“How many people do you know would send you a severed leg in the mail?” an investigating police inspector asks Cormoran Strike just after the detective reported he’d received an appendage in the post.
“Four,” replies Strike, without missing a beat.
Welcome to Career of Evil, the third Cormoran Strike book by Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym. I enjoyed the previous books in this series — but they took their time setting up all the pieces on the board. In this outing, Rowling starts off at a much faster clip than the previous books. The pace is unrelenting — I finished listening to it in five days.
This time, the mystery is intimately connected for Strike, and it delves into the very dark subject matter of rape and sexual violence. There aren’t a lot of authors these days that I would allow to lead me down this kind of path — often authors deal poorly with rape. It can be thrown in a story to make it feel more gritty, disgustingly glamorized or used as lazy writing to add characterization or move along plot points. But not so with Rowling, who has quite a lot to say about the subject matter: the pervasiveness and horror of sex crimes, how the legal system has let down the victims, and the very different ways the victims and survivors move forward.
Perhaps the most brilliant thing Rowling does in this story is provide us with four possible suspects each tied to Strike’s past, all who have committed a heinous sex crime, but who have escaped the legal system. As we learn about the horrible crimes these four men have committed in the past via Strike and Robin’s investigation, the sobering realization hit me: no matter who the guilty party is and no matter whether our heroes apprehend or kill this particular offender, there will still be three others monsters out there, walking the streets and hiding in the shadows. When Robin and Strike get their man, their are others still at large.
The best thing about these books are, of course,the relationship between Strike and Robin. We learn more about Strike’s personal life and history — particularly about the tragedy surrounding his mother’s death. It’ll be interesting to see how Rowling continues to let all that play out in the future installments. (I’d be surprised if we’d seen the last of some of the supporting cast such as Jeff Whittaker, and I’ll be so bummed out if Strike’s pal Shanker doesn’t come back to help in future cases.) Strike, especially the way Robert Glenister reads him, is such an endearing and easy to love protagonist. He’s a big, tough bastard (literally) who is easy to love and root for — someone you wouldn’t mind sharing a pint and some fish and chips with. At some point, he’s fuming at a waiter at a restaurant for putting ice in his beer, and it’s impossible not to laugh the way Glenister reads the scene.
Robin seems to have a more prevalent role in this outing than in the previous books, and it’s exciting and satisfying to see her move closer to becoming an equal partner to Strike. She doesn’t spend the majority of the book behind a desk, and we also discover a lot more about her history and why she first chose to work with Strike.
My one complaint about the book is the few chapters sprinkled about where we were let inside the head of the murderer, reading his POV. It’s not a new trick, and I found it disturbing, but not for all the right reasons. It’s a trope I wish would die. Rowling doesn’t do a bad job of it, and I can understand how she uses it to raise some dramatic tension. But when we’re reading and listening to stories (for entertainment) that struggle with sexual violence, I dislike giving so much attention to the murdering rapist’s POV. And I don’t know that Rowling did anything different with that POV, or even made it a necessary part of the story.
That said, Career of Evil is definitely my favorite of the Cormoran Strike series thus far. Glenister’s narration is perfection, and Rowling seems to just get better and better at this series with each book. It doesn’t look like there’s a release date for the fourth book yet, but it can’t get here soon enough for me.
Special thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a review copy of this audiobook.