This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling’s) “Cormoran Strike” books. As we both like mysteries, especially when they are combined with thriller-like components, we’ve each been avidly reading the series since the first book released in 2013. And like other fans, we’ve just been dying during the horrendous 3-year wait that has come between the last book and the most recent entry, “Lethal White,” which released this last September. So this week, Monday through Thursday will be devoted to our joint reviews of all four books now released in the series. And to round out the week, on Friday we’ll be joint reviewing the BBC series “Strike” that has covered the first three books in the series so far. Today we review “Career of Evil.”
Book: “Career of Evil” by Robert Galbraith
Publishing Info: Mulholland Books, October 2015
Where Did We Get This Book: Serena owns it, Kate got it from the library.
Book Description: When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.
Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.
With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…
After the first two books, I felt like I had a solid handle on the series and some pretty high expectations for its continuing trend of greatness. So, a perfect time for Galbraith to throw readers a curve ball! (Thank god, not on the “greatness” side of things, since I still loved this book).
Turns out that fame and success have a downside and it comes in the form of a leg, packaged and delivered to Robin at Strike’s private detective firm. And so starts their next mystery, tracking down three suspects whom Strike suspects capable of A.) holding a grudge against him and B.) having some affinity for body horror. But while they are working one side of the case, the killer is working on another and slowly circles closer to the very people searching for him.
Well, if I thought the last book was a turn for the darker, I was ill prepared for this one! I mean, a disembodied leg is delivered by mail right there in the beginning, so readers have a good clue going in that this will be a more gruesome story than the first book and likely the second as well. However, that’s just the start of it. This book delves into a truly depraved side of humanity, focusing mostly on violence against women committed by the men in their lives. These scenes are graphic, uncomfortable, and I’ll be honest, hard enough that I had to put the book down at times. However, as hard as some pieces were to read, Galbraith handles these topics with clarity and conciseness, never falling into the trap of “torture porn,” but instead highlighting the challenges of these types of domestic assaults, not only in their brutal form but in the restrictions and limitations of systems to deal with these types of crisis.
While we have heard a lot of about Strike’s background, his family life and his time in the military, this book really focuses in on Robin and reveals many new aspects of the character. Some scenes are, again, very challenging to read, but altogether, Robin’s story is one of a survivor, giving countless women a great character to serve as an inspiration for picking up one’s life from ashes and making it one’s own once again. There are a few particular lines of dialogue and reasoning that Robin lays out with regards to this type of violence that I believe will speak to many and give voice to underlying emotions that are familiar to those who have suffered similar experiences.
The story also changes its format in this book, with chapters alternating between Robin and Strike’s investigation, and the actions of the killer. What makes this all the more incredible is the deft way in which Galbraith weaves in little details for all three suspects that would still apply even having the voice of the killer in one of our ears already. It’s truly masterful.
The last note I will say on this book is HOLY COW, cliffhanger warning! Now, three years later and with “Lethal White” comfortably in-hand, this warning is much lighter. But at the time, this was a killer.
You all know how much I love darkness in my fiction, so when “Career of Evil” involved not only murder, but also a severed leg in the post addressed for Robin, I was pretty damn excited. Ghoulish? Maybe. But it’s not as if Galbraith’s previous series hadn’t escalated in darkness as the story arc progressed. Besides, “Career of Evil” ups the stakes for both Robin AND Cormoran within the narrative. Not only does Robin receive a leg in the mail from a madman, but Cormoran thinks that he is the real target, and has three people in mind. One of whom is from a very personal and sad part of Strike’s past.
As Serena said above, we not only get Cormoran’s POV in this, we get the an expanded POV of Robin, AND the POV of the killer. While the format is a bit different from the previous books, Galbraith balances all of it with ease. Being able to get into the mind of the killer was especially interesting, and it gave a bit of method to the madness, depraved as it may have been. It absolutely ups the creep factor of this book, and explores a more visceral horror kind of mystery as opposed to the less graphic (by comparison in “The Silkworm”‘s case) whodunnits of the previous books. And what a grand mystery it is. Galbraith kept me going and kept me on my toes with the twists and turns. Everything is laid out meticulously and with great care, and the red herrings are effectively distracting just as the actual clues are easy to miss while being in plain sight. I was completely thrown for a loop with this one, and when the solution did eventually arrive I remember being gobsmacked in the best way possible.
And this is almost assuredly a turning point book for Robin in a few ways. We not only get some more background for her, but we also learn about some dark things in her past. And it’s quite dark indeed, so dark that I had a hard time reading it. Her experiences make some of the investigating within the case she and Strike are pursuing somewhat personal for her, which in turn leads to some strife and conflict down the line in how she approaches her investigation. But it never comes off as a character flaw or anything like that; on the contrary, Galbraith makes it very clear that Robin’s response is completely understandable, and never makes her seem foolish. I appreciated seeing Robin’s story, and other stories of victimization that so many people, specifically women, face. Like Serena said above, I appreciated how Robin’s background gave voice to these darker things, and that her story is relatable to those who are familiar with it.
I also liked some of the things that we learned about Cormoran in this book, mainly in regards to his mother and her death. Cormoran is convinced that she was murdered by a former husband of hers, and his attention in this case turns back on this man, Jeff Whittaker. I found this to be a way to show the long standing effects of domestic abuse, not just against the parent, but also against the child. Cormoran’s own experiences contrast to Robin’s, and it was fascinating seeing the two laid out next to each other.
“Career of Evil” is assuredly dark and twisted in some ways, but the characters at the heart of it really keep it from going into full on despair. And I second the despondence over the cliffhanger ending!!! Luckily for you new readers the newest book, “Lethal White”, is out now! So your wait will not be as long and agonizing as mine was.
Serena’s Rating 8: A very dark entry, but one that speaks to the challenges of sexual and domestic assault and the failures of our society to handle these crimes and support victims.
Kate’s Rating 8: While the content is darker the messages are important, and “Career of Evil” never quite falls into full on bleakness thanks to the continued interactions between Cormoran and Robin. Learning more about them makes this all the more rewarding.
Find “Career of Evil” at your library using WorldCat!