Review: Career of Evil

I’m Wrapping up a loose end today with a review for the third book in the Cormoran Srike series, Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling). As usual, no major spoilers, but this post will make the most sense to those who know a bit about the first two books of the trilogy. Check out my reviews of The Cuckoo’s Calling (book 1) and The Silkworm (book 2) if you’re interested in the other Robert Galbraith books. And now, let’s talk about my favorite addition to the Cormoran Strike series, Career of Evil.

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About the book: After two successful high-profile cases, private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott, are pulled into another violent mystery which the police seem unable to stay ahead of. This time, however, they have no choice about their involvement, because they have been personally targeted. Someone is out to ruin Strike, and sees Robin as a point of vulnerability for him. With news in the press of violent crimes somehow attached to Strike, he quickly looses business and must either give up his chosen profession or solve the case himself to clear his name from the confusion. The problem isn’t coming up with names of potential suspects who’d wish to do Strike personal harm–it’s in coming up with too many. Strike thus finds himself spending all of his time tracking down unpleasant acquaintances from his past to eliminate those who weren’t involved in the particular evil crimes under investigation, hoping to stop the criminal before reminding too many other dangerous individuals how much they dislike him. Strike must delve back into his past and come to terms with unsettling events that continue to nag at him. Meanwhile Robin deals with a shocking revelation from her fiance, Matthew, and the usual clashes between him and Strike are exacerbated as Robin simultaneously becomes more involved in the workings of the detective agency and in arranging (or not) the final details of her wedding. Time, money, and safety are concerns for all, but the criminal plunges ruthlessly forward with his schemes, dragging his enemies along for the ride.

Why it’s different: In this volume, the reader is taken into the minds of the killer. This book alternates between the viewpoints of Cormoran, Robin, and the mysterious criminal who’s got the detective and his assistant locked in his sights. These vantage points allow the reader to understand all angles of the case; while there is no particular sympathy for the killer, or desire to see him succeed, there is a recurrent reminder of his presence and enough detail of his life to give the reader some insight into whether Strike’s investigation is on track or off, and whether Robin is indeed as safe as she feels. At the first glimpse into the killer’s mind, he seemed a little stereotypical, but that impression quickly evaporates as we spend more time dissecting his life and habits. Although the perspectives revealing Strike’s and Robin’s actions and thoughts are familiar at this point, they also seem more revealing in this book. This case is so much more personal for each of the characters, which adds extra dimension to the mystery, and certainly rounds out this series by adding in the missing pieces of Cormoran’s and Robin’s histories. There’s no more room for secrets, at this point. Also, this is the book that will decide matters once and for all in Strike’s relationship with Robin.

“Everyone liked Robin. He liked Robin. How could he fail to like her, after everything they had been through together? However, from the very first he had told himself: this far and no further. A distance must be maintained. Barriers must remain in place…The sapphire on Robin’s third finger had been a bonus, then: a safeguard and a full stop. In preventing the possibility of anything more, it set him free to…what? Rely on her? Befriend her? Allow barriers to become imperceptibly eroded so that as he looked back it occurred to him that they had each shared personal information that hardly anybody else knew…For all his determination to keep her at arm’s length, they had literally leaned on each other. He could remember exactly what it felt like to have his arm around her waist as they had meandered towards Hazlitt’s Hotel. She was tall enough to hold easily. He did not like having to stoop. He had never fancied very small women. Matthew would not like this, she had said. He would have liked it even less had he known how much Strike had liked it.”

Strike and Robin’s relationship is one of the best I’ve come across in any sort of detective story, because it’s completely normal and unpredictable. They seem to have real potential, but they’re both a little awkward and hesitant. It’s the kind of mutual regard and appreciation that warms the heart, not the intense life-or-death kind of love that’s tailored to the written page. They’re ordinary people, with a connection that feels real. I had no idea whether or not these two would have their moment, or end up together, or completely go their separate ways, until the book ended, and…well, I won’t give it away. But even after three books of speculation and uncertainty, I was still surprised at how it turned out, even though I think it went the right way.

A follow-up: For the second book, I left a warning about the goriness of some of the details, and I only mention it again now to say that I didn’t really feel that way about this book at all. There were definitely still some violent events and recountings, but nothing that was dwelt upon in any grotesque way. That said, this book is delightfully disturbing. All of the main suspects in this new string of crimes is someone you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. The antagonist, whose disturbed mind we are granted access to, is far from squeamish about conveying just how far he’s willing to go to sully Strike’s good name.

My reaction: I thought this was a great series overall, but this book was by far my favorite. I give 5/5 stars, and I would recommend this series just for this book, although the first two are certainly enjoyable as well. J. K. Rowling spins a great web of plot and characters, but this one particularly I couldn’t put down.

Further recommendations:

  1. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, is also set in modern day England, and features a mystery that’s driven by personal connections and violence. The characters of this one feel just as real and understandable as those in the Cormoran Strike books. Find my review of Hawkins’ novel (soon to be a movie) here.
  2. This may be a bit of an odd recommendation, but I’ve been so immersed in the Outlander series these past few months that I’m definitely drawing a connection between the Cormoran Strike books and the sub-series by Diana Gabaldon about Lord John Grey. Strike was wounded in the army, and returned to London to work as a detective. John Grey, about 250 years earlier, also resides mainly in London, is an active soldier, and is inevitably swept into solving mysteries that often turn out to have personal ties like the main plot of this third Strike novel. It’s not even necessary to read the massive Outlander volumes before picking up the John Grey series, which is made up of considerably smaller stories. If you’re interested in reading about London life, the British army, and unending mysteries that occassionally seem supernatural, the first story in Gabaldon’s John Grey series is “Lord John and the Hellfire Club,” and the first novel is Lord John and the Private Matter, either of which would make a good start.

Do you have any recommendations for me? Feel free to let me know, and to comment any other questions or thoughts below.

What’s next: I’m reading Caroline Kepnes’ novel, You, at the moment, which I am eager to share with you, but since I’ve had some technical difficulties this past week and fallen behind in my posts, I may add the next Outlander review for book 4, Drums of Autumn, by Diana Gabaldon, before I finish reading You. So depending on how soon I post again, and how fast I read, it’ll be one of those two, and both are great reads!

As always, happy reading!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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