Duquesne professor sleuths mystery of latest book by J.K. Rowling
It didn't take a wizard to figure out “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling was behind a critically acclaimed crime novel published under a fake man's name.
Duquesne University computer scientist Patrick Juola said he and a program he's been working on for a decade solved the mystery in 30 minutes.
“She writes a good book even if it isn't about wizards,” said Juola, one of two linguistics experts who worked with The Sunday Times in London to determine Rowling actually wrote “The Cuckoo's Calling,” which published in the spring under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.
“She's too good a writer to hide it,” Juola said on Monday.
The Times confirmed its suspicion and research with Rowling. Her U.K.-based agent did not respond to a request for comment from the Tribune-Review.
“I hoped to keep this secret a little longer, because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience!” Rowling said in a statement on her website, responding to being “rumbled,” which in Britain means to have been revealed. “It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name.”
Juola and Cal Flyn, a freelance reporter who shared a byline on the Times stories, said reaction has been magical for Rowling, who last year published her first adult novel, “The Casual Vacancy.”
Since the Times rumbled the reclusive writer, copies of “The Cuckoo's Calling” have been flying off the shelves like a certain bespectacled boy on a broom.
“It was very difficult to know if people were being objective with her because of Harry Potter,” Flyn said.
A Times columnist first got an anonymous tweet indicating Galbraith was really Rowling. Flyn reached out to Juola, who has used his program to analyze legal documents and Abraham Lincoln's early writings. The Times sent him copies of the book in question, Rowling's first adult novel and three other crime novels.
“The question was, could I make a guess about who could have written these things,” said Juola, whose program uses stylometry, the study of someone's unique writing characteristics. It looks for common phrases and vocabulary.
“Totaling up all the individual choices we make, the computer can say it's most similar to this person and most different from this person,” he said.
The computer kept saying “Cuckoo's Calling” matched “Casual Vacancy.” When that matched research done for The Times by linguist Peter Millican at Oxford, Flyn and arts editor Richard Brooks confronted Rowling.
“I'm glad I got the chance to work on it,” Juola said. “It's nice to see the technology we've been working on ‘outed,' too.”
David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rangers clip Penguins, take 2-1 series lead
- Cubs’ phenom Bryant helps send Pirates to 5-2 defeat
- U.S. Steel puts 1,400 workers on notice to curb costs
- St. Vincent unveils logo with an `edge’
- Feud escalates between Westmoreland commissioner, controller
- Fayette woman wins $13M discrimination lawsuit
- Paragon Foods’ growth —and planned move — in line with local produce demand
- New Ken raid nets 2 suspects, $4,000 in drugs
- Planned Smallman Place condos in Strip District selling fast
- Scoring struggles linger for Penguins 2nd line
- Daily News roundup: West Mifflin stays unbeaten