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?