Robert Galbraith, as we all know, is J.K.Rowling in another guise. I only read three of her Harry Potter books, but I was interested to see if the skills that made JKR possibly the most popular children’s author in the last two centuries were transferable to the adult crime genre.
What are those skills? I would say the ability to draw the reader into a comfortable familiar genre and then to turn it on its head. In Harry Potter, unhappy orphan child stumbles into a magical world where he finds an ordained role as a magician and scourge of evil. She also has a brilliant ability to pace a story, to draw the screws more and more tightly so the reader is captivated, indeed almost addicted to her story. Her plotting is remarkable. A character, once introduced, is never wasted. He/she is presented, often slowly at first, then the thread is extended more and more through every volume of the story until a resolution of that particular strand is arrived at. I imagine her study with a giant white board running all around the room with coloured threads of plot and character twisted into a mind-dizzying tangle until they somehow arrive at a neat resolution at the end of the series. She also creates vivid characters, and can be very funny. On the downside she does love adjectives a bit too much, and her writing can be a bit ordinary at times, but when she’s on her game she’s unbeatable.
This is the conclusion I have arrived at after spending the last two weeks reading her crime series featuring Cormoran Strike, her one-legged ex MP (that’s Military Police), and his assistant Robin Ellacott. These books all have around 450 pages, but they are quick reads. When you’re in the mind of a serial killer contemplating his next victim you tend to read fast.
As some of you may know, this particular Gert is a rather cowardly reader, so serial killers are not her everyday fare. But Galbraith entwined me in her tangle of story. She drew me in with her first book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, where Robin first comes to work for Strike, blissfully happy about her sparkling new engagement ring. It has all gone downhill from there by Career of Evil, the third book in the series.
The Cuckoo’s Calling centres around the world of fashion and music; today’s cool young people damaged by drugs and beset by paparazzi. The plot concerns the death of a young model. The police (always super dumb in these books so far) and everyone else think it was suicide, but Cormoran proves a different finding. Enjoyable, but apart from Cormoran’s rough language, could have been written by PD James.
The second book, The Silkworm, is much stronger meat. Set in the world of writers and publishers, with a particularly nauseating method of murder for the unpleasant author (and quite a bit of conjecture as to what happened to a bag containing his intestines.) But for me a great deal of the interest in this book arose from the deteriorating relationship between Robin and her fiancé, and the description of driving to remote locations in the middle of a heavy snow storm. The account of racing through the snow so Robin can catch the train back to a funeral she cannot afford to miss is heart-stopping.
But still, I wasn’t quite prepared for the third book, Career of Evil. The book opens in the voice of the serial killer. The first sentence gives some indication of what we are in for:
He had not managed to scrub off all her blood.
And in the office Robin has just received a severed leg in the mail. This book centres around vengeance due to Strike from his past policing. He is deeply hated by some hideous criminals, and the police aren’t too keen on him either. We also find more about the hinted-at trauma from Robin’s past, she and Strike are at odds, and she has become quite disillusioned with her fiancé. Conflict rules the day.
I can’t imagine where all this will go in the fourth book awaiting publication, Lethal White, but I’ll be reading if I can stomach it. If you like a gripping yarns these book are for you. Probably on a par with Elizabeth George, but Galbraith is not so class-bound and her characters just have that something extra that makes them more fun.
Galbraith has said there will be seven books in the series. Here are some of my predictions for future developments:
Robin and Strike will get together, but how and in what manner they will enact their relationship is yet to be seen.
Strike, who has a passion for beer and junk food, is six foot three inches tall and pretty fat. He is described by one of his lovers as looking like Beethoven with a broken nose, but he is of course irresistible to women. I think he will take up swimming and become svelte and even more dangerously attractive.
Charlotte, the former love of his life, will be accused of murdering her new husband, Jago Ross, and she will have to turn to Strike for help.
Those readers fortunate to live in the UK can watch the BBC TV series Strike, which is now on to the second series based on The Silkworm.