Troubled Blood: The best addition to the series yet

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsTroubled Blood by Robert Galbraith science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsTroubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

There are two ways this review could go: either the controversy surrounding Troubled Blood (2020) and the internet backlash against J.K. Rowling for casting one of the main suspects as a cross-dresser could be ignored, or the entire review could be hinged upon it. It would be disingenuous to do the former and reductive to do the latter, so let’s leave it at this: if readers want the down-low on the dispute, Google it (and there’s plenty of content out there). The rest of this review will centre solely on the merits of the story, of which there are ample.

Detective Cormoran Strike and his partner Robin Ellacot are back, and not without a little personal baggage. Strike’s aunt is dying, and he finds himself increasingly needed in Cornwall where she lives, putting pressure on his remaining colleagues at the detective agency in London. Robin is in the middle of a messy divorce with the abhorrent Matthew. Throw into the mix a forty-year-old cold case of the murder of Margot Bamborough, a GP who disappeared without a trace after work one evening, and the detectives have got rather a lot on their plates.

In 1974, Margot Bamborough went missing after leaving her GP surgery in Clerkenwell. Given that it’s a cold case, and one more than forty years old at that, there is much less of a focus on forensics; much of the plot centres around interviewing the cast of characters involved in the mystery, and that is, of course, what Rowling does best.

There is a reason that the HARRY POTTER series has inspired such a loyal (and this is surely an understatement) following: it is mostly down to character. Rowling is a master at evoking likeable and relatable characters, and Strike and Robin are no exception. Juggling their personal issues whilst becoming more and more immersed in a case they have never been less likely to solve, it is impossible not to enjoy being in the company of the two detectives. And what’s more, fans of their long-simmering, will-they-won’t-they dynamic will not be disappointed: there is tension (sexual and otherwise) aplenty.

There is something just so readable about the CORMORAN STRIKE series. Rowling evokes a vivid portrayal of London, Cornwall and the host of other places the detectives must visit. She roots the story firmly in present-day pop culture, with references to songs and television shows that pepper the story with realism. Rowling’s characteristically wry tone is ever-present (as can be witnessed in the farting sofa, and a, um, farting witness). It is impossible not to race through the book, despite it being a hefty tome of Order of the Phoenix proportions.

The mystery itself is perhaps not the most compelling part of the story, but it is the character drama and dynamics that will have pages turning. Though you’d probably have to read Troubled Blood‘s predecessors to get the most out of the story (and the delightfully increasing tension between its protagonists), readers would still be invested in the gruff ex-boxer and his placatory partner. Well worth a read, and definitely the finest addition to the series yet.

Published in October 2020. A breathtaking, labyrinthine epic, Troubled Blood is the fifth Strike and Robin novel and the most gripping and satisfying yet. Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough – who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974. Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one forty years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on; adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. And Robin herself is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike. As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . 

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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One comment

  1. Well, the good news here is that within the fictional world. Robin is at last following through on divorcing Matthew.

    I couldn’t stand LETHAL WHITE, the long, unfocussed, windy, undisciplined behemoth the came before this one. LW convinced me once and for all that Rowling can’t write mysteries. I won’t be reading this one, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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