UNILKE the fantasy of Harry Potter, here Joanne Kathleen takes a random group of seemingly respectable ordinary Londoners connected mainly by a doctor’s surgery circa 1973. It is real enough commentary. Each new lead becomes a horse on a carousel bobbing up and down, round and round…
The nanny did it? The cleaner? The ex-boyfriend? The Hannibal Lecter style serial killer? Maybe it was an accident? We have a gaggle of possibilities. A swarm of deceits. Everyone has a past.
Perhaps this might have been better titled as the Disappearance of Margot Bamborough, although there must be a clue in the title of Troubled Blood, but I am on page 639, and no, not a clue. Except maybe…
In classic who-dunnit/crimo detective yarns, the identity of the villain becomes secondary to the wiles, the cunning, the unravelling of the truth along the way. To use the Cluedo example it matters less that it was Professor Plum in the drawing room with a blunt instrument, than the whole party game ritual in arriving at such conclusion. Typically we are not invested in the victim. We don’t know them. We never meet them. They have no currency. They are symbolic.
The only person with currency is the detective(s). Only they can get it right and protect us all. He or she is imbued with all the humanity going. That is back story. In better than usual fiction there is a bonus of a time, a place, an era, a smell of another time. That is an extra, the more so if the minor characters become believable commentators on their own time, morals. That is front story, parable.
So why is this better than, say, Batman? Comics can work as film because the actors bring their own humanity to the part, but they cannot have the depth or texture of a novel as it is here. You can make a comic of a novel but not the other way around.
Strike has his own back story – reckless hippy mother, sage step mother. He has his own Robin. She has a broken marriage. Even their names have subconscious overload. Strike is comic book-esque. We wait for the bell to toll. A moment of clarity. Even go further and add a t to Cormoran and you have an image of a bird that can swallow all the evil and make it disappear. Strike is obviously JK’s hero knight from the extensively quoted Faerie Queen, even to the point that his endless chain smoking seems designed to protect him from others. His shield. But there is also something homely to him, like his fondness for a piece of cake. But he is human:
“It suddenly came back to him, after those long days of guilt, why he’d avoided coming back to the little town for so long: because he’d found himself slowly stifling under the weight of tea cups and doilies, and carefully curated conversations, and Joan’s suffocating pride, and the neighbours’ curiosity, and the sidelong glances at his false leg when nobody thought he could see them looking.”
That is actually the end of an 85 word sentence. Not bad for so called popular fiction.
Each scene is carefully depicted, as if in the legend of JK Rowling, she has visited each venue herself to paint around the action in the scarlet carpeted Fortnum & Mason’s, in the National Portrait Gallery, in the Totes café. Here is a quick description from later on in Cornwall.
“There was a brief break in the cloud and the sea was suddenly a carpet of diamonds and the bobbing seagull, a paper white piece of origami.”
You don’t write such stuff from imagination.
The depth of the story across 40 years allows JK to develop different sides of her witnesses through gentle probing cross examination. There are quite a few well-I-nevers. As if..it turns out our missing doctor was a former Playboy bunny. Turns out the original investigating officer had to be relieved of duties.
Everyone gets their moment in the spotlight. try this for a portrait:
“Betty Fuller looked as though she had been subject to heavier gravity than the rest of humankind. Everything about her had sagged and drooped:….it appeared that the flesh had been sucked down out of her upper body into her lower: Betty had almost no bust, but her hips were broad and her poor bare legs immensely swollen..”
Someone else looked like a grand piano piano had fallen on his head.
Ladled into the mix is a goodly suggestion of the supernatural, the tarot, the zodiac which opens the door for another tier of speculative forecasting, as Talbot discovered…add to this the symbolism of the quotes from the Faerie Queen that open each chapter and the two knights Redcrosse, the knight of holiness who gets himself into unexpected scrapes and Britomart, knight of chastity who can resist lust but is not ready for love, the pair out to slay the dragon of all evils. Remind you of anyone?
There is perhaps more than one piece of villainy here…
One mystery remains: how does Robin manage to park that Land Rover so easily?