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