JK Rowling

    The Running Grave by Robert Galbraith (Books 2023, 19) 📚

    It’s only a few days since I finished — just over a week since the year-long wait was over — and it seems like ages. Now we’re back into another wait — hopefully not more than a year — till we find out what’s next for Strike and Robin.

    Here, Robin has to go undercover to investigate a cult. By which I mean, she has to sign up as if she were a believer, and go deep, deep undercover. It gets very tense.

    Minor spoilers follow.

    I didn’t enjoy this as much as the previous one or two, I think. Certainly at first I was a bit disappointed because of the time-jump. We’re eight months after the end of The Ink Black Heart, when I had expected it to continue straight on, the way Troubled Blood flowed right into IBH.

    But I think the main problem was that the two main characters are separated for much of it, precisely because she’s undercover, so can’t really communicate with him.

    Of course, once it all kicked into gear, the pages kept turning like they always do. But, while it was great to see them bring down an appalling cult, it just wasn’t as emotionally resonant for me as, especially, the previous two.

    The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling (Books 2023, 10) 📚

    To tide me over until the new Strike book comes out (in just under two months) I suddenly decided to reread JK’s single non-pseudonymous, non-magical book. It’s over a decade old now, which is kind of hard to believe.

    And it’s still bloody heartbreaking. How she can make us feel so much for so many flawed characters (but especially one or two) in so few words, never stops amazing me.

    It’s a slice of small-town England, in which a parish council member dies, leaving the titular vacancy. And all that proceeds from that. It shouldn’t be as compelling as it is, based on that description. But there you go.

    The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith (Books 2022, 28)

    And so I circle back and reread the book I read just over a month ago.

    This has been a most enjoyable experience, reading through the whole series. Rereading this one so soon was an excellent opportunity to see if I could spot any clues that I missed the first time (certainly one or two).

    The apparent logical jumps the characters make at the climax made more sense this time, so that was good.

    Excellent stuff. I look forward to the next one.

    Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (Books 2022, 27)

    For some reason this is the one whose title never sticks in my mind. When I try to think of the books in the series I always seem to have a hard time bringing this one to mind.

    Which is by no means because of the story, which is excellent. Strike and Robin take on a cold case, 40 years old. When I wrote about this before I said I thought there was too much time spent on the other cases. That didn’t seem so this time.

    Also back then, I was recovering from being sick. This time I was just starting to be. And indeed, I was reading a section where Strike gets flu and tries desperately to convince himself that he can’t be getting it; to no avail, of course. I was reading that and thinking, ‘Yes, I’m definitely getting it.’ And not flu.

    Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (Books 2022, 26)

    The rereading continues. It’s actually now a couple of weeks since I read this, this time. what with forgetting, and then coming down with Covid, and what have you.

    Politics is the background for this one, with Robin going undercover at the House of Commons to try to find out who’s blackmailing a government minister — or rather, why? The blackmailers are known, but nobody outside of the minister’s family knows what it is they have on him.

    All good stuff, as ever. I had totally forgotten who was behind it all (where ‘it’ is the murder that follows the blackmail), which just goes to show you can easily enjoy a whodunit a second time.

    Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (Books 2022, 25)

    This is, by far, the most gruesome book in the Strike series. The crimes, the killings are, that is to say.

    It also gives Robin the most action she’s had, as well as the most danger.

    And I still, since reading it seven years ago, haven’t investigated Blue Öyster Cult. Oh well.

    The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (Books 2022, 24)

    A satire of literary London wrapped in a murder mystery. Robin gets more to do than in the first one.

    Which comment makes it mildly amusing to me that I wrote seven years ago that there isn’t enough of her.

    The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (Books 2022, 23)

    So we move into a(nother) period of rereading. Reading the new Strike novel immediately made me want to go back to the start. Mainly, I think, because I wanted to stay with these characters. As I type I’ve just finished the second in the series.

    The characters, though, are very different back here. Well, Strike not so much. Robin is new-minted, still unformed, and doesn’t get nearly as much pagetime as she deservedly does in later books.

    Good stuff, this tale of a famous model who dies in a fall from a balcony. The police have written it off as suicide, but Strike, when asked to investigate, has other ideas.

    Keeping the whodunit alive, I had completely forgotten who actually was the guilty party. Or rather, I remembered it as being someone other than it was. So I was surprised by it, which you don’t really expect on a rereading.

    The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith (Books 2022, 22)

    This may be the best so far of the Strike books. My favourite so far, anyway.

