J.K. Rowling continues her investigation of the dark side—this time giving us three gruesomely twisted suspects—in her latest pseudonymous mystery.
Robin Ellacott first showed up at hard-living private eye Cormoran Strike’s office as a temp, but by the end of their second big case (The Silkworm, 2014), she’d become indispensable as a fellow investigator. As this third book opens, she’s arriving at work off Charing Cross Road and accepts a package from a deliveryman, thinking it’s a shipment of favors for her upcoming wedding to Matthew, the jealous fiance who disapproves of her job. When she opens it, though, she’s horrified to find a woman’s leg. Someone seems to be using Robin to get to her boss, who's missing a leg himself, having lost it in an explosion in Afghanistan. Strike can think of four men, right off the top of his head, who would be capable of such a horrific thing: the stepfather he thinks killed his mother with a heroin overdose; a famous mobster; and two sick bastards he tangled with when he was an Army investigator. The police immediately go after the mobster, who, on second thought, Strike finds an unlikely culprit—so he and Robin set to work tracking down the other three. Rowling is, as always, an unflinching chronicler of evil, interspersing chapters told from the perspective of the carefully unnamed perpetrator—a serial killer with a penchant for keeping “souvenirs” from his victims’ bodies and an unhealthy obsession with Strike—as he follows Robin around London, waiting for her to get distracted just long enough for him to kill her, too. Robin and Strike’s relationship continues to be the best part of the series, though perhaps it’s too easy to dislike Matthew; readers will be cheering when Robin breaks off their engagement, but of course it won’t be that easy to get rid of him. The story has its longueurs, and if Galbraith weren’t actually Rowling, an editor might have told him to trim a bit, especially once Strike and Robin close in on their three suspects and start conducting repetitive stakeouts (and especially since the two who aren’t Strike’s former stepfather are hard to keep straight).
The book ends on a cliffhanger worthy of Harry Potter, and Rowling’s readers will eagerly await the next installment.