Galbraith (Rowling) lands ‘Lethal’ strike
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!