    Despite being set in 2015 (time flows differently in Galbraith world) it’s very much of now. People being bullied online, right-wing terrorist organisations. Crossrail still being built. Oh wait, they finished that. If the novels ever catch up with reality, Cormoran and Robin won’t have to pick their way past roadworks around Denmark Street.

    And The Tottenham pub won’t be there any more. What will Strike do then? Well, OK, he’ll just complain about it being renamed The Flying Horse, I imagine. I think I was in The Tottenham once, years and years ago, and didn’t think too much of it. But who knows.

    Anyway, the book! Yes, it is excellent. I loved it. The only thing I didn’t like was the sheer physical size. It’s over 1000 pages, and when it’s not breaking your wrists, it feels like it’s breaking its own spine.

    The titular Ink-Black Heart (it should, of course, be hyphenated, as an adjectival phrase) is a cartoon series, initially on YouTube, moved to Netflix. Having read the description, I really want to see it.

    It spawns a fan-created game, and therein lies the problem. Fans, you know? They can be troublesome types. Even dangerous.

    Parts of the book are presented as in-game chat threads, with up to three streams running in parallel down the pages. It could get very confusing. It doesn’t, it’s fine.


    Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (Books 2021, 7)

    I know, JK Rowling is a somewhat troubling figure now. When this book came out, last year, my daughter was adamant that we not buy it, because of Rowling’s anti-trans statements, and I had respected her feelings up till now; as well as having my own concerns. But… the art, not the artist, I guess? Even if I’m further enriching her by buying the art?

    The truth is twofold: one, I don’t think she’s actively antithetical to trans people. She has a complex, nuanced position about various aspects of the situation, which gets blown out of all proportion on Twitter, when nuance, as it does, heads over there to die. And which, surprisingly and disappointingly for a wordsmith, she doesn’t seem able to elucidate that well.

    And two, I really like the books and wanted to read it.

    Furthermore, I was sick, and I had decided that I was going to treat the time on the sofa as an extension of the holiday, and not try to get back to working on the novel/dissertation till the Monday. I wanted some comfort reading, and this was what I wanted. I knew I’d rip through it in a few days, even if I was trying to work at the time. So I killed two birds with one stone.

    It’s good, as ever. I don’t really understand how she makes the pages turn so fast (there are a lot of them, especially as an ebook). I did pick up a couple of typos, and some odd line break errors, which might be to do with the translation to ebook – either way, it’s very sloppy editing/proofreading by the publishers. Also some – several – places where I would have edited a line to make it better. I noticed fewer of those as the plot roared on, unsurprisingly. Which at least means I’m reading even a book like this in a more writerly fashion. Or I was at the start.

    The main other weaknesses are:

    • Everything comes together just a bit too tidily.
    • There’s too much about some of the secondary cases the agency is working on, over and above the main one. Those can be interesting or amusing, and sure, it’s realistic that they’d have to have more than just a forty-year-old cold case to work on, over a year. But in the end they feel like padding.
    • As the denouement unfolds she uses a gimmick where the characters learn or work out something, which they relate to each other, but which is not revealed to us. It’s kind of annoying, because it’s suddenly hiding info from the reader that the characters have, where earlier in the story that wasn’t happening. I think she’s done it before in some (maybe all) of the Strike novels.

    But a lot of fun, anyway.

    Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (Books 2018, 26)

    JK Rowling does it again: Robin and Strike are back, and the pages turn like lighting, as I’ve said before. Too fast, really. A week or so after finishing this, it’s already faded quite far from my mind.

    But, as you’d expect, mysteries are solved, Doom Bar is drunk, and Strike doesn’t take proper care of his leg. And — it’s maybe a spoiler to say this, but not much of one — a scene happens that I’ve been waiting for since the first book.

    If you’re a fan you’re already on board, and if not, never mind.

    Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (Books 2015, 9)

    The pages, how they turn. I'm sure I've said that before of JK Rowling's work, but not in public, it seems. Amusing to note that The Silkworm was my number 10 last year.

    Plenty of Robin in this one, and it’s probably the best of the three. Certainly better than the last one.

    Strangest thing about it is the music. By which I mean: the title is taken from a song by Blue Öyster Cult, and quotes from them precede most of the chapters (some chapters have titles, and those are the titles of BÖC songs).

    Now, I had no idea that Patti Smith wrote some lyrics for BÖC, but apparently she did1

    Still on a musical note, in passing, one of the ancillary characters roadies for a band who are called Death Cult. Since JK Rowling is about the same age as me, and since she obviously pays attention to music, I would expect her to know that The Cult used to be known as Death Cult, and before that as Southern Death Cult. But perhaps you had to read the music papers in the 80s to know about that kind of stuff.2

    Anyway, the Death Cult here have nothing to do with either the famous Cult, nor the Blue Öyster one.

