Galbraith (aka Rowling) strikes again in series
A bit past the midpoint of the fourth Cormoran Strike mystery — at 650 pages the “Moby-Dick” of the series — the onelegged private investigator and his devoted female assistant, Robin, are looking at eight suspects for the murder of a government minister. That loosely translates into about 60 pages per suspect, not counting the also-rans, which tells you that “Lethal White” — written by J.K. Rowling under her pen name Robert Galbraith — likely tells us more about each of the potential killers than they know themselves.
That’s certainly true of Billy Knight, a sad, lost stranger suffering from mental illness who gets the story rolling by bursting into Strike’s office and claiming he witnessed a child being strangled and buried years ago. He claims the killer was his older brother, Jimmy, a rabid anti-Semite who travels under the cover of a socialist organization.
Then there’s Raphael “Raff ” Chiswell, the black sheep of his family, who while high on drugs during college ran over a young mother with his car. He is the son of Minister of Culture Jasper Chiswell (pronounced “Chizzle”), from whom Jimmy Knight is trying to extract 40,000 pounds in hush money for something, Chiswell says, “I would not wish to share with the gentlemen of the fourth estate.”
Connections, connections: The ties between the suspects of the Parliament murder keep multiplying. You can bet that the child killing and other premature deaths are connected to it. (“Lethal White” is a term used for a white foal born with a defective
By Robert Galbraith, Mulholland, 650 pages, $29
bowel that, like a baby in the book, is unable to survive.)
Having lost his leg to an explosion in Afghanistan, Strike has an increasingly difficult time hustling about on his artificial limb — not the greatest thing to have when people are beating you up or you’re chasing a suspect on foot.
Robin, who suffers post-traumatic stress disorder following a brutal attack in “Career of Evil,” also has to contend with her loveless marriage. Working again with Strike, now famous for catching the Shacklewell Ripper, is good therapy. Her boss had fired her following a falling-out. But the more she works, the more she has to lie to husband Matthew, who disdains the job and her employer and thinks he knows what’s best.
Dedicated readers of the series will want to know that, yes, Strike and Robin still moon over each other. Strike, who came to having her in his arms before factors pushed her into matrimony, tries to forget his troubles in the arms of another woman.
As ever, the byplay
between Galbraith’s classic, Agatha Christie-inspired plotting and flighty characters on the one hand and such contemporary details as the rampant use of the F-word, text messages and Kanye West creates an enjoyable floating time feel. With its subtle treatment of politics, class warfare and displacement, this is a book that essentially could be set at any time during the past hundred years. But while the complicated plot is well-constructed, “Lethal White” lacks the narrative juice of past installments in the series.
There is a wide assortment of interesting, assertive women in the book, including Chiswell’s wonderfully irate wife, Kinvara, and Strike’s straight-laced half-sister, Lucy, with whom he shares a difficult childhood. But a powerful mini-monologue directed at Strike about men and crime seems out of place: “Ultimate responsibility
lies with the woman, who should have stopped it, who should have acted, who
Your failings are
always known. our must have
Robin reveals herself to be quite good at skullduggery in the halls of power and at the art of disguise (love the chalked hair). But having seen her make such striking personal advances in “Career of Evil,” it’s disappointing to see her take two steps back here. She spends way too much time rationalizing her bad marriage. And on the job, Strike is the one who comes up with all the big insights.
Here’s hoping that in her next adventure, Robin leaves behind idle-hood in all good ways.
Lloyd Sachs, a freelancer, regularly reviews crime fiction for the Tribune.