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 the recently released “Lethal White.”
Book: “Lethal White” by Robert Galbraith
Publishing Info: Mulholland Books, September 2018
Where Did We Get This Book: Serena owns it, Kate got it from the library.
Book Description: When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.
Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott—once his assistant, now a partner in the agency—set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.
And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been—Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.
I pre-ordered this book the second I saw that that was even an option. As much as I love the library, I’ve done my time on miles-long holds lists for popular titles, so for this one I said, NOT TODAY! And then the second it arrived on my doorstep, I informed my husband that I was going to take a bath (while reading) and then make dinner (while reading) and then sit on the couch the rest of the night (reading). No surprise, but he found other things to do that evening. And then I sped through this book in only a matter of days (which says something, since, like the Harry Potter series, book four came with a massive jump in word count.)
This book starts out with a time jump. After briefly touching on the events of the cliffhanger left in book three, we find ourselves one year later following Robin and Stirke as they go about their business. Largely disconnected from each other. Business is booming, however, so each are busy with cases. But all of these come to a stop when Strike is visited by a strange young man reporting a crime that took place long ago. From their, the mystery quickly spirals out to include a group of wealthy elitists and the political fields on which they now operate.
Here the mystery gives us a bit of a break from the darker tones seen in both the second and, even more so, the third book. But with this change comes the most complicated mystery and expansive list of players we’ve seen yet. Galbraith takes full advantage of the extended wordcount to introduce an intricate web of characters who all criss-cross with each other throughout lives full of dark corners and hidden secrets that none want to reveal to our two detectives. What’s more, the initial mystery that is given, that of a child’s potential murder years ago, is quickly padded out with several other mysteries, including even a new death that takes place in the present. I had no chance whatsoever to put all of these pieces together, so about halfway through the story I just gave up trying and let myself enjoy the ride.
Robin and Strike’s relationship also takes on a new role in this story. While leading up to this one, we’ve seen them build up their trust, friendship, and maybe even more, the events of the third book struck a blow and both are still reeling, not quite sure of the other or their partnership. Again, the extended wordcount allows Galbraith to devote a good chunk of time to each character’s perspectives on how they came to be where they are and how each is dealing with the challenges of their roles. Robin, especially, is still recovering from the events of the third book and her attack. I really appreciated the fact that her recovery and the on-going side-effects from something like this were not just swept under the rug, but instead presented as lasting and needing of attention to recover from.
Also, Matthew is the worst. It must be said once again and once again with feeling! MATTHEW IS THE WORST! And actually, this would probably be the one factor that holds me back from giving this book a full 10 star rating. At this point in the series, four books in, readers have a very clear idea of who Matthew is and what he is (and is not) capable of. With that being the case, his continuing presence in the story starts to verge away from “a character who is fun to hate” and more towards “a character whose ongoing involvement is starting to damage the characters around him.” Notably, Robin.
I love Robin; this has been well-documented. And I even have more reason than some to understand her ongoing difficulties with dislodging herself from a toxic person in her life. But at a certain point, this begins to feel like a bit too much and makes me question Robin’s own strength of character. I’m pleased to report that these concerns are calmed by the end, but I did find myself more frustrated with this aspect of the story than I have been in the past.
It felt like forever, but the most recent Cormoran Strike book, “Lethal White”, finally arrived this year after a three year hiatus, and let me tell you, was I ever so ready for it. Hell, I went to my old library, you know, the one that has the ‘new items that don’t circulate’ wall, stalked outside the door before it opened, and grabbed it for myself the day it came out (much to my old boss’s chagrin: she is ALSO very invested in this series and hoped that she could get dibs at the required fifteen minute wait; I dashed that hope BUT WELL). Given that “Career of Evil” kind of ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, I was more than ready to pick up where we left off. Oh, and I was looking forward to the mystery as well, because while it may seem like I read this series solely for the relationship between Cormoran and Robin, that simply isn’t true. At least not totally.
Galbraith does a great job of jumping right into it, so great that it didn’t feel like it was a clunky return at all in spite of the gap. We drop right in at the end of the last book and see how that all susses out, and then there’s a time jump so we can put our focus on the mystery at hand. While the time jump was frustrating in the sense of trying to get some pay off for the emotional fallout of said cliffhanger, it makes sense so that the attention is on Cormoran and Robin’s next case. And once again, Galbraith has created a compelling mystery to try and untangle, this one focusing on political leaders in Parliament, blackmail, and the possibility of a murdered child. While I think that some authors may have had a hard time tying it all together, Galbraith makes it seem easy. The book is the longest yet, coming in at 650some pages, but the mystery itself doesn’t feel bloated or drawn out. Seeing Cormoran and Robin tackle a very complicated case with the idle and dysfunctional rich, aggrieved and angry leftists, and a mentally ill man kept me on the edge of my seat, and kept me guessing most of the time, and rarely did I call what twists and turns would be coming up next.
Okay, mild spoilers here now: It’s also fun following Cormoran and Robin, as their detective dynamic is always a treat. And while it is strained a bit at first given her marriage to Matthew (a marriage she STILL went through with in spite of his general awfulness AND a moment between Robin and Strike that was VERY heavy), they fall into step and remind me what I love about their partnership. Cormoran and Robin still trust each others judgment and work well with each other, even though things are a little awkward given their unresolved feelings and now complicated relationship.
And let’s talk about the various relationship complications in this book. While I am still very much for the slow burn agony and ecstasy of the Cormoran and Robin “will they or won’t they” dynamic, I’m starting to lose some patience with various obstacles thrown in their way. For the life of me, I was NOT sold on Robin going through with her marriage to Matthew after the revelations in previous books (god AWFUL revelations that show how toxic and manipulative he is). I don’t feel that Galbraith gave us enough of a reason for Robin to try and give the marriage a go, and felt that it was just kind of thrown in there to prolong the will they, won’t they tension between Cormoran and Robin. On top of that, if you guys remember Cormoran’s manipulative and spoiled ex Charlotte from other books, she makes her first drawn out in person appearance in “Lethal White.” This, too, concerns me, as I worry that Galbraith is starting to lay the dominoes that could potentially cause more unnecessary drama down the line. I understand not wanting to show your hand too soon for getting two characters together (and really, it WAS satisfying when Ron and Hermione did FINALLY get together in book seven), but Cormoran and Robin may be treading towards unbelievable character flaws if this keeps going in the way it seems to be. All that said, I STILL LOVE THEM AS A FRIENDSHIP AND I STILL ROOT FOR THEM AS A ROMANTIC COUPLE.
Overall, “Lethal White” is a triumphant return to a series that I greatly enjoy. I really hope that we don’t have to wait another three years for the next one. Put “Fantastic Beasts” on the back burner until you have this one all done, Galbraith!!
Serena’s Rating 9: The best in the series so far, benefiting from a more complicated mystery and extended time devoted to the development of our main characters.
Kate’s Rating 9: My favorite entry yet, “Lethal White” was a most triumphant return to an excellent series. Galbraith is in top form in this one, and hopefully we’ll see more of Cormoran and Robin soon.
“Lethal White” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads list. But it should be on “Best Crime & Mystery Books.”
Find “Lethal White” at your library using WorldCat!