The second Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling, crime novel I have had to trudge through is The Running Grave. Like the 1,000+ page The Ink Black Heart, this 900+ page novel takes an eternity to finish; an anomaly in the age of streaming, where attention spans are continually being compressed. Perhaps Rowling is deliberately testing who among her fans are the most loyal and literate. Each Galbraith novel is like running a marathon, without satisfaction or recognition at the finish line.
The Running Grave
Where The Ink Black Heart investigated online cults, The Running Grave investigates a real-world cult. A man named Will (irony!) has joined an apparently sinister cult run through mind control and emotional manipulation; he and the other sheep are forcibly cut off from the outside world, to the extent he has no news of his mother’s death.
Will’s father hires the one-and-a-half-legged war veteran private eye Cormoran Strike and his detective partner, Robin Ellacott. Robin volunteers to go undercover and join the cult to find Will and investigate. She uncovers many secrets and maybe two murders: that of an ex-cult member who was doing an exposé on the cult and of a 7-year-old girl whose death made her iconic. Robin stays on for four months despite her mental deterioration and emotional degradation.
Also Read | The detective from Majestic
Meanwhile, Strike is juggling other cases; a two-night stand; the entreaties of Charlotte, who was his girlfriend for 16 years; reconnecting with his sisters; and being on a diet to reduce the pressure on his stump from the prosthetic—all the time thinking of Robin, who had jumped into a serious relationship before her assignment though she too harbours serious feelings for Strike.
“The intensity of the relationship between Strike and Robin propels the novel. Although it is unrealised, it is the emotional bedrock of their work.”
This propels the novel: the intensity of their relationship. Although it is unrealised, it is the emotional bedrock of their work. Even Charlotte bitterly accuses Strike of being in love with Robin. These chapters are eminently readable and display Rowling’s prowess as a writer who deploys tenderness and occasional humour. On the other hand, the many chapters of Robin inside the cult and understanding its almost-satanic leaders are dreary. You struggle to push ahead. You wonder, why? Or even, why me? You do not care about the victims although you want to see Will rescued and rehabilitated. And you hope that the cult leaders face justice.
Also Read | Strikingly slow
Which brings us to the mystery and its obligatory revelation in the climax. The murderer is a surprise, in a neat twist. However, the way Strike arrives at the conclusion, with clues suddenly clarified and his footmen recovering items of evidence, is a bit sudden. Also, it seems that for all her travails, Robin ought to have had the honour of revealing the murderer, the motive, and the method. You feel Rowling cheated you. Anyway, justice is delivered all around. I will not say more than that. If you are keen, then trudge through the 950 pages yourself! Or, read three 300-page novels instead; that will probably go faster.
Aditya Sinha is Features Editor (India) of Russia Today’s website, RT.com. His latest crime novel is Death in the Deccan.