Review: JK Rowling’s Career of Evil keeps the reader guessing
Career of Evil, Rowling’s third Cormoran Strike novel, is an emotionally taut read.
Detective Cormoran Strike and his secretary-turned-partner Robin Ellacott are back for the third time with a case that’s equally bloody and emotional in parts. This time around, the investigative pair is embroiled in a mystery that is pretty personal–someone sends a woman’s severed leg to Robin accompanied by lyrics from a song by the American rock band, Blue Oyster Cult. It’s a chilling message for Strike, given his disability–he was injured and lost a leg in Afghanistan. It’s also clear that someone has a bone to pick with Strike and won’t stop at just a leg. Rather, as you find out from the killer’s perspective, his next target is Robin. What follows is a trip down memory lane for Strike, as he pursues four possible suspects, each with a sinister and bloodthirsty history. In an interview with NPR, JK Rowling, who writes this series under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, said that she read Ted Bundy’s accounts to understand a killer’s perspective and also trawled through forums frequented by men who discuss women in terms of murder and sexual violence.
The suspects are twisted as they come with a long history of violence–Terence ‘Digger’ Malley, a gangster who is known for his body-cutting skills; sociopath Donald Laing who is a British veteran and blames Strike for all his misfortune and problems; Noel Brockbank who has a history of paedophilia and is not quite right in the head; and Jeff Whittaker, a junkie musician who was married to Strike’s mother and tried and acquitted for her murder. They all have one thing in common–they hate Strike. To complicate matters, after their last two cases–The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm–Strike is kind of famous and he is no longer able to go out and pursue persons of interests as he once could. And with the infamous publicity about the severed leg, Strike and Robin are losing cases and with that money as well. At the same time, Robin is grappling with a tense engagement – her fiance Matthew has always been vocal about his dislike for Strike but now their relationship has taken a turn for the worse. She’s also worried about her position at work – at times Strike calls her a business partner, at others he does everything to shield her from the nastier parts of the business.
For Robin, horrific memories of sexual violence resurface–you find out that she had been raped at a university. Your heart goes out to Robin and Strike, who for a change, shows his vulnerable side, especially with his bias towards his stepfather. You also get a bit closer to understanding the person behind the hulking, impassive facade. On top of all this is Robin’s impending wedding–dresses, flowers and seating arrangements add to the chaos, while both Robin and Strike are trying hard to ignore their feeling for each other. In her acknowledgements, Rowling writes, “I can’t remember ever enjoying writing a novel more than Career of Evil. This is odd, not only on account of the grisly subject matterâ€¦” And it shows. The author takes her time building the emotional tension in Career of Evil. At the same time, she lets the tension unwind slowly, following the suspects at an easy pace all across the country, while allowing personal emotions to bubble up to the forefront. Rowling runs through a gamut of bloody and violent crimes–sexual violence, serial killings, drug abuse, and paedophilia, it’s all in there. Yet she takes her time in telling the stories. And because of that, Career of Evil tends to flag a bit. Although it has a compelling and dark storyline, the narrative takes time to pick up, and you tend to lose interest in the middle.
That said, the suspense builds up, and you’re hard-pressed to choose between the suspects. Strike is gunning for Whittaker with obvious reasons, but the others seem equally menacing and they all seem to have had an opportunity. And that’s where the author keeps the reader guessing, making it an immense emotionally taut read. PS: A request for the writer; can we please get Strike to mop up his curry with naan, instead of naan bread next time?
The reviewer is a Bengaluru-based writer.