Series: Cormoran Strike
Book Number: 3
Read this book for: contemporary noir, hard-bitten PI, London mysteries, serial killer, this time it’s personal
Quick Review: Another brilliant instalment in one of the most exciting contemporary noir PI series currently being published; a must-read that is hard to put down.
A message with gruesome content. A brutal series of murders. And a killer who knows too much. A ‘Sunday Times’ and ‘New York Times’ Bestseller.
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…
CAREER OF EVIL is the third novel in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith – the pen name under which JK Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) writes this series of mystery novels about a war hero private detective and his assistant-turned-partner Robin. Despite following one of the most overdone tropes in the genre, this novel is yet another page-turner, and one that you absolutely should read.
This entire series is brilliant, and definitely should be read in order (check out the reviews for THE CUCKOO’S CALLING and THE SILKWORM). The development in the relationship between Robin and Strike is something that should be read in chronological order, and there are quite a few references to past cases that make much more sense if you have read the books with those cases.
CAREER OF EVIL meets the high expectations set by previous novels — in fact, we would rank this one a little higher in our estimation than THE SILKWORM, which was occasionally a bit overwrought. It has the same interesting character development, well-plotted mystery, realistic investigative tedium, and utterly readable writing style that has characterized the series so far. The realism in this novel is slightly higher than THE SILKWORM — a function of the type of killer that is being hunted and how believable their behaviour is.
This novel does fall victim to one of the most over-used tropes in the crime fiction genre: the “this time it’s personal” trope, where the perpetrator is acting out some personal grudge against the detective in question. Most major detective series delve into this territory at least once, and the sheer volume of this kind of content contributes to its problematic nature. A function of the need to constantly increase the stakes for their characters, most authors reach for this when they believe the regular investigations are not dangerous or exciting enough anymore. The reason that this particular plot type is so problematic is that it is very difficult to believe: how often in reality does a detective come up against a psychopath that is specifically bent on their destruction, playing a long mind game to get revenge in a Monte Christo-like manner? Luckily, CAREER OF EVIL avoids the worst of this, with a bit of distance and some other motivations for the killings. Without spoiling anything, we can say that this novel skates around the edge of this trope, but is saved with solid plotting and excellent characterizations.
In fact, the multiple suspects and the twist at the ending do a great job of keeping you guessing all the way through. This more personal plot also has the bonus effect this time of giving you a greater insight into Strike’s upbringing, while you learn more about Robin’s past through her preparations for her upcoming wedding and her continued fight for her career as an investigator. It is rare to find a mystery novel where the emotions and reactions of the investigative team are so finely wrought, and this is one more reason to pick up CAREER OF EVIL!
CAREER OF EVIL and the rest of the Strike series represent some of the absolute best of the genre that is currently being published. If you have a chance, definitely pick this one up, and enjoy the talent of JK Rowling employed in an unexpectedly excellent way.