Gal­braith (aka Rowl­ing) strikes again in se­ries

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Society - By Lloyd Sachs Chicago Tri­bune

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

‘Lethal White’

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

this close

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

fail­ings, aren’t

al­ways known. our must have

re­ally they?”

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.

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