Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith marked my final read of 2015, and an enjoyable one at that. (And yes, I’m aware that the end of the year was weeks ago, but better late than never, right?) If you’re curious about what else crossed my nightstand in 2015 you can check out my ever growing booklist.
Career is the 3rd book in Robert Galbraith’s (AKA J.K. Rowling’s) Cormoran Strike detective series, and again, continues to become more intriguing. Last year, if you remember, I read and wrote about The Silkworm, the second book in the series. I discussed how The Silkworm continued to build on what was established in the first book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, and how the central relationship between Robin and Cormoran is the real heart of the series. Hands down. I would say that trend continues in this third outing. The book succeeds in leading you on a wild goose chase in guessing who actually did it in a well-crafted whodunnit premise. I was delightfully frustrated that up until the very end I had no definite answer with only a vague guess of who I thought it couldn’t be. And then was totally wrong. Go figure.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, J.K. Rowling is a genius at developing multi-dimensional, engaging characters that are unique and independent in their own right. She adds details that are unnecessary, but helps build and flesh out her characters. For example, Eric Wardle, Cormoran’s police liason, gained new depth with the introduction of his wife, and Shanker, Strike’s childhood friend (?), was flawlessly introduced into the fold in a show more than tell model. Both of these characters are minor with minimal impact in the overall story, but by giving them independence, Galbraith/Rowling strengthens the reality of Cormoran’s detective universe.
The Drama: The Leg
The mystery this time around centers around a sadistic, woman-hating serial killer who has a grudge against Cormoran Strike, and exacting his revenge on Strike by turning his focus to Robin. A big uh oh. The drama begins when Robin is sent a severed leg at the office. Yep, a real life female human leg. An investigation is launched and Strike believes he can narrow the suspect list down to 3 possibilities who all have distinct reasons to hate Cormoran for his past actions against them: Donald Laing, Noel Brockbank, or Jeff Whittaker. All 3 of these guys are bad dudes, but conflicting enough to not give a clear front runner as a crazy killer.
While previous installments focused on finding the murderer against a face of unknown suspects, Career turns the tables somewhat and offers us three rather immediate options. While yes, the actual murderer is a mystery, the goals of this book are slightly different and cleverly shake things up. The focus turns away from the actual murder and instead focuses on who has the motive and means to do the murder. A slight distinction, sure, but enough to set this book apart from the rest.
This book is also an opportunity to gain more insight into who Strike is and how his past currently influences his present. We get to see a bit more of who he was as an SIB officer, learn about his childhood and meet some people he had previous encounters with, both good and bad encounters. This case is the most personal one yet, as Strike is the target of the murder’s rage and retribution.
Finally, in a creepy, disturbing addition, we are granted opposing points of view between Robin, Cormoran and the unknown killer. Previous books toggled between Robin and Cormoran’s POV, however this is the first one to share the inner voice of the killer. It’s a disembodied, crazy, masochistic narrative that helps build tension and gives us a look inside his mind and resulting motivations. I’m conflicted on the actual effectiveness of this device, but it may be I’m simply disgusted that this evil man associated women as things and ‘its’ and was almost too terrifyingly awful to believe. Are there truly people like that? The optimist in me struggles to accept such hatred. But I digress.
Robin is the target in this man’s rage and seen as the most effective way to bring Strike to his knees. You know, hit him where it hurts. So Robin and Strike are left to solve a murder, identify who was murdered, keep their business afloat, deal with being on the outs with the police AND keep Robin safe against a raging sadist who we know is watching her because we’re granted a peek inside his head. Cue ensuing drama and mystery.
The Fatal Flaw: Poor Matthew
Matthew, Matthew, Matthew. Poor guy. We meet him at the start of the series as Robin’s fiance, and unfortunately that’s about all the character development we see across three books. I know, I know, I said Rowling was a character-building genius, but Matthew is the exception to that rule. He’s presented as a foil to Strike in regards to a relationship with Robin, but is never given an opportunity to express his position or redeem his character flaws. He’s a barrier who Strike doesn’t like (so obviously, we immediately give him some side eye) and who is constantly battling Robin over her miscalculated (in his opinion) career decision and trying to tell her what to do. Which, no. I don’t care if you’re engaged, that is not a healthy relationship to be. This is 2016 and Robin has been built as a capable, strong individual in her own right who doesn’t deserve Matthew’s wrath cloaked in the guise of concern.
Which is where the flaw comes in. Why is Robin even with this guy? It’s hard to say why, especially after this book. Just as with Strike, we get a look into Robin’s background this time around and learn more about her mysterious past that drove her to Strike’s work in the first place. We also find out that Matthew basically cheated on her back in the day in the midst of the worst experience of her life. You go dude. Cue the romantic drama that I really couldn’t care less about and then cue the confusion when that romantic drama abruptly gets oddly patched up in a pretty profound, permanent way.
Robin’s relationship with Matthew undos or conflicts with much of her character development and our understanding of her character motivations. Matthew seems to solely exist as a romantic barrier placed to keep her and Strike in the colleagues/partners/friends realm. Which is both unnecessary and frustrating. And leaves poor Matthew with the short end of the stick. Especially considering the last paragraph of the book.
The Grand Finale: A Twist and my dear Robin
As I said last time, Robin has grown to be the the lifeblood of this series. And that grew even more in this story. We get to learn what happened to Robin in college and led her to take professional driving classes, abandon her degree and why she truly loves working as a private detective with Strike. Both tragic and empowering as we come to understand everything she overcame to be who she was today.
The relationship between her and Strike has mutual admiration and continues to grow stronger. While romantic overtones have always been in play, I’m almost hoping they never come into fruition (but I think that is the direction we’re going). I love how these two love each other, care for each, have each other’s backs, but remain the best of friends. It’s a different dynamic that works for their characters as their relationship is organic, real and leads to some delightfully humorous moments and some tense, conflicted ones. What happens next in their partnership is an important, if not the driving force in this series. And I’m fully on board for it.
The final twist is also well done in the end. Knowing that you have a limited three options this time around (as opposed to basically anyone you encounter in previous installments) the guessing may seem a bit easier to deduct. However, even with a correct guess, a twist in that final reveal took me fully by surprise as one of those ‘obvious once revealed’ factoids. Way to go, Jo.
Another fun romp in the Cormoran Strike universe. The mystery was engaging, our favorite characters continued to grow and I was left excited for what comes next for them. It’s always a good sign when each book seems to build off of the last. While individual, stand-alone mysteries lead the plot, it’s the characters that drive and build upon it. If you’re looking for a fun mystery series, I would definitely say go for it. Then let’s talk about how awesome Robin is.