[Warning: racism. Lots of racism.]
Part Four opens with Strike visiting Guy Somé, the stereotypical gay fashion designer Lula worked with, and good grief is all I can say. Rowling spends over a page describing this guy in very purple language and I’m going to quote one of the several paragraphs because it’s just that unbelievable; I know I haven’t been quoting anything for these sporks, it’s because I don’t care enough in all honesty, but if I had to read this then so do you.
“His face contrasted strangely with his taut, lean body, for it abounded in exaggerated curves: the eyes exophthalmic so that they appeared fishlike, looking out of the sides of his head. The cheeks were round, shining apples and the full-lipped mouth was a wide oval: his small head was almost perfectly spherical.”
So, based on this description, can anyone tell me what he actually looks like? Answers on a postcard. (I wonder what happened to Rowling when she was writing this scene. She doesn’t do it anywhere else in the book, or in anything else she’s written to my knowledge. I’m guessing it involved alcohol and a thesaurus.)
Somé also has a camp voice and a limp wrist. At least he doesn’t lisp. But he has had far more of a description than any other character so far, including our protagonists, even if said description is word salad, and I have no idea why because he is a very minor character. (In fact, as Mitchell pointed out, he is literally named Some Guy.) He is also stereotypically bitchy and uses stereotypical affected language, and I don’t think Rowling has ever met an actual gay man, honestly. Still, she gets half a point for actually including a gay character, as far as I remember everyone in Casual Vacancy was straight and the Dumbledore retcon long after Harry Potter had ended does not count in the slightest. Anyway, Somé bitches about John and says he doesn’t believe Lula (or Cuckoo, since he’s apparently the source of the stupid nickname; yes, it has taken us most of the book for the title to be remotely relevant) committed suicide either. He believes this because reasons, pretty much. Then there’s an actual interview about where he was at the time, which lasts about four seconds before he’s bitching about Rochelle, and Lula’s boyfriend, and her adoptive mother, and anyone else he can think of.
There’s a bit of actual relevant content in here, but again the rest of it is so fucking annoying it’s hard to either sort it out or care about it. At this point in the story there’s a bit of doubt over whodunit purely because it’s so hard to pan through the shit to find the actual clues, I can’t concentrate on the main story because of all the extra crap scattered through it.
Strike goes home and spends another page wangsting about how he still hasn’t called Charlotte (he describes her as a germ, how charming, and decides that the fact she’s not chasing him repeatedly to contact her is some sort of mind game). For all he knows she was calling about something important; his family don’t know he’s moved out, she might have received bad news to pass on to him, or there might be something to sort out with the house. But he can’t be bothered. Because he’s an asshole.
We timeskip a couple of days when our brilliant detectives do fuck-all, then Strike comes to the office and finds his computer friend flirting with Robin and promptly acts like a jealous idiot because we hadn’t had that particular overdone trope yet. Robin fucks off because God forbid she stay onscreen for more than two minutes, and this random guy with his computer science degree is naturally an expert hacker and techie and has got into the laptop and recovered everything on it – a couple of hundred random social photos and sod-all else.
Robin comes back and tells Strike she’s accepted a job offer, and refreshingly there’s no angst about this at all, albeit because what passes for Strike’s inner monologue has vanished again (this doesn’t crop up in later chapters either, apparently neither of them give a damn despite all the stupid wangsty buildup previously). It’s completely out of character for both of them, but I’m just relieved not to have to read about it.
The reader has to suffer through lots of descriptions of how much money went into the building, because Rowling fucking loves being rich. There’s a pointless interlude of a stereotypical Polish cleaner walking past, Strike staring at her arse (as we’ve said, he’s an asshole; the woman’s here to clean, I doubt she wants to be stared at) and Robin glaring at him for it, facepalm. More descriptions of rich apartments. Strike talks to the cleaner, who naturally has a very poor grasp of English because haha racism ignorant foreign possibly-illegal immigrant. I’m aware this sounds like me projecting, the actual scene doesn’t technically contain these sorts of implications, but I’m not going to quote it for you. It sounds bad and ignorant and is completely unsympathetic to the fact that learning another language is hard.
They look at yet another fancy apartment. There’s a good bit where Strike walks the security guard through the exact way he searched the apartment when Lula died, what order he looked in the rooms, what items he touched or saw etc., which is very well done and honestly one of the best scenes in the book. It’s then spoiled by Strike having a eureka! moment that he doesn’t think about so it won’t spoil it for the readers. You know what would have fixed that issue, Rowling? Letting Robin have a fucking POV chapter, then she could see the revelation moment but wouldn’t know what it was, instead of having your protagonist just sound like a complete moron.
