Oh, man, I have so many thoughts. And I’m also not entirely sure what I think about some of what happened in this book. On the one hand, I LOVED IT. The case and Robin and Strike’s personal lives dovetailed beautifully. So much of this book was character shiz, which is my favorite kind of shiz. And I’ve been saying for the past two books that I wanted MORE ROBIN and MORE ROBIN is exactly what I got. Robin backstory. Robin frontstory. Robin Robin Robin.
And the mystery itself was good and different from the last two. In the first book, it was really procedural. Lots of interviews, pounding the pavement, and the central question of whether or not Lula Landry killed herself. It was also an examination of fame and the press. The second book started off as a simple missing persons case that turned into a murder mystery, but it was really a satirization of the publishing industry. But to really make it the trifecta of things JKR is obsessed with, likely because of her own fame in the publishing industry as a woman, this book and its central mystery are all about misogyny and violence against women. The book opens with Robin being sent a woman’s severed leg in the mail, and it doesn’t let up from there.
This case is personal for both Strike and Robin. Strike, because the leg was sent to Robin, the killer is targeting Robin, to get at Strike. There are three men from Strike’s past who would be violent and unhinged enough to do something like this. And Robin because of her own history. We finally learn why she dropped out of University. I know that some people have had (and will have) trouble with Robin’s backstory, but I don’t. Firstly, because it doesn’t feel cheap. It feels earned. JKR has clearly been setting it up since day one. And secondly because of Robin herself. Beautiful, complicated, strong and vulnerable Robin. Certainly what happened to her was terrible and traumatizing, but it’s not the event itself she has trouble with, but how her friends and family (and Strike) treat her and her ambitions afterwards that she has the most trouble with.
Which brings me to Matthew. Motherfucking Matthew. He’s just terrible. But this book sheds light on why Robin is with him, despite his terribleness.
SPOILERS (highlight to read):
Robin, raped and left for dead by her attacker, left that experience with her ability to empathize amplified, but her ambitions pushed aside by her own trauma, and her family constantly wanting to protect her. She spends years recovering, taking self-defense classes, learning defensive driving, and she’s finally reached a place in her life where she is starting to want to move beyond the safe and easy place in her life that Matthew represents. She starts chafing against his insecurity, his disrespect for her, and his inability to see her as the person she feels she is, rather than the one he wants her to be. When she broke up with him half-way through, I was so relieved. Robin herself was so sad at losing that part of her life, but I felt she would eventually come out the other side stronger. I suppose that’s still possible, but I think the way it actually shakes out, with her giving in and taking him back after he shows what she sees as true remorse, is the more plausible option. I don’t think someone in Robin’s mindset, so generous in her feelings for other people, so loyal to someone who’s been a huge part of her life for nine years, would be able to just cut ties immediately. I think it’s going to be a long, hard process for her.
I did feel badly for Matthew in the same instance Robin did, even though I still thought he was a shithead, but he completely lost any and all goodwill the moment he listened to Strike’s message for Robin and then deleted it. That is completely and utterly awful, almost worse than him cheating on her during her convalescence, because it means he has no regard for her or her own choices at all. And now she’s MARRIED to the fucker! I do hope that Robin’s bright smile at Strike at the end means that we won’t have to put up with him for long, and that Robin can finally escape out from the shadow of her own fear and misplaced compassion long enough to be happy.
The stress of the case also works on Strike and Robin’s relationship, and a large portion of the book is spent on (view spoiler), just as the killer intended (although I don’t think he’s smart enough to have foreseen the psychological nuances of the situation he created–he was going for the blunt force option, framing Strike for murder and taking something away from him, not knowing that the more subtle approach was almost as hurtful). The depth of their conflict and interpersonal relationships is what makes this book so great.
The two things I do feel conflicted about were:
1) The decision to have POV chapters from the killer. I’m not sure those were entirely successful. Maybe I’m just not bad enough, but they seemed overly evil to me? I don’t know. They didn’t work as well for me as I wanted them to. The villain himself when seen from Robin and Strike’s POV was great, and I liked the way his POVs kept leading me in opposite directions. I was CONVINCED that one guy had done it, but then it turned out to be something totally unexpected, but obvious in retrospect. It’s just, those POVs were so . . . blunt? They served their purpose, though.
and 2) MORE SPOILERS Strike getting angry enough to fire Robin totally took me by surprise, but in a bad way. It felt off. Maybe I was just expecting the story to go in a different direction and missed all the clues, but I kept thinking it would all be a trick, that Strike wouldn’t do that, wouldn’t get that angry. It didn’t seem explained enough. I feel like I need to go back and re-read the whole thing to look for the clues along the way. The only thing I can think is that he was also in the middle of falling in love with her, and was upset already that she had taken Matthew back, and her resentment at being sidelined as he tried to protect her had driven them apart, so it was just a huge mess of angry feelings that all came out in that moment, and he fired her. Or maybe there was something in that deleted message (fucking Matthew) that explains it. I guess I’ll have to wait for the next book.
I think I’m going to have to just wait for the next book, and hope for the best. For now, this gets 4.5 stars. And hopefully by this time next year we’ll have book four.