Troubled Blood: Strike Volume 5

Oh boy has this one ever turned out to be controversial. Even before launch people were queuing up to throw out opinions on its subject matter, mostly based on the strength of a second-hand reviews from less than entirely reliable sources. The dust has settled a little now, and so it’s probably a good time to to talk about JK Rowling’s fifth novel writing as Robert Galbraith.

It’s the summer of 2013, and a year has passed since the events of book 4, Lethal White. The detective agency in which Strike and Robin Cunliffe (1) are partners is doing fairly well, but their personal lives are much messier. The aunt to whom Strike has always felt close is terminally ill, while Robin’s marriage is over in all but name following the discovery of her husband Matthew’s infidelity. In the midst of al this they are contacted by Anna Phipps, the daughter of Margot Bamborough, a doctor who vanished in Clerkenwell in London in 1974. Perhaps against their better instincts they agree to take on their first real cold case and begin an investigation.

The first thing you notice is that, as with all the Strike books, the procedural parts are well researched, and generally factually sound (2). And if you want a running travelogue of the underbelly of London, including of any number of London pubs, then Jo Rowling is your gal. In the early part of this novel she spends a fair amount of time around Clerkenwell (3), including talking about the Order of St. John and the Knights Hospitaller. This always adds a nice bit of colour, and also does the job of convincing me that I should wander around some of these places idly at some point.

One of the things that attracts me most about the series is the character arc of Robin Ellacott, who’s a strong, nuanced and fantastically interesting female character. In truth, she is probably far more the centre of these books than her partner. True, Strike’s story is by no means untold, but the novels always feel more about Robin to me. This story is no different.

While the investigative part of the story is complex, and arcane, most of the action here is more about the interior lives of the leads. Strike is travelling between London and Cornwall, dealing with the illness, then the death of his aunt Joan, as well as the effects on his uncle, Ted. He is also having to deal with his erratic ex, Charlotte, attempting to make contact with him again, as well as the unwelcome attentions of his father’s extended famly. Meanwhile, Robin’s divorce is turning ugly. It appears that Matthew is attempting to exercise control over proceedings by making things as awkward as he possibly can for Robin, to her intense annoyance.

And whle this happens, they discover more about Margot, an East-end girl who got into medical school, and turns out to have been a complex and formidable character. It is also useful to compares the similarities and the difference between Margot’s working environment, and Robin’s, around 40 years apart.

(1) She’s still married to Matthew Cunliffe, But not for too much longer.

(2) But then, if they weren’t they’d get ripped apart by others, so this might the the least you’d expect.

(3) A place I have actually been, but only briefly, and in passing

A northern man

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