The Ink Black Heart
Mulholland – 944 pages, Audible – 32 h 43m
Published on August 30th, 2022
This is the sixth (and longest) instalment in the deliciously complicated Cormoran Strike mystery series. I’ve read all of them in order, which is helpful but not essential, and as with the previous book, we listened to the audiobook, very capably narrated by Robert Glenister. From comments I’ve seen online, it seems this was a better choice than the Kindle format, but perhaps not as easy to follow as the treebook, since a large part of the content is online chat between a multitude of characters with weird names, so you really really have to pay attention to try and work out who’s who. The controversy about what the author did or did not say apparently rages on, and the themes in this book are clearly a response to this, but it’s still a clever multilayered crime story about two of the most interesting characters in modern crime fiction.
Cormoran and Robin have a new problem – keeping up with the workload generated by their previous successes. When a dishevelled young woman asks for help in unmasking a troll known as Anomie, who has been persecuting her online due to her success in creating a cult YouTube animated series called The Ink Black Heart, Robin refers her on to a more suitable agency. Then she hears that Edie Ledwell has been murdered in Highgate cemetery, where the cartoon action takes place, and the agency is hired to investigate. How does the murder relate to an online game controlled by sinister misogynists with links to a Far Right terrorist organisation?
Like the last book, it is far too long – padded out by the repetitive online discussions and sometimes irrelevant subplots that just add extra characters to try and keep track of – like the other cases the team are working on – our heroes spend a lot of time doing surveillance that isn’t very interesting. I would expect that most people reading this will have either read at least some of the preceding books or seen the TV adaptation, and so understand the painfully awkward attraction between Robin and Strike that is continually thwarted by their pride, wilful blindness and mutual insecurities. Spoiler alert – this rages on throughout the book and is not resolved although the friendship deepens further: if you’re reading this series for the romance you’re going to be disappointed. There is at least some progress on the Charlotte front, although I doubt we’ve seen the last of her.
The mystery part was, of course, the main point of the book, and we were well and truly bamboozled by a large cast of potential suspects – many of them wickedly drawn in the various shades of hideous at which Rowling excels. There’s the “Who is Anomie and what do they want?” question, which is what the team are hired to answer, on top of the usual whodunnit, then there’s working out how The Halvening fit in. There are some very clever twists that if spotted early would probably help unlock the puzzle. If I had time for a reread, I’m sure I’d understand a lot more of the intricate plot threads and spot the clues planted surreptitiously throughout, but I was satisfied by the denouement, although my husband complained that they didn’t actually solve the mystery themselves.
Obviously a big part of this story is the murky online world where Drek’s Game takes place, full of cruelty and hate, sexual perversion and abuse, where the lonely and naive congregate only to be exploited by lurking predators. Galbraith/Rowling is a brave woman to have entered the swamp. Her literary knowledge is extraordinary, but I also love the spiky down to earth wit and humour throughout the book. I don’t know enough to debate what she has or hasn’t said, but have zero respect for all those who have 1-starred this book without even reading it, because they read on Twitter about whatever she is supposed to have said. I personally will be eager to see what she comes up with next!