By Robert Galbraith
Rs 899 (Rs 412 on Kindle)
This is a book that has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. When JK Rowling – yes, Robert Galbraith is actually the pseudonym of the creator of THE Harry Potter – released Troubled Blood, the latest book in her series of thrillers featuring ex-Army officer Cormoran Strike, many critics took it to the cleaners because (mild spoiler alert) one of the villains of the book was a person who dressed as a woman and kidnapped, assaulted and murdered other women. Given Rowling’s controversial statements over the Transgender community, this choice of villain was bound to kick up a storm. And it has – a storm that has overshadowed the book to a large extent.
Well, to be brutally honest, that controversy might have actually done Troubled Blood some good. For as a book, it is surprisingly ordinary. Ordinary, we hasten to say, by the very high standards that we expect from JK Rowling. In many ways, it reminded us of The Casual Vacancy, Rowling’s first official attempt at serious writing – it has its moments, but for the most part, it is tedious writing. Some authors, like Stephen King, can hold your interest across almost a thousand pages. Rowling, for all her unmatchable gifts as a narrator, tends to start losing her grip as the book becomes longer – we saw it happen with the Harry Potter series and now, we are seeing it in the Cormoran Strike one.
At more than 950 pages, Troubled Blood is the longest in the Cormoran Strike series (the first in the series was 450 odd pages and its predecessor was 650 pages or so). And it feels that way too. So much so that for the first six chapters you do not even know what the story is, as Rowling focuses on Strike and his slightly complicated relationship with his family, and on the life of his associate/assistant Robin Ellacott. Unlike her earlier books in the series, which got off to brisk starts, this one begins more like a family drama than the whodunit it is supposed to be.
Even when Strike’s firm is asked by a client to investigate the disappearance of her mother forty years ago, the pace does not really pick up. Yes, this is the first Cormoran and Robin are investigating what is technically a cold case (one that occurred a long time ago and has been officially given up), but things still move very slowly. The narration revolves around often prolonged interactions with witnesses and people related to the disappeared, and these are not always the greatest.
For once, Rowling’s skill with drawing memorable characters is not on point, and we found ourselves forgetting names and going back and forth to figure out references – not the kind of page turning you want to do in a thriller. The red herrings and false leads do not quite jump out at you, and by the time you reach the final denouement, there is a sense of fatigue – you are reading because you have already read so much and might as well find out how it all ends.
While we did try to keep our thoughts focused on the book, every discussion of feminism and gender (and there are characters with strong thoughts on both) made us think back to Rowling’s own statements on them. There are times when it seems almost as if she has used the book as a medium to justify her way of thinking. The casualty is the story. So much so that even the pairing of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott is not able to save the day. Yes, their conversations with the undercurrent of unexpressed love and expressed irritation are the highlight of the book, but even they come across as a little jaded this time. We just hope Rowling gives us at least one more book on them, because this is definitely not the duo we got introduced to in The Cuckoo’s Calling, and learned to love in The Silkworm, Career of Evil and even the slightly long-ish Lethal White.
Even their very mixed relationship – great partners at work, good enough friends, but neither wishing to really take things further in spite of very strong feelings for the other – does not really get any new dimensions. That said, you keep waiting for them to meet because then the book gets sparks of wit, repartee and sarcasm. It also makes you realise just what the author is really capable of. Troubled Blood, alas, is a bit like a Virender Sehwag innings of 10 spanning three hours. You follow it because you keep hoping it will explode into action, because you know what the batsman is capable of. And yet in the end what you get is a supersonic jet that spends two hours taxiing on a runaway without taking off. It would have been a decent if a trifle dull book from any other author, but when JK Rowling writes, we expect magic. Even if not of the Potter type. This is one strictly for the Strike-Robin fans who just want to see more of them and are willing to invest time and money for the cause. If you are looking for a page turner, keep-you- riveted kind of thriller, we would suggest giving this one a pass. Cormoran and Robin are very much there in Troubled Blood, but the story itself has gone on Strike. Pun intended.
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