Cormoran Strike #3: Career of Evil

career of evilA few months ago I recommended the first two Cormoran Strike novels. Now I’ve had a chance to read the third one, and I think it’s my favourite yet!

When Robin Ellacott receives a severed leg in the post in the middle of her wedding preparations, she and her boss, Cormoran Strike, must investigate his past cases from the military police in the search for a vicious serial killer with a personal grudge. This is the third book in Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series, and it just keeps getting better and better.

The first two books in the series have an almost ‘cosy’ feel to them, in the tradition of Agatha Christie, where the mystery and the relationships between the characters involved are the core elements; they’re stories about figuring out why someone would have wanted to kill the victim, and from there whom that person might be. Career of Evil, in contrast, is about a serial killer, and the investigation is less about why someone might have wanted to get the victim out of the way and more about the sadistic mind that would do such a thing. It is, in other words, more of a horror tale than the first two books.

Even so, the book can’t seem to avoid raising social issues. One of the characteristic traits of Rowling’s writing is the way social commentary permeates the narrative. Whether it’s a story about a wizarding school or a private detective, there are underlying social justice themes, and the Cormoran Strike series is no exception.

Where The Cuckoo’s Calling was infused with the repercussions of classism, Career of Evil is about patriarchy. The villain is a clear misogynist; he murders women because he despises them. More subtly, however, he treats women not as independent beings, but as subsidiaries of men; he targets Robin not because of who she is, but of whom she is to Strike. Robin is not a person in his eyes, but a tool to get at another man.

The patriarchal implications go beyond the villain, however. Robin’s choices drive this novel moreso than the previous two, and many of these decisions are rooted in her feeling of being taken advantage of by two men in her life: Strike and her fiancé, Matthew. Strike still tends to treat her as an assistant, even though her initiative and quick-thinking has helped him enormously. Matthew, on the other hand, is jealous of Strike, critical of Robin’s job, and expects her to take on the bulk of the housework.

In spite of the emphasis on Strike’s past and his relationship with each of the suspects, then, this is in many ways Robin’s book. It’s about her experiences with sexism, and about the choices she makes within that patriarchal context. It is also, more broadly, about her attempts as a young adult to define herself and forge the future she wants for herself. As a young woman – and big fan of YA narratives – myself, Robin’s arc in this novel resonated with me and, even though I didn’t always agree with her choices, I sympathised with them and appreciated why she made them and, indeed, the simple fact that she made them and they had an effect on the story. In particular, the decisions she makes near the end of the novel seem to set up several significant plotlines for the fourth book.

Career of Evil is the perfect follow-up to The Silkworm, taking the series into darker territory and deeper into the lives, past and present, of the main characters. If you loved the first two books in the series, you won’t want to miss this; similarly if, like me, you enjoyed the first two books but wanted more Robin, then definitely pick up Career of Evil.

Nicola lives, reads and drinks copious amounts of tea in Edinburgh, Scotland. You can find her on Twitter.

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