I’ve clearly been on a mystery kick this fall, but the mystery I awaited with the most anticipation was Robert Galbraith’s latest, Career of Evil, released just in time for Halloween. It’s the latest in the series following London private detective, Cormoran Strike, and his eager assistant, Robin Ellacott as they solve murders that flummox the London police.
Career of Evil starts with Robin receiving a package from a mysterious courier containing a woman’s severed leg. Galbraith has never shied away from gore, and the pattern continues from the first pages. It soon becomes clear that they are dealing with a serial killer with a personal grudge against Strike and who is determined to get to him through Robin. As Strike’s past threatens to overwhelm him, Strike and Robin must race against the clock to figure out who is stalking them before he kills again, all the while Robin is trying to finish figuring out her impending wedding to her fiance, Matthew.
So I really love this series. It continues to be the only series of books that I’ve read this year where I get on the train, start reading, and suddenly I’m at my stop for work, having been completely oblivious to the previous 15 stops. And Career of Evil maintains that grand tradition of tightly-plotted, character-driven suspense and near-mayham.
As I mentioned before, JK Rowling (the author behind the pseudonymous Galbraith), is an accomplished mystery writer. The Harry Potter series is, in essence, a mystery series set in a fantasy world, and the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is effectively a profile of the books’ main villian, the mass murderer and serial killer known as Voldemort. Why is this important? Because what sets Career of Evil apart from the first two in this series is the profiling of the killer and the short chapters that pop up every few chapters that take place inside the killer’s head. That level of psychotic creepy is, I’m guessing, very difficult to write effectively: the killer must be believable in his or her depravity, bone-chilling without being a caricature. Rowling has years of practice writing about murderers and at least one 650+ page profile under her belt. As such, the murderer in Career of Evil is terrifying. The night I finished the book, I walked down a (well-lit, heavily populated, don’t worry Mom and Dad) street that reminded me of the London streets with dark alleys populated by the fictional killer, highly alert and convincing myself that no, he was not going to jump out and get me. I wasn’t scared exactly, but I was aware. That’s part of what makes a great mystery.
This book also reveals more of Strike’s backstory, which is just as compelling as the mysteries themselves. Galbraith has teased his story at an appropriate pace so far, giving just enough to keep us interested but not enough that we feel like we completely know Strike. For me, he remains the best character in the series. I continue to tolerate Robin. We learned more of her backstory this time around, as well, and though I now understand much more of her insecurities, find Matthew to be even less deserving of her, and admire her drive, her whining and passive-aggression were at Olympian levels this time around. Perhaps I’m being uncharitable. I just don’t find her to be as well-developed a character so far, so if Galbraith can fix that in the next installment, I’ll be more open to what Robin has to offer as a character.
Finally, Galbraith has developed a pattern, though this is not nearly as bad as one might think. As a reader, I’m able to spot many of the clues and narrow down the suspects along with Strike and Robin, following both the path laid out in the plot and my observation of Galbraith’s tendencies in crafting the mystery. I am always close with my final guess of the killer’s identity but a final twists yields a delicious surprise. For me, that’s exactly how I want a good mystery to go. And I can rely on Galbraith to provide that. These are both serious literature and fun mysteries, and I highly recommend all three as I anticipate the fourth.