Book review: Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

I’m a huge fan of the Cormoran Strike series, but I have to say the last one did leave me a little bit cold. The characters were two-dimensional stereotypes, the story meandered all over the place and the outcome was a bit of a disappointment. So when I downloaded Troubled Blood and saw the size of it, I was a little bit worried that I was going to devote quite a lot of reading time (it’d actually jumped the queue as well) for something I might not like.

It’s definitely not a novella: if you buy this in hardback it’ll weigh in at around nine hundred pages. There’s nothing wrong with a long book, but I can only think of two mega volumes I’ve really enjoyed from start to finish, without skipping a chunk in the middle through sheer boredom.

Troubled Blood is another chapter in the ‘will-they-or-won’t they’ lives of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacot, partners in a thriving London detective agency who’ve fancied the pants off each other since book 1, but can’t seem to get it together, mainly due to personal lives as chaotic as those of the people they’re following.

Throughout this epic, Rowling manages to balance all this personal stuff (Robin’s divorce, Cormoran’s bat-shit crazy ex and his cancer-stricken aunt) with cases the agency are running, the most important of which is the disappearance of a doctor, not seen since she left work one evening, forty years ago . . .

Most of the characters are very well drawn, and I had no trouble separating one from the other (a problem I had with Lethal White), the secondary characters which come and go throughout the novel are just as detailed which keeps this behemoth of a story lively and moving at decent pace. You find yourself wondering what the likes of Pat and Morris are up to while Robin and Strike are sitting in pubs discussing the cases; they have to do that a lot, and you’ll be grateful for it. The problem with a novel with this many threads is that the you might get lost along the way, so every so often, you get a sit-down moment where the detectives decide to get a sandwich or a beer or take a long drive, so they can review the last sixty pages or so to help keep the reader on track.

This happens – a lot.

In places, it’s a little clumsy, but on the whole it works well. Still, the fact that it’s needed does make me wonder if perhaps there’s just too much going on.

I’ve read the odd review that says that a lot of the characters are quite stereotypical (not the one you’re thinking of – we’ll get to him later). That’s a fair comment, but you know what? Sometimes it helps when you’ve got a support character who behaves the way you expect; it means you can take your eye off him and focus on the folk who’re behaving oddly.

And occasionally, I wasn’t sure I was in the character’s head or the author’s. I reached the end of one deep dive into Robin Ellacot’s mind, and wondered what Rowling had against Joni Mitchell.

The prose is up to Rowling’s usual standard. It cuts a lovely line between light and literary, with some corking off-the-cuff commentary. The interactions between Strike and his oldest friend Polworth were a joy to read.

So did I enjoy it? Yes, definitely. Troubled Blood is a complex, thought-provoking and very entertaining book, which will no doubt make a gripping TV series – probably in ten parts.

Was it too long? Oh god, yes. Again, it could’ve done with a few more rounds with the editor, but I wouldn’t say that it was such a big problem that it’ll ruin anyone’s enjoyment.

Was it as good as the rest of the series? Mmmm . . . almost. It’s a massive improvement over Lethal White, even with the extra girth, but I think it still lacks the tightness and urgency of books 1 through 3.

Okay, let’s take a look at that elephant in the ladies’ room: our ‘transgendered’ serial killer.

Rowling has been drawing a lot of angry tweets recently, due to her somewhat illogical views on the dangers of transgenderism; this has led many to pan the book solely because the serial killer often wears a wig to fool his victims into thinking he’s a woman.

Well, I can’t claim to live inside Rowling’s head, but I don’t think a man wearing a wig really equates to being transgendered, so if she was aiming to attack the transgendered community, she did a pretty poor job.

However, given some of her comments, especially regarding the whole “only real women should use the ladies’ room” thing, I can certainly see why the character would lead some to believe she was taking a pop, especially given that this aspect of the serial killer does come across as somewhat superfluous – but that’s in a book that contains a lot of other stuff that comes across as somewhat superfluous. (All that stuff about Joni Mitchell for starters.)

So in my view, there’s nowhere near enough evidence for a conviction here, and whatever your take on this, it’s still a great book.

I still have a problem with Rowling’s viewpoint though: she reckons men might pretend to be transgendered to gain access to the ladies’ room, putting women in danger. So the problem isn’t the transgendered, it’s men pretending to be transgendered. Then why is the solution to force transgendered people to use the wrong bathroom? (And of course, women who have transitioned to men will still have to use the men’s room.) Why should we persecute a community for the actions (imagined or otherwise) of people who are not actually members of that community? To protect others? Sure, then why don’t we ban all priests from all churches to keep children safe from the small group of clergy who’re actually pedophiles?

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