The War Hero
If I were into hard rock and heavy metal bands – which I’m not – I would have known that Career of Evil is the title of a track by the group Blue Öyster Cult. It is also the title of the latest crime novel by Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. JK Rowling. I really enjoyed the previous story featuring Galbraith’s distinctive protagonist, Cormoran Strike, so I couldn’t resist this one.
Career of Evil begins when Strike’s partner Robin Ellacott receives a dismembered leg in the mail. The amputee detective suspects it to be the work of one of four men from his past. Readers of Galbraith stories will remember that Strike, a decorated former military policeman, lost his leg in an explosion in Afghanistan.
‘The total absence of communication ought to have been a warning but he had been too busy with Robin and a dismembered body to give it much thought.’
Only a few weeks before Robin’s wedding, she and Strike embark on an investigation which does not always endear them to Scotland Yard. Of course, a leg means a (probably) dead body, and it soon becomes clear that the murder (and there is one) is the work of a sadistic serial killer, bent on revenge on Strike for some real grievance. The killer’s way to his enemy is through Robin – whom he calls The Secretary – and he begins stalking her.
‘He’d had a close call once. That had been the second time he had killed, in Milton Keynes. You didn’t shit on your own doorstep …’
The chase for the murderer – a collector of souvenir body parts – involves surveillance in darkening London streets. It takes the investigative pair on a tour of England, first to Cumbria then back to the capital via the Midlands and the fringes of East Anglia. It introduces them to a bizarre internet cult of wackos who fantasize about hacking off their own limbs.
‘ “It’s a need,” said Tempest composedly. “I’ve known ever since I was a child. I’m in the wrong body. I need to be paralysed.”
‘ “Know many disabled people?” Strike was asking Tempest.’
The clues to the solution are there for us to find but they are subtle clues which the writer cleverly hides within the plot and among her colourful cast of supporting characters. And, of course, a question we keep asking ourselves is: will Robin actually go through with that wedding?
Career of Evil is stronger and darker than anything Rowling has done before. Occasionally one gets the feeling she is wallowing in it a bit too much. Certainly she seems to be enjoying herself immensely with her creations! Macabre it might be, but the novel is not without humour.
The best crime story writers create characters that are unique and distinctive, leaving us with a clear mental picture of what the detective looks like. Galbraith/Rowling is especially good at this. It’s a picture that is often shattered when we see the character of the novel portrayed on screen.
Philip Marlowe for me IS Robert Mitchum, and not Robert Montgomery who played him in the film of Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake, which I reviewed yesterday. Only David Suchet comes close to being Hercule Poirot, and the one and only movie Sherlock Holmes is Basil Rathbone – (well, maybe Jeremy Brett).
I cannot begin to imagine who will play Cormoran Strike on screen. Maybe the BBC can do a CGI job with the late Orson Welles? We shall just have to wait and see.
[Next: The Retired Cop]