Career Of Evil by Robert Galbraith

Like the first two books in the Cormoran Strike series, Career Of Evil features a central crime plot, into which is woven the story of the increasingly complicated personal lives of Strike and his assistant – or possibly junior partner – Robin Ellacott. During the previous novel, Robin’s wedding was postponed due to the death of her fiancé’s mother, but we begin Career Of Evil with Robin and Matthew on track for a June ceremony despite the ongoing bone of contention that is Robin’s work with Strike. At the start of Career Of Evil, she’s expecting a package of wedding favours to be delivered to the office and opens without a thought the large, oblong parcel a courier has just dropped off for her – only to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

The crime plot in this instalment in the series is a deeply personal one: the killer, from whose point of view several chapters unfold, is obsessively stalking Robin and appears to have a longstanding grudge against Strike, who famously lost a leg during his military career – plus, the leg comes with a note quoting lyrics by Blue Öyster Cult, the favourite band of Strike’s dead, super-groupie mother. But of course, this is Strike we’re talking about. When asked to think who might hate him enough to send parts of a corpse to his office, he immediately thinks of not just one suspect, but four. Which of them could be the culprit? Who did the leg belong to? And how will the killer up his game?

Career Of Evil is certainly the darkest in the Cormoran Strike series so far. The body count is high and all three suspects are sadistic misogynists – as you’d expect, the chapters from the anonymous killer are particularly grisly and disturbing. As a horror reader, I have no issue with gore, but the killer’s-eye sections did become a little repetitive in their gruesomeness. Also a little repetitive are some of the procedural elements of the action: the investigation is surveillance-heavy, so there’s an awful lot of Strike and Robin following people who are actually not doing a great deal. Other than that, however, the plot is a satisfying one with a clever and wholly unexpected twist, and the characters are, as always in Robert Galbraith’s/JK Rowling’s writing, exceptionally vivid and astutely observed.

The Robert Galbraith books are as much about Strike and Robin, and their complex friendship, as they are about crime, and it's fair to say that the road for them is a bumpy one in this instalment. Interestingly, Robin's fiancé Matthew, who was dull but largely well-meaning in The Cuckoo's Calling and then somewhat petulant in The Silkworm, is increasingly needy and controlling in Career Of Evil

Like all JK Rowling's writing, whatever the pen name, Career Of Evil is crammed with detail, which some readers may find tiresome, but which appeals a great deal to me in a crime novel, where every observation could be clue and specifics count. Despite the heavily descriptive style, at no point did I feel the book was proceeding too slowly, and the last few chapters are a nailbiting race against time, which despite the satisfying resolution of the whodunnit plot, will almost certainly leave you feeling impatient for book four.