Saturday, June 25, 2016

Career of Evil

Career of Evil
by Robert Galbraith
Recommended Ages: 14+

J. K. Rowling's third "Cormoran Strike" novel, written under a pseudonym she initially adopted in order to test whether she could succeed as an adult mystery writer without the help of her "Harry Potter" fame, proves once again that she really has it. Mummies and Daddies may want to cover their kiddies' eyes or ears, though. This book is very adult in language and content.

London private investigator Cormoran Strike and his secretary/partner Robin have been doing well in the wake of the first two well-publicized mysteries they solved together. But when a bicycle messenger hands Robin a box containing a girl's severed leg, the impact on their business puts the lie to the proverb that "there's no such thing as bad publicity." Their caseload suddenly dwindles to two clients and sinks from there, while a psychopath who likes to cut trophies off his victims' bodies terrorizes London - a psychopath who bears a personal grudge against Strike.

At first blush, Strike can think of four men who might have it in for him and who might capable of such things. One is a gangster he once testified against. Two are ex-soldiers whose careers Strike ended while serving as a plainclothes military detective: one was convicted of spousal abuse on Strike's testimony; the other, a child rapist, went scot-free with brain damage that he blamed on Strike. The fourth suspect is his own stepfather, a death-metal rocker who, Strike believes, murdered his mother.

There are points in all four suspects' favor. The gangster, who already has a record of mailing body parts to people, is actually the one Strike is sure didn't send the leg. But the police continue focusing on that angle, leaving Robin and Strike to steal time from their last paying clients and try to trace the other three possible killers. And a killer there definitely is, attacking more and more frequently - sometimes maiming, sometimes killing - and all the while planning to bring the bloodshed right to Strike's doorstep.

This book is a disturbingly immersive visit to the dark side of London, into the mind of a truly twisted person, into the procedures and problems of detective work, and into the increasingly complicated relationship between Robin - who reveals a terrible secret from her past - and Strike, who faces a monster from his youth that is no secret at all. Robin's plans to marry her hometown sweetheart Matthew also come in for some big complications, but the crisis that will leave fans of this series chewing their nails affects the partnership between the two protagonists - leading to a final page, a final paragraph, and a final sentence whose implications on the future of the series will leave their grip felt inside.

A recommended accompaniment to this book is an audio playlist of Blue Öyster Cult songs, lines of which appear in the headings of many chapters. Until now I have only been familiar with two or three of their biggest hits. I just wikied them and saw a recent photo suggesting that lead singer Eric Bloom, who is five years older than my father, currently looks exactly like me. I guess that says it all for clean living. Their lyrics add another disturbing dimension to an already spooky portrait of the mind of a murderer. One outcome of this wholesale use of one band's lyrics in the book is a rare sense of a novel having a specific musical score. It gives me another reason to hope Hollywood leaves these particular J. K. Rowling books alone: turning this one into a Blue Öyster Cult music video just wouldn't be as creepy as the effect of those snippets of song lyrics on the sound editor of my mind.

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