Title: Career of Evil (Book 3 in the Cormoran Strike series)
Author: Robert Galbraith
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Publisher: Sphere (Ebook) and Hachette Audio UK (Audio-book)
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Format and Price: E-book at $17.99 or $14.99 via Audiable (membership price)
About The Book:
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… Career of Evil is the third in the series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A mystery and also a story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.
Trigger Warning: This book contains mentions of Rape, Sexual Assault, Child Sexual Abuse (CSA), Parental-Child sexual abuse, Incestuous sexual abuse, domestic violence, ableism and Body integrity identity disorder
Spoiler Warning: This review contains spoilers for the novel Career of Evil
Aspects of the Novel I Enjoyed:
~Musical Theme: At the start of every chapter in the Cormoran Strike series, there’s a verse of prose, such as: Robert Galbraith uses quotes from Elizabethan-era plays like The White Devil by John Webster (a revenge tragedy play) to preface chapters in The Silkworm, but in the novel Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith chooses to use lyrics of Blue Oyster Cult, which I enjoyed because I actually know a few songs by Blue Oyster Cult (it turns out J.K. Rowling is a big fan of Blue Oyster Cult and Pattie Smith). My only disappointment was that there was no mention of more Cow-bell.
~Plot-Twist: While the plot takes a longer time than usual to get going (more on this later), however, once the plot begins to gain momentum, I wanted to keep reading, I had invested 17 hours of my time into this audio-book, I wanted to know how all the pieces came together, however, because the ending has such a super-twist ending and while the puzzle pieces do fit together brilliantly in the end, I can see how some readers might see it as an arse-pull.
~Character Development and Expansion: This novel very much centers around Strike’s past, his previous cases with the UK Military Police and his Dark-and-Troubled childhood with his mother, because of the Blue Oyster Cult references. Leda (Strike’s mother) was a huge fan of Blue Oyster Cult and is known in-universe as a super-groupie to various UK-based rock-bands, which is why buried childhood memories are triggered in Strike when a piece of paper with Blue Oyster Cult lyrics written on it was discovered inside the box that contained the severed leg. The reader finds out about Strike’s childhood, Leda’s death (which had previously only been vaguely discussed) and the reader is introduced to Shankers (a shady-gangster character Leda rescued and took in when Strike and Shankers were teenagers).
I enjoyed reading about this character background information about Strike and consequently Shankers, it was engaging and I enjoyed Shankers as an addition to the book (I hope he continues to be a regularly occurring side-character). I think Strike, Shankers and Robin all work well together and Shankers and Robin are good foils for each other. The reader also finds out what transpired to make Robyn leave university and have a long stay at home recovering (more on this further down), it was a little predicable but it was still good to know those missing puzzle pieces of Robyn’s character that had only previously been hinted at.
Aspects of the Novel I had Problems with:
~Change in Narrative Style: This is the first Cormoran Strike Novel where the reader gets to experience chapters from the point of view of the perpetrator, I think it helps to keep the slow plot from stalling, but the guy is utterly repulsive and, while I understand that those chapters are supposed to be repulsive, I found them difficult to read, especially since he targets vulnerable women.
~Slow Plot: The Cormoran Strike series has always been a series that has a stronger emphasis on character than on plot, and while Strike’s and Robyn’s characters and back-stories are being explored and developed, the plot appears to suffer because of it. The plot crawled by in places and I was often asking “what is the point of this chapter?”. Strike did lampshade the long waiting period between new items of usable information. For me personally, the slow plot and pacing hindered the novel greatly, and the last five chapters going at break-neck speed didn’t compensate. I had to re-listen to a couple of those chapters to fully understand what was transpiring.
~Show, Don’t Tell – Part 1: During the investigation of Donald Laing, Noel Brockbank and Jeff Whittaker, Strike and Robyn travel around the UK to interview various agents of exposition and the various interviews show Laing and Brockbank’s potential criminal history. The problem with these perpetrators is that their crimes happened in the past, so either the author has to use flashbacks to show or have a small side-character tell the reader information Strike would already know.
So how does an author make a male character come across as evil or irredeemable with little to no effort? The author presents both male characters mentioned not just as rapists, but rapists with a brutal history of not being held accountable for their actions. I understand that in the UK, the reality is that conviction rates for rape are far lower than other crimes, with only 5.7% of reported rape cases ending in a conviction for the perpetrator (and that’s just civilian cases of rape. Military cases of rape have an even lower rate of conviction and are processed outside the civilian justice system in the UK), however, there is a fine line between highlighting the fact that violent men often have a history of minor crimes leading up to more serious crimes and using rape as a cheap shock-tactic to establish Villain Credentials.
With the exception of Holly Brockbank, the reader isn’t introduced directly to Laing’s ex wife or Brittany Brockbank (women who have been brutally abused by Laing and Brockbank), the reader only knows them through Strike’s flashbacks, and as soon as the ex-mother-in-law is done giving background information, both of these characters disappear from the novel. The pain and suffering these women have been forced to experience is used to cause personal drama and anguish for Strike and I can’t help but find it distasteful. Rape victims and survivors shouldn’t be used as props for the development of other characters.
~Show, Don’t Tell – Part 2: Over the course of the novel, Robert Galbraith continues to use the overused unresolved-sexual-tension between Robyn and Strike as a form of conflict between Robyn and Matthew. I was tired of Matthew’s insecurities by the end of The Silkworm and I got the impression that at the end of The Silkworm, Robyn and Matthew had sat down and had a discussion about Robyn’s career path and Matthew had eventually realised the truth of the situation, that Robyn wasn’t romantically inclined towards Strike, that she enjoyed investigative work and wanted to seriously pursue it for her own merits. It turns out, I was wrong and Matthew continues to be an insecure arse-hat through out Career of Evil as well (which got old very quickly).
It’s eventually revealed that when Robyn and Matthew attended University, Robyn was attacked and raped. Robyn eventually left university and developed agoraphobia, however, while Robyn was processing and recovering from being physically attacked and raped, Matthew had cheated on Robyn for 18 months with his university friend. When Robyn found out about this, she terminated the relationship, Matthew also said some extremely insensitive things towards Robyn, however, by the end of the novel their relationship is on the mend and Robyn and Matthew are going through with the wedding. I feel as though they got married at the end of the novel, not because they had resolved their problems but because The Plot Says So. The reader doesn’t get to view the conversation where Robyn and Matthew make-up and resolve their problems so, in my view, it comes across as forced.
In conclusion, this was a conflicting novel for me. I felt the elements of rape and sexual assault were handled clumsily by the author and the relationship problems between Robyn and Matthew could have been handled better. Although the mystery plot itself was well-thought out, complex and intriguing, I have contemplated not continuing with the series, however, Lethal White (the fourth book in the Cormoran Strike series) will be coming out this year (the official publishing date is currently unknown). I think I’ll wait for Lethal White to come out and see whether or not the series is redeemable. If there’s a continuation of the Matthew/Robyn/Strike relationship drama, I won’t be continuing with the series.
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