Murderous muggles are up to no good, and it’s up to a seemingly unlikely hero to set things right.
The big news surrounding this pleasing procedural is that Galbraith, reputed former military policeman and security expert, is none other than J.K. Rowling, who presumably has no experience on the Afghan front or at Scotland Yard. Why the pseudonymous subterfuge? We may never know. What’s clear, and what matters, is that Galbraith/Rowling’s yarn is an expertly written exercise in both crime and social criticism of a piece with Rowling’s grown-up novel The Casual Vacancy (2012), even if her hero, private detective Cormoran Strike, bears a name that wouldn’t be out of place in her Harry Potter series. Strike is a hard-drinking, hard-bitten, lonely mess of a man, for reasons that Rowling reveals bit by bit, carefully revealing the secrets he keeps about his parentage, his time in battle and his bad luck. Strike is no Sherlock Holmes, but he’s a dogged pursuer of The Truth, in this instance the identity of the person who may or may not have relieved a supermodel of her existence most unpleasantly: “Her head had bled a little into the snow. The face was crushed and swollen, one eye reduced to a pucker, the other showing as a sliver of dull white between distended lids.” It’s an icky image, but no ickier than Rowling’s roundup of sinister, self-serving, sycophantic characters who inhabit the world of high fashion, among the most suspicious of them a fellow who’s—well, changed his name to pull something over on his audience (“It’s a long fucking way from Hackney, I can tell you...”). Helping Strike along as he turns over stones in the yards of the rich and famous is the eminently helpful Robin Ellacott, newcomer to London and determined to do better than work as a mere temp, which is what lands her at Strike’s door. The trope of rumpled detective and resourceful girl Friday is an old one, of course, but Rowling dusts it off and makes it new even as she turns London into a setting for her tale of mayhem as memorable as what Dashiell Hammett did with San Francisco in The Maltese Falcon.
A quick, fun read. Rowling delivers a set of characters every bit as durable as her Potter people and a story that, though no more complex than an Inspector Lewis episode, works well on every level.