Saturday, 20 October 2018

Blackmail and Bridles

Cormoran Strike is back! Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) has produced a hefty tome, a 600+ page monster of a mystery in Lethal White (2018), the fourth instalment of this wonderful series. The story is complex, with many twists and turns and sufficient red herrings to sustain the intrigue.

The story begins where the last book, Career of Evil (2016), left off. It is Robin's wedding to her long term boyfriend Matthew Cunliffe and tensions are high at the reception. Strike has showed up, much to Cunliffe's dismay and Robin's delight. As the newlyweds set off on their honeymoon, there is misery and regret on many fronts.

Flash forward one year and Strike's agency has bloomed as a result of his success. He has put on additional staff and taken a diverse range of clients. London is in the thrall of the 2012 Summer Olympics. One day Billy Knight appears at the agency, disheveled and anxious, claiming to have witnessed a murder when he was a child. Without anything more to go on than that, Strike seeks out Billy's brother Jimmy who tells him this recollection is untrue.

Jasper Chiswell, Minister for Culture, contacts Strike and claims that he is being blackmailed but for what he will not say. Robin goes undercover at Westminster to learn more and quickly discovers that the Minister for Sport, Della Winn, and her lecherous husband Geraint despise Chiswell. Robin also meets Chiswell's many adult children - all with names like Izzy and Fizzy - and his dissatisfied wife Kinvara.

The plot gets increasingly complex as it goes on, with storylines related to horses, far-left radicals, politics, infidelity, and more. To say more would lead to spoilers, so I will stop here. The mystery will keep readers guessing to the end, when all the different threads come together.

The life of a detective is not an easy one. At one point Kinvara tells Strike what she thinks of his work: "What a really, nasty, seedy job you do." As she said it I reflected on some of the compromising positions Strike, Robin, Barclay and other team members entered into in an attempt to meet their clients' needs: posing as other people; pretending to befriend those they are investigating; following cheaters and philanderers; digging up bones and risking their lives. The job is physically and emotionally draining, especially when surveillance is involved. It puts a strain on their relationships.

Beyond the main story, in Lethal White we learned more about Strike and Robin. Ghosts from Strike's past keep rearing their heads and Rowling shares much of his inner thoughts and feelings.  I particularly loved the way in which Robin's character was portrayed - full of anxiety, self-doubt, curiosity, gumption and empathy. Robin is complex, flawed and very human. I admire the way her relationship with Strike ebbed and flowed, showing the deep bonds they have. The depiction of Matthew Cunliffe (every-boring-entitled-white-guy-ever) was also genius - with his upward mobility and desire to keep up with the Joneses. He is the bad boyfriend/dud husband who does not even try to understand Robin and her passion for her job. Peripheral characters like investigator Barclay, police officer Wardle, and Strike's former flame Charlotte are also well depicted.

Despite its' length, I found myself savouring the book, wanting to delay the ending as long as possible. However, it would have benefited from a flow chart of the many intertwined characters. It will be some time before the next Strike book is written and released, but the good news is that BBC has announced they will be adapting Lethal White as a four part series. So that is something to look forward to.

I have previously read and enjoyed Robin and Strike's adventures in Career of Evil (2016), The Silkworm (2014) and The Cuckoo's Calling (2013). Can't wait to see what they get up to next.