Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough – who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974.
Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one forty years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on; adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. Plus the pair are still battling their feelings for one another, while Robin is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention.
As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . .
I was lucky enough to pick this up from Bury Library as I happened to be in there with my son. I’ve had most of the other Cormoran Strike books from the library as they’re usually pretty good reads. This one was no different.
Troubled Blood is the fifth book in the Cormoran Strike detective series, with the sixth having been announced. It follows on about a year from the previous novel in terms of story, but see’s the now thriving Detective Agency taking on a new series of cases, including finding the missing Dr Margot Bamborough, who disappeared 40 years ago during the height of activity surrounding the serial killer Dennis Creed. Having never taken on a cold case, Strike and Robin have their work cut out for them and the unravelling of the age-old mystery begins again. Wrapped up in old police notes; involving the bizarre ramblings of the supernatural and a half-botched job of the original files. I guess reading Troubled Blood as a stand-alone would be fine, but some of the intricacies of the characters have developed over the previous instalments.
Troubled Blood is a long and complicated book. At its heart, it is the solving of the cold case on top of the developing relationship between the lead characters; Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacot. I find that as these books progress and the characters develop, I like them less and less. Initially, Strikes’ attitude and approach to other people were endearing in its complexity; in this book, I feel like something has been misplaced and he’s just a bit of a jerk towards people for the sake of it. Robin has gone from a self-assured woman to a gigglish young girl in her attitude. Getting irate when people don’t pay her enough attention or blushing whenever she is complimented by Strike. The ever-developing ‘We can’t talk about this like rational adults’ relationship is frustrating and honestly, reading about the fact they can’t ever talk about their feelings opening makes for a tiresome read. There’s the dipping back and forth between prior relationships, involving Robin’s divorce and Strike’s affluent ex, Charlotte, just to keep things a bit spicy. More often than not though, these end up dipping into the more childish mentalities of the characters and not helping the reader feel much in the way of sympathies.
As with the other books in this series, the pacing is a slow crawl as the case is carefully picked at. If anything the recovering of old ground was more akin to The Cuckoo’s Calling. Revisiting witness statements, tracking down missing individuals and looking over old police notes made for the bulk of the storytelling; which was all intriguing. There’s a real sense of wanting to know what happened to Margot Bamborough instilled throughout the novel, which keeps the pages turning more than the irritating personal drama; which has been a secondary driving force in previous novels.
I think the largest issue I had with this book though is that a lot of it felt like bloat. It’s over 900 pages long and a lot of narratives just didn’t need to be in there. Robin is struggling to cope with some events in her life that have come back to haunt her, there’s a troublesome co-worker that’s too flirty, Strike’s aunt Joan is dying of cancer, a dinner party that goes horribly wrong, birthday presents aren’t adequate, relationships aren’t working out well, Italian Mafioso-types, strained family relationships and a lot of information about astrology that links into the main case. It all makes for a bit of a complicated, tangled mess of a read. Yes, there is the inevitable ‘big-reveal’ at the end that wraps up a lot of the loose ends but did it all really need to be in here? Probably not, and with a good edit down the whole thing could have run a lot smoother and been a more refreshing read.
As such there are a lot of names in the character count, some of them familiar from other books, but many new names centring around the cold case. It’s a lot to keep track of and a lot of the confusion surrounding them could have come from cutting out the interim cases the detective agency was working on at the same time. These felt needles and honestly, I didn’t care one iota about a weatherman being sent saucy postcards, another non-cheating girlfriend of Two-Times who has a fetish for that sort of thing, or even adult-baby nonsense. Just, keep to the main threads and we’d be golden! Yet, I can’t complain too much as the characters presented were individual and spoke in their own voices. Each had their unique quirks and we’re distinguishable from each other, so while there was a lot of them, each of them stood on their own two feet.
Within Troubled Blood, there are a fair few topics of discussion that crop up; Toxic and predatory masculinity. Can really trust those in a position we feel we automatically should – Dr’s, Nurses, etc. How care to the vulnerable can easily be abused and overlooked. People are not being all they first appear. These all make for great talking points beyond the book and within, they are handled with care. Not once did these positions come from a hateful place and worked seamlessly within the parameters of the story. They helped to misdirect the reader from the overall conclusion, bringing them back around to consider other possibilities on Margot Bamboroughs whereabouts. Another gripe I have with these books is in how the reveal is usually done; with the antagonist dumping everything in a bad-guy monologue. I had the feeling this was going to be how the case came to its resolution and it felt unrewarding.
A very long book that will appeal to fans of the series in terms of case and character relationships. A well-crafted who-dun-it that’s sadly hindered by a bit too much bloat. Frustrating main characters in terms of their personal lives, but generally well written-story with plenty of misdirection to keep the reader guessing.
I first heard about the Cormoran Strike books through the transphobia controversy surrounding this particular book. I read them wondering what all the fuss was about. After reading Troubled Blood, I can honestly say that it was a fuss over nothing! Nothing remotely transphobic is written in this book. Serial Killer Dennis Creed sometimes dressed as a woman to better manipulate his victims into believing he is harmless, that’s all.