Part five opens with Strike wondering if he’s dislocated his knee or fractured ‘the small amount of tibia left to him’. One, if he’d dislocated his knee he’d fucking know it; he wouldn’t have walked away from the fall, he’d be on the floor screaming. Two, why does he have any tibia left, I’m certain they normally amputate at joints to make it easier, don’t they? I’m not sure but that seems logical to me, especially if he’d only retain a small amount otherwise. (This is an actual question, not just me yelling, lol.) Anyway, he gets back to the office after telling the police what he thinks happened, which the readers obviously can’t find out yet. Getting real tired of your shit, Rowling. Robin’s there and he refuses to tell her anything, then kicks her out so he can look at his leg without telling her he’s an amputee, and considering all the fuss he’s been making it’s described as ‘sore and bruised’. Wimp.
Dramatic finale time! Strike speaks to John. Turns out Lula left all her money to her blood brother Jonah, the son of her now-deceased biological father who Robin tracked down, not her foster brother John. (John and Jonah? Seriously, Rowling? It’s hard enough keeping everyone’s names straight as it is.) There’s no explanation for how Lula found her family when her own mother didn’t know who her father was, just as there was no explanation for how Robin found them. There’s also no explanation for why she elected to leave literally everything to a blood relative she only knew for a few months rather than the non blood relatives she’s known her entire life or the other blood relative (her mother) who is still alive.
Anyway, John is therefore our murderer, he killed her so when Lady Bristow snuffed it he’d get the lot. Jonah was seen the night of the murder, only nobody knew who he was, (a black guy was seen running down a nearby street, if you remember that; that was him) and apparently that’s the motive for John to get it investigated as murder so he had someone to stitch up.
Except… that’s bullshit.
The police ruled it suicide. All John had to do was stay quiet, the will was never going to be found because until Strike started interviewing people nobody knew it existed, Strike had to speak to everyone to get all the puzzle pieces. Instead John is the one who made a fuss and turned it into an investigation, which makes no fucking sense. He had a motive to kill her, but no reason whatsoever to speak up. The plot has just derailed into a crater the size of Australia.
It’s a shame, because Strike’s deconstruction of the crime and how it was done is actually very good, the best scene in the book, and it even ties in the weird side plots I didn’t understand – the movie director living in Lula’s building, the guy sending Strike death threats, Uncle Tony’s weird behaviour, all the little details such as Lula speaking to someone on her phone when she was in the high-end shop Strike and Robin visited before, and lots of tiny hints that were scattered through all the bullshit interviews that I completely missed. If someone else had been the one to insist it was murder and hire Strike, it would have worked really well.
Anyway, John attacks Strike – overweight, out of condition Strike, who’s apparently in excruciating pain from falling down the stairs – who naturally fends him off easily, subdues him, pins him down, and then beats the absolute shit out of him once he’s helpless in perfect Gryffindor fashion. Using his false leg as a club, which is so fucked up on so many levels. (Remember when I mentioned there was one scene which I thought was the only reason for Strike to have a prosthetic leg? This is that scene. It’s had no bearing on the plot or on his characterisation, so I think it was just the image of this scene. Not good.)
This is how Robin finally learns he’s an amputee, by the way. She walks in to see him smashing their client’s face in with his own prosthetic.
And that’s where part five ends. Yes, the entire section of the book was two very short chapters. Yes, it should have been tacked on to the end of part four.
Finally we have an epilogue. (Headed ‘Ten Days Later’ in horribly familiar style. Fuck off, Rowling.) Jonah got the money. John is awaiting trial. Lady Bristow is still dying slowly. Strike still hasn’t called Charlotte. Oh, huge shock, Robin’s not taking that job after all, she wants to stay on, imagine my surprise. Strike goes for a checkup at the amputee centre (at fucking last) and recites a pretentious poem to himself. And that’s the true end.
So, final thoughts. Overall, a disappointment.
There’s no characterisation – I have no idea what the personalities of our leads are like, or their interests, or anything about them beyond the incomplete shreds of Strike’s backstory. Robin didn’t even get that much, and boy did her POVs dry up quickly.
There’s very little plot for most of the book – there’s one plot-relevant scene every few chapters. Rowling seems to have forgotten this is meant to be a detective novel until pretty close to the end, when everything suddenly happens at once after hundreds of pages of timeskips and pointless pseudo-angst.
All the side characters are stereotypes just like they were in The Casual Vacancy and none of them are developed beyond the single scene they feature in. There is a lot of unnecessary racism and classism, and a baffling level of misogyny; the book tries very hard to make you hate every single female character bar Robin and Lula, and there’s no narrative reason to even mildly dislike most of them.
There’s way too much of what passes for romance, all of it clichéd and uninteresting, which all turned out to be a vast Road To Nowhere. There was no payoff for all Strike’s endless angsting about Charlotte, since she never appears onscreen and he never speaks to her. There’s also no payoff for Robin and Strike dancing around one another; Robin is still engaged at the end of the book, though her fiancée doesn’t approve of what happened or that she’s going to continue working for Strike, so I’m expecting them to split up in the next book or two and Strike and Robin to pair up at the end of the series. (Yes, it’s going to be a series, more on that in a moment.)
Rowling’s trick of constantly making Strike think of something or realise something or learn something without revealing what that something was is unbelievably fucking annoying. Once or twice wouldn’t be a problem but she uses it relentlessly throughout the whole book and it just pisses me off, especially when none of these revelations bar the murderer’s identity is remotely worth waiting for.
We have a ridiculous plothole at the end that undermines the entire premise. I really can’t think of any reason why John, having very carefully planned every last detail of his crime and having gotten away with murder, would then hire someone to investigate. There’s no attempt to handwave it as guilt, or psychology, or his worry that the will might be found despite all his precautions so he needs to find a scapegoat. There’s no explanation offered at all. It’s impossible to make sense of it, which means the murder mystery is broken and we’re left with a bad attempt at a PG romance novel.
I think this is all a real shame, because there are three or four truly brilliant scenes in the book that show what it could have been. The way the crime is constructed and the way the answer is very carefully foreshadowed throughout the book with lots of very subtle and well hidden clues is very good indeed. It just doesn’t work in the end because of that one plothole, and all the stupid romance crap got in the way and spoiled the main story.
In conclusion… I probably wouldn’t bother with this. Maybe if you find it in a library or something, but don’t waste your money paying for it.
The sequel to The Cuckoo’s Calling is due to be released in hardback next month. It’s called The Silkworm. I will eventually be reviewing it for you, but not until it’s out in paperback, unless I pirate an ebook of it or find a cheap second hand copy or something – I don’t have a library anywhere near me and I refuse to pay much.
Silkworm’s plot is going to revolve around a famous author disappearing:
“The plot thickens when it is found out that the novelist had been working on a new novel, in which he has written a few blatantly honest pen-portraits of some people. As Strike realizes the repercussions the new novel might have had, he also realizes that there are many who would go to any lengths to ensure that the book remain unpublished.”
This sounds like it’s going to involve a lot of poor-misunderstood-genius-author crap and that it could be a vehicle for Rowling whining about people commenting on all the HP characters who were twisted caricatures of people she knows. I hope not but I’m not very optimistic. And if one of the characters in this victimised author’s spitebook turns out to be a nasty teacher I will throw the fucking book out of the window, I swear.
Starting next week, I’ll be beginning some of the Harry Potter material, though we’re not starting the official re-read just yet. See you all then.