Book Review: “Career of Evil” by Robert Galbraith

October 24, 2015

WARNING: This review contains some light spoilers for Career of Evil.

Despite coming off the success of two big cases, all is not well for Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott when Career of Evil, the third installment of Robert Galbraith’s detective series, picks up. Sure, things are going well enough for Cormoran, who’s dating the glamorous Elin and whose business is booming, but Robin’s relationship with her fiancé Matthew has never been worse – they’re fighting almost every day about Robin’s job and her (strictly platonic, whatever Matthew may think!) relationship with Strike. Of course, things get a lot messier once Robin receives a severed leg in the mail. This time, Strike and Robin not only have to solve the case – but hope the killer doesn’t catch up to them.

Career of Evil is perhaps the most anxiety-producing of Galbraith’s novels so far, as the novel is interspersed with chapters written from the perspective of the mysterious and twisted murderer, hinting at his actions and identity without fully revealing anything. These chapters are made all the creepier because it’s clear from the very beginning that even though Cormoran is the one the murderer is seeking to injure, Robin is the one he’s aiming to kill. Knowing that one of the central characters (the best character, if you ask me) is in imminent danger adds a whole other dimension to Strike’s investigation – and it’s fun having access to information about the case that not even Cormoran himself is privy to!

Still, Career of Evil is more of a character exploration than anything else. Upon receipt of the severed leg, Strike immediately calls to mind four men from his past who are demented enough – and hate him enough – to send it to Robin. As he considers each suspect, readers are given a glimpse into Cormoran’s past life and work, which is not only fascinating but also a brilliant narrative technique, given that Strike is so reticent to share information about his personal life – we are allowed to glimpse areas of his past he wouldn’t normally revisit.

And it’s not just Cormoran we get to learn more about. For the first time, we really get a good look into Robin’s past and motivations. I don’t want to give any spoilers away by hinting at what is revealed, but let it suffice to say that Robin is an even more impressive and resilient person than I originally thought (and that’s saying something). Career of Evil also spends quite a bit of time exploring Robin and Matthew’s relationship, both good and bad, which is a bit of departure from Galbraith’s previous novels. Matthew-haters will find plenty of fodder for their fire here, but we’re also given some insight into just what Robin sees in him. I might be the only person on the planet who is not at all interested in Cormoran and Robin becoming romantically entangled, but I have a feeling that a lot of fans will be happy about certain aspects of Career of Evil… and quite upset by others!

In terms of story, I personally feel that Career of Evil may be Galbraith’s weakest so far. The clues don’t come together as cleanly, and there isn’t the same exciting “A-ha!” moment as in the previous Cormoran Strike novels. Despite the deliciously frightening opening where we plunge right into the head of the killer, there are surprisingly few moments of real risk in the book. Although I reveled in learning more about both Strike and Robin (and was quite charmed by some new supporting characters), Career of Evil didn’t have quite the same satisfaction as The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book – by no means! It’s still an enjoyable read, and I’d even argue that such a character-driven book is necessary in an on-going detective series, which otherwise runs the risk of becoming a mere procedural. It’s strange to realize that the same mind who brought Pygmy Puffs into the world has spent a good deal of the past two years thinking about severed limbs, strip clubs, and despicable men with violent tendencies – but fans should be satisfied with the result!

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.