So being able to do the HP posts more regularly recently has got me thinking. Those books are a mess, and so much about them makes me angry, and a lot is just plain stupid, but I still enjoy it. Partly that’s just down to sharing the spork with Mitchell, of course, but the books are still genuinely fun, at least some of the time. I like some of the characters, and some parts of the plot, and some aspects of the universe. And judging by all the comments and discussion each of those posts get, you all feel the same.
And then there’s the Cormoran Strike books.
There is literally nothing I enjoy about this book any more. I hate all the characters to such an extent that I have no interest in the plot. I don’t care who killed Owen, or why. Every single paragraph just irritates me to the point where I don’t even particularly like writing the posts. And there aren’t many comments for them, so I don’t think you lot really care either.
I’ve already said this is the last book I’m going to do, that I won’t be continuing the series even though the third one is out now. I’m too stubborn to quit this, but I am going to drastically change how I go about it, for my own sanity as much as anything else. Let’s just take it as read that the book sucks; that virtually everything our protagonist thinks or says or does will be terrible, stupid or both; that he’s going to whine endlessly about his knee; that Robin’s going to continue waffling vaguely and being useless; that the plot’s going to be hastily solved right at the very end in some implausible way after a lot of love-triangle garbage. I don’t need to break down every instance of it. I’m going to speed things up a lot, I’m going to skim through and give you summaries, and keep my snark to a minimum except in special cases. I want to finish this crappy book so I can go onto something either genuinely good or at least fun to rip apart. (I don’t know what, yet.)
TL;DR – we’re trying to speed-run through a bunch of chapters per post now because this book sucks.
Chapter 28 fully supports my decision not to read this too closely. Robin whines to herself a lot, mostly about Matthew and slightly about Strike. Strike elects to go without his false leg and whines to himself about women drivers. They drive towards Devon and talk a bit about Owen’s other books and whether he was writing in some kind of weird code.
Strike’s lawyer friend phones; Leonora was taken in for questioning after the police found kinky sex photos of Owen tied up, and something else in a lock-up. Naturally we’re not told what.
They’re suddenly in a car accident, a lorry in front of them goes into a skid and hits a couple of other cars. In another book I’d appreciate this scene – Strike panics, Robin’s totally chilled out about the whole thing and takes some neat evasive manoeuvres to avoid getting involved and then calmly gets out to help other people, miraculously nobody’s killed, bla bla bla. Instead I’m wondering why this scene is even here. The whole thing takes up less than two pages from the start of the skid to the police arriving, taking their details and letting them go, so it seems to exist purely to imply that Robin’s good at stuff. It’s over too quickly to be dramatic and seems like just filler. Turns out Robin took some advanced driving classes once.
End of chapter! I like this new approach.
They get to Devon and find Chard’s house. Robin’s feeling pretty sick by this point for some reason; I think it’s meant to be a combination of delayed shock from the accident and low blood sugar since Strike ate all the snacks she brought for the trip. The Hispanic servants who pissed me off so much in an earlier chapter turn out to be Filipino, if that makes a difference to anyone, and I think are meant to be mother and son. Robin continues feeling sick. Chard has a fucking weird sounding house, full of glass walls and floors – they can see his (leather) bed in the room above them, and a crucifix made of barbed wire – and lots of polished metal. There’s a statue of a ‘partially dissected’ angel in apparently quite gory detail despite being plain white marble; Robin nearly faints and has to be taken to the kitchen while the menfolk talk.
Lots of pointless small talk takes up another couple of pages (Chard says he fell down the shiny glass and metal spiral staircase when he broke his leg, then goes off on a ramble about art) before he gets to the point; he thinks someone else helped Owen write the book and wants someone outside the company he can trust to investigate. He claims Owen didn’t know all the things he put into it, someone must have given him the information. There’s no reason on earth why he’d pick Strike to look into this, but I don’t care any more.
Robin recovers and tries to go back and join the conversation. Chard tells her to fuck off, and Strike nobly says nothing, so she fucks off. Filler, filler, filler.
Chard thinks he knows who helped Owen, and is annoyed that if it turned out to be relevant Strike would tell the police if he found proof. He’s acting very erratic during this conversation. He thinks it’s Jerry, he’s suspected it for a long time because Jerry didn’t apologise for what Owen wrote. Even Strike thinks this is weird, but then, Strike’s continuing to picture Chard naked and aroused and half rotting, so I don’t think he has room to talk.
