A BOOK for lockdown. Tier 3. At 927 pages it is a blockbuster that blows out those other contemporary fat books like Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch at 881 pages and Eleanor Catton’s Luminaries at 848. But this being a conventional detective story full of red herrings, of interviews of suspicions, it is a challenge to keep up if you are not reading everyday or at least regularly. It will for sure make great TV spread out over six or more parts but you may need to take notes.
The master storyteller aka Galbraith aka JK Rowling aka Joanne Kathleen. Strike is back in Cornwall drinking with his old school chum. His foster mother has cancer. A woman in the pub recognizes him. She stops him and asks if he might take on her case. Her mother went missing, 40 years ago. A medium, told her she might find a lead soon…the internet reveals she may have been victim to a serial killer.
Robin is on the trail of a bigamist. A year on Mathew is playing hardball over the divorce. The agency has taken on staff. The nicknames allocated to their case studies like Shifty add an extra dimension of intrigue, subterfuge. The jargon of the hunter.
I love JK. We used to read the Harry Potter stories out loud in the car. I love the way she has shown up her contemporaries, and especially the kind of popular publishing that has come to be dominated by forms of pornography, tribal manifestos, violent crime, schmaltz romance and stuttering creative writing.
JK tells a story. That is important which might seem obvious but too few books these days don’t. She has characters that are believable and not self obsessed. There is sprightly dialogue. There is plot and subplot. There is texture in the background. We are fed little tidbits about Strike’s childhood. Suddenly a dachshund dog has appeared at Robin’s feet. And at each chapter curiously there is a quote from the Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser, which you sort of know is a hint, it also was one of the longest poems, and tantalizingly aspired to define in stories and allegory the virtues of a gentleman. Perfume is a hint too but why? Umm.
JK. gives herself a good chunky paragraph to describe her characters. Tom Burke might have got the part for looking just how JK describes him…”a large man with a slightly crooked nose, dense curly hair”. Oh, and an overcoat.
The more mercurial Robin, always seems a little too nice to be part of this circus. Strike is a little too tough and wizened, ex boxer, ex Afghanistan amuputee, ex, ex his broad shoulders hide a closet of skeletons. But, and this is an important technical point, the villains are real villains, real evil, real nasty…evil depicts better as fiction than does good. Interestingly Hermoine in Harry Potter was voted best female character by a poll for the Holluywood Reporter.
JK’s other strength is she does not get distracted. There may be red herrings in her yarns but the main characters pivot on their relationship. They stand apart. When they are not together or directly interacting via the story, there is little detail, days pass, weeks pass, nothing gets in the way…If Strike and Robin were ever to get married it would be a Diana moment, of course even leading up to a kiss might take another 500 pages in itself. Poor Robin may have a job getting that overcoat off him. It is the knight’s armor.
So we could read these little moments as in the Spenser allegory. Strike has such a heart of gold that he will take a lost cause of a case for a stranger who stops him in the pub. With the bigamist he will be ruthless. Gentlemanly virtues?
Great entertainment, again, although all the fuss about cross dressing seems pretty wide of the mark for my money. The TV series are still on iplayer if you want to catch up. More follows later…