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.

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Book review: Lethal White

So, it’s here at last! The continuing sleuthy adventures of Comoran Strike, his Gordian Knot of a love-life and his “will-they-won’t-they” relationship with his very capable partner in crime-solving, Robin Cunliffe. 

This is the fourth book in the series (and I’ll quickly add that they make really good telly), and takes us through a rather complex plot involving strangulation of a child and how it all ties together with the murder of a prominent MP who I get the feeling was modelled on Boris Johnson. It’s set against the backdrop of the London 2012 Olympics, but to be honest, I’m not sure why, as this didn’t really add much to the plot, other than giving one of the characters a job.  So aside from that one small niggle, how was the rest of it? Well, I’m not going to delve too deeply into the story, but it’s written to the same standard we’ve come to expect from Robert Galbraith (yeah, she’s sticking with the name).  The prose is clean and precise, with a fantastic lightness of touch and some well-executed patches of humour. It’s a little bit more cerebral than the other books in the series: a lot less running around (which Strike does really well considering he’s an overweight detective missing a leg) and a lot more talking to witnesses and potentials suspects. If you’re the kind of reader who likes to solve the crime as you’re going along then you might need to make notes, because you’re not just looking to solve a murder, you need to battle your way through a couple of other mysteries along the way, which may be why I didn’t enjoy Lethal White as much as I thought I would. There’s a lot of fluff in here, and I think it’s a bit too distracting.

I think the other problem I had with the novel was the sheer number of characters: there were a least a small village of players here, and unfortunately, most of the were very similar. They were split into two broad groups: the rich (posh, privileged, shallow and very annoying), and the poor: (just annoying) which made it difficult to get a sense of how the characters were tied to the plot, especially during the sequences where Robin and Strike are reviewing the case together. I mean, ‘Fizzy’ and ‘Tizzy’ as two character names? Throw us a bone here … And of course while all this is going on, Robin and Strike have very complicated personal lives to deal with, which we have to deal with along with them. 

I will say though that once you get your head around who’s who then the book really starts to motor.

I guess the problem with writing a book with multiple intertwined plots is that at some point, the whole thing has to be tied together. Clues slowly resolve into patterns that take you closer to the culprit … that’s what usually happens. In this case, the whole case (and a few other loose ends) were tied up in a rather large and awkward information dump right at the end. I have to say, I wasn’t too keen on it.

So, did I enjoy it? As I said, yes I did, though not as much as the others (I think Silkworm is my favourite). From a writer’s perspective, it’s an excellent example of quality writing. Nevertheless, I’m going to be a little harsh, give it six out of ten, and look forward to a return to form for the next one.

Absolutely love the cover, by the way …

Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (ahem!)

Right, did anyone else not know that this ‘Robert Galbraith’ is JK Rowling? Okay, just me then.

Not sure of the reasons behind the pseudonym; I’m guessing that she wanted her new stuff to be viewed on its merits, without folk comparing it to her previous work which is, of course, en- tirely different. In that regard, I guess I’m pretty well-suited to examing The Cuckoo’s Calling as I didn’t read the Harry Potter series.

The_Cuckoo's_CallingSo, as a book that stands on its own, The Cuckoo’s Calling is head and shoulders above much of the crime fiction I’ve come across in recent years. It’s an old-school detective story that follows the work and personal life of the unlikely-named Cormoran Strike, an ex-military policeman turned private detective, fighting to stay afloat in civilian London while trying to solve the mystery behind the death of supermodel.

As I said, it’s a great book; the author doesn’t mess around with wafty ex- positions; not a word is wasted; she flits around the characters thoughts and feeling with Woolf- like abandon, keeping the reader engaged with an enormous number of the Capital’s most unlikeable characters. Comoran himself is not a bad bloke; he’s a capable detective, though not superhumanly so – and I think that’s what keeps the interest alive, and the whole book just this side of believable. For me, the real star of the book was his secretary (but I shouldn’t say any more).

If I were to make one complaint then it would be that some of the peripheral characters came across as remarkably clichéd: fat, incompetent policemen with body odour; rich widows dying in their beds; painfully camp fashion designers… but I guess stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. Still, an immensly enjoyable read.

If you like outstanding crime fiction then The Cuckoo’s Calling comes highly recommended – by me anyway … 🙂