Series: Cormoran Strike
Book Number: 4
Read this book for: contemporary noir, hard-bitten PI, London mysteries, serial killer, relationship angst, multiple complex investigations
Quick Review: Another must-read in a series full of them, LETHAL WHITE is the most complex Galbraith offering to date, as well as sporting the most character and relationship development in the series so far.
When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.
Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott – once his assistant, now a partner in the agency – set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.
And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been – Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much more tricky than that.
LETHAL WHITE is the fourth novel in the Cormoran Strike series, written by JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame under the pen name Robert Galbraith. It’s tangled, complicated, and impossible to put down.
This series is based around Cormoran Strike, a war veteran and former military investigator who has turned his skills to a private detective business after an injury invalided him out of the army. It’s brilliant, and you should definitely read the first three novels in the series (THE CUCKOO’S CALLING, THE SILKWORM, and CAREER OF EVIL), not just because they build on one another. This novel definitely requires previous knowledge — it picks up within minutes of the end of CAREER OF EVIL, and focusses heavily on the relationship that has developed between Strike and his employee/partner Robin Ellacott. This series has been consistent in quality so far, and every piece deserves a read.
This is arguably the most complex and involved plot of the series so far, involving several likely-related but difficult to connect threads. Rowling writing as Galbraith ones again shows that she can sustain a mystery over a fairly lengthy novel without it feeling overly drawn out. The detective work of Strike, Robin, and their new team, is difficult, tedious and not prone to sudden unbelievable breakthroughs or flashes of insight. The sense of noir is still very much present in this novel, and it’s a better page-turner for it.
This novel, more than the previous ones, is also deeply affected by the relationship between Strike and Robin, and Robin’s own marriage. Without spoiling anything, the interplay of those relationships is as much of a nail-biter as the plot is, and adds a rich character element beyond even that of the previous novels, which had fairly well-developed and interesting characters in their own right. Some characters are still stereotypes, but it’s forgivable given the depth and likability of the main characters.
In fact, the only major point of weakness in this novel is the way it ends. Not, to be clear, the eventual solution to the mysteries, but the way that the novel gets there; it’s particularly abrupt. Instead of the explanation and resolution you expect from such stories, it just ends, with a fragmented explanation and odd confrontation. This was the one part I wish there was more of, and really the only weak spot in an otherwise fantastic novel.
Absolutely pick up LETHAL WHITE after you have read the rest of the Strike series; it’s another must-read edition to a wonderful set of stories.