The Blurb (from Goodreads):
“I seen a kid killed…He strangled it, up by the horse.”
When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.
Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott—once his assistant, now a partner in the agency—set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.
And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been—Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.
Robert Galbraith is, of course, J.K. Rowling’s not-so-secret non-de-plume, and this is the fourth book in her utterly brilliant contemporary crime series. The last book ended with a cliff-hanger of sorts, with Robin – her smart, kind, red-headed heroine – marrying the wrong man. Everyone knows that Robin is destined to get together with Cormorant Strike, the one-legged chain-smoking detective she works for … everyone but Robin and Cormorant themselves. But in the very best tradition of long-running TV murder investigation shows, d.s.g. (delayed sexual gratification) rules the day, and life throws every possible obstacle in the way of this slow simmering romance.
Rowling’s great strength is her depth of characterisation. Robin and Cormorant are rich, complex and believable characters who make mistakes, regret them, try and do better, only to stumble again. The London setting is as lovingly and vividly created, and I feel sure that someone will one day set up a Cormorant Strike walking tour and make a fortune. Minor characters are deftly drawn too and, despite the hefty weight of the book, the pace does not flag for an instant.
Crime novels are always about the mystery, however. And Rowling does not disappoint. The story begins with a twitchy young man named Billy coming to the office and telling Cormorant about a murder he thinks he witnessed as a child. Billy is clearly mentally unstable. He looks as if he is living on the streets. His account is incoherent, his manner disquieting. He does not stay long or say much before bolting in a panic. But Cormorant cannot get the story out of his mind. He begins to investigate, following the faintest possible trail of clues and red herrings through the seamy back streets of London to the halls of the powerful and mighty. Robin goes undercover, despite suffering post-traumatic stress from the last dangerous case she and Cormorant solved, while her marriage slowly cracks under the strain.
I came close to guessing some of the secrets and lies, but was still taken by surprise by the end (all while cursing myself for my lack of cleverness). This is top-notch crime fiction, lifted out of the ordinary by its depth, clarity and complexity. I can’t wait for the next in the series!