Writing: 5/5 Plot: 5/5 Characters: 5/5
I’ve been a JK Rowling fan since I bought the first Harry Potter book in England before it was released in the US. She is just a fantastic writer. This book was over 1,000 pages, and I got through it in three days because I could not stop reading, much to the irritation of family and friends whom I was supposed to be paying attention to!
The Ink Black Heart is the sixth book in the Cormorant Strike series. Best one yet. This one tackles murder both spawned and executed within the anonymity of social media with the convoluted detection progressing simultaneously in both online and real life. Edie Ledwell, the now successful author of a surprise hit cartoon, approaches the agency begging them to help her uncover the identity of an online figure who has been publicly tormenting her for years, almost driving her to suicide. With the agency already overloaded and no real skillset in cybercrime, Robin rejects the request, only to be shocked days later when Edie is found brutally murdered.
The ensuing puzzle to identify Anomie — the anonymous tormentor — is muddied by an incredibly complex web of characters — both online and in real life. Reminded me of the old logic puzzles I used to love where you have to match which person goes with which car which goes with which dessert etc. While I’ve been “aware” of some of the nastiness that happens online, the progressing story included plenty of excerpts that brought the nastiness to life in a way that made it finally real for me. From incels (involuntary celibates) to alt-right nasties to pedophiles to naive victims, it was a whole unsavory world I’m glad I have no contact with. And it’s a world that I’m guessing Rowling knows first hand as she has been targeted by various “unhappys” in some very aggressive and loathsome ways. As an aside, I always search out the original comment or event that gets people riled and rarely find anything worthy of the reaction. Certainly not in Rowling’s case. I sure wish people would think and investigate before they jump on the vicious attack bandwagon.
So why are these books so good? Firstly, Rowling has a writing style that I just love — it’s so clean that you completely forget that you’re reading and yet she manages to reduce very complex topics and events to easily comprehensible dialog and action. Yet the complexity is not oversimplified, it’s just explained clearly. Maybe she should run for office. The plots mimic the cacophony of real life — lots going on, plenty of opinions, multiple opportunities for internal biases to raise their ugly heads, and tedious and slow moving mechanisms for verification. Rowling has an incredible ability to juggle multiple complex plot lines into a cohesive whole. Plenty of philosophic commentary on people, the internet, and the inability to think for themselves. Nothing she writes about fits neatly into a “type,” an “identity,” or a “role.” I love it.
I also like the characters a lot — while they are flawed (as is the preference these days in crime fiction) — they have characteristics and values that are important to me — they care about right and wrong, they are intelligent, they understand their flaws and actually work to improve themselves. I would be very happy to spend time with these people were they so inclined!