Career of Evil
A Cormoran Strike novel by Robert Galbraith
Book review by Jules Brenner
Mulholland Books, released 10/20/16, 497 pp., $28.00
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Our PI duo, consisting of irascible but keen judge of the criminal mind Cormoran Strike and his beautiful, underpaid cohort Robin Ellacott, are tucked into their tight but comfy office quarters in London's Soho district, busy wiling away the hours until the next case comes calling after two zingoes. The owner of the establishment (CS) is getting very concerned about his growing inability to pay Robin a proper salary while the funds to do so are getting scarcer by the day.

And then something bizarre comes along to snap them out of a workload deficiency. Robin receives a package delivered by a motorcycle carrier. Something strange about it, being unexpected, so heavy, and so long in dimension. And, stranger still when it's opened. It's a leg -- a human one; a young female's. In with it, a quote from a song by Blue Oyster Cult, an American hard rock band (early seventies) that relates to Strike's famous mother who wore the same words on a tattoo.

Strike immediately sees it as more than a mordant joke; and when he realizes that its delivery to Robin was no happenstance of timing but that someone treacherous and deeply evil is telling him something -- that Robin is a target to get at him. But he knows his junior partner too well to ask her to take a few weeks off. Robin's passion is to help solve cases by going wherever an investigation might lead. All she asks is to be part of it.

Strike realizes that this is both personal and dead serious and that he must look to his past for one of four sickos who know of his prosthetic leg and his mother's tattoo and sadistically twisted enough to send this kind of warning. He must identify and stop the demented party quickly to remove the threat to someone he feels so much for.

Four men come to mind from his past who have the requisite brutality and moral depravity to be the butcher and, as he removes one suspect at a time the author takes us into the mind of the torture-loving murderer as he stalks Robin while dreaming of the moment he will meet her in the flesh. Galbraith is clearly having much fun with this sadistic psychopath, taunting us with an almost-discovery by Strike and playing on our fear that he'll succeed at ripping up our dear, intrepid sleuth whom he refers to as "the Little Secretary."

This is increasingly complex and gripping work from the mind and pen of JK Rowlings writing under her pseudonym. The nature of the yarn gives another hint of her brilliance in putting lovable central characters in the path of malevolent monsters -- a trademark, as we know. We can always expect her dark misanthropic vision to come with a tendency to squeeze every thread of peril in a story which could reach final containment and satisfaction that would allow us to close the covers of the book.

In the Cormoran Strike series, The author also employs the device of a competitive, bungling cop whose utter hatred of the PI slows down the chance of a too-quick solution. And there, too, embedded within the mystery, lies the emotional crux of the series: the hinted-at but unspoken attraction between our all-too-human gumshoe and adorable, modest, vulnerable Robin who, alas, has an idiot boyfriend to whom she's engaged. If this character is based on someone Rowlings knows or knew, he's toast.

For Galbraith readers, the news is that a great deal more about Strike's past is revealed, and that the author advances the element of romantic tension, though not necessarily according to Hollywood tenets. Nor does Galbraith put the pair on the path that ensures our involved interest and sparking book sales. We're left with this internal mystery, very close to heart and home, which I think constitutes a suggestion of more to come. Patience required.

This episode wanders a bit in its nearly 500 pages, though that's not necessarily a bad thing for the faithful. For me, who thinks the prior two books better focused and executed, it still reeks of reading pleasure and I read every word. My admiration of this master of character, suspense and complexity didn't waver.

If you don't yet own Career of Evil and would like to purchase it (usually at a sizable discount), click here.