Tag Archives: Cormoran Strike

The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling

Well, amateur psychologists would have a field day, wouldn’t they?

Noted Twitter rabble rouser, JK Rowling, also known for writing the Harry Potter novels, has realised a sixth Cormoran Strike novel The Ink Black Heart under her gender swap pseudonym Robert Galbraith, because it’s okay for her to cosplay a male army veteran. She’s making the rules around here and will set her flying Twitter monkeys on anyone who disagrees.

Anyway, JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith’s latest murder mystery focuses on the murder of Edie Ledwell, the co-creator of a popular internet cartoon who has been subject to doxxing by a fandom turned toxic after the cartoon sold rights to Netflix with a film in development. At the heart of the fandom is an anonymous user, Anomie, who openly admits to the murder within the game, but cannot be identified in the outside world. To complicate matters further, Anomie appears to be working with a misogynistic white-supremacist terrorist organisation, The Halvening, with the stated public aim of bringing down prominent left-wing women, and they now have Strike’s partner Robin Ellacot in their sights.

My views on the views of JK Rowling aside, the Strike books are generally entertaining reads, engaging murder mysteries with an engaging cast of characters, but they all suffer the same fundamental problem – a lack of red pen action from the editor. This is the longest novel in the series to date, and it was filled with subplots and incidents which I felt detracted from the main novel. I’m conscious that Strike’s sister Prudence, Isla’s pregnancy, Strike’s diet and, who knows, even Robin’s new pot plant, might be setting up plot lines for future novels but a lot of this felt like filler in an already long novel.

At the time of the novel’s release, I saw a lot of commentary complaining the book was “unreadable” because a decent proportion of the story is told through chatroom logs. I read these in eBook format and found them easy enough to follow side by side, though I then found that these had been repeated again sectioned chat by chat  out of chronological order which didn’t detract from the novel for me, definitely not to the extent that I would call it unreadable. If anything, I thought this was one of the stronger parts of The Ink Black Heart, with a feel of Janet Hallett’s The Appeal to the moderator chat logs.

I felt a bit jaded by the Strike/Robin dynamic in The Ink Black Heart, and particularly the character of Strike who seemed to have transitioned from gruff but quietly noble in previous novels to a bit of a sad old man in this novel. At the ripe old age of forty, he’s clueless about how YouTube and Twitter work and delegates handling research on these to Robin rather than get his head round it. He starts a relationship with a woman who looks a bit like Robin to distract him from his feelings for Robin – there was a particularly nihilistic quote along the lines of aren’t we all using each other where he’s mentally justifying this to the woman in question which I’ve forgotten to bookmark. The sections of the novel focusing on him planning his diet while Robin does the grunt research further amplify this, and the novel had a feel of Robin doing all the leg work while Strike gets all the credit.

It’ll be interesting to see how they adapt The Ink Black Heart for the BBC series Strike, which made quite a few changes to Troubled Blood, the last Strike novel in the series. The extensive chat logs in themselves could be tricky to adapt to screen. Some further thoughts on the book are below but contain spoilers for The Ink Black Heart…..




Spoilers for The Ink Black Heart

As I mentioned earlier, amateur psychologists will no doubt have had fun picking this novel apart. I’m not sure if it was intended as a witty riposte to the haters, but I found the description of the fandom and culture of communication around it quite ickily telling.

Within the toxicity of the Ink Black Heart fandom, there’s a “voice of reason” critic who blogs under the lofty pseudonym The Pen of Justice. The Pen is “wokeness” in the fandom, writing about issues of race, antisemitism, gender identity, ableism that appear within the cartoon (note these are all aspects of the Harry Potter series that have been critiqued widely on social media by fans). Naturally, JK Rowling decides to make the character highlighting these issues a paedophile, so yeah JK, let us know how you really feel about people saying the Gringotts goblins peddle in antisemitic tropes…

There’s been a lot of “the novel isn’t transphobic, but” commentary around The Ink Black Heart. It’s not my place to say what constitutes transphobia, but I don’t doubt JK Rowling was aware of the echoes of her transphobic dogwhistle when she wrote a male character who poses as a female character to catfish, control and ultimately murder a vulnerable “good” character.

Ableism is something that Rowling mentions a lot in the novel, and I couldn’t help but feel that the disabled characters were ranked on a scale of legitimate disability to illegitimate disability. So Strike with his amputation, manfully ploughing on with surveillance despite the damage he was doing to his body ranks high on her legitimate scale. Morehouse with cerebral palsy, off screen and shut away for the majority of the novel except when his murdered body was displayed, legitimate disability with the polished halo of being a child genius at the same time. Meanwhile characters with less visible disabilities like ME like Kea and Inigo are little more sophisticated than poison pen portraits of characters, and don’t get me started on of course the murderous would be rapist has a facial disfigurement….

