LitStack Review: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

by Sharon Browning

Career of EvilCareer of Evil
Robert Galbraith

Mulholland Books
Release Date:  October 20, 2015
ISBN 978-0-316-34993-2

Career of Evil, the third book in the crime thriller series starring private detective Cormoran Strike, is the grittiest one yet.  It’s no wonder that author J.K. Rowling stuck to her non de plume of Robert Galbraith long after news of her authorship of these books (including 2014’s The Cuckoo’s Calling and 2015’s The Silkworm) became public knowledge.  Woe is the naive reader who thinks that these novels might have even a glimmer of Harry Potter in them.

But then again – murder is gruesome, and bless Robert Galbraith for making this clear without sensationalizing or romanticizing it.  In fact, one of the best things about the Cormoran Strike series, and especially Career of Evil, is just how real it all feels.  From the unglamorous personae of Strike himself, to the struggles of keeping a private business afloat, to the efforts of maintaining relationships on various levels, to the feel of severed flesh – it all comes across as absolutely real.

In this third book of the series, it is Strike’s partner née temp office assistant Robin Ellacott who appears to be the target of a psychopath.  Ever since Robin crossed the threshold of Strike’s office in The Cuckoo’s Calling, she has been the humanist heart of the series, reminding us that there are normal, determined and optimistic people in modern day London, as well as the bottom feeders, the hucksters, the beaten down and the apathetic.  Having her be in the crosshairs of a madman feels especially pernicious, even if the real target is Cormoran himself.

At the start of the novel, a gruesome delivery arrives at the office, addressed to Robin, which instigates multiple reactions that fan out throughout the rest of the book:  the vulgar threat against Robin herself, a sabotaging of Strike’s business just as it was starting to gain traction, the resumption of bad blood between Strike and the metropolitan police force (whom he has made to look foolish in the past and who are not exactly thrilled to be working on a case in which he is directly involved), and laying open personal issues both subtle and overt, between Robin and her fiancé, between Strike and his past, and even between Robin and Strike themselves.

Additionally, the initial threat serves as a catalyst for the opening up of the background stories of both Cormoran and Robin.  Cormoran is convinced that the delivery made to Robin was sent by someone who has an axe to grind with him, and we get to see into his personal history as he delves into the personal grudges that still fester in his past.  For Robin, the threat reveals traumatic memories that she has kept hidden, which spurs such a desperate need for her to prove herself that she teeters on a dangerous edge between pluck and foolishness.

The chapters switch their point-of-view between Robin and Cormoran, often overlapping, giving an itchy and wonderful tension throughout the narrative, especially when the pair are out of synch with each other.  Interspersed throughout the text are chilling segments from viewpoint of the killer.  These chapters literally set my teeth on edge.  They were maddeningly both precise and obtuse, throwing suspicion first on one suspect and then another, or even applicable to all in one way or another, giving details that I shied away from even as I drew closer to inspect them for clues as to who was the ultimate villain of the story.  Mr. Galbraith has a wonderful ability to keep his readers guessing, even as we feel ourselves being willingly led by the nose down pathway after pathway.  The final reveal, when it comes, is not so much an ah-ha moment with all the red herrings being swept away, as it is an ahhhhh moment, as the pieces of the puzzle finally fall into place.

And honestly, there are so many layers to this story that the ultimate solving of the case, although definitely on the front burner at all times, is still only part of what makes this book so compelling.  To those who may not have read the other two Cormoran Strike novels, the parts of the story that are personal to both Robin and Cormoran may feel heavy handed, but to those who have followed the series, it is exactly what is needed to keep it from stalling.

The writing remains consistently clean and beautiful.  While Mr. Galbraith does not bog down in unnecessary detail, there is enough insight into settings and environment as to give the reader a clear understanding of the quality of the surroundings (or lack thereof, as it were).  I find his descriptions of modern day London especially evocative.

Nobody who had not lived there would ever understand that London was a country unto itself.  They might resent it for the fact that it held more power and money than any other British city, but they could not understand that poverty carried its own flavor there, where everything cost more, where the relentless distinctions between those who had succeeded and those who had not were constantly, painfully visible.  The distance between Elin’s vanilla-columned flat in Clarence Terrace and the filthy Whitechapel squat where his mother had died could not be measured in mere miles.  They were separated by infinite disparities, by the lotteries of birth and chance, by faults of judgment and lucky breaks.  His mother and Elin, both beautiful women, both intelligent, one sucked down into a morass of drugs and human filth, the other sitting high over Regent’s Park behind spotless glass.

Pair this elegance with the hardcore grit of murder and of vengeance, twisted up in gumshoes and engagement rings and secondhand Jeeps and way too many cigarettes, and you have yet another detective mystery that goes beyond mere sleuthing and into the realm of the best of escapist literature.  Let’s hope that Robert Galbraith continues to pen his Cormoran Strike mysteries for many volumes to come.

~ Sharon Browning

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