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Vicious thugs buzz through Galbraith's third Cormoran Strike novel

Vicious thugs buzz through Galbraith's third Cormoran Strike novel

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/11/2015 (649 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There are at least four career criminals in Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith's third instalment in the bestselling mystery series starring detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott.

A lesser (and shorter) novel couldn't accommodate so many villains, but Galbraith pulls it off with panache.

In her latest turn as suspense writer Robert Galbraith,  Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling's criminals are more vicious than ever.

DEBRA HURFORD BROWN / MULHOLLAND BOOKS

In her latest turn as suspense writer Robert Galbraith, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling's criminals are more vicious than ever.

Career of Evil is, in fact, ridiculously readable. This will come as no surprise to readers already aware Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, whose Harry Potter novels gained an astoundingly large and diverse readership by series' end.

But it might come as a surprise to those critics inclined to dismiss Galbraith as a lightweight in the tricky world of crime fiction.

He is not.

Mystery aficionados are sure to find Career of Evil a worthy addition to their bookshelves.

Career of Evil finds Strike doggedly working the usual bread-and-butter casework to pay the bills and Robin doggedly working on her troubled relationship with "pretty boy" Matthew Cunliffe. She is much happier on the job than at home, especially while assisting Strike with surveillance, until the morning she signs for a package containing a severed human leg.

Strike quickly narrows down the field of possible culprits to four men, each who bears a violent grudge against him. What these four heavies have in common is a gift of the gab and off-the-scale psychopathy. But tracking them down proves much more difficult than either Strike or Robin imagines -- and more personally challenging.

Galbraith is a deliciously pacey writer, and the plot moves swiftly, alternating between the perspectives of Strike, Robin and -- in his own short, intermittent chapters -- the murderer. The latter are the novel's least effective: the murderer relies on an almost comically evil slough of catchphrases, referring to his live-in partner as "It" and reflecting ad nauseam on the gory pleasures of slaughter ("the meaty thump of the blade in her flesh -- the heat of her blood gushing over his hands... ").

But these chapters also offer a series of embedded clues for alert readers, a trail of bread crumbs leading to the murderer's true identity.

From outside the villain's perspective, his dreadful crimes are decidedly un-comic. Chapters detailing his brutality to women are difficult to read, and suspense intensifies when he begins to discreetly tail Robin around London's streets.

This criminal is more vicious than the series' previous villains, but Galbraith matches violent scenes with others that highlight the ramifications of sexual violence. Several chapters find Strike and Robin interviewing victims' families, and these passages are electric with suffering, as when Strike speaks with the mother of a woman abused years previously: " 'He stuck a knife inside -- and they tried to -- you know -- repair -- ' " she gasps to Strike. " 'But she and Ben have lovely holidays,' she whispered frantically, dabbing repeatedly at her hollow cheeks."

But there are breathing moments in the narrative, too, that contextualize the ugliness. Strike's memory is a carnival of horrors, from the moment a bomb took off part of his leg in Afghanistan to the injustices he witnesses as a PI -- but he's imaginative enough to appreciate the terrible imposition of evil on beauty: "The memories were as filthy as any he had. Strange to relive them while the Mini moved past sweeping slopes of green, sparkling in the strengthening sun."

Galbraith also spends considerable time in Career of Evil developing Robin's personal storyline, although her spicy relationship with her boss makes their shared scenes some of the novel's most enjoyable.

Before you read Career of Evil -- and consider this a hearty endorsement to do so -- read the series' first two instalments, 2013's The Cuckoo's Calling and last year's The Silkworm. Perhaps then you won't have to wait so long for Galbraith to write another.

 

Julienne Isaacs is a Winnipeg writer.

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Updated on Saturday, November 7, 2015 at 9:03 AM CST: Formatting.

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