I thought the inclusion of Drek’s Game was very interesting, a fan tribute to the cartoon which turns ugly when the creator says it wasn’t quite what she had in mind. I wonder how informed that was by Rowling’s experience of the Harry Potter fan culture that sprung up in the early days of the internet. I have vivid memories of playing a fan made sorting hat and subscribing to a fan run Daily Prophet as a young teenager… so long ago now.

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

I had quite a lengthy debate with myself about whether I should buy Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling’s Troubled Blood. Can you separate an artist from their art, especially in the case of JK Rowling whose art is words, and has written an insidious transphobic article as a dogwhistle to the likeminded as she attempts to justify her overtly transphobic tweets.

Working in publishing, I know that there are a lot more people dependent on the sales of a book than an author. The royalties from book purchases probably make minimal difference to the multimillionaire (some say billionaire) Rowling, but for the editors, designers, typesetters at publishers whose salaries are paid by the sales of such books, a major release tanking in the wake of cancel culture could mean redundancies for people who were not involved, who may have been among the Hachette staff who refused to work on her books because of her totally unacceptable views about transmen and transwomen.

Given the context of this furore around JK Rowling’s controversial statements, it didn’t take long for clickbait headlines seemingly flaunting spoilers to announce that Rowling had doubled down on her transphobic views by writing a “cross dressing villain”, Vanity Fair magazine online going so far as to lead with a headline suggesting that it proved Rowling’s commitment to transphobia.

So is Robert Galbraith’s 5th Strike novel Troubled Blood transphobic?

I realise of course that I’m speaking from a position of cis privilege and am not affected by the issues in the same way as someone who identifies as non-binary or trans, but I don’t think that the novel is transphobic in the way that the numerous clickbait headlines would like to imply. The cross-dressing killer they refer to, Dennis Creed, is a sub plot of the novel, an already incarcerated cis male suspect in a cold case, who rather than being transgender, or even actively cross dressing, is noted to have engaged in fetishist theft of clothing, and has posed as a camp gay man to ensure that he appears unthreatening to his victims, in order to win their trust. The novel seems to anticipate the criticisms of real world readers by providing real world comparisons for serial killers who have behaved in this way when Robin compares Creed to Jerry Brudos. Having said this, the novel did contain sections which betrayed a deep underlying fear of non-traditional gender identities assumptions with a passage that refers to a character being “hoodwinked by a careful performance of femininity” which did make me wince, but all in all, I don’t think that these aspects of the novel would have been unremarked upon had it not been for Rowling’s “series of unfortunate tweets”.

The book in itself was an improvement on Lethal White, but still suffers from Galbraith (or Rowling) being too big to be reined in by her editor. The story itself was well executed, but indulged too many diversions in the name of characterisation which diverted from the plot and added little to the story. Robin’s quest for a new perfume, the dinner party Robin’s flatmate holds for Strike, Ilsa’s miscarriage, and the entire bloody Charlotte Ross subplot would have benefitted from a liberal application of red pen to tighten the novel up.

What really gets me with Rowling’s writing, and I suppose there’s an argument that this is an aspect of most genre fiction, but I think Rowling is particularly guilty of this, is that I find that she devotes an excessive amount of time expanding upon the background and psyche of her favoured main characters (honestly, the word count wasted throughout the novel musing on Robin’s bloody perfume choices…) while writing many of the characters as lazy archetypes- the Bengali doctor, the strong black woman, the bitter spinster, the airheaded mockney receptionist… and that brings me to another of my issues with Rowling’s writing- the insistence upon writing in dialect. I’m sure that this is intended to give colour to her writing, but it seems to me that it implies a level of class judgement, at one point Strike tells a working class character that they do a good middle class accent… what the flip is a middle class accent??? Why does Rowling write a Scots accent, or a cockney accent phonetically, when she writes an RP accent, or Robin’s Yorkshire accent in standard English after describing them as such? It seems to me to come back to this idea of the archetype, the Scottish ex-squaddie is written in some kind of mock Scots to flesh out his archetype, and so is the cockney secretary, whereas the characters who are worthy of her attention are worthy of standard English dialect… Maybe you can get away with it in children’s books, but I think it needs to be better executed in an adult’s book.

My feeling is that the books are becoming too invested in drawing out a relationship between Robin and Strike, and less on solving crimes. As such, I’d say there can only really be one book left in the Strike series, two at most before it becomes a parody of the earlier books in the series.