This is the third book in Robert Galbraith's (aka J.K. Rowling) series about grizzled private detective Cormoran Strike - a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who lost his leg during the hostilities, and his former secretary, now partner - pretty, strawberry blonde Robin Ellacott.
As the story opens Strike and Robin are working on a couple of cases and getting on with their private lives: Strike is dating beautiful (almost) divorcée Elin and Robin is planning her wedding to Matthew - a handsome but insensitive guy who resents Robin's job and her friendship with Strike. (As before, most readers probably wonder how Robin can continue her relationship with this irritating guy.)
Robin receives a package at the Detective Agency and - thinking it's some wedding doodads - opens it to find the severed right leg of a young woman. Not only is this horrifying but it seems to be sending a message because Strike is missing his right leg. Strike concludes that the package was most likely sent by one of three men who hate him:
Jeff Whittaker, Strike's former stepfather - a loutish, abusive, would-be rock star that Strike believes murdered his mother.
Donald Laing, a vicious man who once bit Strike's face during an Army boxing match. Later, when Strike was in the Military Police, he arrested Laing for horrific wife abuse and helped imprison him for 16 years.
Noel Brockbank, a serial pedophile who escaped prison because Strike struck him during an arrest. Brockbank blames Strike for his brain injury and epileptic fits.
Strike reports his suspicions of the three men to the police but they decide to concentrate on other leads, in part because they resent Strike - who became famous after solving a couple of high-profile cases that eluded the cops. So Strike and Robin take it upon themselves to track down the three suspects while continuing to work their ongoing cases.
Meanwhile, the killer goes on with his murderous spree. Parts of the story are narrated by the perp, who graphically describes how he abducts and kills young women. The psychopath seethes with jealousy and hatred for Strike and is determined to ruin his life, partly through targeting Robin. Thus, the killer sends another body part to Strike's partner.
Though it's clear the killer has Robin in his sights, she's determined to be a good detective and an asset to the agency. Thus, Robin refuses to take proper precautions and finds herself in some dangerous situations. For me, this was hard to buy into. If I knew a depraved serial killer was following me around I'd for sure take cover - preferably in a bomb shelter.
Strike and Robin's pursuit of the killer takes them around London and to other parts of Great Britain as they follow leads, question people, investigate dwellings, and so on. During their inquiries the detectives come across a group of people that have 'body integrity disorder', a mental illness that creates an obsession to have one or more limbs amputated. This is especially infuriating to Strike, whose life is greatly hampered by the absence of a leg.
As all this is going on, Strike and Robin struggle with a mutual attraction that both seem reluctant to acknowledge. Matthew also inadvertently reveals a secret that throws a spanner into his and Robin's upcoming marriage plans. In addition, the story reveals incidents that profoundly affected Robin and Strike in their pasts, which have continuing repercussions. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in future books.
After a good deal of drama and danger, Strike gets a 'eureka moment' that helps him solve the case. For me, this part didn't ring true and I felt unsatisfied with the story's climax. Other than that though, I enjoyed the book and recommend it to mystery fans.