In a year where everything is NOT coming up J.K. Rowling, Robert Galbraith can still write one hell of a mystery
The first book of the Cormoran Strike novels enjoyed brief anonymity before the revelation that Robert Galbraith was actually J.K. Rowling. Unsurprisingly, the series blew up more so because of Rowling, rather than the glowing reviews it received while assumed to be penned by a debut author. Seven years after the first novel, the fifth book is now on sale.
For several months now, Twitter has been aflame with thousands and thousands of responses to J.K. Rowling’s incendiary comments regarding trans women. Other than to say, trans women are women, for the purpose of keeping this a book review and not a political piece, I’m not going to address the scandal outside of where it’s relevant to the book. Believe me, I’d need A LOT more words to cover my support of the trans community as well as the recent controversy over ALL the Johnny Depp stuff (spoiler: he was miscast to begin with).
Back to Strike: the series follows Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, two private detectives locked into a “will they, won’t they” struggle, as they’ve solved high-profile crimes in London.
Cormoran Strike is often hailed as a “modern day Sherlock Holmes.” A veteran of the Afghanistan war, an amputee, the son of a groupie and a famous (albeit estranged) rockstar father, it’s impossible not to have fun reading this character.
Robin Ellacott began as a temporary secretary to Strike. Having always wanted to work in an investigative field, her dreams were cut short when she was raped and left for dead by a now incarcerated man. After dropping out of university, she eventually found her way back to solving crime.
Strike and Robin are hired to investigate a 40 year old cold case. A young doctor named Margot Bamborough vanished into thin air in 1974 and was never seen or heard from again. While it is commonly believed that Bamborough was the victim of the serial killer Dennis Creed (otherwise known as the Essex Butcher), her body was never found. With no physical evidence, Bamborough’s daughter hires the pair to solve the seemingly unsolvable case.
With so many people directly involved with the mystery having passed away, the two detectives initially have a hard time finding a breakthrough. The year long investigation finds an abusive artist in Greece, a London Gangster, a complacent husband, and more, resulting in what is easily the most difficult Strike mystery for the reader to solve.
But in the case of Troubled Blood, most loyal readers want to know about Strike and Robin. Best known for Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling’s reputation isn’t for writing romantic relationships. Of course, they appear in Potter, but are no means at the forefront of the novels, as they are in the Strike series. Troubled Blood easily plays host to the best Strike and Robin moments, though with 10+ books planned, don’t expect a happily ever after (or even a first date) any time soon.
Of course the other thing that everyone wants to know, is whether or not this book is transphobic. Dennis Creed, in the grand scheme of things, a minor character, occasionally used a pink coat and a wig to lure drunk women into his van. Dennis is a straight, cis male. Trans women and trans men are not mentioned at any point in the book. To me this played far more into the trope of actual real-life serial killers using women’s clothing to lure their victims, than it did about trans people. When one review said the heart of the novel was to “never trust a man in a dress,” it felt like said reviewer was missing the point. Isn’t the whole argument that trans women are women? Not men in dresses? I’m not an expert on trans issues, but in relation to this book (and this book alone), it seemed more of a tone deaf choice, than a transphobic one.
Ultimately, if loyal fans of the series no longer want to spend money on Rowling’s work, I respect their decision. But if those same fans have been waiting to find out what will happen to Strike and Robin, I hope they’ll take the time to borrow the book from a friend or check it out from a local library, because they have a great read to look forward to.
FYI: The Ickabog is also out now and proceeds benefit those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Words Nicole Caliro
Art Alexandra Lara