This is the sixth book in the Cormoran Strike series by J.K. Rowling, who is writing these novels under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. I absolutely love the books in this series and getting a new one to read is such a treat for me. I pre-order them as soon as they are announced and spend the days leading up to the launch by re-reading the preceding book (or books) in the series in order to “get ready” for the new one, so I can pick up where the last one ended. For The Ink Black Heart, I re-read the last book, Troubled Blood and thoroughly enjoyed it. There is so much detail in the books that it almost feels new every time I read it.
The series is centered around a detective agency started by Cormoran Strike, an ex-military man who was forced to leave the army when he was injured in a blast and had to have his leg amputated. The other main character is Robin Ellacott, who starts in the first book of the series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, as a temp for the agency and has worked her way up to now being Strike’s business partner in the agency. (I provided a more detailed overview of the series, as well as on the relationship between Strike and Robin, in my write-up of the fourth book, Lethal White.)
While the agency is typically working on multiple cases, each book in the series focuses on one main case. The new book, The Ink Black Heart, takes place in 2016 and the crime it is centered on is very contemporary, involving YouTube, Twitter, Netflix, gaming, and online stalking and trolling. The case involves finding the identity of an online persona called Anomie who has murdered the main creator, Edie, of a popular YouTube cartoon called “The Ink Heart Place,” which has been optioned by Netflix to become a show. Anomie had created an online game inspired by the cartoon, but it was disparaged by Edie, making Anomie furious and causing him/her (Anomie’s identity remains unknown till the end of the book) to disparage and humiliate Edie at every opportunity, both in the game — which has attracted a huge fan following of its own — as well as on Twitter. This vendetta is sustained for all the three or so years between the launch of the game and the murder, not just by Anomie, by many additional characters in the game who also vilify Edie, including some from a right-wing hate group. There are nasty tweets galore, as well as pages upon pages of in-game conversations between the characters, many of them running in parallel as “private channels” (a common feature in online games). This makes for an even lengthier book than is usual for this series — The Ink Black Heart is 1012 pages compared to the 927 pages of its predecessor, Troubled Blood.
While having such a lengthy book translates to more reading pleasure for anyone who loves these books (and is therefore welcomed!), it is likely to be considered as needlessly long by others. I can’t see this book being appreciated unless you are a diehard fan like me, and even I skipped most of the in-game conversations between the players. I did, however, have to plod through many of the tweets as they seemed to be important to the plot point, even though they were horribly vile and offensive, as many abusive tweets tend to be. There were too many characters in the story making for too many potential suspects, and there were even more characters online in the game and on Twitter, with no way of knowing which online user was which character in real life.
All in all, I found it quite confusing, and I am happy that I have a copy of the book to re-read to make it clearer. I will also likely enjoy the book better on subsequent re-reads, as knowing the solution to the central mystery will allow me to focus on the sheer mastery of the writing, the incredible level of detail, and the characters of Strike and Robin that are fleshed out so vividly that I feel like I know them personally.
Talking of Strike and Robin, their relationship — which the whole series revolves around — hardly progresses in this book. Of course, it cannot be successfully resolved until the last book in the series — and the fact that it is left hanging at least assures fans like me that there are more books coming! — but it was, nevertheless, a little disappointing. Strike is hardly any kind of romantic figure — he is curmudgeonly, out of shape, smokes endlessly, and is always eating burgers and chips and drinking endless pints of beer or lager. (Towards the end of this book, he is forced to be hospitalized as his amputated stump is acting up, and he might start taking better care of his health in the next book.) Robin, on the other hand, who is more conventionally pretty, does not find Strike “remotely sexy,” as she confided to a friend.
Yet, a high level of character and integrity, along with a passion for detective work, is what draws them to each other and deepens their mutual respect and admiration. They care deeply for each other and have acknowledged (this was in the last book) that they are each other’s best friends. They have built up a great business partnership, which they understandably do not wish to jeopardize by crossing the boundary to a romantic relationship. So they continue to suppress the mutual attraction they feel for each other. I find this relationship — and how well it is built up over the course of the series — to be one of the best parts of the books.
I consider myself lucky that I get so much happiness from reading these books and that J.K. Rowling is still writing them.
The Ink Black Heart
Author: Robert Galbraith (Pseudonym of J.K. Rowling)
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publication Date: August 2022
Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani is a fan of the written word.