Minor novelist Owen Quine has disappeared. It has happened before, so nobody is unduly concerned. However, his wife Leonora begins to suspect that things are going very wrong. Desperate, penniless and with a disabled daughter to care for, she calls on private eye Cormoran Strike to locate her husband.
Quixotic to the last, Strike takes on the case, both because he feels sorry for Leonora and because he is sick of spending his working life spying on the cheating spouses of the super-rich. However, it soon becomes apparent that this case is very different to a traditional search for a missing person.
There is a book involved, a grotesque parody of The Pilgrim’s Progress with shades of Tudor revenge plays lurking in the wings. The more Strike investigates, the more life seems to imitate art. The events of the book are coming horribly to life.
this murder was elaborate, strange, sadistic and grotesque, literary in inspiration and ruthless in execution. Was [police inspector] Anstis capable of comprehending the mind that had nurtured a plan of murder in the fetid soil of Quine’s own imagination?
In the previous Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, JK Rowling turned her critical eye on the world of fashion and celebrity. Here she sets out to satirise the world of publishing with a familiar cast of dipsomaniac editors, a bitter literary agent who is a novelist manqué, and a top publisher who owes his status to his genes rather than any innate literary insight. He is the son of the company founders.
The plot is detailed and crafty and it keeps the reader guessing to the end, despite the fact that all the clues are there, hiding in plain sight. Like The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, the action is so complicated that it is impossible to sleep as you run through all the permutations in your mind.
There is only one slightly weak point. Strike is supposedly the ex-fiancée of a woman who is so beautiful and famous that she can appear on the cover of Tatler (a UK glossy magazine dedicated to the social lives of the artistocracy and their sundry hangers-on). This relationship was supposedly ongoing while Strike was a humble military policeman on active service, and I found this impossible to believe.
That is only one minor quibble in a book that is a breathtaking read. Rowling is in position to be the new Agatha Christie if she can maintain this level of drama and suspense year on year. I’m already waiting for the third book in the series, Career of Evil, which is due to come out in October this year.