This latest novel in the Strike series is just as intriguing as the detective’s previous outings, but the online chats between characters can be a little difficult to read and be distracting.

It has to be said that with each new Strike novel released by Robert Galbraith it has its finger on the pulse of issues that surround the world today – in this case the way in which super fans suddenly create a backlash against the creator whose work they admire because of a change of direction of ideas or personal opinions. This in turn makes it feel like a deeply personal novel for the author (who is of course J.K Rowling), who has faced similar backlash in recent years.

In this sixth instalment of the series, a young and distressed woman Edie comes in seeking the help of Robin and Strike but due to a variety of reasons they are unable to help her. A short time later she is murdered. It soon turns out that Edie was co-creator of an online animated series that is connected to a online game titled the Ink Black Heart, with fans of the game and animated series who turned against her as rumours of a film of the series emerges. Strike and Robin soon are forced to delve into the mysterious world of the internet including online gaming and social media to discover if the person who was harassing Edie online is also her murderer.

Written with great clarity and insight, this is in many ways a deeply gothic read with plenty of twists and turns along the way – with a lot of references to death (not just in relation to the murder itself) and obsession, with plenty of interesting clues along the way that makes you want to read it again to rediscover them. The vividness in which the story has been constructed really does take the reader down on a dark and sinister journey of just how dark the internet world can get.

It is a really long read and it can be easy to get lost with regards to how characters fit in together and there might be times that you find yourself re-reading a few pages to get certain things straight. This isn’t helped by the fact there are long sections devoted to online and anonymous chats between players of the game which can be difficult to read – as interesting as it is to try and figure who the real life characters are.

Then there is of course the subtle changes in Robin and Strike’s relationship as well. Yes Strike in many ways is still as rough around the edges personality wise, particularly in the way in which he seems to be a bit of a commitment phobic and the way in which he lies to the women in his life. However, there does seem to be a slight softening in his character as well – there is a little bit more compassion on display and little bit more openness as well – which reflects Robin’s influence on him. On the other side of this , Robin seems to be blossoming and enjoying the transition into the person that deep down she has always wanted to be – her confidence and the way she takes the lead in many situations in this story really shines throughout. It is definitely a book that is more about her. Together it is clear there is still much to be resolved between them and hopefully the next instalment will clarify this further.

Once again, all the characters have their flaws and it does still make the story feel grounded and humane in many ways that keeps you engaged from start to finish. However, there feels as though there are too many of them and a few could have been edited out given the lack of overall relevancy to the story that they have.

While the overall vibe of the book is a little bit grim and dark, there are still the occasional moments of humour to add a touch of lightness to break up the tension but without distracting from the story.

Overall, it is a thrilling addition to the series but certainly could have used some editing to keep it a tad more focused.

By Emma Clarendon

The Ink Black Heart is available to buy now.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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