“When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.
Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.
With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…
A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, CAREER OF EVIL is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives. You will not be able to put this book down.” (Hachette.com.au)
Career of Evil is the third instalment of the ‘Cormoran Strike’ series of books by Robert Galbraith (the pseudonym of J.K. Rowling for those of you not in the know). Having read the first two books – The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm – I can safely say that this latest is a far grittier and darker book than its predecessors.
The arrival of a woman’s severed leg in the post is the catalyst for Cormoran Strike’s latest investigation. But while previous cases have seen him investigating the lives and pasts of other people, this one sees him investigating his own, as he believes that the sender of the leg is someone seeking revenge against himself. He has four suspects and much to his annoyance, the police only focus on one of them. Strike, with the help of his assistant Robin, takes it upon himself to investigate the other three – one an unconvicted paedophile; another an extreme misogynist; and the third is Strike’s own former stepfather, the man who Strike has long blamed for the death of his mother. Strike and Robin’s investigations lead them to online chat rooms, strip clubs, and into moments of Strike’s past that he’d most likely prefer to forget.
Naturally a large portion of reading time is spent on trying to determine who the bad guy is. As with Galbraith’s two earlier books, the answer to that question is not immediately apparent and you would have to be incredibly eagle-eyed to figure it out before Strike does. For me that’s one of the strengths of Galbraith’s novels, because there is nothing worse when reading a crime novel, than figuring out who the killer is before the detective does.
We are given glimpses into the life of the killer via some chapters dedicated solely to him and his perspective. While there is little given away in these chapters in terms of the killer’s identity, they do provide an interesting insight into the psyche of this person. While Strike is as interesting a hero you’ll ever meet, Galbraith’s villains are in another class of their own, and this one is by far the worst. In crimes reminiscent of Jack the Ripper, the mind of this killer is a frightening place. Being with him as he relived old crimes and plotted new ones, increased the sense of urgency I felt for Strike to determine who this person was as soon as possible before he committed further atrocities.
Career of Evil deviates somewhat from the familiar plot of Galbraith’s other novels, as the relationship between Strike and Robin is looked at much more closely. Robin’s fiancé, Matthew, is still on the scene, but his resentment towards all things Strike that has been growing since the first novel, finally threatens to boil over in Career of Evil. What emerges from this is another facet to Robin that sheds light on many of the previously unexplained detective talents she harbours, as well as a Strike who struggles to maintain a distinction between his professional and personal feelings, despite his tough guy persona.
If done poorly, this could have taken the focus off the mystery and turned into fluff. But thankfully the story was in the capable hands of Galbraith, and instead we have something that readers have perhaps been waiting on for the last two novels. I think if the relationship between Robin and Strike had not moved beyond where it was in the last two novels, Career of Evil could classified as little more than a repetition of the plots of its predecessors.
Overall this is another solid instalment in the ‘Cormoran Strike’ series and just as with a certain bespectacled boy-wizard, there are seven titles slated for the series written by Galbraith, with the potential for more. So with another four still to come it will be interesting to see how much further Galbraith takes the partnership between Strike and Robin, and how much further he pushes the boundaries with his villains.
This review first appeared in The Australia Times Books Magazine