Not Just “Goin’ Through the Motions”

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Amputee war veteran private detective Cormoran Strike’s business has been picking up after his last two cases, what with him being instrumental in solving the murders of supermodel Lula Landry and maverick author Owen Quine. Meanwhile, his employee Robin has moved on from being a mere secretary and actually undergone detective training herself, and has started to take on her own casework whilst at the same time getting really close to marrying her fiancé Matthew.

All this is thrown into confusion when someone has a human leg delivered to Strike’s office, with a note inscribed with enigmatic Blue Öyster Cult lyrics. This strikes home with Strike, whose supergroupie mother had been an enormous Blue Öyster Cult fan to the extent that she’d tattooed herself with some of their lyrics; the Cult reference here is a rather unambiguous sign that whoever is behind all this is out to get Strike, and the fact that the box the leg came in was addressed to Robin suggests that she is in the killer’s crosshairs too.

The police are convinced that the culprit is a gangland figure that Strike’s confidential testimony was responsible for putting away, but Strike reckons he knows at least three other people in his past who might just be inclined to send him a severed leg: two of them he had run-ins with in the army during his time as in the military police, whilst one was a failed thrash metal guitarist who, after being punted out of a string of bands and spiralling into irrelevance, had been the last lover of Strike’s mother before she died – a death that may not have been as accidental as the coroner ruled it to be.

At the same time, a blurted confession from Matthew forces Robin to reconsider her decision to marry him altogether and makes her open up to Strike about her past – and on Strike’s end, the apparent end of Robin’s engagement stirs feelings about her he tries to stifle for the sake of professionalism. Matters are complicated by the fact that Robin is intent on being fully involved with this investigation, no matter what anyone says – and when the investigation turns up some uncomfortable information Robin isn’t prepared to look away – whilst Strike is intent on keeping her out of trouble, particularly since all of the potential suspects in the case not only have no qualms about being violent towards women but actively welcome the opportunity. Solving the case might save the agency’s reputation – and Strike and Robin’s lives – but can their professional relationship survive the strain?

Continue reading “Not Just “Goin’ Through the Motions””

J.K. Rowling’s Naked Lunch

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

One of the bits of Gene Wolfe wisdom I regularly dredge up on here is the distinction Wolfe makes between a multi-volume novel and a series. To Wolfe, a multi-volume novel is a story with a planned beginning and end that is told over the span of multiple books, and when the story is told the books stop coming. Conversely, a series is a story told across several books in which there’s no actual end planned, and the author simply stops writing them (or engineers an abrupt conclusion The Final Problem-style) when they, their publishers or their audience get tired of the fun and games involved.

Superhero comics and detective novel sequences are usually series in the Wolfean sense. In both cases, once the origin story is settled, it’s sink or swim time – either the writer comes up with a format for future adventures which they can refine and repeat indefinitely, or it becomes apparent that the origin story was the best bit and the series doesn’t have legs after that.

Continue reading “J.K. Rowling’s Naked Lunch”

A Rowling In the Nest

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

I admit it: I was one of the rubberneckers. Failing to notice the existence of Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling until the revelation that Galbraith was none other than J.K. Rowling in Army-themed drag, my immediate response was to hop on my Kindle and buy the thing. (It’s rather a Pavlovian response with us Kindle users actually: become momentarily interested in a book, press a button, obtain the book. Devilishly convenient.) I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but what I got was exciting and tense for all the right reasons and uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons.

First, though, the premise: Cormoran Strike is a London-based private detective, having entered the field as a solo entrepreneur following his exit from the Army. Strike has a chequered past – not least because he’s the illegitimate, only reluctantly acknowledged son of a world-famous rock star (he’s only met his dad twice, and seems to prefer it that way) and one of the most notorious “supergroupies” of the 1970s, whose overdose under suspicious circumstances kindled Strike’s latent sleuthing abilities. Strike overcame a tumultuous early life and managed to study in Oxford briefly, before dropping out and embarking on a military career which wouid see him honing his investigative skills in his capacity as an officer in the military police. Leaving the forces after an incident in Afghanistan which lost him his leg, he returned to London with the intent of finally marrying his fiancée Charlotte and starting up his own PI business.

Continue reading “A Rowling In the Nest”

Harry Potter Cover Art Analysis

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

So, the UK cover art for the last Harry Potter book has been released – you can check out a big picture of it here. Obviously, this has triggered an avalanche of speculation – here’s a quick summary of the hottest theories.

  • Harry, Ron and Hermione are clearly covered with some sort of shiny substance. The precise nature of this goop is unknown. Obscure references in The Half-Blood Prince suggest that they’re the victims of one of Voldemort’s famed Delicious Glaze Coating spells, and are fleeing from hungry bees, but an Lubricatus Obscenius spell has also been suggested.
  • Every single character in the book is going to go bald and have to wear magical wigs. Harry and Ron’s almost work – magicians have been working on the problem of male pattern baldness for years – but Hermione has to make do with one of the caretaker’s spare mops.
  • Harry and his friends are depicted flying through a gateway into the Dimension of Unusually Sized Treasure. Note how that the breastplate and helmet – both made out of glass – are designed for a man who has either a tiny torso or a massive head – quite possibly both.
  • Actually, it’s not clear whether Ron and Hermione are flying into or out of the gateway. Harry seems to be half-submerged in the treasure. Some fans are theorising that Harry has just cast a Solongus Suckas spell on his chums, so that he can keep the loot to himself.
  • Harry’s scar, which has shrunk little by little ever since the first book, has also moved around on his forehead. This has led some Potter-spotters to suggest that Harry’s forehead is made of clay, and that he draws on the scar every morning.
  • Check out Harry’s left arm – the tell-tale trackmarks of the heroin junkie are there to behold. How long has he been on smack? While most fans are assuming he becomes addicted partway through The Deathly Hallows, many have pointed out that the bizarre mood swings that began in The Order of the Phoenix might be a subtle clue to the beginning of his problem. Sirius could well have been Harry’s original dealer; it is possible that Harry still gets regular consignments of the good stuff from the land of the dead.
  • Look out Harry! There’s a hand grenade right in front of you!
  • If you look carefully, you can see that Dobby the House-Elf is vigorously sodomising Harry. He is waving a sword around, presumably in the process of slapping our hero’s buttocks with the flat of the blade. Those fans who were agitating for a Harry/Dobby pairing will be well pleased with chapter 16 of The Deathly Hallows, entitled “One Night In Elfland”.
  • The symbol on the spine is a red herring: it refers to the bit where Professor McGonagall, in her capacity as replacement headmaster at Hogwarts, makes a rambling speech at the start of the school year about how the eye in the pyramid on the dollar bill means that the Jews secretly control the world. The Jewish Wizards’ Association raises an entirely-justified hue and cry, and McGonagall resigns in disgrace. She isn’t very popular after that; there’s a scene where Harry bumps into her while shopping in Daigon Alley and feels terribly uncomfortable and won’t make eye contact with her.
  • JK Rowling has mentioned in interviews that, after clumsily losing his virginity to Hermione in the prologue, Ron weeps uncontrollably for the entire duration of the novel. The cover artist has done an excellent job of capturing Ron’s inadequacy-inspired blubbering for posterity.
  • For their final examinations at Hogwarts, students have to demonstrate their mastery of the Conjure Chin spell. All three of our heroes have passed with flying colours.
  • In their first confrontation with Voldemort in this book, Harry, Ron and Hermione suffer the effects of a paraplegia spell. Ron and Hermione lose both of their legs, and Harry is left with only his left leg, bent at an absolutely absurd and grotesquely painful angle.
  • Harry dies on page 613.