This shouldn’t have been my favorite Galbraith book thus far. It is not only a serial-killer mystery, it has unenlightening, skimworthy sections in the villain’s point of view. And it presents three possible villains and their awful backstories!
So why did I like this book so much? 1) JK Rowling is just a very good writer—voice, characterization, pacing—the whole package. 2) There is excellent character development of both detectives. 3) When delving into the villain backstories, there is a lot of compassion for the victims who come alive—I didn’t feel like we were supposed to be fascinated by the villains themselves. At least I wasn’t.
Cormoran Strike has an unusual backstory which comes off as authentic (instead of eye-rollingly unbelievable). His mother was a groupie, his father a famous rockstar, difficult childhood. He was in the army as an SIB investigator, hence his skills and toughness. And he lost a leg.
Robin’s a more regular character, but in this book you get to see what has formed her (it’s well set up from previous books) as well as why she’s so attached to her crap fiancé and her job as a detective.
Often with mysteries, my suspension of disbelief gets broken by some of the structural necessities. If part of the book’s aim is to keep the murderer’s identity secret until the very end, people get moved around in the plot in ways that feel forced or articificial. I wouldn’t say there was none of that here, but Rowling presents the three possibilities convincingly—and each needs to be properly assessed.
Rowling also ties the mystery strongly to character development. (Which can also feel forced in murder mysteries, imo, but really works here.) One of the possible villains is Strike’s stepfather, so we get a lot more of his backstory while Robin is targeted by the villain, putting her at risk and bringing out more of her backstory—plus tensions between her and Cormoran.
The last page was perfect. I can’t wait to read the next book, and I’m not usually so attached to mystery series.