“They don’t disappear, the dead. It’d be easier if they did. I can see her so clearly. If she walked up those steps now, part of me wouldn’t be surprised. She was such a vivid person.”
This fifth installment of Robert Galbraith’s – yes, we all know it is J. K. Rowling – offers up very few surprises having read the previous novels. It is almost like playing bingo and ticking off familiar features: Strike being described as having “pube-like” hair; Strike fancying Robin; Robin fancying Strike; deep failure of communication between them; an uncomfortable sense of delight in descriptions of violence; an uncomfortable sexualisation of female characters. Check, check, check and check!
This time, there are some developments and it was probably one of the better installments in the series. Probably because the central case is a cold one, the disappearance of a general practitioner, Margot Bamborough, in 1974. As a result, the slightly manic pace of some of the previous novels – especially Career of Evil – drops a little and Galbraith has time to flesh out the characters and introduce some sub-plots running alongside it in the agency which has now acquired a number of subcontractors. I was perhaps just as interested in “Shifty” and his apparent ability to blackmail his boss into promotions he did not deserve as I was in the Bamborough case, even if the mechanics of who the client was and why they chose this method to investigate was not entirely clear.
Bamborough’s disappearance coincides in place and time with the spree of horrific murders committed by Dennis Creed in which he drugged, kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, raped and murdered a number of young women. The assumption made by the police investigating, and by almost every other character involved was that Creed had taken Bamborough and his presence lurks in the background of the book surprisingly creepily. Robin and Strike both read an account of Creed’s crimes and those details pepper the book and his presence still alive and in prison has an inevitable draw to it for the characters.
And this is also where, like The Silkworm, Galbraith loses me to a significant degree: there is a gratuitous (to my taste) lingering on details of sexual violence committed by Creed, details which I have decided not to repeat here. This for me is a far more damning aspect of the novel than the fact that Creed sometimes dresses as a woman to get close enough to his victims – a fact which Goodreads readers have latched onto as evidence of Rowling’s transphobia, which mistakes disguise for gender identity in my opinion.
In fact, Galbraith / Rowling seems to have gone out of her way to present a lesbian relationship – Anna, Margot’s daughter and Strike’s client, and her wife Kim are much more credible and less cliched than her depictions of homosexual characters in Cuckoo’s Calling. Was it perhaps a little contrived, a little unnecessary in terms of plot or character? Was it the author trying to make a point? Perhaps, but then why not!
The other thing that irked – and I say this as someone with no belief in astrology – was, well, the astrology! In the initial investigation, the lead detective was suffering with an overactive thyroid which manifested itself as a belief in astrology as the key to uncovering the identity of Bamborough’s kidnapper whom he assumed to be the man later identified as Creed. Each character – and Galbraith’s characters are always a little hard to tell apart – was also identified as a star sign, and trying to remember which character came under which sign in which astrological system became a little tiresome! As did the link between mental illness and belief – and I know that that is coming from the characters rather than the author, but even so…
The novel delves into the relationships within the GP practice in which Bamborough worked, and into her family, alongside the Creed investigation. And Galbraith generates the usual clutch of potential suspects – garrulous receptionists, unassuming nurses, quietly dignified doctors, difficult fathers and step-mothers – as well as a wealth of other clues and sightings and phone calls. As with Harry Potter, and the other Cormoran Strike novels, there is nothing wrong with Galbraith’s plotting: the reveal did take me by surprise and then did seem inevitable once made!
But Galbraith’s writing style continues to be lacklustre – I found that her control of narrative point of view seemed slack. Sections that began from Robin’s point of view shifted to Strike’s and vice versa and it jarred enough to take me out of the novel however briefly. Perhaps these things work well visually on television and film, but not in a novel, and not in a writer like Galbraith’s hands.
I did find the scenes in Cornwall, where Strike stayed with his fatally ill aunt – the aunt who brought up Strike and his sister when their mother Leda abandoned them on a jaunt or was otherwise unable – genuinely quite moving. And such a relief in comparison to the cliched trope of Strike and Robin’s will-they-won’t-they relationship! No, it doesn’t get resolved in this one either!
In conclusion, a decent detective novel and one of the best in the series so far, thankfully. But that still keeps it to a 3 star rating for me.
Again, a David Mitchell book is an event, and a thing of beauty! But the music industry is not my natural setting and again I was caught between this and another book – Daisy Jones and the Six in this case – and Daisy Jones was read first. This time, because it was nominated on a book club I was part of.
Bonus: The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch
They say that the Thorn of Camorr can beat anyone in a fight. They say he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. They say he’s part man, part myth, and mostly street-corner rumor. And they are wrong on every count.
Only averagely tall, slender, and god-awful with a sword, Locke Lamora is the fabled Thorn, and the greatest weapons at his disposal are his wit and cunning. He steals from the rich – they’re the only ones worth stealing from – but the poor can go steal for themselves. What Locke cons, wheedles and tricks into his possession is strictly for him and his band of fellow con-artists and thieves: the Gentleman Bastards.
This one has been on my TBR for years. Literally years. I have heard nothing but praise for it, but so far have never quite got around to reading it! Go figure!
So, there we go: a range of books that I got in 2020 – save for the Scott Lynch – and do regret not reading during the year. Is regret the right word? Probably not to be honest: I do not regret the reading that I did do last year at all. But these are books that I would like to find time to catch up with this year – before prize season hits us again!
Pop in the comments below your thoughts on these – maybe let me know which I should read first!
Plot / Pace:
Page Count: 944
Date: 15th September 2020
Available: Amazon, Little Brown Book Group