I cannot fault Robert Galbraith’s Career of Evil (Mulholland Books, 2015), his third Cormoran Strike novel, for readability. It’s engaging, and it holds one’s interest. It’s great to be again in the company of Cormoran and his assistant Robin. She plays a more prominent role in this novel than the two earlier ones. Galbraith (who is really J. K. Rowling) continues to taunt us with the subliminal romantic tension between these two, but when the novel is over we really have not moved forward—in fact we seem to have done the opposite.
This is the darkest of the Cormoran Strike novels. It’s about a serial killer who murders and horribly mutilates his female victims. The novel opens with the arrival of an amputated leg on Robin’s desk. The abuse and victimization of women is a major theme. Strike and Robin track a group of individuals, all former colleagues of his from the war in Afghanistan, and try to decide which of them may be the killer. Robin herself becomes the object of the killer’s plottings. He wants to kill her in order to hurt Strike. The novel often describes events from his point of view, though we never know who he is until the end.
Robin herself chafes under the restraints of her role as secretary even though she increasingly plays the role of Strike’s partner. She is irritated at his efforts to protect her from the killer. Strike himself is more than paternalistic. He spends some time second-guessing his decisions, especially in regards to Robin. Is he acting rationally, logically, or out of concern or affection for her?
This is a mechanical effort, however. It follows the same basic narrative pattern as the earlier novels. I think I pointed out in the second novel the fact that Galbraith spends a lot of time describing his characters doing nothing—marking time—walking down streets, driving cars, riding subways, sitting in pubs, marking time until the action advances.Career of Evil comes to an ending that is both conclusive and unresolved. The ending frustrates our hopes about Robin and Cormoran, yet leaves in the back of the mind a suspicion, if not certainty, that things are hardly over. Yet I don’t see how this series can go much further if Galbraith doesn’t find a way to move these characters along or to advance his narrative method.