Anyway, Chard says Jerry’s resented him for a long time. Fancourt flirted a lot with Jerry’s wife before Chard advised him not to and Fancourt threw a tantrum and left for another publisher, so now that Fancourt’s back Jerry’s blaming Chard and trying to undermine him. Chard says Jerry deliberately let all and sundry read the manuscript, was reluctant to join in any talk of legal actions, and has now resigned. Chard also says Jerry wrote his own libellous description of the Cutter in the book without Owen’s knowledge, both to throw off suspicion and to hurt his wife because apparently the stuff with the dwarf and the bloody sack refers to something Chard won’t talk about. Apparently Jerry told Owen the company was going to drop him to keep Fancourt happy, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back because Chard had offended Owen a while ago anyway.
Chard claims that when Owen brought Orlando to look around, she went to grab a mock-up of a book jacket that was on a desk and Chard grabbed her wrist to stop her and she made a big uncomfortable scene that made Owen furious. I’m frankly astounded this incident was even mentioned again; God knows Strike’s never given it another thought, and he doesn’t pause to add anything here either.
Chard thinks Liz would have been upset at how she’s written in the book, but doesn’t care. He says he warned Fancourt about the contents personally, and that Fancourt was very calm and didn’t seem bothered. Strike asks about Joe North and Chard starts fidgeting and acting uncomfortable and says all he did was turn down North’s book, which Owen also blamed him for, but it wasn’t personal.
Changing the subject, Chard asks how Strike goes about investigating things. Pretty sure he doesn’t, actually, but never mind. Strike says he works quite closely with the police – ha – and adds that the police don’t seem all that bothered by what they’ve found out about Chard so far. Continuing to act like a lunatic, Chard promptly starts helpfully rambling half to himself about all his movements in recent weeks, and does this for half a page before realising this is very stupid and deciding that the interview is over and that Strike should go now. He asks briefly after Leonora, adding an unasked-for description to show he’s never actually met her (he seems to be describing Kathryn but I can’t tell), before Strike collects Robin. She’s meant to have gone to the bathroom, but seems to be gone for a while so presumably was doing some investigating offscreen; she’s also giving Strike the silent treatment for letting her get thrown out of the conversation. Keep that up and stop harping on about men and I might start to like you again, Robin.
As they’re leaving, the young Filipino man – Manny – stops them. He says he never pushed Chard down the stairs and that Chard’s lying. I would say the plot thickens, but it’s going to take more than this.
Next chapter opens with some filler of Strike and Robin stopping at a motorway services to eat. To my absolute joy, they have a row. Strike gets all defensive about not letting Robin join the conversation and Robin loses her temper and asks what the fuck he thought he was hiring her for and why does he keep hinting about training and then talking about hiring someone else? She doesn’t want to sit around answering the phone, she wants to actually do stuff. I really wish she wasn’t trying not to cry while yelling all this at him, but I’ll take what I can get.
Naturally, Strike is utterly bewildered by this and says he never realised she was serious about wanting training and things. He then instantly contradicts himself by saying he did originally hire her to be a part of the business and not just a receptionist, but that he doesn’t see the point in paying for courses etc because he knows Matthew hates her job and assumes she’s going to give in to her master and quit. And of course he invokes Charlotte again, claiming that one of the reasons they kept breaking up was that she hated his job.
This isn’t resolved, of course. Robin doesn’t say whether she plans to quit or not and refuses to even think about it, except for a weird tangent about how Matthew never worries about her doing anything dangerous. Instead she asks for confirmation that Strike thinks she’s useful, then starts crying, then changes the subject to ask about the part of the plot she missed when the menfolk sent her away. This is why I still don’t like you, Robin. You get so close to being a decent character and then fuck up again.
Let us note they’re still sitting in the services. They could talk about this in the car while travelling, in order for Robin to get back in plenty of time to catch her train to her fiancé’s mother’s funeral, but if you think that’s going to happen then you’re reading a different book.
Strike thinks Chard’s a harmless lunatic, but isn’t sure whether Jerry was involved or not. Turns out yes, Robin did go snooping, and there’s an artist’s studio next to the staff bathroom. Translation, Rowling wanted both weird glass floors and for Robin to nose around without being noticed, so fuck common sense. Chard’s got a lot of anatomical studies in the studio, wax models and drawings and all sorts. And a painting of Manny in the nude.
