>> Friday, February 26, 2016
When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg.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.
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.
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 fiancé 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.
MY GRADE: An A-.