Cormoran Strike is the illegitimate child of a famous rock-star who lost one leg in Afghanistan. Not exactly experiences that the majority of readers share or have an easy time imagining. Still he feels much more real and relatable than many of his colleagues that have a less unusual backstory.
While I occasionally have problems imagining that crime-novel protagonists have life outside their work Strike seems like somebody who has a complicated but overall healthy private life: he shares dirty jokes with friends that date back to the days when they were at school together, suffers through awkward family-dinners with a brother-in-law he can’t stand and yells at the television when his football-club manages to lose after leading 2:0 at half-time. Despite all that the book also doesn’t fall in the opposite trap and makes you suffer through countless chapters on Strike’s private problems that have no relevance on the crime-plot.
Robin, Strike’s assistant, who admittedly stayed a bit colourless in the first book also gets more attention in this one. Still the secrecy surrounding parts of her past gets annoying after all the vague allusions about a big event that made her drop out of university without giving any more details. I assume we will learn more about it in the future books but I am not a big fan of the way the book handles it.
The crime-plot itself is everything one can wish for. It’s engaging and full of surprising twists that make it completely unpredictable. I was also glad that while the brutal and gruesome murder that the cover promises is certainly no hyperbole it never feels like it’s done for mere shock-value. There is just enough description to leave no doubt that it was a horrible murder but it doesn’t dwell on it for longer than necessary.
Bot sadly it does pull the same trick I already did not like in the first novel: Strike has a suspicion about who the killer is about 50 pages before the end. He shares this suspicion with Robin – but not with the readers. He tells Robin what she needs to do to find proof for his theory – but the readers only gets very vague hints about what it is. They have to wait for the big bang at the end to learn what exactly happened. I just can’t help but feel that this is a rather cheap trick to keep up the tension.