They get back in the car. Strike’s lawyer friend phones again; Leonora’s not been arrested yet, but they’ve finished questioning her and they’re sure it’s her based on opportunity and her attitude under questioning. The thing they found in the lockup was a burned bloodstained rag. And Owen’s missing guts are on the news now since someone leaked it. After the phone call we somehow hear Anstis making a statement to that effect on the radio.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the traffic’s very bad, there was another accident, and Robin’s now very late and is going to struggle to catch her train. Rowling chooses to resolve this by magically making Strike an expert on driving in London, and thanks to him yelling instructions constantly Robin violates lots of traffic laws – going the wrong way down one-way streets, ignoring speed limits, that sort of unbelievably dangerous thing – before finally pulling over, abandoning the one-legged Strike in a car he can’t drive in the middle of a snowstorm, and running for the station without a change of clothes or anything else. I will concede that I’m surprised she actually makes the train, I just assumed that of course she wouldn’t.
In time-honoured Rowling fashion, we’re not told what Strike did with the hire car, or how he made it home. Next morning he’s brooding about the case and the lack of leads and spends several pages rehashing what we already know yet again, before seguing into a pointless story about a childhood friend. When they were eighteen they went to Australia to visit this friend’s uncle, and they went surfing and saw sharks, and the friend was a total moron and paddled up to touch it and lost a chunk of his forearm and most of the use of his thumb.
This has nothing to do with anything but leads to a pseudo-profound bit of bullshit about murderers being like sharks and another page or so of filler about what drives people to kill. Finally Strike decides he knows someone he can call for information – his half-brother Alexander who has never been mentioned before. Alexander, or Al, is Jonny Rokeby’s legitimate son and nine years younger than Strike, but they’ve always got along tolerably well even though all Strike’s other half-siblings on his father’s side hate him, bla bla bla. Pointless story about how Rokeby offered Strike money, via Al, to get his business started, Strike saw it as a bribe to stop him selling his story (what story? you’re not fucking famous you dick) and refused, suddenly no bank anywhere would give him a loan, he had to borrow the money from Rokeby (also via Al) and that’s why he’s always going on about not having any money, because he’s paying back that debt. If this had been mentioned at any point in the book and a half of this crap that I’ve ploughed through thus far I’d be a lot more forgiving.
It’s entirely academic anyway since Al isn’t answering his phone, so Strike just leaves him a voicemail. We haven’t been told what Al does for a living or what help he could possibly be.
Strike spends yet another page rehashing things the reader’s had repeated to them a billion times by now, in this case the suspect list, then calls Nina. She’s happy for him to come round, she’ll cook, that’s fine. Poor, deluded woman. Strike’s planning to get information out of her, stay the night, then bugger off in the morning. He makes a point of specifying that it’ll be next morning when he has to try to get away from her.
The chapter ends by telling us there’s someone tall and willowy with long fingers playing with a Stanley knife in the street outside and watching his flat. Oh, book, don’t get my hopes up.
I’m already regressing and losing sight of my new speed-running goal, aren’t I. Robin makes it to the funeral and spends the whole time thinking about random irrelevant shit and hating herself for it.
Her phone rings during the wake and she nobly ignores it for a while, and during the cleanup checks her messages to find a super-dramatic voicemail from Strike. Crackling interference, him not talking, a couple of crashes and him yelling in pain, then some noises and the call dropping. She tries to call back and it goes to voicemail.
Chapter ends with Matthew scowling and looking annoyed, because that’s apparently more important.
Oh, damn. Strike’s fine. Rowling couldn’t even drag the suspense out for more than half a page. Yeah, he was attacked, but nothing actually happened – a woman lunged at him with a knife, he dodged, he twisted his knee and yelled, she panicked and ran away. And somehow his phone just got knocked onto silent in the middle of the call without him realising, so now he doesn’t know Robin’s trying to call him. Stupidly contrived plot device is stupidly contrived, and also probably not actually possible unless he’s got a fucking weird phone. Anyway, we don’t get any kind of description of the woman, but he thinks it’s the young round-shouldered girl who was following him earlier in the book when he tried to ambush her and fell over.
He’s on his way to Nina’s and sulking about not being able to chase the woman – and utterly failing to consider that he probably should be calling the police to tell them someone’s just tried to stab him – and can’t feel his phone vibrating because it’s in his coat pocket. And he can’t hear it buzzing because reasons. If you really must have this stupid source of ‘drama’, Rowling, at least say the battery died; I’ll happily believe he’s too much of an idiot to remember to charge the thing. Or say it broke when he dropped it, or that he dropped it in a drain, or that he nver picked it up again after the attack. Or if you let him take the Underground and not endless taxis I’d have believed he doesn’t have a signal. You had more plausible options here.
