I bought this book from Wallingford Bookshop
This is the third in Robert Galbraith's (JK Rowling's) series featuring Cormoran Strike, private detective, who from his seedy flat off Charing Cross Road in London solves the cases the police can't or won't.
This is easily the best so far. The earlier books were set in quite distinct worlds - fashion and publishing - giving an instant milieu but also in my view setting a barrier, and setting the reader a double task of not only getting to grips with the mystery but also of inhabiting those settings.
There is none of that here. The mystery comes straight at Cormoran and his partner Robin when they receive a gruesome package - a severed limb - and it seems directed at them personally. Strike can immediately reel off the names of four people (four men) who might sent it - an East End gangster he'd brought down, and three soldiers he had dealings with while in the Military police. Of course the police go for the gangster, leaving Strike to follow up the others while his business collapses due to the bad publicity.
It's a long and convoluted trail, taking Strike and Robin to Melrose, to Barrow, to Market Harborough and to Corby - a progress which Rowling/ Galbraith makes into a mini "condition of Britain" survey describing the various towns and also their attitudes, from the surveyed streets of Barrow outside the nuclear shipyards to sport-mad Melrose. She is pretty frank in what she reveals about people: Strike's suspects are a mixed up crew who were pretty vile to their families. The story reveals a very nasty to some men (even if #notallmen) with women and children bearing the brunt of it.
Of course that enables Strike to appear as something of a hero at times: but the burden of the book is borne as much or more by Robin who - I think - fully steps out of Strike's shadow for the first time, taking the initiative and getting into some risky situations as a result. This as her relationship with fiance Matthew unravels. Matthew is a deeply unpleasant man and most readers would I think be glad to see the back of him (and to see Robin fall into Strike's arms: or vice versa). Strike's sense of honour won't let that happen although surely, surely, it is where this series is leading?
It isn't a book for the fainthearted: there are nasty descriptions of nasty things and the villain - he really is a villain - is truly horrible: we know this, we are in his head regularly through the book and it isn't nice. (Indeed it's a mark of good the writing is that once we understand what he's done, he stands out even against some pretty odious characters we've already met.) Galbraith/ Rowling adeptly sends red herrings swimming in all directions so despite this insider view I didn't guess who he was until she was ready to reveal it. Yet despite the red herrings the book remains focussed, tightly plotted and convincing. We also learn a great deal more about Cormoran and Robin's earlier lives, and what made them how they are.
I have a feeling this series is now really getting going, and I can't wait for the next. While I'm also looking forward to the Harry Potter play next year i hope it doesn't delay another adventure for Cormoran and Robin.