Career of Evil: J. K. Rowling casts a different kind of spell

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Though they are a far cry from the HARRY POTTER series, J. K. Rowling’s CORMORAN STRIKE novels still possess the same storytelling magic. Rowling’s ability to capture an audience, to evoke a character so vivid they become real, triumphs in her crime series.

Sending a leg to the office of Coromoran Strike is surely the most conspicuous way to get the detective’s attention. Strike is famously an amputee himself, and when he realises the leg is accompanied by a note bearing the lyrics tattooed on his mother’s body, there can be no doubt that this is a personal attack. And the fact that the leg is addressed to his assistant Robin? The attack was meant to hit the detective where it hurts.

This is Strike’s most grisly and disturbing case to date. The serial killer has a penchant for taking body parts from his victims — mementos from his kills. As it becomes more and more obvious that the killer is targeting Robin, the race is on for her and Strike to trace him, in a chase that leads them all over London, Northern England and Scotland.

The problem is that the killer could be any number of enemies from Strike’s past, and he seems to have racked up a fair few in his colourful life. There is Jeff Whittaker, the man Strike believed killed his mother; ex-military psychopath Donald Laing; paedophile Noel Brockbank; and Malley, the gangster that the police believe to be the culprit.

Career of Evil picks up the threads of Cormoran and Robin’s professional and, now, increasingly personal relationship after the events of book two, The Silkworm. It is an absolute delight to read the progression between the two characters, and there can be no doubt that the pseudonymous Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. Rowling) is the undisputed master of characterisation. The protagonists’ personal lives have, until now, been put somewhat on the backburner, but in this third instalment of the Cormoran Strike series, huge revelations are made about their pasts, shedding light on decisions that see them hurtling towards their futures. In Robin’s case, this future consists of an imminent marriage to the rather dull Matthew, her long-term accountant boyfriend. The relationship between Robin and Strike is played out as the most tantalising ‘will-they-won’t-they’ scenario since Ross and Rachel, and is without a doubt the driving force behind the entire plot.

Strike is gruff and burly as ever, chain-smoking cigarette after cigarette as he tries to connect the dots of the case with his usual deftness. His penchant for Doom Bar and all things unhealthy has also returned, with the bacon buttie being consumed in as many forms as possible (the highlight of which was a sausage and bacon Croissain’wich. Perfection.)

The only unconvincing aspect of the novel is when we dive into the mind of the serial killer himself. These occasional viewpoint chapters seem overly macabre to the point of being satirical. Perhaps the ‘21st century Jack the Ripper’ would have been all the more menacing view from a distance.

Career of Evil is the best of the three Coromoran Strike novels so far. It is, at its heart, the story of the relationship between Robin and Strike, set against the backdrop of a perfectly paced crime thriller that will have you begging for the next instalment.

Published October 20, 2015. Career of Evil is the third in the highly acclaimed series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. 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 one of the suspects, Strike and Robin 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…

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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One comment

  1. I didn’t love the mystery aspect here, but I enjoyed how well she created an Agatha Christie pastiche, and in this book, the suspense came from the relationships.

    That said, I was disappointed in Robins’ backstory, even though it was what I expected… because it was what I expected. This is a stereotype now, and a bad one.

    Still, I enjoy these books and the banter between Cormoran and Robin.

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