The Ink Black Heart: A compelling addition to the series

The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith J.K. RowlingThe Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

The Ink Black Heart by Robert GalbraithDetective duo, Strike and Robin, are back for the sixth instalment of the CORMORAN STRIKE series, and they’ve got their work cut out for them. They’re presented with a case unlike any they’ve come across before and what ensues is a twisting mystery that might just be the best book of the series so far.

When Edie Ledwell enters the office of the detective agency, Robin Ellacott doesn’t know what to make of her. She’s disheveled, panicked and, when she asks the agency to investigate the online abuse she’s been receiving, Robin has to turn her down: the don’t have the resources to solve a case like this and they’ve never taken on anything like it before.

But days later Edie is found dead. She is the co-creator of a YouTube phenomenon, the eponymous Ink Black Heart, which fans created a corresponding computer game for, and Strike and Robin must try and discover if the creators of the game have not only bullied Edie, but murdered her.

But this isn’t actually how the story opens. Rowling – under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith – is a master of characterisation, and that is where we begin: with the partners of the detective agency out for a drink for Robin’s birthday. They have gone to the Ritz, and it is the first time (readers will remember the fraught dynamic between them in previous books) that they’re able to relax and enjoy each other’s company without the shadows of an overbearing ex-husband and unstable ex-girlfriend looming over them.

But when Strike leans in for a kiss and Robin pulls away, the ease between the detectives vanishes, and they must navigate the awkwardness and ensuing feelings over the course of the mystery.

Of Rowling’s many superpowers, characterisation is perhaps the greatest, and it is nothing but sheer pleasure to spend more than a thousand pages with these characters. Some reviews have criticised the length of this book, but many readers will be bereft upon finishing and having to part ways with the detectives.

What’s more, the structure of the mystery is a novel one. Not only are there real-life suspects, but also anonymous online trolls who run the computer game, and readers will have great fun trying to match the online avatars with their real-life counterparts. Far from being overly techy, this is perhaps the most human story of the series so far, as the motives of each avatar are scrutinised, as are their relationships to Edie and each other.

Also interesting are the parallels between the phenomenon-gone-wrong of the Ink Black Heart and Rowling’s own experiences of online scrutiny. She has, in recent years, been the centre of controversy, and readers and critics alike will no doubt draw similarities between Edie’s own creation and the way her fandom has turned on her.

It may be a weighty tome, but the story zips along at a good pace and Rowling’s writing has, as always, a cleanness to it that makes it so easy to read. The book is funny, the characters realistic (if a little ridiculous), and the tension between the gruff Strike and competent Robin a sheer delight to read. Certainly not one to be missed.

Published in August 2022. The latest installment in the highly acclaimed, internationally bestselling Strike series finds Cormoran and Robin ensnared in another winding, wicked case. When frantic, disheveled Edie Ledwell appears in the office begging to speak to her, private detective Robin Ellacott doesn’t know quite what to make of the situation. The cocreator of a popular cartoon, The Ink Black Heart, Edie is being persecuted by a mysterious online figure who goes by the pseudonym of Anomie. Edie is desperate to uncover Anomie’s true identity. Robin decides that the agency can’t help with this—and thinks nothing more of it until a few days later, when she reads the shocking news that Edie has been tasered and then murdered in Highgate Cemetery, the location of The Ink Black Heart. Robin and her business partner, Cormoran Strike, become drawn into the quest to uncover Anomie’s true identity. But with a complex web of online aliases, business interests and family conflicts to navigate, Strike and Robin find themselves embroiled in a case that stretches their powers of deduction to the limits–and which threatens them in new and horrifying ways… A gripping, fiendishly clever mystery, The Ink Black Heart is a true tour-de-force.

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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2 comments

  1. Ray, I’m glad you enjoyed it. After the turgid, unedited, self-indulgent slog of LETHAL WHITE, I vowed “no more’ of this series.

  2. Jencendiary /

    It’s unseemly enough to write an autohagiography. It’s exceptionally tacky to write the myth of your own martyrdom. I have no idea how this got the review it did.

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