Robert Galbraith, the pen name of J.K. Rowling, has treated fans with a super-speedy follow-up to ‘The Ink Black Heart’, the sixth book in the Cormoran Strike series. Arriving just over a year after that book, Galbraith is back with the seventh instalment ‘The Running Grave’ and like its predecessor it’s another hefty tome (albeit slightly shorter at 945 pages). It picks up 8 months after Strike and his business partner Robin Ellacott discovered the identity of Anomie, the online troll that murdered Edie Ledwell, the co-creator of a popular cartoon.
In ‘The Running Grave’, Strike and Robin are hired by Sir Colin Edensor, a man who wants the duo to help him get his son Will out of a cult that masquerades as a church known as the Universal Humanitarian Church (UHC). The cult is shrouded in mystery and the recent suspected murder of a past member, convinces Strike and Robin that they only way they’re going to have success with the case is if one of them goes deep undercover. Robin volunteers for the job much to the dismay of her boyfriend, police officer Ryan Murphy, and despite Strike trying to talk her out of it.
Passing herself off as a wealthy, single young woman who has recently split up with her boyfriend, Robin slowly puts herself on the church’s radar under the name Rowena, and it’s not long before she’s invited to spend a trial week at Chapman Farm, the Norfolk-base of the church and its followers. Once there, Robin is pulled into a dark mystery around the drowning of a young girl called Daiyu, the child of church leaders Jonathan (aka Papa J) and Mazu Wace, who is worshipped as the Drowned Prophet, while trying to get close to Will to break his devotion to the church. Of course, things are a lot more dangerous than she suspects and her stay there proves triggering when, as a survivor of sexual assault, she discovers that women are expected to ‘spirit bond’ (in other words ‘have sex with’) with any man that asks them.
As always with Galbraith’s ‘Strike’ books, the central mystery is only a part of the story. While Robin is deep under cover and mostly cut off from contact with her partner – save for weekly notes concealed in a fake rock and hidden on the perimeter of the church – Strike is trying to manage the rest of his contractors as they work on several other cases. Add to that a worrying spiral in health for Strike’s uncle Ted and the ever-distracting presence of his ex Charlotte Campbell, and there’s plenty going on. The will-they, won’t-they between Strike and Robin continues too with some surprising developments along the way.
Galbraith’s books are often criticised for being over-long but honestly, for me that’s never been a problem. The world Rowling has created under her pen name is so rich and engaging, I find myself as interested to spend time with the supporting characters such as gruff officer manager Pat and Strike’s dodgy friend Shankar, as I do with the two main characters. There are plenty of new players added into the mix, particularly at the UHC, that you’ll be kept guessing until the last pages as to what’s going on and who’s the driving force behind it. Plenty of story elements are driven forward and there are some genuinely shocking moments in there that will make long-time fans gasp.
While reading the book, you can’t help but wonder if Rowling has drawn inspiration from some of the world’s highly controversial and well-publicised religions. There’s also clear nods here to the antics of the far-left, the group of people that find outrage every time Rowling sends a tweet or expresses an opinion that’s not considered to be ‘the right one’. She paints the UHC members as people who have been preyed upon due to their circumstances and lack of place in the world, and their brainwashing at the hands of Papa J and Mazu feels scarily recognisable from the tribal way people seem to behave in the social media age.
‘The Running Grave’ is yet another fantastic instalment in the, as-yet, near flawless ‘Strike’ series. As Galbraith, Rowling has created two of contemporary fiction’s most compelling characters and I’m already hoping we don’t have to wait too long for book 8. I admit, I didn’t figure out the mystery before it was revealed, despite picking up on the numerous clues littered throughout the book. Rowling has proven time and time again that her talent far outweighs the controversy that is perceived to be around her, and ‘The Running Grave’ is another stunning addition to her ever-impressive bibliography. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed and once they pick this book up, they’ll have a hard time putting it down again.
Published by: Sphere Release date: 26th September 2023 Buy ‘The Running Grave’ now
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