Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith

>> Friday, February 26, 2016

TITLE: Career of Evil
AUTHOR: Robert Galbraith

PAGES: 487

SETTING: Contemporary UK
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 3rd in the Cormoran Strike series

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible - and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them...

A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, Career of Evil is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives. You will not be able to put this book down.
After loving the first two books, I couldn't wait to read this one. I saved it for my holiday back in December. It turned out to be my favourite so far in the series, which, to an extent, was a surprise.

See, I am increasingly bothered by books that exploit violence against women in their plots. So how come I loved a book which starts with our detectives receiving a murdered woman’s severed leg, a book about a serial killer targeting women in scenes we sometimes get to see directly, a book that gives us many chapters from that very killer's point of view, where he raves and rants and tells us exactly what he feels about women and refers to the woman he's in a relationship with as "it"? Well, I guess the key word is “exploiting”, and I didn’t feel the author was doing that. The book is about misogyny and violence against women and the many ways in which it is expressed in our society, and Galbraith doesn't use this to titillate us. She uses her story to protest against this.

And nowhere do we see this better than in Robin's character development. Robin had a relatively minor part in book 1 compared to Strike. In book 2, I felt they were more or less equally important. This one is her book. We get quite a bit of her back story, which includes something which, much as the violence against women stuff, has often bothered me. This is something which has often been used as a trite and annoying shorthand to female character development (and you can probably guess exactly what it is). It doesn't come across like that here at all. It feels earned. It works because the point is not the simplistic “this is how this act of violence affected Robin”. The point, and what has had such a negative effect on Robin, is how others reacted to it and how this has limited and diminished her. And she rebels against it. This is about Robin deciding that what happened and what people read into it are not going to stop her from going after what she wants. I cheered.

There's also lots and lots of relationship stuff. There are things going on between Robin and her asshole fiancĂ© Matt (as the book starts, the wedding is getting near). This can be frustrating (why would a woman like Robin stay with someone like him??), but it's something that, unfortunately, I recognise from the real world. I found it believable and felt it made perfect sense. But there are also some developments in Robin and Strike’s relationship. It moves in a direction (subtly) that I didn’t think I would like, but I found myself warming to the idea. I don't want to spoil things, but... that ending! I really want to read the next book now to find out exactly what it means. I keep convincing myself it means one thing and then the next day that it means another.

Having Robin become such a major character here doesn't mean we forget about Strike. There's plenty of character development here, independent to what happens in his relationship with Robin. We get to find out quite a bit about his life growing up and about his previous career as a military police investigator, and this is really well done. He remains the character we met in previous books and the new information doesn't change any of that; it just builds it up, with layer after layer added to what was already a pretty well-developed character. It's great.

The only other thing I wanted to add is that the world this is set in feels like the real, modern UK. The characters feel more grounded in reality than I'm used to, with little details like Strike, whose financial situation is not solid and takes a bit of a beating during the book, being acutely conscious of how much things cost and bitterly resenting having to spend on pointless things like taking a taxi or buying over-expensive food in an over-expensive cafe. Galbraith doesn't overdo the social commentary, but it's there.

It's been a few weeks since I read this one, but I keep thinking about it (to be fair, mostly every time I walk past the Spearmint Rhino 'gentlemen's club' on Tottenham Court Road on my way to catch my train in Euston!). That's the mark of a really good book.



meljean brook 27 February 2016 at 06:52  


I think the stuff with Robin worked for me because we found out in book three instead of having it define her character from the beginning. So in that way, it was more of a ... natural evolution of the character, I think? Because it would be similar to how you might discover something similar about a person you know in real life. It's not something that comes out right away, but only because the context calls for it. So it felt as if it built nicely instead of being gratuitous. And it was a nice change from the usual way such a character is presented in fiction -- that's usually the thing that defines them. But for Robin, it wasn't, and I really appreciated that.

I did think about going back to see if there were clues planted earlier, but then that felt weird and morbid. But overall, I love how each book peels away a little bit more about the characters' pasts and how each case affects them and changes them now. I don't have any idea how much was planned and how much is just made up for each book, but it feels natural, so I'm happy.

Her fiancé ... oh, god. I dislike him so much yet at the same time see why she might cling to him. There are also the tiny bits of truth in all the bull crap he throws so you can see why she listens to him instead of kicking his face in. It's so frustrating.

And the end! I can't really decide exactly what that last look was. Just, "Yay, I'm glad you're here"? Or "It's YOU that I'm saying this to"? And I'm not sure how I feel about Robin/Strike's relationship heading in that direction because I'm so afraid it'll just be a terrible mess. But I'm also glad the story didn't go in the "last minute stop the wedding!" route, because that's so much more expected.

Rosario 27 February 2016 at 10:51  

Meljean: That's such an interesting thought, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was Rowling's intention when she decided to only reveal this once we were well into the series. I heard an interview with her when the book came out (can't remember where, NPR maybe?) where she made it clear she'd given a lot of thought to not having this define Robin.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were clues in the earlier books (come to think of it, her dropping out of uni makes a lot more sense now. It didn't fully compute earlier, given her character). Look at the Harry Potter books; there are so many clues about things that don't happen until the last couple of books, and you can see them even in book 1. She seems to work by creating her characters and world fully right from the start, which is why her world-building is so great.

I agree completely about Matt. I want to shake her, but I recognise the relationship from seeing some of my real-life friends and their relationships with their significant others! It makes sense considering how long they've been together. They've very clearly (to the outsider) grown into people who are just not compatible, but there's something in Robin that gives weight to how long they've been together. And that makes sense; people do tend to deal irrationally with sunk costs.

As for the end, I really have no idea which way Rowling's going to go. That beaming smile could be both of your possibilities, or it could be all about her thinking she might be getting her job back. Argh, I really want to know now!

meljean brook 27 February 2016 at 20:52  

Sad confession: I got stuck at the beginning of book four of the Harry Potter series and never went back to them. I know how the story turns out, of course, because I go online and there are spoilers everywhere (and I've seen the movies). But I guess I'm going to have to rectify that and just get past that opening. I'm not sure that -- at the time I was reading them, years and years ago -- I appreciated her writing and character-building as much as I do in this series (or as much as they probably deserved).

Rosario 5 March 2016 at 11:14  

Ah, yes, the tournament bit at the beginning of book 4. A lot of readers love that bit, but I think it really should have been pruned. Not surprised that's where you got stuck. If you do go back, you'll see what I mean about her seeding little clues in the early books.

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