A dark cemetery, where the murder took place in J.K Rowling novel, “The Ink Balck Heart”. PHOTO COURTESY OF PUBLIC DOMAIN PHOTOS
Renowned yet controversial author J.K. Rowling released her latest crime novel, “The Ink Black Heart” on Aug. 30, under the pen name of Robert Galbraith. The sixth installment in the Cormoran Strike series, this murder mystery follows detective Strike and his partner Robin Ellacott as they investigate the murder of popular YouTube cartoonist Edie Ledwell.
Stalked and harassed by an individual known only as Anomie, Ledwell seeks the assistance of Strike’s agency after receiving relentless attacks and death threats, only for her to be murdered days later in the same cemetery where her titular web series is set. Strike and Ellacott subsequently attempt to identify Anomie, following Ledwell’s friends and acquaintances, encountering a far-right terrorist group, and even immersing themselves in an online game based on Ledwell’s show, “The Ink Black Heart”, to catch the online menace.
An intriguing and complex murder mystery of the digital age, Rowling’s latest novel is not trending online because of the book itself, but because of the controversy surrounding it. In recent years, the “Harry Potter” author came under fire for her inflammatory comments about transgender people. Since the release of “The Ink Black Heart”, Rowling – or Galbraith, in this case – found herself in the spotlight again as internet users accused the book of being semi-autobiographical in nature.
In addition to Anomie, Edie Ledwell faces harsh criticism from fans and the media, most notably a social justice-oriented blog, The Pen of Justice. The blog frequently accuses creators of being racist, ableist, and transphobic, including Ledwell. Because of this plot element, readers accused Rowling of portraying herself as a victim through her writing. This however may not be the case, as Rowling claims she began writing the book long before her social media controversy. The book supports this claim by taking place in 2015, about four or five years before she started tweeting about trans issues.
Another point of inquiry for fans was Rowling’s pen name. First published as Robert Galbraith in 2013, readers accused her of taking the name from Robert Galbraith Heath, a psychiatrist credited with inventing modern conversion therapy. Rowling denies this, claiming she took the name from Robert F. Kennedy and Ellie Galbraith, a pen name she used in her youth. Nonetheless, the apparent coincidence makes Rowling’s prospects as a supposed ally of the LGBT community quite bleak.
While fans are understandably upset by Rowling’s comments, “The Ink Black Heart” is not the transphobic propaganda it is cracked up to be. The accusations toward Ledwell are made in passing and lean more towards ableism and classism, with those targeting her depicted as members of an alt-right group, starkly different from Rowling’s own situation.
Regarding the book itself, fans may wonder if it is worth the hype at all.
I am a sucker for a good murder mystery, and “The Ink Black Heart” is no exception. The controversy surrounding it drew me to the book, just to see what all the fuss was about. The story is intriguing and even addictive, as it draws you in with twists and turns. In terms of writing, I would consider it a significant improvement from her “Harry Potter” series. She still excels in world-building and plot development, but my primary critique is length. Numerous critics have come after Rowling/Galbraith for it, and for good reason. Clocking in at just over 1,000 pages, “The Ink Black Heart” rivals the Holy Bible itself in length.
Like the critics, I argue the book could have been cut down significantly. Much of the page space is taken up by Tweets and chat room screenshots. While these make the book immersive as a mystery that often takes place on the internet, it still could have been adapted better to the page to fill more space. Much of the story is also dedicated to problems in the detectives’ personal lives. While it may be interesting and humanize the characters, at the end of the day, readers may groan waiting to get back to the allure of the investigation.
Overall, I recommend this book, but only if you are a patient reader. As it is a lengthy read, I would suggest setting it aside for a time when you are ready for the long haul. The book is also not worth the hype or the controversy – while it does feature a problematic creator, the accusations lean more toward personal attacks than accusations of transphobia. Nonetheless, it is an intriguing read, and if you are into a modern murder mystery and are able to acquire it at your local library, it is at least worth a go.