LETHAL WHITE (2018) ***
by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Published by Sphere, 2018, 650pp
Blurb: 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 from his office 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 fourth Cormoran Strike novel is a long, twisting mystery with a sophisticated plot and a colourful cast of eccentric characters. Rowling has a tendency to increase the page count in her series novels as they progress. There is certainly enough complexity in this mystery to warrant a longer novel, but at 650 pages you have to ask whether this could have been pruned back. The domestic stuff, whilst helping flesh out the central characters, does often get in the way of the developing mystery. Rowling is seemingly running story arcs through these novels as a hook for the reader to return for the next instalment.
The book initially progresses slowly through a blackmail plot against a government minister during the run-up to the 2012 Olympics. Robin goes undercover to tease out information against the perpetrators. At the half-way point, the story takes a sharp turn and the plot thickens into a murder mystery. The pace quickens from here as the detective duo gradually unravel the mystery and the finale is a tense play-off. Whilst the plot here is probably the most labyrinthine of Rowling’s novels at the same time it is perhaps the least involving. Most of the characters come across as either spoilt, rich brats or anarchists with a chip on their shoulder. The reader, therefore, would be happy to see any of them unmasked as the chief villain. The only sympathetic major character outside of the two detectives is the mentally disturbed Billy. The resolution of his story of sinister childhood memory is much more satisfactory. There is also a tendency to gloss over of the police involvement in the case. Their seeming happiness for Strike to do their job for them does not ring true and there is an absence of the conflict evident in the earlier books.
Rowling has created a likeable detective team with this series and I look forward to their next outing but hope Rowling’s editors have more of a say in its pacing.
Other Cormoran Strike novels:
The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013) ****
The Silkworm (2014) ****
Career of Evil (2015) ****
Strike: Career of Evil (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 2 x 60m) **** pr. Jackie Larkin; d. Charles Sturridge; w. Tom Edge; ph. Maja Zamojda; m. Adrian Johnston. Cast: Tom Burke, Holliday Grainger, Kerr Logan, Killian Scott, Ben Crompton, Andrew Brooke, Emmanuella Cole, Jessica Gunning, Matt King, Neil Maskell, Kierston Wareing. At the office, Robin receives a package and is horrified to discover it contains a woman’s severed leg. Strike draws up a list of suspects who have vendettas against him. Third in the Strike series is the most confident adaptation. Burke and Grainger (as Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott) have really settled into their roles and the plot allows room for development of the mystery alongside the progression of Robyn’s story. Loses a little bit of momentum in its second-part, but it is still a gorgeously shot and satisfying mystery. Based on the novel by J.K. Rowling (as Robert Galbraith). 
CAREER OF EVIL by ROBERT GALBRAITH (2017, Sphere, 584pp) ****
Blurb: When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality. With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…
In her acknowledgements, J.K. Rowling (here again writing under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith) stated that she “can’t ever remember enjoying writing a novel more”. That is saying a lot given her success with the Harry Potter fantasy series. Her statement is evident in her writing of Career of Evil, the third book in her Cormoran Strike series of detective novels, which is fluid and showing a writer at the top of her game. Rowling is very much at home with her lead characters of Strike and his female partner Robin Ellacott. The plot here follows a serial killer with a grudge against Strike, who goes about dismembering his victims. It is a grisly tale, which is inter-cut with the growing professional relationship between Strike and Robin. However, this relationship is put to the test as the killer targets Robin, who’s determination to stay with the case strains her relationship with both fiancee, Matthew and with Strike himself.
Where this book, like the previous ones and many of todays’ crime novels, would benefit is from tighter editing. The need by publishers to bloat volumes beyond 500 pages in order to fill up the book shelves means the day of the tight, efficient crime thriller told in half the page count seems to be over. It’s as if publishers are vying for some literary recognition through sheer quantity of the product. Whilst Rowling has more to say about her characters than others in the genre – giving them credible back stories and ongoing domestic lives – there is a seeming desire to fill the required page count. That said this is still a very enjoyable read and one that leaves you wanting more from this likeable detective duo.
Strike: The Silkworm (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 2x60m) ***½ pr. Jackie Larkin; d. Kieron Hawkes; w. Tom Edge; ph. Gary Shaw; m. Adrian Johnston. Cast: Tom Burke, Holliday Grainger, Kerr Logan, Monica Dolan, Sarah Gordy, Dominic Mafham, Peter Sullivan, Tim McInnerny, Lia Williams, Sargon Yelda, Caitlin Innes Edwards, Ian Attard, Joey Batey, Natasha O’Keeffe, Jeremy Swift. Strike is approached by Leonora Quine with a plea to locate her husband, the notorious writer Owen Quine, who has disappeared without a trace. The plot, dealing with literature used as a sadistic weapon for revenge was never going to be easy to adapt for TV and whilst the first book stretched to a 3-hour adaptation, here Robert Galbraith’s (J.K. Rowling) second Cormoran Strike novel is condensed into 2 hours. Whilst this creates some necessary tightening of the plot, it does make for demanding viewing in trying to keep up with its intricacies. Those who do so will be rewarded with a strong variation on the traditional whodunit. Burke and Grainger again excel in their lead roles and the support acting all round is strong. The series will return in 2018 with an adaptation of the third novel in the series, “Career of Evil”. 
Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 3x60m) ***½ pr. Jackie Larkin; d. Michael Keillor; w. Ben Richards; ph. Hubert Taczanowski; m. Adrian Johnston. Cast: Tom Burke, Holliday Grainger, Martin Shaw, Kerr Logan, Killian Scott, Kadiff Kirwan, Elarica Johnson, Bronson Webb, Leo Bill, Tezlym Senior-Sakutu, Tara Fitzgerald, Natasha O’Keeffe. Private investigator Cormoran Strike is hired to find out if a supermodel’s suicide in London may have been a murder. Faithful adaptation of the novel by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym for J. K. Rowling, who also exec produced). Stylishly shot on location in the city of London. The mystery elements are traditional, but the lead characters of the one-legged war hero turned PI and his new female assistant are interesting and they are compellingly portrayed by Burke and Grainger. Followed by STRIKE: THE SILKWORM (2017). 
THE SILKWORM by ROBERT GALBRAITH (2014, Sphere, Paperback, 584pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days – as he has done before – and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.
But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realises. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were published it would ruin lives – so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him.
By now it’s a well-known fact that author Robert Galbraith, who wrote the well-received The Cuckoo Calling, is in fact J.K. Rowling. For her second book featuring Afghanistan vet turned private eye, Cormoran Strike, Rowling weaves a tight mystery plot around the murder of a controversial novelist. The literary world is one very familiar to Rowling and she has a great amount of fun painting colourful characters.
There is something reassuringly old-fashioned about the structure of this book, which broadly sticks to the multiple suspect formula of the genre. Where Rowling wins out is in her depiction of her roguish one-legged hero, his professional relationship with his assistant, Robin and in the almost caricature cast of suspects. The writing is easy and the managing of the plot clever.