"The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith: JK Rowling’s tale of obsessive fans punches its substantial weight
The Ink Black Heart gives new meaning to that familiar phrase of book reviews, “a weighty tome”. Not in the sense of profundity or thematic depth — though it gives the reader plenty to think about — but the literal one of the astonishingly heft of this latest crime novel from JK Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith.
Its thousand-plus pages, bound in stylish hardback, tips the scales at more than three pounds (yes, I weighed it). I couldn’t believe the length — it must be well over quarter-of-a-million words — of what is, essentially, a plain old murder-mystery, albeit one of definitively superior quality.
It may seem I’m a mite obsessed; not really, it’s just that my heart sank when I took delivery of this gargantuan novel. My core principle as a reader of crime fiction is “shorter is better”. Elmore Leonard, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and others — they tended to build their world and tell their story in 250 pages and change, sometimes less.
All this had me approaching The Ink Black Heart
with trepidation — though, in fairness, quite a bit of intrigued excitement too.
It’s JK Rowling, for God’s sake. She’s a literary phenomenon, basically a one-woman super-industry; and her Cormoran Strike/Robin Ellacott series for grown-ups — this is the fifth — has sold millions, got rave reviews and, naturally, been adapted for telly.
Anyway: all worries were superfluous. It’s a rip-roaring read, a big, sprawling, at-times electrifying thriller, with the expanse and sweeping momentum of a classic 19th century “social novel”. Dozens of characters, multiple plotlines and, most crucially, lots and lots of things going on.
That’s the problem with a certain type of boring modern mystery: not a lot actually happens. Too much internal monologue and exposition, not enough incident; too much description of character, not enough revealing it through action.
Whereas, while she does delve into her main protagonists’ minds regularly, Rowling does it briskly, adding to what the reader knows and not simply repeating what they have just learned.
The plot is relentless, leaping around and sparking like a dangerous loose wire. The novel, set in 2015, is structured in roughly a hundred shortish chapters, giving it that really moreish quality. The title comes from a weird, Tim Burtonesque cult cartoon on YouTube, created by one-time sweethearts Edie and Josh, which has generated a zealous fanbase and is about to jump to the big-time on Netflix.
Edie comes to private detectives Strike and Robin for help with a particularly unnerving and persistent online stalker/troll called Anomie. They haven’t time for the case, busy with several others, and suggest alternative agencies that specialise in cybercrime.
A few days later Edie is stabbed to death, and Josh seriously wounded in Highgate Cemetery, the inspiration for their animation.
Our heroes — a good double-act, incidentally, with that tingle of unspoken attraction between them — are commissioned by Edie’s agent and the TV producers to track down this Anomie creep. Probably not the murderer, but a potential fly-in-the-ointment with his/her/its endless attacks on Edie and the Netflix version.
Strike, Robin and the team get to work, focusing a lot of attention on Drek’s Game, an interactive role-playing thing, created by Anomie and someone called Morehouse, where fans anonymously share their love of The Ink Black Heart
They’re soon immersed in a bewilderingly complex alternate-universe of weirdos across all sorts of social media — God, these “fans” of pop-culture are off-the-scale pathetic in their obsessiveness and sense of entitlement — and space-cadets at the artists’ commune where Edie and Josh once lived.
The detectives also get sucked into the orbit of far-right terrorists, possibly connected to the game.
There’s something compellingly creepy about online anonymity — that seemingly innocuous person sitting right next to you could also be the freak-show spewing out rape threats on Twitter.
Rowling knows all about new-media abuse, of course; here she takes some cold-as-ice, entirely merited revenge.
And there’s something compellingly creepy about the book as a whole. It’s a slow-burn, dread-tickling-along-your-neck type of feeling, making late-night reading a pleasurably unsettling experience.
It’s all crafted with impeccable precision and more dark humour than I’d expected. In short, Rowling is a great storyteller and The Ink Black Heart
is a great story."
The Ink Black Heart gives new meaning to that familiar phrase of book reviews, “a weighty tome”. Not in the sense of profundity or thematic depth — though it gives the reader plenty to think about — but the literal one of the astonishingly heft of this latest crime novel from JK Rowling, writing...