Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
There are two ways this review could go: either the controversy surrounding Troubled Blood (2020) and the internet backlash against J.K. Rowling for casting one of the main suspects as a cross-dresser could be ignored, or the entire review could be hinged upon it. It would be disingenuous to do the former and reductive to do the latter, so let’s leave it at this: if readers want the down-low on the dispute, Google it (and there’s plenty of content out there). The rest of this review will centre solely on the merits of the story, of which there are ample.
Detective Cormoran Strike and his partner Robin Ellacot are back, and not without a little personal baggage. Strike’s aunt is dying, and he finds himself increasingly needed in Cornwall where she lives, putting pressure on his remaining colleagues at the detective agency in London. Robin is in the middle of a messy divorce with the abhorrent Matthew. Throw into the mix a forty-year-old cold case of the murder of Margot Bamborough, a GP who disappeared without a trace after work one evening, and the detectives have got rather a lot on their plates.
In 1974, Margot Bamborough went missing after leaving her GP surgery in Clerkenwell. Given that it’s a cold case, and one more than forty years old at that, there is much less of a focus on forensics; much of the plot centres around interviewing the cast of characters involved in the mystery, and that is, of course, what Rowling does best.
There is a reason that the HARRY POTTER series has inspired such a loyal (and this is surely an understatement) following: it is mostly down to character. Rowling is a master at evoking likeable and relatable characters, and Strike and Robin are no exception. Juggling their personal issues whilst becoming more and more immersed in a case they have never been less likely to solve, it is impossible not to enjoy being in the company of the two detectives. And what’s more, fans of their long-simmering, will-they-won’t-they dynamic will not be disappointed: there is tension (sexual and otherwise) aplenty.
There is something just so readable about the CORMORAN STRIKE series. Rowling evokes a vivid portrayal of London, Cornwall and the host of other places the detectives must visit. She roots the story firmly in present-day pop culture, with references to songs and television shows that pepper the story with realism. Rowling’s characteristically wry tone is ever-present (as can be witnessed in the farting sofa, and a, um, farting witness). It is impossible not to race through the book, despite it being a hefty tome of Order of the Phoenix proportions.
The mystery itself is perhaps not the most compelling part of the story, but it is the character drama and dynamics that will have pages turning. Though you’d probably have to read Troubled Blood‘s predecessors to get the most out of the story (and the delightfully increasing tension between its protagonists), readers would still be invested in the gruff ex-boxer and his placatory partner. Well worth a read, and definitely the finest addition to the series yet.
Well, the good news here is that within the fictional world. Robin is at last following through on divorcing Matthew.
I couldn’t stand LETHAL WHITE, the long, unfocussed, windy, undisciplined behemoth the came before this one. LW convinced me once and for all that Rowling can’t write mysteries. I won’t be reading this one, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.