There are more timeskips of a few days of sod-all happening; I hope actual investigators don’t treat murder cases so casually. Strike goes off to interview Lula’s biological mother, Marlene Higson. Naturally, she is fat and common and wearing cheap clothes. What a shocker. Robin and Lula are genuinely the only women in this entire book we’re not being ordered to hate. She can barely speak as well because poor people are stupid, in case you’d forgotten (not quite as bad as Rochelle but still worse than Hagrid) and Strike claims she’s flirting with him so we’ve got slut-shaming too. Neither her actions nor her dialogue suggest this, so why he thinks it I don’t know. Oh, wait, yes I do – because he’s an asshole.
She spends a page or so talking about when Lula got in touch with her and bitching about her adoptive mother, all in the horrible attempt to write a lower-class accent. More slut-shaming, she has another two kids by different men who were taken away by Social Services, stereotypical account of life with various different druggie abusive boyfriends and you can practically feel Rowling judging through the book. I hope your outrage levels are nicely warmed up, because the next few paragraphs are a real doozy.
Lula’s father was apparently some African student who buggered off back home when he found out she was pregnant; Marlene doesn’t know his surname (lol Africans all have such funny surnames lol it was too hard to remember lol. I’m sadly not joking, that is her explanation for why she doesn’t know).
Strike now reveals the reason why there are so many black characters by literally quoting the surnames of every last one of them in case this woman recognises any of them as Lula’s father or one of his relatives.
What the actual fuck.
And then she says this guy is probably dead because he went back to Africa and:
“coulda bin shot, couldn’t ‘e, or starved. Anythin’. Y’know what it’s like there.”
I’m surprised she didn’t claim he had AIDS.
This is the point we reached with the unnecessary and terrible depiction of rape in The Casual Vacancy. The point where I put the book down for several days because I really didn’t want to keep going. It didn’t make me anywhere near as angry as Vacancy did, but it still left me pretty pissed off. This is a terrible book written about terrible people by a terrible person. Still, I’m a brave little soldier and I did eventually struggle on.
Marlene then goes on to whine about all Lula’s gold-digging friends, and the random racist crazy Uncle Tony we met earlier, and accuses him of having destroyed the will Lula totally obviously made because she didn’t get any money, and everyone in this book is a terrible, terrible person.
Egad, Robin gets a POV! …wait, only so she can take a call from Charlotte, who has finally got fed up with Strike refusing to contact her, saying she’s engaged to someone else. As soon as Strike comes back and Robin tells him, her POV vanishes, and we get Strike going for yet another fucking walk before getting drunk. (Add alcohol abuse to the list of things Rowling doesn’t understand. We’ll be revisiting it in Harry Potter.) Again more vague hints about what this woman did to make him leave her, and again he comes across as utterly subnormal for not actually thinking it. I’ll spare you waiting any more, the book’s almost over by the time we finally find out; Charlotte told him she was pregnant. She later had an abortion. There’s no indication whether they discussed this or how Strike feels about it. He doesn’t believe the child was his, hence his leaving her, though he offers no explanation for why he doubts it. None of his wangsting becomes any more sympathetic once you know this and the story was absolutely not worth waiting for.
Robin comes to rescue him like the saintly nurturing woman she is, gag, and there’s a hilarious scene demonstrating that Rowling has either never been drunk in her life and has no idea how to write it, or has the weirdest reaction to alcohol I have ever encountered. Also, despite being a relatively recent amputee whose prosthetic doesn’t fit properly Strike naturally has no problem walking while pissed out of his mind. Incidentally, it’s been about a month now and Robin doesn’t know he has a false leg despite all the people in his life she’s been talking to and despite the fact he’s sleeping in his office where she walks in every morning.
Rowling has also never had a hangover going by her attempt to write about it. There’s an unnecessarily long description of him going to the swimming pool to shower, then he goes back to see Somé so he can talk to the makeup girl, who was apparently friends with Lula even though this hasn’t been mentioned in almost 400 pages. She’s just another interviewee bitching about most of the same people, yawn, including yet another cryptic thought from Strike about how he’s learned something amazing that he can’t actually think about. Rowling, you need to use omniscient narration not POVs if you want to use this trick. Or just stop using it, because it’s really not that clever.
Strike talks to Ciara Porter, one of Lula’s model friends, who is yet another stereotype – party girl, slut, jealous bitchy rival pretending to be a friend. Nothing new. She takes Strike to meet Lula’s boyfriend, Evan Duffield, who since he’s one of the main suspects really ought to have appeared onscreen a bit earlier than this.
