Rowling Shows The Darkness In Third ‘Strike’ Novel

Rowling Shows The Darkness In Third ‘Strike’ Novel
Courtesy Photo Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) in the third in the Coroman Strike novel series.

Courtesy Photo
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) in the third in the Coroman Strike novel series.

Career of Evil, the third entry into Robert Galbraith’s (pen name for Nerd Queen, JK Rowling) Cormoran Strike mystery novels, is the best they have been yet. Setting aside for a moment the thrill of having another seven-book series being released by one of my favorite authors, the thing the Strike novels have that is missing from so many mystery novels today is character.

With the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling gave us many glimpses at her innate skill in fleshing out her characters. The fact that I can remember the names and descriptions, and most of their blood statuses too, of the entire Gryffindor class that Harry entered with, is a testament to this. It’s also a testament to just how much she had to do to build the world Harry occupies. Cormoran Strike doesn’t live in some fantastical world juxtaposed against our own, he occupies our dark reality, and because of that, and who Strike is as a character, there aren’t dozens of different people occupying the background of his story.

Once again, Cormoran Strike and his intrepid Gal-Friday who has become so much more than that, Robin Ellacott, are swept up in a sordid mystery. While the first novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, skewered the world of high fashion, and the follow-up, The Silkworm, brutally took down the publishing world, Career of Evil presents itself as more of a character piece than the other two. This book is, first and foremost, about Cormoran Strike, the man, and Robin Ellacott, the woman. The case that sees them scrambling up and down the countryside of the U.K. is one born out of a long-harbored grudge against Strike.

When Robin arrives at the office one day, she finds a courier waiting for her. After signing for the package and taking it into the small office over the guitar shops of Denmark Street, she makes a grisly discovery; someone had sent her a human leg, amputated and neatly packaged. “It’s the wrong size for me,” Strike remarks to the police, as he shifts uncomfortably on his prosthetic. The case that follows will take them to many places, both strange and sordid, and terrifyingly, nauseatingly revolting all at once.

Strike has led a colorful life that we knew very little about up until then, and unfortunately, that life came with a few people who grew to hate him and hold grudges, so there is no shortage of suspects as to who sent the leg. Malley, a vicious gangster known for dismembering his crossers, was sent to prison based on Strike’s testimony. An ex-squaddie of his, Donnie Laing, once bit a chunk out of his face during a boxing match before mutilating his wife and disappearing. Noel Brockbank, the psychopathic pedophile that Strike tried to put away years prior, and finally, Jeff Whittaker, his ex-stepfather, who had been tried and acquitted in the death of Strike’s famous groupie-mother. The deck is stacked against Strike, and as the chapters are interspersed with the killer stalking Robin, time is very much not on his side.

Harry Potter went dark eventually, and left behind a lot of scars in it’s wake. Career Of Evil would think that funny, really, because I’ve never seen Rowling go as dark as she does inside this book. As the killer’s misogynist and psychotic thoughts become more and more disturbing and disjointed, she takes the reader to disturbing places; drug addiction, severe and intense pedophilia, and of course, grisly murder, are all well-covered within Career Of Evil.

Through it all, we learn more about Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott than we ever have before. That’s what separates these books from the likes of Sue Grafton or James Patterson, or any of the thousands of other bland mystery writers of the world. Rowling draws you into this would-be-mediocre story by stocking it full of just enough amazing characters that you want to know who the killer is, that even though as you read the mystery beats and recognize them from every cop show ever made, it doesn’t matter because you’re not there to find out who the killer is, you want to make sure that Cormoran and Robin are okay in the end.

It’s the best books whose characters stay with you long after you’re done with them. J.K. Rowling has a gift for making these memorable characters, and it is not wasted writing under the name Robert Galbraith. “Robert Galbraith has always felt like my own private playground, and he didn’t let me down on this occasion,” she writes in the book’s acknowledgements. While that’s definitely not something very many writers get to say, I am unimaginably grateful she is one of those few.

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