MILD SPOILER ALERT
Career of Evil begins with our protagonists, Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, being confounded by a severed leg sent to Strike’s office. What follows is a novel that is quintessentially J.K. Rowling, a.k.a. Robert Galbraith – incredible eye for detail, characterization to die for, and a consummate skill in weaving several subplots while maintaining a cohesive story.
Except for that last part… the personal drama of the protagonists Robin and Cormoran eclipsed the ostensibly core plot of the hunt for a serial killer from Strike’s past. Not to toot my own horn, but as soon as the descriptions of each of the suspects was given, I immediately guessed (and guessed correctly) who the killer was. Disclaimer: I am normally absolutely TERRIBLE at this – but unfortunately it was so immediately obvious, I spent the rest of the book being at once bored by the investigative plot, while thoroughly enjoying J.K. Rowling’s writing style, which seems to be improving with every book she writes.
I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed the actual prose of this book, as well as the lengthy research J.K. Rowling must have undertaken in order to accurately portray victims of abuse. The details pertaining to the “farting couch” and the descriptions of Cormoran’s unhealthy pub-food diet were the kinds of tidbits that J.K. Rowling particularly excels at (and which I particularly enjoy), while the constancy of Robin’s character – efficient, resourceful, determined, and clever – was not compromised in view of the revelation of her past. While this narrative release gave her character greater depth, it trod the tightrope between how such experiences affected her versus her underlying personality better than many other explorations of similar characters with similar backstories.
The real problem was in the main murder plot: three villains each with dastardly dispositions – at times, of cartoonish proportions (the murderer’s predilection for amputation felt garish rather than terrifying; the chapters from the murderer’s perspective felt two-dimensional rather than an insight into a psychotic mind). In future Strike books, I hope the other two villains make a reappearance, otherwise huge amounts of narrative exposition will largely be for naught.
The red herrings that Rowling is normally so adept at planting were not particularly convincing this time around, and Strike’s coup d’état felt like a deus ex machina – rather than deducing the murderer from a relatively simple study of his suspects’ personalities and/or a longer period of study of each suspect’s opportunity and ability, a last ditch Agatha Christie-esque explanation of the murderer’s opportunity and ability (i.e. in the novel’s last fifty pages) was suddenly thrust upon the reader. It didn’t feel satisfying, it didn’t feel cathartic, and the novel’s great cliffhanger ending felt lacking in panache. It was only a few hours after ranting about how disappointed I was that I was able to begin to see the truly excellent parts of the book, barring this frustration.
If you are a veteran Strike reader, and enjoy Strike and Robin’s dynamic especially – this is the book for you. However, if you enjoy a good murder mystery – this book falls substantially short.
Check out our other book review for Career of Evil here!