The book opens with Robin Ellacourt, Strike’s very able assistant, receiving a grisly package as she’s about to enter the office building – a woman’s severed leg. Appearing to be a not-too subtle comment on Strike’s disability as well as arousing fear in Robin, Strike tries to work out who among those from his chequered past would seek to send such a macabre message and deadly warning.
While the police become involved, and despite being in their bad books due to inadvertently revealing incompetency within the force in his last very public case (the model, Lulu Lantry), and being told to back-off, Strike doesn’t leave anything to chance. Determining upon four likely suspects whom he once dealt with in varying degrees either personally or professionally, he and Robin begin their own investigation, one that takes them both into danger and earns Strike further wrath and even contempt from those whose services he also needs.
With the media reporting what’s happened and work drying up, Strike needs to find out who’s determined to destroy him and threaten to kill Robin before they succeed.
Wonderfully plotted, rich in character development (more of Strike’s past and Robin’s are revealed, especially as Robin battles to balance a jealous and anxious fiancé, forthcoming wedding plans and satisfying her own professional desire to not only help her employer – for whom she cares deeply – but get to the bottom of his ghoulish mystery. Likewise, Strike has to try and juggle keeping Robin safe without causing offence or implying she’s not capable or hasn’t earned his trust over and over, using her undoubted fine skills and all the while keeping his rapidly sinking business above water.
Segueing in point of view between Strike, Robin and the killer, the novel is full of surprises – some made me jolt upright in my seat and even cry out, as well as scenes of pathos and familial tensions. The dialogue is realistic and drives a great deal of the tale; the writing is sublime and allows the reader to immerse her or him self in different times, places and heads. Allowing Robin to really shine in this book, Galbraith has forced Strike to take a bit of a back seat – but not so much that we don’t also appreciate the finer nuances of this ethical, honest and determined man. As the story unfolds, we learn more about Robin and what drives her – particularly her relationship with Matthew.
I found this book hard to put down; the ending is so apt and marvellous it makes you long for the next book.
For anyone who loves character-driven crime books that are beautifully written – this is for you. But I would recommend reading the series from the start so the depth and subtleties as well as the context of the characters can be fully appreciated.