J.K. ROWLING — ROBERT GALBRAITH — TROUBLED BLOOD — 2020
This is the fifth volume of the Strike Novels centered on Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott confronted to several cases, two of them finding some closure with the localization and discovery of the bodies of two women assassinated, murdered would be an understatement, some forty years before. The action is situated in Cameron’s England with the Scottish referendum for independence in the UK background, but also with the rising desire for independence, or at least a lot more devolution, among communities like the Cornish Celts or the Scottish Nationalists. Wales is not very much present and Northern Ireland or Ireland, in general, is not at all. It is heavily centered onto England, London for the two murders, but a lot on northern England, Yorkshire particularly, for Robin Ellacott, and Cornwall for Cormoran Strike. Surprising enough other Europeans are rather very limited in this book, and in London. Apart from a few Italians who are the local Mafiosi gangsters, there are very few Europeans. The most prominent foreign family in the novel is the Bayliss family from the Indian subcontinent but in no way qualified religiously. The main case is centered on Saint John’s medical practice. Three doctors altogether. Dr. Dinesh Gupta from India, Dr. Joseph Brenner from Germany and a survivor of the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp, and Dr. Margot Bamborough, a real grassroot English woman.
This last doctor is the center of the novel since she disappeared without leaving any trace at all behind her forty years ago. Her daughter hires, with her life partner Kim Sullivan, a BPS registered psychologist, Strike and Robin to find out what happened since at the time two successive police investigators led to no solution and left behind a very cold case. The second case, that of the Tucker daughter who disappeared in the same period is seen as one more murder, after kidnapping, detaining, and torturing, attributed to the famous serial killer Dennis Creed though it was never proved, and the body had never been found. The two cases will be eventually solved and the bodies recovered. But you have to read this monstrous volume to find the details.
I would like to present here more general remarks.
First of all, the whole volume follows about 13 or 14 months of work and investigating by Strike and Robin, the two associates, plus a few subcontractors and a secretary, on at the very least six cases, including the two cases I have already mentioned. The author is very precise in the daily life of this agency and the people working there. She tries to really bring up the real atmosphere among these people, the tremendous pressure this work imposes on everyone, and how each character copes with it. In fact, it is not very brilliant on an everyday basis because this stress brings a lot of tension between the two partners as well as among the subcontractors. This everyday-life bias makes the novels slow and long and this length is saved by the style of the author, her storytelling style which is dynamic with a great proportion of real dialogue between or among the people in each scene.
Constantly too, her characters may reminisce some personal past events or reflect on the present events, the circumstances, and the reactions of people to the events. This association of dialogue, recollections, and personal reflections makes the tale or the story rather dynamic and appealing enough to go on trodding in a story that is by far too long for a simple thriller. And in the main case, the denouement is brought up when they finally realize the alibi of one actor was light and had not been checked if it could have been checked, since it was a cinema ticket which was dealt with early in the novel and will re-surface at the very end. Note the two police investigators of 40 years ago had not checked this alibi ticket at all, which is of course very poor police work, explained by the disease of the first investigator who was falling into a severe case of delusion centered on a fixation onto stars, horoscopes, and other superstitious tarot distractions, and the second investigator only did some routine check-work. Note here, the first investigator relies on two horoscopes: the standard twelve-sign horoscope, and a marginal fourteen-sign horoscope. The author could have at least mentioned the very standard Middle Eastern thirteen-sign horoscope that survived in Christian Europe up to the 13th century, at least. But I must admit that referring to the fourteen-sign version makes the reference so funny if not grotesque, certainly not anthropological, or historical and not even cultural, just the cogitation of one person referred to in the book who is no authority at all since it deals with horoscope not as a heritage from very old humanity and the emergence of humanity from the animal world by observing the sky, the stars and trying to find some guidance in the constellations. That goes back to the vast migrations out of Black Africa, even before Homo Sapiens since Homo Erectus was a great migrator too. In fact, this reference leads to the astrological psycho-oriented definitions of individuals according to their birthdate and birthtime.
