Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Book Review: Career of Evil

There was a bit of excitement yesterday when J K Rowling mentioned on a Radio 2 interview that she has "written some of a childrens book", which more than anything else seems to demonstrate the hold that Harry Potter maintains over our collective imaginations. It also helps to vindicate her decision to publish her crime series under the pseudonym "Robert Galbraith", helping to to differentiate it from the Potter brand and avoid some of the snobbery about a "childrens author" writing "grown up" books that affected reviews of The Casual Vacancy. To be honest though, as much as I enjoyed the Potter series, I am quite happy with Rowling/Galbraith the crime writer, and she can keep writing books like Career of Evil for as long as she likes.

The third in the "Comoran Strike" series, Career of Evil takes it name from a Blue Oyster Cult song, and their lyrics weave through the chapter headings of the book. If the previous books were more tradtionally murder-mystery, this time we are in full-on serial killer territory, as Strike and his partner Robin Ellacot are targetted by someone with a deep and personal grudge, coupled with a powerful urge to kill. It is by the far the darkest of the books so far - full of blood and body parts, death and horror, as well as traversing deeper into it's leads troubled past than we have previously.

Structurally, we are quickly presented with four suspects, and the book follows Robin and Strike as they investigate them, whilst being stalked in turn. In a neat trick, we get chapters from the killers perspective, revealing personal information and movitation, but which serves to often muddy the waters rather than clear them. Each bit of inside information often applies to several of the suspects, leaving it open right up the final reveal, without ever feeling like I was being somehow cheating. It's a very clever thing to manage, although the serial killer generally is a less interesting villain figure than modern crime seems to think, even if this is a good example of the type.

So whilst this is a pretty good detective story, with a lot of narrative flair, in it's own right, the real strength is the two leads. Rowling has always had a gift for making characters live with even small description, which is a great help in a genre that churns through witnesses and suspects, but she's also a dab hand here with Robin and Strike. Like the earlier books, Career of Evil is more a two hander than having Strike's name on the cover would have you beleive, and this time it's really Robin's turn to shine. Determined and capable, Robin is the emotional core of this book, defying victimhood and facing down both her personal demons and the well-meaning people that surround her and, with the  best will in the world, hold her back. Robin is great, and more of her, please.

In fact, more of this series in general. I think Rowling/Galbraith is great crime writer, showing off a lot of confidence and versitility. With both a satisfying central detective story, and engaging (and different) characters, this is a series well getting into, even if you're not a huge crime afficiando. For me, the take away from the Radio 2 Interview was that she plans to keep writing these, and that is great news!