Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

The Blurb On The Back:

”I seen a kid killed … He strangled it, up by the horse.”

When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled.  While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him, and his story.  But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott – once his assistant, now a partner in the agency – set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been – Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much more tricky than that …

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s immediately after the end of CAREER OF EVIL. Cormoran Strike has arrived at his assistant Robin Ellacott’s marriage to Matthew Cunliffe to apologise for sacking her and to ask her to come back and work for him again.  But his appearance drives a wedge between Robin and Matthew as she realises the efforts her husband went to in order to keep them apart …

One year later and London is gearing up to host the Olympics.

Thanks to the publicity surrounding the Shacklewell Ripper, Strike’s business has never been better.  Robin is now a junior partner and, having done the relevant courses, is taking on more practical work but Strike’s celebrity makes it harder for him to carry out surveillance and the ex-Red Caps he’s hired to cover for him have been less than satisfactory while Denise (the temp currently doing Robin’s old job) is downright awful.  Worse, his landlord has given Strike notice that he’s sold the building that houses his office and apartment and while business has picked up, Strike isn’t solvent enough to cover the expense.

Then an emotionally disturbed young man called Billy arrives at his office with a wild story of having seen another child murdered when he was younger and although his story lacks details and is vague and contradictory, Strike is convinced by his sincerity that he witnessed something but before he can follow up, Billy runs away.  While Strike tries to track Billy down, he’s hired by Jasper Chiswell, a junior minister in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, who’s being blackmailed by Jimmy Knight (a left-wing activist and agitator who’s been campaigning against the Olympics) and Geraint Winn (the husband of Della Winn, the Minister for Sport) and wants Strike to find out what they have on him and find his own dirt on them to shut them down.

Strike sends Robin in undercover to work in Chiswell’s parliamentary team but for all the progress, their relationship isn’t as close as it was as they find themselves keeping secrets from each other, just as their case takes a sinister turn …

The fourth in Robert Galbraith’s (aka J K Rowling) CORMORAN STRIKE SERIES is a gripping read that expertly runs two separate yet intertwining mysteries while also developing the relationship between Strike and Robin (although I could have done without the romantic undertones) and showing the impact that unwanted celebrity can have and the attention it brings.

I really enjoyed the development of the characters of Robin and Strike in this novel.  With Cormoran, it comes from the frustrations that accompany his sudden (and unwanted) fame.  I would have liked to have had a bit more of how his success in CAREER OF EVIL impacted on his (non-existent) relationship with his father but I enjoyed the scenes with his sister and brother-in-law and his relationships, notably with the toxic Charlotte who finally emerges more fully into the series and is every bit as manipulative and demanding as Galbraith has set her up to be but also with Lorelai Bevan, the owner of a vintage clothes shop in Camden who seems to want more from him than he’s willing to give.  The introduction of Sam Barclay (an army squaddie Strike busted for drug dealing but who he suspected had been set up) as a new part of the team was welcome and I enjoyed their interactions because it draws on Strike’s background and sets up another foil for him.

For Matthew haters, there are a number of punch the air moments in his relationship with Robin as his deceptions and general pettiness finally reveal themselves to her.  I liked her friendship with police officer Vanessa Ekwensi and although I would have loved to have seen a few more scenes between them (not least because Ekwensi is an emotionally healthy character with self-confidence who gives good advice) she proved a good counterfoil to Strike by showing the distance that’s opened between him and Robin.  I enjoyed the depiction of Robin’s PTSD and how she is trying to pull herself through it but without telling Strike for fear of what he will do to protect her and her scenes where she’s undercover show how far she’s come along in terms of her detecting skills.

I’ll be honest and say that I’m not a fan of the romantic direction that Strike and Robin’s relationship seems to be heading in. I know it’ll have its supporters but I find it a bit predictable and cliché and I think that the bond between them would be stronger if it was a genuine friendship, but that’s just me.

The mystery elements play out well and Galbraith’s plotting skills are deployed to the full as there’s plenty of action and she keeps her two main strands well balanced before slowly bringing them together. There are plenty of twists and red herrings, which I enjoyed and she neatly skewers the Coalition Government of 2012 and the petty rivalries at play even as the nation sought to come together for the Olympics (particularly good is how she plugs into the build-up, such as the discussion about getting tickets and the fears that the Opening Ceremony will suck).  And although the ending was a little disappointing in that Galbraith goes for a device that she’s used before it’s a small complaint given how much I enjoyed the read overall and I will definitely be checking out book 5.

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