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The Running Grave by Robert Galbraith

Was J.K. Rowling trying to escape the shadow of Harry Potter by writing a crime fiction series under the pseudonym “Robert Galbraith?”

She absolutely was, but the ruse lasted only a few weeks after publication of The Cuckoo's Calling, which introduces her new protagonist, private detective Cormoran Strike. The book became a bestseller after Rowling's identity was revealed, the kind of automatic success she was trying to avoid as she tried out a new genre.

The Cuckoo's Calling isn't great. Without knowing its true author, I wouldn't have given number two in the series, The Silkworm, a chance. Then, Rowling's magic with multilayered plots and characters cast its spell, and her powers are as strong as ever in number seven, The Running Grave.

Strike himself is a great example of a Rowling character. He’s a former Royal Military Police Special Investigator whose career ended when he lost the lower part of his leg in Afghanistan. He is the illegitimate son of a famous rock star and a groupie who raised Cormoran and his sister in a series of bad situations, and he is recovering from a long relationship with a self-destructive model.

Strike works with his partner Robin Ellacott, and the pair tiptoe around their deep romantic feelings for one another. When one is single, the other is involved with someone else, and back and forth it goes. Their relationship is not the meat of the series, but adds a nice seasoning.

The Running Grave involves the investigation of a cult into which the son of a wealthy family has disappeared. Robin infiltrates the group in an effort to remove the young man, but her resolve to remain unaffected by their techniques of control is tested in every way.

Strike’s agency is busy, and there are always minor cases and characters that add even more for the reader. It all makes for a compelling series, and I was very sorry when I came to the end of The Running Grave’s 964 pages.

The books are long, ranging from 454 to 1,024 pages, and I guess you could opt to watch the HBO series based on the books. I've avoided it so far – I'm afraid it won't live up to the images Rowling's words create in my mind.

I think you could also read the books out of order, because the later ones provide good (but brief) details about the main characters' lives. Chances are good you'll be hooked like me, and want to read them all, even the first.

The extremely prolific Rowling reportedly has plans for 13 Cormoran Strike novels. I can’t wait to see number eight hit our library shelves.

by Nancy Brewer

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