    The ending is a tad unsatisfying, as it leaves a number of things unresolved – which is fine, as there will no doubt be more books – and doesn’t really give us enough time post-denoument to decompress with the characters.

    Still, highly recommended, as long as you’re not put off by gruesome scenes.

    1. We went to see her at the Roundhouse the other day, incidentally, on the 40th anniversary tour for Horses; but I digress. ↩︎

    2. And it turns out not to be quite as I remember, as according to Wikipedia, the only connection between SDC and Death Cult/The Cult is Ian Astbury. ↩︎

    The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (books, 2014, 10)

    Always good to get a new JK Rowling, of course, whatever name she's using. I sometimes wonder if she's got loads of other things out there, under other as-yet-undisclosed pseudonyms; probably not, though.

    Anyway, in the second Cormoran Strike book, we have more of the same sort of thing we had in the first. This time it’s set in the world of publishing, with all sorts of rivalries between more and less successful authors, agents, editors and publishers. “Write what you know”, Jo.

    But can such rivalries drive someone to murder? It seems so.

    My main, and very minor, complaint about this was that there wasn’t enough of sidekick Robin. in it, I felt.

    I don’t know how many of these she’s planning to write, but sooner or later Cormoran has to meet – and presumably solve a crime for, or concerning – his estranged rock-star father. who is a recurring offstage character.

    Twenty Years of Foolin' and They Put You in the Pub

    At the end of Potter Week we joined the queue in Borders in Islington at about twenty to eleven; we got served at about 1am (and bought a lot more than just two copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I might say, thereby justifying notions of the reduced prices as loss-leaders).

    On the Saturday there was a picnic-party for some friends who are leaving Hackney, as well as much packing of the car. Then at stupid o’clock on the Sunday morning we headed off to Dover for a ferry to France, and two weeks camping in Brittany. My son finished the book on the journey; about 37 hours after its release. I took a couple of days more, and then read it again straight away. Which is something that I don’t think I’ve ever done before. This is not necessarily because it was so great, but more because I read it so fast the first time. Rowling is a great plotter, so sometimes the pages turn too fast.

    Also, I’ll be honest, I kind of didn’t want it all to be over.

    The holiday was great. Mixed weather, of course, but no worse than here, I think

    Then after a week back at work I find myself hitting an important anniversary: Today I’ve have been in this job for twenty years. Twenty years! It’s hard to credit. I feel like a poster boy for the phrase, “Where did the time go?”

    Not only is it the same job, it’s my first job. The company name has changed several times due to takeovers, but it’s the same place, and quite a lot of the same people. It’s been good, on the whole, or I wouldn’t have stayed. But I’m beginning to wonder whether it might be time for a change.

    Tonight, though, I’ll be in the pub. On the roof terrace, if the weather holds.

    Potter Week

    OK, I declare this the start of Potter Week. I'm just on my way to Stratford, where we'll eat at Pizza Express, before going to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

    Then this time next week we’ll be getting ready to head out to a bookshop for a midnight launch party for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

    It is a time steeped in magic.

    Book Notes 13: Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, by JK Rowling

    This, you won't be surprised to hear, was a re-reading. I started out reading it to my nine-year-old son. He, of course, soon zoomed ahead on his own, leaving me to finish more slowly. I think that makes it three times for him. Definitely just the two for me. And he's read it at least once more between me first drafting this post and finally getting round to publishing it.

    So, how is it? In particular, how does it hold up to a re-reading? The short answers are “great” and “really well”.

    I’m a sucker for Rowling’s work, an unashamed big fan. And obviously, I wouldn’t have been reading it again if I hadn’t liked it the first time.

    So, yeah, it’s great. Probably not the best of the series (though I’m not sure I could say what that is), but not the worst, either.

    I have a view on the major plot spoiler, but I won’t go into that here. Suffice to say that I’m largely convinced by the arguments of the site whose very domain name is a spoiler (though I see that it has changed its name, now).

    What with Harry Potter, the Lemony Snicket books, the Artemis Fowl books and others, we are truly living through a golden age of children’s literature (or at least, publishing).

    I was surprised, when I asked my son whether he was more eagerly awaiting “Seven or Thirteen,” that he said, “Thirteen.” Perhaps he sensed that Mr Snicket would be finished before Ms Rowling; and it turns out that he was right: the final adventure of the unfortunate Baudelaire orphans is coming out next month (on Friday the thirteenth, suitably enough.