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Robert Galbraith's The Cuckoo's Calling

How J.K. Rowling was Unmasked as the Real Author

On Friday 12th July 2013, around 5 pm, I was called by a reporter from The Sunday Times who suspected that a recently-published crime novel – The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith – was in fact written by J.K. Rowling. The basis for this was not explained (it later turned out to be a leak of information from a lawyer's office), but the reporter wanted to know whether analysis of the novel's text would confirm it. I assumed that I had been approached because of my role in the 2008 Obama ghostwriting smear, which had led to a front-page story. The paper had also approached Patrick Juola of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, who specialises in stylometry.

To facilitate this analysis, I was offered machine-readable texts of five books, namely The Cuckoo's Calling, The Casual Vacancy (J.K. Rowling's acknowledged novel of 2012), and one book each by three well-known female crime writers, P.D. James, Val McDermid, and Ruth Rendell. I emphasised, however, that to do even a minimally rigorous analysis, it would be necessary to have at least two known books by each author, and recommended Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – the last Harry Potter volume – as the best additional choice for Rowling. The reporter was able to send this to me, together with further books by James, McDermid, and Rendell, so I accordingly ended up with the following nine books:

  • "Robert Galbraith": The Cuckoo's Calling
  • J.K. Rowling: The Casual Vacancy, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • P.D. James: Death Comes to Pemberley, The Private Patient
  • Val McDermid: The Vanishing Point, The Wire in the Blood
  • Ruth Rendell: A Judgement in Stone, The Saint Zita Society

Having prepared the files appropriately, I used my Signature software – just as I had in the Obama case – to analysis the similarities and differences between the texts. To my surprise, on every one of the standard, routine tests within Signature, The Cuckoo's Calling came out closer to at least one of the known Rowling titles than to any of the other six! This did not prove that Rowling wrote it, of course, but it was striking confirmation of that hypothesis.

Having worked late into the night, I reported my conclusion back on the Saturday, and the story was duly published in The Sunday Times, 14th July 2013, both on the front page, and in a more detailed feature inside.

The same day, I was invited to London to give live interviews, which you can see by clicking on the following links for the 10 o'clock News Interview and the News Channel Interview. The former includes a snapshot of my computer display and the graphical output of the software; the latter gives more detail of the events, the analysis, and some discussion around the case.