So let me start by addressing the elephant in the book: the cross-dressing serial killer that, as I said in my discussion of JK Rowling, seemed to be an element added in poor taste. The facts about said serial killer (Creed):
- Creed is a sociopath and narcissist who perpetrated violence against many women.
- He is not gay or transgender.
- He sometimes wore a pink coat he stole from his landlady, and/or a wig and lipstick, as a way to get women to think he was gay and thus not a threat.
- He did not cross-dress for every victim he lured, nor did he cross-dress at any time other than when targeting a victim.
- He never tried to pass as female, but played off gay stereotypes of the early 70s, when he was prowling for victims.
- Creed is hardly in this book at all, and for most of it, serves only as a macguffin. The initial investigator of the cold case, from 1974, was obsessed with finding this serial killer, whom he believed was responsible for this disappearance as well. There is never any evidence that ties the serial killer to the cold case.
So yes, Rowling treats Creed with the same logic as she uses for why we should deny rights to transgender people. (In other words, we can’t trust that men won’t pretend to be transgender in order to appear safe to women.) This is absolutely repugnant and distasteful, not to mention clearly flawed logic. Have men dressed as women to perpetrate violence? Yes, the same way that men have posed as women or younger men/teens to lure underage boys/girls out to meet them. Predators are predators, and there will always be predators, and they will always find ways to take unfair advantages over their victims. But once again: this has absolutely nothing to do with transgender folks or the rights they should have.
Furthermore, Creed’s presence in the novel is entirely superfluous. Had Rowling taken him out completely, the book wouldn’t have suffered. (In fact, it may have been better, as I’ll discuss below, for reasons entirely unrelated to cross-dressing.) Had Rowling included him, but excluded the detail about the pink coat and/or wig/lipstick, the book wouldn’t have been any different at all than it currently stands. Had Rowling included both him and that detail, and then used that detail to make a stand against this wrong way of thinking, it would have been a better book. (And she would be a very different person who would be viewed in a far more positive light, frankly.)
There are two things that really bothered me about Troubled Blood. The first was of course the issue with Creed. The second was just how sloppy, unstructured, and unfocused the book was written. On the whole, I can say that I enjoyed about 75% of the book, which focused on the personal lives of the characters rather than the cold case. This is only because I’m five books in, though, and already care about the characters. If this had been my first experience with them, I would have given up rather early on. Novels in general are supposed to build to a climax and then taper off. This was more like running on level ground with a few hurdles to hop over from time to time. There isn’t a narrative thread that tied everything together, but instead, the story was all over the place, as if Rowling was trying to stuff five books into one. It’s not that it didn’t make sense or fit together; more like it read as a series of mini-stories that sometimes intertwined but didn’t make up a full narrative.
So. Much. Stuff. Rowling brought up violence against women, the absurdity of “men’s rights” movements, prostitution, men who believe it’s acceptable to send out a certain kind of anatomical picture, people (men and women both) who treat female bosses as if they aren’t truly in charge, stresses of divorce, emotional violence, the contrast of male and female serial killers, modern day mafia, various kinds of sexual predilections, and on and on and on. Not to mention every kind of occult detail you can think of, from astrology to tarot to blood magic. To a degree, I can appreciate the book’s style as a reflection of the difficulty of piecing together a 40-year-old case…but honestly, I don’t think she was going for that on purpose. It didn’t seem deliberate enough, and these books aren’t exactly the literary thematic masterworks that do this sort of thing.
In short, the book could have done with several hundred pages worth of pruning.
Which brings me back to Creed. As a plot device, he was superfluous. His cross-dressing element had no point whatsoever in the book, which made it a detail left in for Rowling to make a point, rather than to help the story move forward. As I said above, the book would have been exactly the same with or without that element. One of an author’s most important jobs is to evaluate the story and remove the bits that don’t enhance the book in some way. There was a lot of non-enhancements in Troubled Blood, and frankly, it felt like Rowling got rather tangled up and lost in a book that was too big for her. The fact that she left that bit in about Creed, the bit that added nothing and only served as a f—k you to transgender folks, speaks volumes.
I will likely continue to read the series, because I quite like Strike and Robin and the secondary cast of characters. Plus, as I said in my Rowling discussion, I don’t usually boycott authors based on their personal views. I also rather love the audio production, with Robert Glenister as a fantastic narrator. But it’s unlikely I’ll revisit this particular book, which kinda made me feel skeezy and sick the entire time I listened to it. Which is unfortunate, because the actual conclusions to that 40-year-mystery were masterfully done, and Troubled Blood could have been brilliant, had Rowling shown the slightest modicum of humility in the writing/editing/research process.