If you’ve never heard of Robert Galbraith before, it’s for a good reason: Galbraith is a pseudonym assumed by J.K. Rowling. I haven’t researched the reason for the pen name, but given the content of this book (and the first one in the series, the excellent The Cuckoo’s Calling), which is much more mature and graphic, it’s not hard to imagine that she’d like to keep this image separate from her Harry Potter books.
So, getting into it: Cormoran Strike is a private investigator in London. He has his own firm and his only other employee is his secretary, and sometimes detecting partner, Robin Ellacott. Strike is enjoying a good bit of business in this book thanks to solving the murder of the famous model Lula Landry (the events of The Cuckoo’s Calling). Strike is approached by Leonora Quine, the harried housewife of an erratic novelist who has gone missing, not for the first time. Her husband, Owen, is given to dramatic disappearances, only to show up again after a few days or a week. This time, however, Owen hasn’t come home. Leonora thinks Owen is just galavanting at a writer’s retreat, but she needs him home to help take care of their developmentally disabled daughter. As Strike sets out on what he thinks will be an easy solve, he finds that something more sinister is at play. He is proven correct when he finds Owen’s body in an empty house, bound and mutilated in a highly gruesome manner. Now, Cormoran is racing to prove that Leonora is not the one who killed Quine, but that one of many people depicted poorly in Owen’s newest book is the real culprit.
Rowling (and I’m just going to continue to refer to her that way) is as adept at mystery and suspense as she is at wizardry and magic. Highly inventive though the plot is, she builds plot and places clues subtly but firmly so that when all is revealed, I was both surprised and not surprised. I didn’t see the ending coming, but it totally made sense. Also, this book is graphic. There’s a lot of talk about removed intestines, burned out eye sockets, and disturbing imagery from Quine’s book. If you’re used to gritty crime books, it probably won’t be off-putting, but I feel it should be mentioned for those who might be sensitive to that sort of thing.
Rowling also takes the time to develop our main characters. Cormoran is former military, Special Investigations Branch, and lost part of a leg in Afghanistan. Eight months ago, Strike left a very unhealthy relationship with his partner of 16 years, Charlotte, and though he has not seen her, she continues to be a specter hovering in his life. He’s also the eldest illegitimate son of a famous fictional rock star, Jonny Rokeby, which provides various kinds of tension in Cormoran’s life.
Robin started as a temp, but showed aptitude and enthusiasm for detective work, and chose to stay on working with Strike after her temp contract was done, much to the chagrin of her fiancee, Matthew, who does not look kindly on Cormoran or the field of work he is in. In short, Matthew is a total prat and I hope Robin ditches him at some point.
There is so much going on in this book, and I love reading Cormoran methodically picking apart Owen Quine’s life, narrowing down suspects, chasing leads, and so on. Like I said, Rowling has a gift for mystery and she just nails the atmosphere, the characters, the creepy plots. Aside from the “story of the week”, so to speak, Cormoran and Robin are excellent characters and it’s hard to decide whether it’s more fun to read the mystery parts or their interactions. Also worth mentioning is that I listened to both of these books as audiobooks and the narrator, Robert Glenister, is beyond fantastic. Just so so SO good. If you are an audiobook person, I can’t recommend him highly enough.
This was a very engrossing mystery written by one of my favorite writers. There is one more out now and I can’t wait to dig into that one next! I highly recommend this book to just about everyone (so long as you have a strong stomach!).