Yes, it really is by J.K. Rowling, but…

It’s not part of the Harry Potter franchise.

I’m talking about The Ink Black Heart, the sixth novel ostensibly written by Robert Galbraith, the well-known pseudonym that J.K. Rowling uses for her outstanding Cormoran Strike series. Unlike Harry Potter, the ultra-realistic Strike series most definitely takes place in what we usually call “the real world.” Detective stories, not fantasy.

These may be detective stories, but they have much more depth than the usual examples of that genre. For instance, almost exactly four years ago I reviewed Lethal White, the fourth book in the series, and commented that it was overly long at 650 pages. There are, of course, two ways that an author might respond to that particular criticism. The obvious way is for them to shorten the next novel. The other way is to make the next one even longer but to include so much substance that the length is justified. The latter is what actually happened in this case. For instance, on March 19, 2021, I reviewed #5, Troubled Blood, which clocked in at 900 pages. It had 900 pages’ worth of depth, so it didn’t need abridging. If you read or re-read my review—and I highly recommend that you do—you’ll know that the series was getting pretty political at that point. The trend continues here.

And now we come to The Ink Black Heart, at a mere 1024 pages (a power of 2, so you can tell it’s going to be good)! At this point I should explain why I tend to like long books:

A work of fiction should create a world and then immerse the reader in it. Otherwise it’s just entertainment. This novel is about the all-too-real world of social media and right-wing extremism, all intertwined with web comics and online gaming. The ending will surprise you—but reading this book is not about getting to the ending. It’s about understanding a particular world and the characters in it. But don’t get me wrong; it’s also entertaining.

I listened to the audiobook version—on 27 CDs!—narrated by the estimable Robert Glenister, who is unmatched in conveying the many different characters that appear in a long novel like this one. I thought he was terrific.

Opinions vary, of course—not opinions about Glenister, who is indisputably great, but opinions about listening to an audiobook at all.Harriet Rhine says:

I would strongly recommend that you not choose the audible version of this book.  The reader was great, but all those tweets and all that poetry had to gotten through.  If you read the book yourself, you can skip over all that.  I honestly think the book would
be more enjoyable if far fewer of the tweets and poetry, and I can’t think of a single clue that required either to solve the puzzle.

This opinion is wrong on so many levels. (And I’m not talking about her use of two spaces after a period, which shows either that she still uses a typewriter or that the person who taught her keyboarding still did.) The poetry and the tweets are not filler to be “gotten through”; they’re integral to the story. This is not a puzzle book! If you skip the tweets and the poetry, you’re merely observing a small piece of the world from a distance rather than being immersed in it. It’s like the difference between skimming a book about France instead of going there.

Categories: Books