Written by Robert Galbraith, narrated by Robert Glenister — In the Acknowledgements for this new crime thriller, Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) says she’s never enjoyed writing a book more than this one, and it shows. It starts with a bang, and the energy never flags. Devotees of the heavy metal rock band Blue Öyster Cult will recognise that their allusive and sometimes violent lyrics give the book its title, chapter titles, and break headings. Chapter 1, for example, is This Ain’t the Summer of Love. Nor is it.
Former Army Special Investigator Cameron Strike runs a not-exactly-thriving London private detection business, aided by his attractive factotum Robin Ellacott. They have only two cases going when a delivery man shows up with a package addressed to Robin and containing the severed leg of a young girl. Under the leg is a note containing lyrics from Blue Öyster Cult’s Mistress of the Salmon Salt.
Strike can think of three people from his past with the misogynistic leanings, brutality, and sufficient grudge against him to make them suspects in such a crime and desirous to involve him in it. Sending a leg—instead of some other body part—seems a cruel reference to Strike’s own leg, lost in a land mine detonation in Afghanistan and replaced by a prosthesis.
Kinky theories also emerge, and Robin uncovers in their file of ‘nutter’ letters one from a young woman who wanted to cut off her leg. Robin studied psychology at university and recognises the syndrome. Her exploration of internet sites for transabled people and Body Integrity Identity Disorder yields more leads.
Two of Strike’s suspects are people he encountered in the military: a wife abuser whom Strike’s testimony sent to prison who was released after a decade; and an abuser of young girls, never convicted. The third man, Jeff Whittaker, is the much younger second husband of Strike’s mother. Strike is convinced Whittaker orchestrated her death from a heroin overdose, but he was acquitted. The police, however, focus on a fourth possibility—a notorious crime figure – whom Strike dismisses as lacking the subtlety and the motive of this perpetrator.
With police attention elsewhere, Strike and Robin reconstruct the decades-cold trails of the other three suspects. They have plenty of time to do so, as publicity about the leg business has discouraged any other would-be clients. During the course of their work, they are inevitably brought into conflict with the police, still smarting from previous cases in which Strike out-investigated them. The stakes mount as it becomes clear Robin is being stalked and the killer isn’t finished.
Meanwhile, Robin proceeds half-heartedly with her wedding plans, perpetually annoyed at fiancé Matthew’s repeated attempts to get her to quit her job and his apparent jealousy of Strike. Even her stalker can detect the chill between them. When Matthew reveals a secret of his own, she calls the wedding off. (Strike immediately notices the absence of her sapphire engagement ring.) The book’s early action takes place around the time of the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and all the festivities are a painfully ironic counterpoint to the couple’s unhappiness.
Galbraith has constructed a well-paced, compelling narrative. She leaves a few clues on the table and could have had the main characters learn more about themselves, but few thrillers do that. It works well as an audiobook, narrated by Robert Glenister, because there is not an overabundance of characters and the pacing keeps the listener well engaged throughout its nearly 18 hours. It’s written from multiple points of view (Strike’s, Robin’s, and the killer’s), all in the third person, and they are easy to keep straight. The voice Glenister uses for Strike seems a bit too gravelly for a 37-year-old man, but it grew on me.
Glenister also narrated audio versions of Galbraith’s previous two books in the Cormoran Strike series, The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm, so listeners of these other books will be accustomed to his style. It’s a shame that it is logistically and probably financially impossible to include some brief background music to accompany the many Blue Öyster Cult references – that would be quite a listening experience. Fans of the band will undoubtedly hear them in their heads. Meanwhile Glenister had many things exactly right, including his menacing telephone whisper to Robin, “Do I know you, little girl?”
£17.49 (£9 hardback)
CFL Rating: 4 Stars