It’s a bit late, but I thought I’d share my take on the latest in the Coromoran Strike series, written by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.
I won’t call her by her pseudonym for two reasons. One, it was so obviously a publicity stunt, it was actually cringe worthy when she released the first in the series. Two, it’s also clearly based on Robert Galbraith Heath, a notorious transphobe and conversion therapist who helped usher in an era of pain for the LGBTQ+ community.
To be honest, after Rowling’s frankly crackers transphobic rants, I was wondering if I should actually review the latest in the dismal Strike series, Troubled Blood.
After much deliberation, I figured that I’d read this monumental tome so you don’t have to slog your way through it.
That’s the first thing you notice about this book; that it’s bloody massive. It’s nearly 1000 pages in hardback. Once you’ve read it, you’ll realise that a good 40% of these pages are completely pointless. Much like it’s predecessor, Lethal White, this novel is simply far too long.
There are a lot of superfluous storylines and pointless plot points in this novel, which sees Rowling’s grumpy detective and his business partner Robin take on a cold case. A doctor walked out of her practice one night nearly 40 years ago and disappeared, leaving behind a husband and a young daughter. No trace has been found ever since, apart from a couple of superfluous sightings that come to nothing.
Now, the daughter has hired Strike, following a ridiculously coincidental meeting, to find her mother. The police detective in charge of the original police investigation had a mental breakdown, so the intrepid investigators have to wade through a load of confusing notes featuring a lot of references to tarot, astrological symbols and the occult.
He was convinced that the killer was a serial murderer of women, who is now in prison. The supposed killer, Dennis Creed, has been keeping the families of his victims and assumed victims guessing, so it’s unclear whether he actually murdered the doctor. Strike and Robin quickly realise that there are many other suspects and suspicious circumstances to investigate.
One thing you can’t accuse Rowling of when reviewing this book is a lack of realism or fine detail. The novel trawls through the nitty-gritty, everyday life of someone who’s running a business. Good crime fiction is an escape from reality; a glorious combination of gritty realism that’s tempered with the omission of the boring chores that come with running an investigation. Rowling shows all of the small details; we literally see Strike and Robin filling out rotas and hosting stakeouts that lead nowhere.
That’s the main reason why the novel is so infuriatingly long; Rowling refuses to edit it and remove the needless details. The book spans a full year, and is filled with details that the reader simply doesn’t need. Reading this book quickly turns into a chore, because there’s so much to wade through to get to the interesting part of the novel; the investigation itself.
With a little editing, better characterisation and more research, the plot could really be something. In the hands of a better writer, this novel could have been fascinating. Instead, Troubled Blood reads like a soap opera, with loads of interlinking small plot points that you think are going to connect to the main story, but never do.
The characters are, as ever, a massive let down. Rowling has a habit of telling the reader one thing about a character, then showing them another. For example, she’s constantly stating that Strike is a big, friendless sack of existential angst, when she shows us the character with plenty of pals who are there for him. While he does have a lot of issues to worry about, because many of the form the millions of sub-plots in the novel, Rowling doesn’t actually portray her protagonist as fussed by anything much. He doesn’t seem to care about anyone, even when Rowling has him claiming that he does. She seems to think that portraying a character as a selfish wanker makes them deep and emotive; spoiler alert, it really fucking doesn’t.
Among the biggest issues many readers and fans have with this novel is that it features a male serial killer who wears women’s clothes to abduct his victims, who are all women. Given Rowling’s recent comments about trans women, and her issues with them, it’s understandable that many readers would consider this a dig at the trans community.
Personally, I’m inclined to agree, but I also think that there are other issues with the novel that also show Rowling’s prejudice. For example, her secondary protagonist, Robin, lives with a gay man because of her rape ordeal, and it’s implied that he’s the only person she’d feel safe with because of his sexual orientation. Also, the serial killer, Dennis Creed, was effeminate and believed to be gay by those around him, which gave him the cover to be a monster under everyone’s noses. The implication throughout the novel, in various ways, is that women are never truly safe around men, especially not men who dress as women, as they could be dangerous. It also implies that homosexuality is often used as a cover by men to hide their viciousness, which is fucking offensive too.
Whether it’s the seemingly innocent visits of a doctor to a vulnerable woman that turn out to be sinister, through to the regular references to male killers dressing as women and that everyone who wears a dress is a predator, there are a lot of ways that this novel shows men creeping into women’s lives to harm them. When taken in the light of Rowling’s recent comments about how supporting the trans community harms women (it really doesn’t), these issues show her prejudice.
Without giving the ending away, the murderer turns out to be someone who weaponizes their femininity and uses it to hide their abominable acts. Again, when taken in context with Rowling’s views on the dangers of trans women and her notions that they’re eroding her personal rights, this looks like another dig at trans women and a, frankly, deeply disturbing agenda.
It’s not just trans women and the LGBTQ+ who get a raw deal in Troubled Blood. In fact, there aren’t many groups of individuals who don’t get lambasted by Rowling. From the very start, mothers get attacked as a group of hysterical morons: from Strike’s sister Lucy, who (horror of horrors) wants her half-brother to treat all three of her sons kindly, which he is loath to do, through to Robin’s sister-in-law, who acts smug while breastfeeding her new-born and takes over the house, in what Rowling implies is a selfish way. There’s even a woman with runaway kids who drives Strike nuts in a café by refusing to discipline her little terrors right at the beginning.
It’s ironic that Rowling portrays so many of her mother characters as smug individuals who can’t seem to see the needs or points of view of anyone who doesn’t love their kids. Given that she seems to think that trans women can’t have experienced a similar level of intolerance and persecution to her, is surely the same thing. She’s just as bigoted and self-centred as the characters that she vilifies in her novel.
Frankly, readers should be offended by this book as well as anyone who supports the LGBTQ+ community (or, to put it another way, anyone with any sense). This book is an affront to the eyes, it’s too bloody big to carry around with you and, honestly, it’s a massive waste of money. The one consolation is that, before it was even published, it was on sale. Most stores had it on for half price before it was even out, so clearly it was never worth the full whack, and if you do read it you’ll regret spending anything on it.
Ultimately, I’d recommend that the only thing you use your copy of Troubled Blood for is to break a window if you see a dog trapped in a car on a hot day. It’s the only thing it’s good for, and at least you’ll be putting your copy to good use.