Sphere (18th April 2013), Hardback: 449 pages, Crime
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The book takes place in modern day London, with private investigator Cormoran Strike struggling to make ends meet after a particularly rough period of business. He has debts to pay, no money with which to pay them, and personal issues to deal with after his time spent in Afghanistan. Strike is an amputee, with a prosthetic leg that repeatedly gives him grief, as well as a famous father whom he has never known and whose reputation always precedes him. His office is then aided by the appearance of Robin Ellacott, a temporary receptionist who is super efficient and has very good instincts when it comes to dealing with clients.
She proves to be a godsend when it comes to Strike’s latest case – the potential murder of Lula Landry, a supermodel who died in January when she fell to her death from her penthouse balcony. The police and the press have closed the case, believing it to be a suicide as Landry had a lot of personal problems and was known to have been a recovering addict. However, her adoptive brother, John Bristow, doesn’t believe that she would have committed suicide, instead claiming that it was murder and presenting Strike with all the evidence he has since collected about Lula’s death.
A tad reluctant to take the case at first, Strike decides that this is something he can solve, especially as there were several loose ends which weren’t completely tied up by the police. After gaining all the info he can from John, he moves on to questioning the other residents of Lula’s block, including the doorman, cleaner and her driver, as well as the neighbour who claims she heard Landry arguing with someone before she was pushed. There’s the druggie on/off boyfriend who seems to have an airtight alibi, as well as multiple family members. A whole wealth of individuals was interviewed by Strike, with each one playing a role in the book’s eventual conclusion and adding to the intrigue surrounding the death.
What was so interesting about this book was the amount of detail that each suspect and interview added to the case and to the enjoyment of the read. There were several small details which were slipped in throughout the book but were easily forgotten about until drawn into the conclusion. As Landry was a superstar, I thought the world of the rich and famous was very cleverly tapped into by the author, as the book highlights both the highs and lows of fame, with everyone having their own agenda. It is made clear that Lula wasn’t perfect, often proving to be spoilt and self-centred, but at the same time people were drawn to her that seem to display genuine grief at her death.
Cormoran Strike made for a unique detective, as he had a lot of emotional baggage from Afghanistan and his dysfunctional family issues, as well as having a knack of rubbing people up the wrong way. He is big and ungainly, with his engagement having recently broken off, forcing him to now sleep in his office on a camp bed. As someone who is fiercely independent, he keeps his problems to himself, trying not to let Robin discover his poor living conditions. What I liked about Strike most was that he was genuine, with a true desire to get to the bottom of this case. He didn’t seem to tread a moral boundary like so many other detectives do, as he was firmly in control of how to handle his interviews and how to piece the clues together. What was even more impressive was that he was still willing to accept Robin’s help when she had a better idea for sleuthing, proving that his pride was not all-engrossing.
Robin may not have as a major a role in the book as Cormoran, but she still comes into her own in many ways. Strike does not make the best first impression on her, but the mysterious world of private investigating soon gets into her mind and hooks her mind on solving the case. She is starting to realise that she doesn’t just want a boring old office job, but a job like this where she can make a difference. There are several instances where she goes off on solo missions and comes back with valuable information, whether this is directly described or just told to Strike via dialogue. I liked her growing camaraderie with Strike, as there was purely a friendship boundary, despite any tiny hints at chemistry, which I think made their relationship stronger as there was no need a sexual union between them.
I found the plot, description and characterisation of this novel to be perfect, and up to Rowling’s usual high standards in her previous books. The only thing that stopped me from giving this book the perfect five stars was her use of language. There is an awful lot of swearing in this book, particularly from suspects during their interviews but also from Cormoran, and I just felt that in some scenes it was excessive. Swearing does tend to draw your attention, but when a character swears in almost every sentence it can get frustrating and make you begin to switch off. In this book the plot is more than strong enough to counterbalance the swearing, but the language would definitely not be recommended for a younger reader of the Harry Potter series who might show an interest in Rowling’s more adult works.
Overall, this was a great crime story with some amazing plot twists to bring the mystery together. I genuinely had no idea who the murderer would turn out to be, or even if it was murder, and was kept in the dark until the final reveal. Cormoran Strike is an intriguing main character who manages to be likeable despite his darker traits and oddities, and with the level of description in the book, it is easy to see Rowling’s typical authorial flair.