Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Please note: 1) Of course (of course!) I am aware that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K.Rowling. However, throughout this review, I will be referring to her as ‘Galbraith’ for the simple reason that this is the name on the cover; in addition, writing ‘Rowling’ makes it difficult (for me) to separate this series from Harry Potter when, in reality, they are two entirely different entities.
2) There are some slight spoilers below for the characters, but not for the overall crime narrative.
I think this is where I part ways with the Cormoran Strike series. I’ve never been a huge reader of crime fiction, but when I first picked up The Cuckoo’s Calling I was so gripped I could not put it down. I am not one of these people who can tell who the murderer is from the moment they appear, so the twist of the reveal was a real shock for me. I was so impressed by the world Galbraith had created, with these unlikely characters and spaces, and it was overall an enjoyable book. The Silkworm stood out slightly less to me; the plot clearly hasn’t lasted long in my memory. But I do remember enjoying it as I was reading, and I also remember being similarly unable to put the book down. Reading Career of Evil was almost the opposite experience of this for me: everything in me was screaming to just put the book down because it was so dark but I was determined to get through it as quickly as possible so that I could move onto something else.
I want to say first of all that my issues with Career of Evil have little to do with the quality of writing. Galbraith is still exceptional at creating characters which are fascinating and a world which is full of intrigue. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed the series previously is because of the characters; the mysteries are secondary, in many ways, to the development of Strike and Robin as individuals. This novel, more than the previous two, expanded on the history of both Strike and Robin as they worked to solve the mystery. There is a real sense of their world expanding, too, as recurring characters from both the criminal world and the police became more developed and interesting. Overall, I still believe that Galbraith has created an engaging world for the Cormoran Strike series, and it is clear there is still so much more of this world to explore.
There are two main reasons that this will probably be the last Cormoran Strike book I read for a while: one simply a personal preference, and the other a more literary reason. The first of these is just that the series has become too dark for me, personally. That is not to say that the previous two titles in the series are not dark, but Career of Evil is harrowing in a way that neither of those two are. By the half-way point, I was, at most, skimming through the chapters written from the killer’s perspective; in a novel which is already dealing with some dark themes, the addition of the point of view of the very twisted murderer in such graphic detail was just too much for me. I can see the reasoning behind including them: these chapters, knowing that the murderer is watching Robin, build the tension right from the very start so that you cannot stop reading until you know what happens. However, for me personally, I found it all too creepy and unsettling.
The second reason is something I had an inkling might be on the cards from The Silkworm, but I was living in hope that Galbraith might take the narrative in a different direction. So, let’s talk about the unnecessary love triangle. Now, I want to make it clear that I am not saying here that Matthew and Robin have a totally healthy and functional relationship, or that I think they should end up together. It is clear that, aside from the serious communication issues from both parties, Matthew, at his best, does not trust Robin and, at his worst, continuously undermines her. However, I can see very little narrative reason to introduce the idea that Strike’s reasoning for not wanting the wedding to go ahead is based on romantic feelings for Robin rather than their friendship. The worst part of this is that Galbraith even opens up a discourse within the novel on whether men and women can be friends, condemning Matthew for his inability to see that Robin and Strike are truly friends; this is subsequently undermined by every other part of the narrative. It was so frustrating to see Galbraith include a romantic subplot when it adds nothing to the movement of the narrative, takes away from the development of the characters, and goes in direct contrast to the very message the author has articulated earlier in the novel.
It’s always sad when you reach a point with any piece of media where you have to make a decision to take a step back for a while. For all that I have said about this series, I did genuinely enjoy the first two novels, and I am sad to be saying goodbye to the characters. However, I simply cannot bring myself to be excited about the prospect of more titles in this series and, at this stage, I think it would take a lot to bring me back.