It’s not an understatement to say that there has been a lot of interest and publicity surrounding this book. The announcement last month of the third book’s publication date has only added to the hype, along with the promise from Rowling/Galbraith that there’s more books planned than the number in the Harry Potter series. For me, I absolutely loved this book. I was gripped from start to finish, rode it like a wave, and to be completely honest I was a bit gutted when it ended. I wanted more!
The novel centres around Cormoran Strike; a one-legged, son of a rock star, military policeman turned private investigator. His personal life seems a bit of a mess, he’s broken up with his on-off lover and is sleeping on a camp bed in his office.
He is hired by John Bristow, the adopted brother of the famous supermodel Lula Landry. It is reported that she fell from her balcony three months before in an alleged suicide attempt. John Bristow is not satisfied with this outcome and wants Strike to investigate her death. Lula was troubled, was in a bad relationship and was alone when she fell from the balcony. It all seems fairly obvious and pointing towards suicide. How wrong could they be?
Strike knew the family well, as Bristow’s other sibling, Charlie, had been a school friend of Strike before he sadly died, falling into a quarry while riding his bicycle. Alongside of this Strike also meets Robin, who has been sent to him to be his temporary secretary. Strike’s personal issues mean that he can hardly afford to have her, but she turns out to be more useful than he previously assumed. She saves him in more ways than one. This does bring some elements of tension within the novel, as her partner, Matthew, does not agree with her working for him. They have various squabbles over it. “Matthew kept hinting that Strike was somehow a fake. He seemed to feel that being a private detective was a far-fetched job, like astronaut or lion tamer; that real people did not do such things.”
The case naturally receives a huge amount of media attention, and Strike seems sceptical to reopen such a thoroughly investigated case. Despite these original doubts, he begins to interview people involved with Lula. He encounters her security guard, personal driver, uncle, friends and designer. Each character, with their stories and personal experiences of Lula, adds to the feeling that the circumstances of her death are not as clear cut as originally thought. It’s far more ambiguous than he imagined. “Strike was used to playing archaeologist among the ruins of people’s traumatised memories.”
Strike continues with his interviews, meeting several people, such as Lula and John’s maternal uncle Tony Landry, Lula’s homeless friend Rochelle, and her boyfriend Evan Duffield. The most interesting of the statements come from Tansy Bestigui, Lula’s downstairs neighbour. She claimed that she heard Lula fighting with a man and then falling from her balcony. Clearly this contradicts the police report, who believed her to be alone on the night she died. This information was initially dismissed, as Tansy lives two floors below, so it was assumed she couldn’t possibly hear have heard it from that distance. However, what really enabled her to hear this was events in her own personal life. Her husband found her with cocaine, pushed her out onto the balcony, thus enabling her to hear the fight. Why did she not reveal her true location? Well, it was below zero outside and her husband had forced her to be silent, fearful of being arrested himself for abusing Tansy. “The dead could only speak through the mouths of those left behind, and through the signs they left scattered behind them.”
Whilst searching through the past for answers, reality and the present comes a knocking as Rochelle Onifade is found dead. This happens hours after leaving a meeting with Strike. He concludes that she must have been in contact with the murderer. However, he doubts that she knew exactly who the person behind the killing is. As a reader, this was completely gripping. The twists and turns kept you on your feet, trying to work out what will happen next, and to whom.
As the investigation deepens, Strike discovers that the reason behind the murder was for the ten million pounds she possessed. Lula, a mixed race girl, who was adopted into a wealthy white family, was obsessed with researching her biological roots before her death. After much soul searching, Strike realises that John is in fact the murderer, hoping to get his hands on her money. He also makes the link between John and Charlie’s death years before. John was using Strike in an attempt to frame Lula’s biological brother Jonah for her murder. This is because he suspected that Lula made a will leaving her fortune to Jonah. This, in fact turns out to be correct. “It was weird. Would you believe it if some supermodel called you up and told you she was your sister?’ Strike thought of his own bizarre family history. ‘Probably,’ he said.”
John, who had been unable to find Lula’s will, hoped that if it surfaced, Jonah would be unable to inherit the millions if he had been convicted of her murder. John believes that he could manipulate Strike’s friendship with Charlie, resulting in Strike trusting him. When Strike confronts John with what he has found, the truth, he attempts to stab him. This results in a physical fight, where Strike is saved when Robin returns to the office.
Towards the conclusion of the book, Robin leaves for her next job. Strike gives her a green silk dress that she had tired on and love when they were searching for information on Vashut. The dress came from a shop that Lula had frequently bought clothes from. Strike decides that he needs her, she is a vital asset to his detective agency. They decide that she will stay on, with each feeling happy about this decision. However, Strike reflects on Matthew, and how buying Robin a dress would only add to his dislike of him. The novel ends, rather normally I must add, with Strike at a doctors appointment.
I wish I had read this book before it was revealed that Galbraith was a pseudonym for J K Rowling. It contains the classic elements of the crime genre, it’s well written and a novel with good pace. The treatment of the police should be noted, as it was respectfully done, unlike Sherlock Holmes for example, who spends his time ridiculing Scotland Yard. I like to think I could have worked out that it was Rowling, the alliterative names a little hint towards the real writer (e.g. Lula Landry/Helga Hufflepuff). Maybe that’s just a hope. But, this book should be treated as a stand alone novel. It’s nothing like Harry Potter, you wouldn’t expect it to be. You can hardly blame Rowling for wanting to change genres and name for her next project. I got the second book on its release date, and the third is preordered. It is a stunning example of the crime genre and of a novel itself. Well done Rowling. Once again you have shown the world what an incredible writer you are.
Big love x