He gets to Nina’s and lies about why he’s late, then lies about ‘forgetting’ to bring her a bottle of wine he never had, then finally notices his phone ringing and blows Nina off to answer it. He’s utterly surprised by Robin panicking because he didn’t even realise he’d called her during the attack. Oh, come on. He didn’t even fall over; how on earth did he manage to unlock his phone, call her number, end the call at the most dramatic moment, then turn the phone onto silent, then lock it again? And this entire saga has barely lasted two pages – if you’re not going to actually expand on the drama, why bother including it at all?
Nina’s laid on a romantic candlelit dinner, though the food’s burned because he was late. Strike decides to forgive her obvious irritation by telling himself that if he’d pulled this shit with Charlotte she’d have thrown the plates at him. Yawn. While they eat Nina tells him she had a nightmare about the two of them finding Owen’s guts in the bottom drawer of Jerry’s desk. She’s coming across as very upset, because until she saw the news she hadn’t known Owen died so horribly, and she wishes Strike had told her, and everyone at work’s feeling and acting weirdly now they know, and Jerry started drinking heavily again and was really angry all the time before he resigned… Naturally Strike gives no fucks and just pities himself because chicks are never quite as into him after they hear about him encountering gross stuff.
She carries on talking about Jerry; she’s not eating and keeps drinking a lot of wine. He was acting really oddly, kept insisting that Owen was mentally ill and couldn’t be blamed for the book, and was blaming Liz for most of it. Liz came to the office to talk about another author and Jerry slammed his door so hard he nearly broke the glass. And Liz looked really ill, normally she’d have yelled at him for that but she barely reacted. Nina mentions there’s an interview with Fancourt on TV tonight; Strike says he’d like to watch it and she stares at him. He thinks she’s trying to work out whether he just wants more information or whether he actually wants to sleep with her, but then his phone rings again and he answers without apologising to her (again) and she walks out.
It’s his half-brother Al, and they arrange to meet for dinner later this week.
Robin’s watching the Fancourt interview too, in the company of Matthew and her parents. Her father’s asleep, her mother’s taking notes because she’s doing some sort of literature course, and Matthew’s reading the paper. Fancourt’s rambling about how love doesn’t exist and saying some pretty terrible things about women and relationships that make it quite clear he’s a card-carrying MRA.
She looks at the paper Matthew’s reading and sees a photo of the random car crash, and says she was nearly in it. Matthew asks what the hell she was doing on the M4 yesterday and she confesses that she was driving her boss to an interview that he could have taken a train for instead of coming up to see him and help him prepare for his mother’s funeral. Understandably he’s really, really pissed, and walks out.
Robin tries to defend herself to her mother, who isn’t listening, then listens to some more awful Red Pill crap from Fancourt before he starts faking tears as he talks about his wife’s suicide. Finally she decides that maybe she might actually be in the wrong here and follows Matthew out.
Rowling’s losing interest in her side characters; we don’t see if Strike bothers to try to be nice to Nina before leaving, nor do we see Robin attempting to apologise to Matthew, but jump ahead to the next day. Robin’s back at work, she’s been crying, and she’s angry with Matthew. No, you are one hundred per cent in the wrong here, and Matthew might be a jerk but I’ve spent most of this book on his side. She makes the tea again. Strike’s got Caroline Ingles – who may or may not be the ‘brunette woman’ constantly being referred to endlessly in the early chapters – coming to talk to him soon, and wants Robin to try to track down the old guy who says he saw Owen in a bookstore a couple of days after his disappearance; he’s also having lunch with Jerry later. And he wants Robin to find out when the Fancourt interview was taped.
Turns out Caroline Ingles is actually blonde, so it’s not her, if anyone cares.
Robin says the Fancourt interview was recorded November 7th – two days after Owen disappeared, I think? I don’t remember. She wants to know why it matters and Strike says he saw something, she really ought to have spotted it first time and should rewatch it on Youtube or something. Fuck off, Strike.
Of course, now we actually get to see Robin doing stuff, now I’ve decided I hate her. The witness actually owns a second-hand bookstore, and he’s very old and shaky and has poor hygiene and first saw Owen about twenty years ago. Robin thinks this means the recent sighting was rubbish and implies that he recognised the cloak Owen usually wears, and he replies calmly that no, actually he recognised the heterochromatic eyes, he’s more observant than he seems and was in intelligence in the war. The ‘so fuck you, you patronising bint’ is unsaid but heavily implied.
