by Robert Galbraith
‘ “I’m not mental! He strangled the kid and they buried it, down in the dell by our dad’s house. Wrapped in a blanket it was….” ‘
The latest novel by JK Rowling under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym begins with the wedding from hell. Robin Ellacott, employee/partner at the Strike Detective Agency is to marry her long-term fiancé, Matthew Cunliffe. The question – will she, won’t she? – is complicated by the presence of her boss, who has fired her and wants her back. Not that Robin deserves to be fired, but she has sustained serious injury at the hands of the agency’s latest success, the arrest of the “Shacklewell Ripper”, and Strike fears for her future safety.
Robin’s marriage and future relationship with her new husband is at the core of Lethal Strike as she and Cormoran Strike embark on a new case. Their client is Jasper Chiswell, Minister for Culture responsible for the 2012 Olympic Games. He is being blackmailed by (1) an unsavoury left-wing activist, Jimmy Knight, and (2) Geraint Winn, who happens to be the husband of the Minister for Sport. Robin is installed in the corridors of government as a researcher in an effort to find out what is going on.
‘With a scream, Robin spun round, ready to fight for her life: the papers flew into the air and her handbag slipped off her shoulder, fell to the floor and burst open, scattering its contents everywhere.’
Soon enough, Chiswell is found dead. Suicide is assumed but Strike and Robin are not so sure. Usually, it’s the blackmailers who are murdered rather than those being blackmailed. At this point, the detectives’ client switches to Chiswell’s daughter Izzy. [I should mention here that Galbraith is taking a pop at the would-be upper classes by making fun of the names they give their children. The surname is, more often than not, pronounced Chizzle. Thus Jasper’s daughters are Izzy and Fizzy Chizzy. His wife, soon to be widow, is called Kinvara and his surviving son, Raphael! Fizzy’s husband is Torquil.]
Is Chiswell’s death connected with corruption in government or has it more to do with the seedy, banner-waving underclass, appropriately named Jimmy and Billy? By the way, Billy is Jimmy’s schizophrenic younger brother who tells Strike he once saw a girl being strangled and buried in the woods. Their anti-Olympics political movement is at the heart of the investigation and, again, Robin goes undercover to suss out its shady activities.
‘Protected through the years by the blanket, the skull shone pale in the torchlight …. A few blunt teeth remained.’
Lethal Strike has a long list of suspects, including the Chiswells and Knights, but also a parliamentary aide Aamir Malik, the Winns and a few others. Art, horses and fencing are among the activities enjoyed by the elite; drugs, sex and building gallows apparently by those at the other end of the social scale.
At nearly 650 pages, Lethal Strike is over-long for a detective story; I felt it drag occasionally. However, it is kept going by its colourful characters and by continual reference to the state of Robin’s relationships – with Matthew, and with Cormoran Strike himself. [Strike meantime is a relationship of his own, with a girl called Lorelei.] There are lots of clues and the ending (the culprit) is not entirely unexpected. But there are red herrings too and it is easy to be confused by them.
On the whole, a satisfying mystery. Clearly, there is chemistry between the two major players – but will they ever get together?