“Lethal White” by Robert Galbraith (2018)

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“If only the swans would swim side by side on the dark green lake, this picture might turn out to be the crowning achievement of the wedding photographer’s career.”

A national lock down seems like the right time to get through some of the larger hardbacks on my shelf while I haven’t got to be carrying them around. As such, we come at last to the fourth part of the Strike series, Lethal White. It turned out that aside from the last couple of pages and one or two smaller plot points, I had all but entirely forgotten everything that had happened in Career of Evil. Fortunately, you don’t really need to know that much, as very quickly we’re plunged into a brand new case which leaves you almost unable to put the book down. There are also some spoilers ahead for the previous books, so that’s your final warning.

Robin and Matthew have just tied the knot, but within minutes of the vows being said it seems that that knot is strained. When Robin realises that Matthew deleted some messages from Strike from her phone, she loses a great deal of trust and respect for him, but for the sake of their families, they go ahead with the honeymoon. A year later, their marriage isn’t in much a better position, but there are other things to worry about now. Following the high media attention that Strike and Robin received after finding the Shacklewell Ripper, Strike has fewer money worries and can hire some more detectives, but is less able to be covert himself. A problem falls in in his lap, however, when Billy, a mentally disturbed young man, bursts into his office and tells him he once witnessed a murder. Before Strike can find out anymore, Billy bolts in a panic.

Thus the case begins. Using what scant knowledge he has, Strike finds himself going from the very poorest corners of London to the highest echelons, where Jasper Chiswell, the Minister for Culture, has asked him to step in and find out something about Geraint Winn, the husband of the Minister for Sport, who is blackmailing Chiswell. Robin goes undercover in the Houses of Parliament and begins to get to know the Chiswell family and the people around it. Strike meanwhile is keeping tabs on Billy’s brother Jimmy, an anarchist who is currently protesting the damage done to London by the upcoming Olympic Games. When these two cases collide, it spells a fatal end for one of Strike’s clients. He and Robin now need to work out who is keeping secrets, because someone knows more than they’re letting on, and they’re determined to get to the bottom of it.

Rowling, despite her flaws, has always had a knack for characters and really has a good handle on how mysteries should work. It’s been said before, but several of the Potter books are basically just murder mysteries and it’s never been a surprise that she went into crime once she’d finished those. As with all the best mysteries too, it’s all there for you to solve, but I admit I didn’t quite see the ending coming. Rowling excels once more at keeping a complicated and twisted plot together and the book’s length seems almost justified. There’s a stark realism to the books that is thoroughly captivating. It’s also a prolonged study into the class system, showing the working classes being brushed aside and left to struggle, with the wealthy repeatedly showcase their belief that the world is there solely to bend to their will. Divisions are hugely prevalent, as are the themes of pairs and partnerships. Rowling is, really, quite a skilled writer, and becoming increasingly brilliant.

I remain disappointed by the inclusion of the romantic sub-plot, though. I’ve no problem with Robin or Strike being in relationships, as indeed they are, but the constant nods to the fact that they might be falling in love with each other are non-essential. The story works perfectly well without adding in the further tension to their relationship that it might be more than professional. The relationship, nonetheless, feels real and well-painted. As ever with Rowling, the characters are solid and real, each with depth and perfectly-fitting names. Strike is still one of the most interesting detectives of recent years, and Robin is aptly named as his competent sidekick who this time round gains a new strength that we had already seen coming to the forefront. She is determined and forceful and I adore spending time with her.

Another excellent addition to the series. I read this week that Rowling has plans for “at least ten more”. I’m not sure I have space on my bookshelf (or the upper arm strength) for them, but if the quality stays this good, I’ll do my best to try.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Career Of Evil” by Robert Galbraith (2015)

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It was that, or a career in HR.

It was that, or a career in HR.

“He had not managed to scrub off all her blood.”

Although it seems so recently that Robert Galbraith hit the shelves as a respected and renowned crime writer, truth is this is a series that’s been going for two whole years already. Following on from the success – more than a little aided by the discovery of Galbraith’s true identity – of The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm, the third installment of the series takes us once more into the seedy underbelly of London with some of the greatest characters in modern literature.

Review starts now, and there might be one or two spoilers in it, so read on at your own risk.

Picking up a few months after the last book left off, it’s spring 2011 and while the country is preparing of the royal wedding, Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott have become notable in newspapers for their involvement in bringing to justice the murderers of Lula Landry and Owen Quine. Things are ticking over nicely, but everything looks set to go wrong when Robin accepts a package delivered to the office addressed to her. She assumes it’s something for her upcoming wedding to Matthew, her fiance who disapproves of her career choice, and signs for it quite happily. Upon opening the package, she finds it isn’t the disposable cameras that she was expecting.

It’s a woman’s severed leg.

Robin, and Cormoran, are obviously shocked by this development and call in the police. Not long after, the press are crowding around the office and they two of them have to leave it for the time being. It’s clear that whoever sent the leg is mad, dangerous and out to ruin Strike’s career. Eric Wardle, police officer in charge of the case, asks Strike who on earth would want to send him a leg. But Strike has a problem. There isn’t one person he knows who’d do something like that; there are four.

With his client list drying up and his determination to find the culprit growing, Strike begins to dig deep into his past to bring out the characters he’s wronged and who would hold such a grudge against him. Meanwhile, Robin is in danger, and whoever is threatening them is after her, and far cleverer than one would imagine.

Career of Evil is the first book in a while that I’ve had trouble putting down. Oddly compelling, it keeps you going despite constantly disgusting you too. There is violence in spades here, some of it incredibly gory, and the villains in this tale include crack addicts, rapists and paedophiles. The thing that actually disgusted me most of all though was the introduction of the condition called “body integrity identity disorder” (BIID), which was a new one on me. It’s predominately a mental illness of sorts where a person believes that they shouldn’t have a certain limb, or should be disabled. It’s otherwise known as being transabled. Basically, these are people who want to be disabled. Apparently this is a real condition (although not recognised by all medical professionals) and frankly I can think of little more vile than this. Anyone who has this condition needs to take a long, hard look at themselves and seek professional psychiatric help. Given that Strike is missing a leg, this whole issue becomes quite important within the story, and he’s got little time for these people.

This book also gives us more information about the backstory of, mostly, Strike, but also of Robin, finally explaining why she dropped out of university (it won’t come as a surprise to many, I’m sure), and showing more of the rising tensions between her and Matthew. Galbraith also makes far more of the latent sexual tension between Strike and Robin, a subplot I could happily do without. Oh sure, it works within the context of the story, but I like the friendship and working partnership between the two; I don’t think the introduction of the idea that they like each other romantically was strictly necessary or would make too much difference if it was removed. But this is a very small fly in a very large pot of ointment.

It’s slick, clever and the characters (the heroes, anyway – the villains are all appropriately and wickedly macabre and disturbing) are all great. I can’t help but think though that now Strike should have a bit more money, but perhaps after solving a third huge case, things will finally be on the up for him. I haven’t seen or heard any confirmation that the series will continue, but it ends on a mighty big cliffhanger with a lot of questions still to be answered, so I’d imagine this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Strike and Robin.

And long may it be until that end comes.