Robert Galbraith, aka J. K. Rowling, followed up her first murder-mystery starring Cormoran Strike with another. In the wake of solving the murder of Lula Landry, Strike has found himself doing much better, business-wise, even if his newfound semi-fame has its drawbacks, like reporters wanting to talk to him and people knowing who he is automatically, and making assumptions based on the Landry case. But, a few months later, things have settled down some. Strike is buried in piles of people who want to hire him to prove their partners' infidelities, which he's starting to find rather tedious even if it does pay the bills. So when Leonora Quine shows up, asking Strike to find her missing husband, he's intrigued. Owen Quine is a writer who had one good book and then a couple of rather bad ones, and now he's disappeared with the manuscript for his latest work after having a rather public fight with his agent about the book being unpublishable. Leonora thinks she knows where Quine is, she just wants Strike to confirm it and make him come back. But Quine isn't at a writer's retreat, like Leonora thought, and as Strike discovers rather quickly, Quine is actually dead, killed in the same manner as the protagonist of his manuscript--which has also been spread all over town and slanders rather a lot of people to boot.
As Strike works toward solving the mystery and protecting Leonora, who becomes the number one suspect in pretty straight order because of the rocky relationship between herself and her deceased husband, other things start to go wrong, of course. The biggest of them is Robin, his assistant who was so integral to helping with the Lula Landry case and who stayed on with Strike despite numerous, more lucrative job offers elsewhere. Robin's relationship with her fiance, Matthew, is on the rocks, and largely due to Strike himself. Strike hasn't actually really done anything to make it this way; Matthew just seems like a jealous, suspicious person, and I did not like him one bit. Not even when he has to deal with a death in the family. I still couldn't bring myself to pity him just because of how awful he'd been to Robin the whole time, and Robin is my favorite character, so there wasn't much redeeming him there. He eventually does start to come around, after he and Robin have a long talk about why she's working for Strike, and tries to be more supportive of her, which was good--but I can't help but feel that's all going to fall apart relatively soon, and he'll be back to being just awful to her all the time. Meanwhile, Robin finds herself increasingly frustrated with Strike because she wants to be more involved in investigating cases, rather than just being an office administrator, and Strike seems to have dropped this idea despite seeming enthusiastic for it in the first place.
This plot was less convoluted than The Cuckoo's Calling, which I liked. I didn't feel like there were quite so many angles, and I thought the smaller cast of involved characters really made for a better story. I didn't figure out the mystery, though I did fall for the rather obvious decoy Galbraith/Rowling put in; I always do. I would not make a very good investigative officer. One thing that does bother me about this, though, is how Galbraith/Rowling just neglects to mention things that the point of view characters know in order to keep us in the dark. Strike, for example, asks a friend to do something, which is basically worded as "He explained what he wanted and the friend agreed" without us knowing what the thing he wanted was in the first place. I dislike this, because it's very obviously keeping things from the readers that we should know. Strike knows it; why shouldn't we? Probably because he's being built up to be a grand mastermind of mysteries, but I found it annoying when so many other things are teased out right in front of us to keep these things in the dark. The other characters should be keeping the secrets, not the protagonist whose head we're supposed to be in. Is this just a mystery genre thing? I don't know, but if it is, I don't like it; I think the mystery and suspense could be perpetuated in other ways without deliberately keeping us in the dark about things that have already been discovered.
Still, this was a very good book, and I'm looking forward to reading the third. Galbraith/Rowling just has such a way of creating situations and characters, of painting pictures with words, that I think the small sins here are forgivable.
4 stars out of 5.