J.K. Rowling returns with her fourth pseudonymous mystery, putting Cormoran Strike and his now–partner in detecting, Robin Ellacott, in the middle of a scheme involving blackmail, murder, and the House of Commons.
Fans have had to wait three years for the latest Galbraith (Career of Evil, 2015, etc.) novel, but the book picks up exactly where the last installment left off, with Strike arriving late to Robin’s wedding, just after she says “I do” to her odious fiance, Matthew. Strike had recently fired Robin from her job at his private detective agency, worried about her safety after a serial killer tried to make her his next victim, and Robin is more concerned with whether he’s going to hire her back than about making sure the wedding guests are enjoying themselves. Not-really-spoiler-alert: He is. Flash-forward a year, and the agency is prospering when a mentally ill man named Billy shows up with a half-coherent story about having witnessed something terrible when he was a child: “I seen a kid killed…strangled.” Soon after, Jasper Chiswell (pronounced “Chizzle,” in the obscure way of the English upper class), the Minister for Culture, hires Strike to find dirt on two people he says are blackmailing him: Geraint Winn, whose wife is another government minister, and Jimmy Knight, who, not coincidentally, is the brother of Billy, whose story Strike had been looking into. Robin goes undercover in Chiswell’s office, where we meet a variety of the minister’s colleagues, friends, and family members. Rowling keeps many balls up in the air—perhaps too many considering the dead body that gets the book off the ground doesn’t show up until Page 281. There are still another 366 pages to go, and much of that length is a slog. Robin, who can be a great character, spends way too much time wondering what to do about her personal life—for the fourth book in a row. The mystery itself is complex, which is good, verging on convoluted, which is not. There are pleasures to be had, as in Rowling’s jokes on her uber-posh characters: “ ‘Steady on, old chap,’ said [Chiswell’s son-in-law], something that Robin had never thought to hear outside a book.” But there’s way too much filler in between.
Let’s hope Rowling’s next book is sharper and shorter.