J K Rowling’s latest under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith is out: Career of Evil. If feels so recent, writing up my review for The Silkworm on this, at the time, rather shiny new blog. The latest in the Cormoran Strike series, Career of Evil follows the same formula as the previous two books, but still manages to entertain and surprise. With the unlikely and brilliant heroes of Cormoran and Robin Ellacott, Galbraith has created another real guessing game, drawn blazingly and balanced.
This closed circle mystery opens with Robin being couriered a severed leg – a woman’s, the same side as Cormoran’s amputation, but “not even the right size” as he deadpans – with an accompanying lyric referencing a tattoo Cormoran’s mother had in a rather personal spot. The combination of elements – execution with psychological mindgame – immediately presents four suspects, only one of whom the somewhat sympathetic police pay any real attention to.
This book is about misogynistic violence, a killer who absolutely viscerally detests women. As Cormoran and Robin track down and investigate the suspects who feel Cormoran has wronged them in the past, under the knowledge Robin is being targeted to get to Cormoran, the chapters are interspersed with a first-person monologue by the killer. Referring to “It” – his female live-in partner -, his lost son, his disgust for the vulnerable women on the streets, his grand plan to completely destroy Cormoran; these chapters are genuinely gross and awful to read. There is a lot of grisly details in the crimes, driven by an absolute male hatred of women, and while this feels important to the plot, the chapters from the killer’s point of view are just horrible, and mostly feel overdone and unnecessary.
However that said, the majority of the book is a goddamn joy to read, even if we are investigating a horrible woman-hating stalking sexually-sick prize-taking grand-planning killer. The depth we discover in Robin is wonderful, and her attitude is so bad-arse and worth cheering. The horrific attitude of the killer they are hunting, and his attempts to bring women into his submission is so well balanced by the brave, pragmatic, common-sensed Robin. Sure, she makes mistakes, and I may have yelled at the book more than once out of worry for her, but generally the way the book is written so immediately dismisses everything the killer says and thinks; without even examining it we know he is off the charts; there is no victim-blaming here.
Cormoran, taciturn and inaccessible, seems to star less in this book. He is reliably messy, seemingly constantly hungover, still worried about money; he is now a character we know, he is comfortable. But despite the subplot involving his mother and step-father, this is not Cormoran’s story like it is Robin’s. In a plot where women are targeted, women are given a lot of the story-telling, and drive much of the action.
And, importantly in a whodunnit, I did not know whodunnit until the big reveal. It’s a testament to Galbraith’s writing that through all the investigations, red herrings and deliberate clues, we stayed focused and we stayed entertained; never was it frustrating not knowing who the killer was. The pace of the plot was beautifully balanced, even if it did feel like we spent the first half running over the countryside looking for bad guys, it deliberately, carefully, was adding facts to the pile, clues to the end.
In her acknowledgements, Rowling says she cannot remember enjoying writing a novel more than Career of Evil, which says a lot considering its grisly content. But it’s an adventure, with two lead characters who have really developed, and a fast-paced plot that actually keeps you up at night. Galbraith has just the right touch, balancing vicious criminality, black humour, and intelligent detectives. This book kept me up way past my bedtime – so readable, so full of twists and tension – if only to resolve the crime so I didn’t have nightmares.