It was no secret that I was excited about this novel being published. Thankfully, the excitement paid off. Another gripping and highly entertaining, if not slightly creepy crime novel. Galbraith/Rowling has a way of keeping the magic alive from the first novel to the last. I love it!
Following the success of the previous cases portrayed in the first two novels, the third begins with with the private investigation business thriving. It’s 2011 and Robin, having now completed the investigative course Strike bought her, is working as a full time investigator as well as a secretary. The longstanding tension between Strike and Matthew, Robin’s fiancé, still remains and is in fact heightened within this novel. Matthew is still ‘that guy’: the jealous boyfriend.
“A lot of men find it hard to hear how well their other halves get on with other men.”
The novel begins with Robin receiving a package from a courier, whose face is hidden by a helmet. The package contained a woman’s severed right leg, accompanied by a note quoting from the Blue Öyster Cult song ‘Mistress of the Salmon Salt (Quicklime Girl)’. Interestingly, this was also a tattoo that Strike’s mother had above her crotch. The link caused Strike to believe that the package had been sent by someone from his own past with a grudge against him. Strike informs the police of his 4 suspects, three of whom, he knew from his time in the SID. They consist of: a prominent gangster that Strike anonymously investigated and privately testified against, Noel Brockbank – a paedophile that he’d investigated and managed to get convicted and Donald Laing – an ex-squaddie that he defeated in a boxing match and later investigated and convicted him for physical abuse of his wife and child. The final suspect: his mother’s widower, Jeff Whittaker, whom Strike had testified against in his mothers murder trial. Whittaker was acquitted.
“He possessed a finely honed sense for the strange and the wicked. He had seen things all through his childhood that other people preferred to imagine happened only in films.”
The police focus their attentions on the gangster as Strike and Robin look back over the “nutters” who have sent letters, such as one woman who had written to Strike to ask for his help in amputating her own leg for personal gratification. It is in this period that the reader along with Strike learn more about Robin. She reveals her traumatic rape and attempted murder that resulted in her dropping out of university. She discovers, in an argument about Strike, that Matthew had cheated on her during this time with Sarah, a friend who constantly winds her up about Strike, causing her and Matthew to argue. Angrily, and almost predictably, she throws herself into the case.
The police learn that the leg sent to Robin matches the recently discovered body of the would-be amputee. The body was formally identified and Robin received another package – a toe from the left foot of the same body, with more BOC lyrics. This leads to Strike and Robin leading their own investigation of Brockbank, Laing and Whittaker. However the business was beginning to suffer. The negative publicity from the receipt of the leg, the fact they seem unable to solve it yet, and the efforts Strike’s puts in place in order to protect Robin from the risk posed by the killer, jeopardise both Strike’s business and their working relationship. Strike and Robin take it upon themselves to travel around England to track their suspects. Naturally, this causes the romantic tension between the two to increase.
“He was not a man who told himself comfortable lies.”
The pair eventually establish the recent history and location of each of the three suspects, all amazingly are in London. The serial killer strikes twice more during their time investigating. The killer cuts two fingers off the first victim who survived, but killed the second time, thus becoming known as the Shacklewell Ripper.
It isn’t difficult for the reader, along with Strike and Robin to realise that Robin is the target. However, Robin is seen being careful: carrying a rape alarm, never out after dark, watching an apparently empty house. Yet, the Ripper attacks and almost a murders Robin whilst she’s on the phone to Strike, on her way home after following Whittaker.
“Strike, who had heard the testimony of Brittany Brockbank and Rhona Laing and many others like them, knew that most women’s rapists and killers were not strangers in masks who reached out of the dark space under the stairs. They were the father, the husband, the mother’s or the sister’s boyfriend…”
During the aftermath of the attack, Strike works out the identity of the killer. But, the police officer in charge of the investigation, the same officer who had taken the lead on the Lula Landry investigation, disregards everything Strike says. He hasn’t quite forgiven Strike for solving his case and humiliating him in front of the worlds media.
Robin takes it upon herself to take action toward Brockbank, whom they had established was not the killer, but still a criminal nonetheless, resulting in Strike firing her, both to head off the police, who has specifically told Strike to leave all of the suspects alone, and to set up the next step against the killer. Matthew is delighted.
“She had drawn strength from everyone else’s weakness, hoping that her adrenaline-fueled bravery would carry her safely back to normality”
Without the police, or his sidekick Robin, Strike has to find evidence against the killer. At this point, a downbeat and dejected Robin has left London for her wedding to Matthew. Strike posing as a someone from the he electricity board, manages to get into the Ripper Donald Laing’s apartment. This apartment wasn’t lived in, but was used as a store room for his ‘souvenirs’ from his attacks. The vivid description of what was hiding in the fridge actually made me heave. (Clearly a sure sign of excellent writing!) Laing returns and the men fight. Laing wants Strike dead.
Whilst in hospital being treated for his injuries from Laing, Strike is informed by the police that as well as catching Laing, they caught Brockbank. The following day, with a little help, Strike travelled to Yorkshire for Robin’s wedding. He arrived just in time to hear her say “I do”. The first smile from her is seen, when she sees Strike.
“He’s the turd that won’t flush,” as Strike put it to Lucy.”
The narrative structure was different for this novel. Unlike the first two Galbraith novels, this time there was a third point of view: the serial killer. This was excellent because it meant you could build up a relationship with him, albeit a rather uncomfortable one. The added volume to Robin’s voice was also superbly done. Making her past relate to this present case meant that there was no choice but for her to be personally involved.
Another fantastic novel, but darker than the first two. I recommend to any fan of Galbriath/Rowling and fans of crime fiction.
Big love x