- Troubled Blood, by Robert Galbraith. Sphere. $32.99.
J.K. Rowling needs no introduction, nor does her alter ego, Robert Galbraith, the pseudonym she uses when writing her series of crime novels featuring private detectives Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott.
All four previous novels topped national and international bestseller lists and have been adapted for television. Troubled Blood is the fifth in the series and is set a year after the end of the fourth, Lethal White. Robin has been promoted to business partner and is going through an acrimonious divorce from her controlling ex-husband, Matthew.
The detective agency is now famous and financially successful, and the detective team has grown to tackle the number of cases on their books.
Troubled Blood begins with Strike in Cornwall, as his beloved Aunt Joan is terminally ill. While in a pub with friends, Anna Phipps approaches him to ask for his help. Her mother, Margot Bamborough, a GP, finished work one evening, walked out of the surgery and hasn't been seen since. She disappeared in 1974, the year Strike was born.
Margot, who had once been a Playboy Bunny, was an ardent feminist and married to a successful hematologist. The police at the time believed she had been a victim of the infamous serial killer Dennis Creed, who abducted women off the street and kept them imprisoned in his basement. DI Talbot, who led the initial investigation, became obsessed with this theory, eventually having a complete nervous breakdown.
Strike and Robin give themselves a time limit of a year to try to solve the mystery by tracking down and interviewing the witnesses and suspects who are still alive, including Dennis Creed in Broadmore.
Troubled Blood has caused considerable controversy because Dennis Creed often dressed as a woman to lull his victims into a false sense of security. Galbraith's critics have, as a result, accused her of transphobia after Rowling's previous comments about transgender people.
A Perth bookshop even announced it would not be stocking new Rowling or Galbraith novels. However, Galbraith doesn't describe Creed as a transvestite. He is only one of many suspects and only appears in one chapter.
For this reviewer, Troubled Blood has other issues. For instance it is grimly depressing with intermittent episodes of sentimentality, as well as overly long at 927 pages. Galbraith has justified this saying she "always knew it would be lengthy because the investigation takes place over more than a year".
Troubled Blood ultimately is a disappointment, with the detail overwhelming the plot and a resolution as preposterous as it is unpredictable.