This desire to really give the real-life experience of these private investigators adds a lot of episodes that are purely personal, and the relationships between Strike and his family, his dying aunt who raised him and his sister, and his real father, a pop music star, are at times very funny-strange. In the same way, Robin is beyond her divorce but her ex-husband is still in the marginal background and her relationship with her own Yorkshire family is at least disturbing since the only prospect can only be keeping in contact and be frustrated because she will never have the courage to break it up and let her own parents go their way which is leading nowhere. We feel in this Yorkshire atmosphere — maybe be even more than only one foot in the grave — the specter of Brexit that was not yet born but was obviously in its gestating womb. The relationship between Strike and Robin is explored in so much detail that we are like saturated with it and the dilemma on both sides between following and falling into the sexual appeal they both experience, and the necessary distance that is indispensable for their professional relationship to remain professional, and maybe unbiased, or at least minimally biased. Those sequences of a tempest under the dome of their skulls make the whole novel slightly Shakespearian as for the tempest, and at the same time oppressive like the famous Kingian Dome with these two characters being manipulated by some extra-fictional being like pawns on a chessboard, or on a game console, under that choking dome.
The last remark I will make is about the social vision in this novel, the way the English society is described, and particularly the ever-present and active segregational attitudes and prejudices against some minorities which are not racial in the vast majority of cases, but psychological (psychological impairments or dysfunctioning situations are seen as a normal, common, accepted reason to segregate against such people suffering from these impairments that are systematically traced back to abuse in early childhood, or abandonment from one or both parents, or some genetic situation) and social with extreme protection and exploitation of such social cases that live on the border of normal society, tolerated as long as they keep within their imposed and accepted limits. This society is all built, at all levels, on a set of normal behaviors, social norms, and cultural bundles of prefabricated truths and accepted fetters if not manacles. The worst possible criminal can live in society for a seventy-year long life without ever being suspected if she or he respects such norms, patterns, and Gestalten. A serial killer is caught if he or she makes a mistake, or if some investigator asks the right question — most of the time out of pure chance — from the right secondary character, or if the investigator manages not to drown in some Lego-type pre-digested solution that does not solve the problem but provides an easy way out for the investigators who can consider the case as closed, solved, though it is not, and a case is never closed as long as the body of the victim has not been accounted for.
The final remark I will make on this novel is that the vision of the English society is totally locked upon itself with nearly no immigration and for whose insecure members Europe is an escape and comfortable prospect, out of reach of investigating parties and avenging bands. Criminals can live long in England if they wear a reputable social uniform and if they play it cool, discrete, and safely self-restricted to a small patch of an autonomous and unremarkable life. Otherwise, they can move to continental Europe where Scotland Yard is mostly helpless. But many of small and average English people with limited income, like a retirement pension, can move to the continent where they can have normal and generous healthcare, cheap living quarters away from big cities, and even some English-coaching moonshining work with children or professionals who want or have to learn some English. But next time Strike and Robin are going to face Brexit in the sixth volume, if there is one, and this time, continental Europe is going to become a foreign continent with all it means. Brexit is the victory of the northern English men and women who cannot see any other solution than digging down into their burrows, deeper and deeper, and never see the European sky anymore. And these lower middle class and working class discontented people can only see the changing world in which they live as a dangerous non-alternative to the life they seem to remember or imagine as the good old days. Just take a few populist opportunists in the political world and then you have Brexit, MAGA, and other sectarian approaches to the future which is mostly refused by electors and provide freewheeling opportunities to populist politicians who live because of the support they get from the main agents of this change, the big corporations, and other mind-bedeviling social networks.
Where do Striker and Robin stand in this dilemma? Nowhere. Let’s go to a perfume store and buy some perfume to cover up the stench of this decomposing and decaying society.
Goodnight! Bonne nuit ! Boa noite! ¡Buenas Noches! Buona Notte! Gute Nacht! Dobranoc! Goede nacht! Gau on! Oíche mhaith! Bona notte!
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU