My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Okay, let me say up front that I really enjoyed this book. I think it is my favorite in this series so far. J.K. Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith, seems to be hitting her stride with these new characters, Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott. She's fleshing them out in a way that makes them more real and more sympathetic. We begin to understand some of what motivates them.
As we join Robin and Cormoran this time, their struggling detective agency is still on the brink of disaster and soon events will conspire to push it further over that brink. Moreover, their personal lives, which they determinedly keep separate from their professional ones, are becoming complicated and problematic. In a few weeks, Robin is to marry her long-time boyfriend Matthew, whom Cormoran privately thinks is a "wanker." Meantime, Cormoran is involved with a beautiful and wealthy woman who is in the midst of a divorce. Beautiful and wealthy she may be, but Cormoran finds her boring. It seems obvious that this relationship cannot be saved.
As the two partners try to service their few remaining clients, a large package addressed to Robin is delivered to the office. She opens the package to find a woman's severed leg.
Although the package was addressed to Robin, it seems a clear message to Strike, since he is the one with the missing leg, lost in an explosion in the war in Afghanistan. He considers who might send him such a message and comes up with four names. Robin says somewhat incredulously, "You know four men who'd send you a severed leg? Four?" The reader is just as incredulous, but as we get to know these characters, it becomes quite plausible that any one of them could have done such a thing.
In time, the rest of the body that matches the leg turns up and it develops that it belonged to a young woman who longed to have one of her limbs amputated. And we learn to our horror that this is a thing. There are such people who are absolutely turned on by the thought of a missing limb. They dream of having perfectly healthy limbs removed. Our foray into their world, lived mostly on the Internet, is disturbing but seems to get us no closer to the perpetrator.
Then there are more attacks on women in which body parts are sliced off and eventually the police come around to the private detectives' point of view that this man has been attacking women for a while. That he is, in fact, a serial killer. But they seem to be chasing the wrong man which Strike finds increasingly frustrating. He and Robin set out to find the killer and the evidence to convict him.
We get to know Robin even better in this book. In fact, she takes center stage throughout much of it. We learn more about her background, which includes a brutal attack which she suffered during her college career. It put an end to her college career. She was never able to go back and graduate.
We know that she resents Matthew's denigration of her work and his seeming jealousy of her relationship with Strike. She is very ambivalent about their upcoming marriage and when she finds out that Matthew has been unfaithful, it looks for a while as if that might be the end of the marriage plans.
In addition to the development of the Robin character, we also meet more secondary characters in this book. One of them is Strike's old friend Shanker, who proves to be invaluable and who one would hope to meet again in future books. He's a sort of Ron Weasley character to Strike's Harry Potter.
This is a very clever plot. One would expect no less from Rowling/Galbraith. She keeps the action moving with unexpected twists and builds the suspense regarding the Strike and Ellacott relationship. They are obviously meant for each other but will they ever acknowledge it? Perhaps all will be revealed in the next book in the series.
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