Duffield is the same celebrity high-life stereotype as all the others. He leaves this club with Strike and Ciara and for some reason Strike has a PTSD flashback when the car drives away from the paparazzi – it’s done surprisingly well given that Rowling doesn’t know it exists, but as the first explicit mention (the earlier scene with him staring at the toy soldiers was omniscient-narration with none of his thoughts or feelings), it belongs so much earlier in this shitty book than 400 pages in. Plus he recovers from it in about 0.3 seconds as though it never happened, and there is never an explanation of why camera flashes were triggering. Anyway, they get back to Duffield’s apartment, Strike interviews him, it’s just more of the same shit – “I have an alibi so it can’t be me but it could have been absolutely anyone else in her life because everyone is awful except me.” That’s been the content of every single interview. Then for no reason I can fathom Ciara makes a pass at Strike on the way home and he goes along with it and they go back to her place. Mercifully we’re spared a sex scene (I didn’t quote any of the ones from The Casual Vacancy. I wouldn’t do that to you. They’re terrible).
Oh, wait, that’s why they hooked up – so the next chapter can start with Robin getting to the office, realising he spent the night elsewhere, and feeling jealous. For fuck’s sake. Anyway, disregarding that, while Strike was off doing fuck-all, Robin tracked down Lula’s real father somehow even though nobody else has managed it. This seems very implausible given that nobody even knew what his name was, but I’m going to overlook it because at least someone has done something useful. He’s dead, and he has a son in the army somewhere. I don’t know if this is relevant to anything but at least she’s done something. Strike’s now implying he knows who the murderer is, but Robin would rather pitch a fit over seeing a photo of him with Ciara in the newspaper and magically realising through the power of I don’t even know that that’s who he slept with, because that’s more important.
…And now Rochelle’s dead. That’s… odd? It’s not fridging because nobody liked her. I assume she’s been murdered to stop her saying something about who killed Lula, but it really didn’t seem like she knew anything. They fished her out of the river and she had Strike’s business card in her pocket and somehow it was still readable because cardboard is well known for its waterproof qualities, so now he’s totally a suspect! O noes a policeman is shouting at him! Whatever’s going to happen? It’s so dramatic! Only, you know, not, since that lasts half a page. Strike thinks Rochelle was blackmailing Lula’s murderer and because he’s a fictional PI he gets to yell at the incompetent closed-minded police about how crap they are, just in case any readers thought they might escape that trope. Dear fiction writers; this also doesn’t happen. The police are, generally speaking, not incompetent. Certainly the ones who get promoted to Homicide aren’t. They are also better trained and better qualified than the average PI.
Strike goes to see the film director who lives in Lula’s building. Turns out his wife saw/heard Lula fall because this guy threw her out on the balcony half-naked in the middle of a winter night, which is why her statement was so weird. I don’t really see what this has to do with anything.
It’s all getting a bit tangled and hard to follow now. Strike and Robin go to Rochelle’s funeral with John. I don’t know why John would go, I don’t believe he ever met Rochelle, and I’m not sure why a homeless girl with apparently no relatives gets a public funeral anyway, but I don’t really care any more. Strike picks a fight with John’s girlfriend Alison over whether Uncle Tony is sleeping with his business partner’s wife, and I don’t know why this matters or why it’s connected to the case. Then he has a really odd conversation with John about Uncle Tony visiting John’s mother.
Strike goes to see John’s mother and Lula’s adoptive mother, Lady No-first-name Bristow, who’s been called a bitch by just about everyone so far but is also dying of… something unspecified, because extra angst I guess? He hassles the dying old lady for a while, then goes into the walk-in wardrobe and finds a designer handbag with Lula’s will in it. This is another very well done scene, I have to admit, it brings together lots of little subtle hints and comments from the rest of the book that weren’t obviously telegraphed as either foreshadowing or Chekhov’s Gun. Rowling can do it when she tries, it’s a shame she’s failed so hard at the rest.
He makes his excuses and leaves with it (again, the narration from his POV doesn’t work here, since we’re told he’s read the will but not what it shows, making him seem like a moron) and then… he falls down the stairs for some bizarre reason.
I don’t even.
This is every bit as random and out of left field as it sounds, and serves absolutely zero purpose except Rowling wanted some more slapstick to go with the very early scene of Robin and Strike meeting.
He gets up and limps off. End of part four.
Next time, the final post, when we learn whodunit and how they dun it. Has anyone guessed yet?