For her next trick Robin decides to imply that he gets his dates confused and was he really, really sure it was the 8th? Yes, because he keeps to a regular routine and Mondays are the days he buys milk from the corner shop, which he’d just done when Owen came into the shop, and he knows it was that Monday in particular because he also visits a friend of his on Mondays and remembered telling him about Owen’s visit, and they also talked about a sinkhole appearing in Germany in the same conversation. Robin Googles this and tells him that the sinkhole appeared on the 1st, not the 8th, and for some reason this flusters him and he throws her out. Because apparently you can only discuss news articles on the day they air and it’s utterly impossible for them to have talked about it a week after it happened.
I’d like to point out that Owen bought three books, and the store owner – who Rowling didn’t bother to give a name to – remembers two of them. Why on earth nobody’s suggested just looking at the till records is beyond me.
Strike gives us two pages of the now-typical Rowling filler in describing the restaurant he’s meeting Jerry at. Jerry shows up on time but his breath smells of alcohol. He says he chose this restaurant because nobody from work comes here; he likes his former co-workers well enough but the atmosphere there is poisonous now. Jerry’s nervous, he’s babbling and keeps pushing his glasses up his nose a lot.
He thinks maybe Owen might have somehow done it himself. He knows it’s impossible, but it was so theatrical and grotesque and got so much weird publicity that it’s the kind of thing Owen would have loved. And he blames Liz, says she wound Owen up about various wrongs Fancourt allegedly did them, though Fancourt does hate them both. He describes Liz as a bitch, twisted, angry, bitter, and a bully with a scary temper. Don’t hold back, eh, Jerry.
Jerry’s pretty drunk by this point, rambling about how Owen turned on everyone. He implies that Owen knew something bad about Fancourt, not the thing with his wife’s suicide but something else, then changes the subject to talk about how Owen liked him really. Strike asks about the Cutter and Jerry says it’s just referring to some idea or bit of prose he must have cut that Owen objected to; Strike thinks the answer sounds rehearsed, but because Jerry’s drunk he can’t be sure.
Strike asks if Jerry knew anything about the book while Owen was working on it. Only the title; Owen said it was a metaphor for the agonies a writer has to go through to get to the good stuff. Was that normal for Owen, keeping everything secret? Yes. What about Jerry’s movements around the time of the disappearance? He’s been through all that with the police already, he was meant to be going away with his wife for their anniversary but they had a massive row on the way to the airport and abandoned the trip. Their marriage has been a mess for years, and now their daughter’s grown up they’re getting a divorce. Anyway, he read the book, yelled at Liz, then got on with his life; Owen wasn’t answering his calls, but he had problems of his own at work.
Chard blames Jerry for gossiping about his sexuality with Owen. Jerry says everyone’s known for years that Chard likes paintings of nude young men, that he once asked Joe North to pose for him and North refused; it’s been common knowledge for ages but Chard thinks it’s all Jerry’s fault, and he resigned because the accusations were too much.
The drunken rambling is interrupted when Jerry’s phone rings. It’s his daughter’s number, so he answers, but it turns out to be his wife; he starts screaming abuse at her and leaves the restaurant (leaving Strike with quite a high bill. Good for you, Jerry). Strike pays up and chases him outside, where he’s still yelling obscenities down the phone in quite graphic detail concerning his wife’s infidelity; he ends the call when he sees Strike, starts crying, mumbles something about how he thought Owen at least held the father-daughter bond sacred, and stumbles off.
So… the scene with the sack and the bloody dwarf, plus this, leads me to think that either his wife or his daughter got pregnant and he forced her to have an abortion? Or possibly forced a miscarriage? Or something else horrible? I’m guessing the wife, and that he thought/knew the baby wasn’t his. Or given the daughter references, maybe she had the baby, and he knew it wasn’t his, and the baby died? I don’t know but it’s likely to be awful.
Strike gives no fucks about whether or not Jerry gets home safely, because being drunk outside in a very bad winter isn’t a big deal and has never killed anyone ever; Jerry’s too drunk to talk to him any more, so that’s all that matters.
I think that will do quite nicely. Nine chapters in around the same length of time and number of words I’d usually have wasted on one. Next week should hopefully see another HP post, but no promises.