Review: Troubled Blood
The first three books in the Cormoran Strike series explored worlds, such as celebrity and publishing, that felt real and somehow opened up to outsiders by the stories.
This fourth one, Lethal White, was set mostly in the world of the traditionally Posh British upper class, and didn't seem quite so well observed. The murder happened very late in the book and is surrounded by red herrings that, ultimately, were a bit too gauche when explained.
One nice touch was that the central motive is hidden in plain sight from the very first, but those responsible are little more than caricatures and it's hard to care all that much about whether they are brought to justice or not. Curiously, I thought the TV adaptation far more satisfying than the novel.
Lethal White's saving grace was the supporting cast of politicos, protesters, civil servants, townspeople and the like. Galbraith excels when s/he is writing detailed questioning scenes which become little character studies.
That's very much the same with Troubled Blood, which opens with one such character, Strike's life long friend, and then piles them on: Strike's Aunt; a bigamist; a protective lover etc., etc. 'Galbraith's' great skill is with these characters, even the smallest of which is well drawn.
The world this time is of family, and memory. Who are we? How did we become like this? Is what we remember in any way the truth? This aspect is pleasing, even if some of the dialogue conveying the many reminiscences is rough (seriously, it's enough to just say a character has a dialect without trying to spell it out, something Galbraith does ad nauseum in this volume).
The mystery has some issues for me, mostly the 'curse of the cold case' - namely it's hard to get involved with things that largely happened before even the novel's protagonist was born and some threat in the present seems a bit forced. However what works very well about the mystery is the surprise factor: I did not guess who the murderer was. I did have a very plausible theory that turned out to be false - and that is the magic of the plotting here. There are several seemingly credible solutions but the actual one is very well hidden.
While I wasn't perturbed by any aspects of the book it's worth noting here, without getting into spoiler territory, that some people have clearly been upset by the books handling of some identity politics issues. While your mileage may vary, if you've found yourself yelling at JK Rowling's Twitter this year you may not want to read this latest Galbraith novel. That said, if not for her tweets I doubt anything about the plot here would have raised eyebrows.
The ongoing 'romance' element in the books keeps the long term reader on the hook but the third wheel boyfriend/now husband has been pretty two dimensional and unconvincing for a while, perhaps to justify the actions of our protagonists, and is now a bit of an afterthought - getting very few pages. Same for Strike's ex-Charlotte whose character never seems to go anywhere not even now, five books into the series. But the two main characters will they won't they dance continues to be beautifully drawn out and the romance between these quite unromantic people is one of the book's pure joys. I was waiting to see if they get it on (not telling) as much as I was for the reveal of the murderer.
All said the overall direction of the novel is a very positive step forward from Lethal White and the characters, especially Strike's family, who are the most developed characters not involved in the main murder story, make the time spent reading quite worthwhile.