THIS was a huge letdown. A thorough disappointment on so many fronts.
And all the more so for one who has been a consistent fan of the Cormoran Strike tales from the very beginning. As evidenced by having ordered and paid for this latest saga well in advance of its publication day.
We know better than to judge a book by its cover or by any other peripherals. However, for the record, this gargantuan tome weighs in at 1.35 kg embracing 927 often tedious, torturous and meandering pages.
It is, as the flyleaf puts it, “a labyrinthine epic”. No argument there. But excessive length and weight should not by mistaken as a positive.
Again it is woven around the professional and personal tribulations of the physically and mentally damaged and often surly war veteran and his continually self-doubting but stubbornly loyal sidekick, Robin Ellacott.
It is presumptuously tagged as “a Strike novel”. Unlike others in the series, described as crime fiction, no genre is stated. Although “an offbeat love story” might suffice.
Nor is there any clue as to who or what is Strike, the assumption being that if you don’t know you are newly arrived from a distant planet and therefore totally out of the lovey-dovey literary loop.
For what it’s worth, it is a cold case investigation of a forty-year-old murder that involves a vast cast of “characters”, much criss-crossing of the UK and an almost impenetrable dive into the world of the occult as seen through the eyes of a very confused ex-detective.
And so this is one for the dyed in the wool fans, those already well and truly hooked, and for who Harry Potter author JK Rowling, writing again as Robert Galbraith, can do no wrong. But will such unwavering loyalty hold fast when confronted with this meandering tangle of loose threads, false trails, barely credible actions and reactions, and detours into the occult?
Despite several times wanting to slam it shut and never open its pages again, I did persevere to the end. Ever hopeful of justifying the time outlaid.
That never happened.
The final balance sheet showed all expenditure and nil revenue. Apart from the overall disappointment there was continual irritation, frequent boredom, much disbelief, needless doubt, and numerous other negative reactions to a bumbling, meandering, repetitive, overlong, recital of a jumble of vignettes of loosely connected people and places short on genuine mystery or thrills.
A clusterfuck of a book creaking with the strains of its creation.
Thus I step into the shoes of the boy who declared the emperor was buck naked rather than clad in all the finery his tailors professed: This is NOT the book the flyleaf blurbs and numerous other promoters claim it to be. Not by a million miles.
A few for-instances to justify such a harsh call:
- The opening page refers to the black and white cross of St Piran. No, the cross is white; displayed on the Cornish flag on a black background.
- Cynthia pours Roy “more tea” yet ten lines later “Roy took a sip of coffee”.
- The use of the vernacular and regional accents for only a handful of characters (cockney Janice, Irish Oonagh) but then to excess.
- Needless repetition of words in close proximity (an editing issue).
- The almost encyclopedic detail of places and surroundings, a sort of “look at me, how thorough I (or at least my researchers) have been”. Why give us a guidebook when we’ve bought a mystery? Less would be more.
- Robin’s supreme ability in the sport of jumping to conclusions. So all-seeing, so prescient, so intuitive, so unbelievable when, as here, it is done to excess.
- Equally hard to swallow is the flood-hit journey by tractor and boat (!) to Jean and Ted’s home in St Mawes.
- The totally unbelievable reliance on a frequent injection of astrological flim-flam complete with mystical illustrations. I’m with Strike when, after another head-spinning lecture from Robin, “his tolerance for astrology was now wearing very thin”.
Throughout, the writing is from the school of “look at me, look at me” with its transparent straining for effect – and so often failing with sentences that demand not to be read.
As one who never been tempted to delve into any of the Harry Potter books, maybe I am missing something; that this is the style that has held millions of young readers in thrall to the wizardry they contain.
At least it has encouraged, even nurtured, a new generation of book-lovers. And that can’t be a bad thing.
But it’s not for me and sits uneasily under the crime fiction label, light years away from the previous Strike books.
Maybe it’s something to cure the languors of lockdown. But why make yourself even more depressed by having more hopes dashed?
Definitely one for the masochists.