For Career of Evil, the third crime book written by JK Rowling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, Cormoran Strike returns and this time it’s personal. When someone sends a severed human leg to his partner, Robin Ellacott, along with a note that links the crime to Strike’s semi-famous mother, several names from his past jump out. With the police focusing on the only one he doesn’t think is guilty, Strike and Robin undertake their own investigations into the remaining suspects. Meanwhile Robin’s wedding looms, and questions arise over exactly what Strike and Robin’s partnership entails.
After two excellent books (The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm) it’s clear that Rowling is onto something good with the characters of Strike and Robin, so it makes sense with the third book to dig deeper into their histories and their connection. We learn more about each of them as the book progresses, and watch as their relationship – both working and personal – is tested by the pressure of a dangerous, high-stakes case in which Robin is clearly in the antagonist’s sights. It becomes increasingly clear that whoever this man is, he intends to hurt Strike physically and psychologically, targeting the memory of his mother and the perceived weakness of Robin as his partner, and it’s fascinating to see the different ways in which the pair react to this. Strike wants to protect Robin, horrified that she’s in danger because of him, while Robin is desperate to contribute to the case, to prove her worth to Strike and justify her career choice to herself and her fiancé.
As expected it’s an absolute page turner, carefully plotted and paced to keep us guessing throughout. With three main suspects to play with, Rowling lays a shifting map of possibilities as Strike struggles to piece together a clear picture of what’s happening, occasionally showing events from the mystery man’s perspective in scenes which cleverly build his character without ever revealing anything which might clearly indicate his identity. She manages to tease out new and unexpected details about both main characters, continuing to develop them and hinting at what might happen in future, and does an excellent job of maintaining familiarity while still keeping things fresh and exciting.
This is very much a bridging book, expanding on what we’ve seen before and leaving things open for the next stages in Strike and Robin’s story. Introducing characters’ backstory can sometimes feel trite but here it’s handled beautifully, with the use of lyrics from Blue Oyster Cult – Strike’s mother’s favourite band – in both the chapter headers and the mystery man’s notes to Strike adding a nice touch of authenticity. It’s no less an enjoyable standalone story than the others have been, but the expanding depth to the characters just goes to highlight how good this series is so far.