Gal­braith (Rowl­ing) lands ‘Lethal’ strike

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - BOOKS - Jo­ce­lyn McClurg

Let’s lift a pint to Robert Gal­braith. Yes, it’s lovely to be cel­e­brat­ing 20 years of Harry Pot­ter. (Septem­ber marks the 20th an­niver­sary of the U.S. pub­li­ca­tion of “Harry Pot­ter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”)

But J.K. Rowl­ing has moved on to more grown-up en­deav­ors with her gritty, pseudony­mous (and won­der­ful) Gal­braith mys­tery se­ries, and I for one am cheer­ing the co­in­ci­den­tal (?) ar­rival this month of “Lethal White,” the fourth book star­ring the dy­namic de­tec­tive duo of Cor­moran Strike and Robin El­la­cott.

Rowl­ing’s wiz­ardry as a writer is on abun­dant dis­play in “Lethal White” (Mul­hol­land, 647 pp., ★★★g), a be­he­moth of a novel that flies by in a flash. This is a crime se­ries rooted in the real world, where bru­tal­ity and ug­li­ness are leav­ened by the oh-so-hu­man flaws and virtues of Gal­braith’s ir­re­sistible hero and hero­ine.

Gal­braith can con­struct a bang-up mys­tery plot. But the ad­dic­tive ten­sion in this se­ries comes from the push-pull (un­spo­ken) at­trac­tion be­tween the gruff Strike, who lost a leg serv­ing in Afghanistan, and Robin, who has gone from as­sis­tant to full-fledged part­ner in their tiny Lon­don agency based on her wiles and ded­i­ca­tion.

That tena­cious­ness has cost her. In “Lethal White,” Robin is hav­ing panic at­tacks, the re­sult of a knife wound in­flicted by the se­rial killer who dark­ened 2015’s “Ca­reer of Evil.”

Gal­braith di­als back the Stieg Lars­son-like depths of de­prav­ity we got in (the ex­cel­lent) “Evil,” which is a re­lief. Per­haps less is at stake, mys­tery-wise, in “Lethal White,” but Rowl­ing’s sig­na­ture strengths – her in­deli­ble char­ac­ters, the Dick­en­sian de­tail and in­ven­tive­ness, her dry Bri­tish hu­mor and her em­pa­thy toward mat­ters of the heart – have room to bloom.

And as Gal­braith she has de­cided fun needling Eng­land’s class sys­tem in a story that trav­els from the halls of Par­lia­ment to a chichi Olympics bash (it’s 2012) where Prince Harry makes an amus­ing cameo to a crum­bling coun­try es­tate owned by the horsey set. And you’ll think of #MeToo as Robin deals with her share of sex­ist idiots.

“Lethal White” picks up where “Ca­reer of Evil” left off: at Robin’s wed­ding to ac­coun­tant Matthew. Any­one root­ing for Strike to show up and shout “I ob­ject” was sorely dis­ap­pointed by Book 3’s con­clu­sion. But we’re not giv­ing much away by say­ing Robin is full of re­gret. Strike, mean­while, is rather lazily dat­ing the smit­ten Lorelei, while mem­o­ries of his trou­bled ex Char­lotte linger.

The mys­tery plot is spun in mo­tion (one year af­ter Robin’s wed­ding) by the ar­rival at Strike’s of­fice of a dis­turbed, tic-rid­den, grimy young man who sput­ters in­co­her­ently that he saw a lit­tle girl (or was it a boy?) stran­gled and buried years ear­lier when he was a kid. Billy Knight runs off.

Strike and Robin are hired by Jasper Chiswell, Eng­land’s Min­is­ter of Cul­ture, who’s be­ing black­mailed by a col­league – he won’t dis­close why, which I found per­plex­ing. Wouldn’t Strike in­sist on know­ing?

And that’s only the start of Chiswell’s prob­lems, which in­clude his de­mand­ing much-younger wife, Kin­vara, and his raff­ish son, Raff, newly sprung from jail. How are these things linked?

More press­ingly, where will Strike and Robin and their hurt­ing hearts be by page 647?

We’ll never tell but prom­ise you’ll be left pant­ing for Book 5. Cheers!

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