Review

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith, review: JK Rowling fails to Strike again

3/5

Strike and Robin’s fifth outing is good on characterisation, weak on everything else, and has a sub-plot to make Rowling’s critics fume

Troubled Blood is the fifth Strike novel from 'Robert Galbraith' (JK Rowling)
Troubled Blood is the fifth Strike novel from 'Robert Galbraith' (JK Rowling) Credit: Sphere

This fifth instalment in JK Rowling’s pseudonymous series continues to chronicle the prolonged will-they-won’t-they relationship between private eyes Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott.

One obstacle has at last been cleared: Robin has now separated from her weaselly husband Matthew. There’s not much time for romance, however, with dying relatives, pervy colleagues, estranged parents and suicidal ex-partners preoccupying the dynamic duo as much as their work.

Rowling/Galbraith always writes well about her characters’ personal lives, although there is nothing here that quite matches her superbly well-observed portrait of the breakdown of Robin’s marriage in the last book. Nevertheless, Rowling’s recent revelation that she was sexually assaulted as a young woman adds an extra poignancy to her depiction of how Robin’s similar experiences drive her desire to help life’s victims.

The meat of the book is the investigation into a cold case: the disappearance of GP Margot Bamborough in 1974, thought to have been a victim of Dennis Creed, a transvestite serial killer. One wonders what critics of Rowling’s stance on trans issues will make of a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress. As Strike and Robin try to uncover the truth, the novel’s 900 pages unfold as a series of interminable conversations with various elderly witnesses, and there is an almost perverse lack of excitement.

Although novels about decades-old crimes often lack a sense of urgency, there can be a compensatory depth: see for example Agatha Christie’s masterly Five Little Pigs. But, pleasant reading though it is, there’s little here to justify the book being twice as long as the early Strike novels. In those, Rowling expertly kept plot, character, tension and pace in perfect balance; she ought to reread them before she embarks on the sixth book.

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith is published by Sphere at £20, ebook £10.99. To order your copy, call 0844 871 1514 or visit the Telegraph Bookshop