.

From there, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place, and Little, Brown confirmed that Galbraith was indeed Rowling. While the leak smells an awful lot like a clever marketing ploy to sell a bajillion books, it's interesting that Rowling chose a male identity for her nom de plume (or, perhaps more appropriately, her INVISIBILITY CLOAK). As Alex Moore at Death and Taxes points out, "It seems an odd contrast that the world's most famous female author can't get a good review for her own work [The Casual Vacancy], but an unknown military police investigator scores rave reviews."

Publisher's Weekly, in fact, called The Cuckoo's Calling a "stellar debut" with a "complex and compelling" protagonist. Owen Laukkanen, author of The Professionals, said the novel was "a remarkably assured debut" that is "at once beautifully written and engrossing."

To her credit, Rowling seemed to rather enjoy her brief transfiguration into a no-name author unburdened by critical expectations. "I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer, because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience," Rowling said in a statement. "It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name."

 
Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for TheWeek.com. Sometimes he writes about other stuff. His work has also appeared in TIME, Men's JournalEsquire, and The Atlantic.

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