Write No Evil

J.K Rowling fans are really being spoilt at the moment, with the excitement of the new Harry Potter play next year (which I am definitely flying back for!), and writing us a book a year for the last three years. Those of us who remember the agonising wait in between the last few Harry Potter books are having it all made up to them as under her alter-ego Robert Galbraith, Rowling writes her third Cormoran Strike novel in as many years, Career of Evil. Unfortunately after reading it, I can’t help but wonder if she should have spent a bit more time over it.

Believe me, it pains me to say it as much as it likely pains you to hear it. Nobody wanted to like this book more than I did. I’m a huge defender of Jo’s works, from the cynical ‘Harry Potter is for kids’ crowd, to my own husband who regularly treads on thin ice as he declares that she’s not that good a writer. I obviously loved Harry Potter. I was moved to tears and to throwing the book across the room by The Casual Vacancy (in a good way). I was absolutely gripped by the first two Cormoran Strike novels, reading each of them in under 24 hours, driven by the twisty plots, and was absolutely floored by the solutions. So I was literally one of the first in line to get Career of Evil when it was released this Tuesday, and resolved to make no plans until it was finished.

It started so well. Galbraith was considerate enough to remind us of the key points of all the principal characters, which was appreciated as I didn’t do my usual practice of re-reading the previous books in the series, and I was a little rusty on who was who. Amongst all the subtle exposition the story started with a bang when Robin, Cormoran’s feisty assistant/source of sexual tension, receives a body part in the mail. Who would want to do such a thing? Why was it addressed to her personally? Where’s the rest of the body? I could be quoting the book verbatim here. The ‘several questions at the end of a chapter summing up the plot so far’ technique is very familiar to those who pore over the Harry Potter books, and it occurs a good few times in this book. Stick to what you know eh?

Career of Evil ‘And how much does Snape know about it?’ Whoops, wrong series.

Now when I mentioned earlier defending Rowling from my husband’s claims that she’s not good a writer, let me be clear; I’m well aware her writing is simplistic, charmingly so. However the one thing I could always counterpoint with was that she tells a fantastic story. From tracking down Horcruxes to tracking down killers, Rowling has a way of spinning a yarn so intricate and detailed that it not only holds up to, but is made better by repeated readings. Her solutions are simple but baffling at the same time, and you are left exhausted by all the twists and turns. She really is a fabulous storyteller - unfortunately except for this one.

This story, where Robin and Cormoran go on a serial killer hunt, is disappointingly straight forward, yet muddied by extraneous details that really don’t add to anything. About half-way through I thought myself, and Robert/Jo, very clever by working out who I thought had dunnit, only to be let down at the end by finding that my solution was far more clever than what actually happened. This is a very disconcerting feeling for someone who rarely guesses solutions and actually enjoys being outsmarted by worthy writers.

As per any good detective novel, towards the end we have the old hackneyed ‘character notices one obscure detail that blows the who case wide open’ moment, that real police wish they had in real life. I adore these moments, reveling in the suspension of disbelief that leaves you face-palming* while berating yourself for not noticing the now blindingly obvious clue yourself. Unfortunately the sweet cliched eureka moment during COE is robbed of its pleasure due to the the crucial detail being far too obscure to be at all credible, and - even more unforgivable - impossible for the reader to work out for themselves. In fact it leaves you instead face-palming and complaining about the tenuousness of the clue, wondering who in the real world would ever spot such a thing. The Detection Club would be appalled.

Enough mocking now, it’s crunch time. Perhaps because of the high expectations, I was a little disappointed in Cormoran Strike’s latest adventure. The story lacked any decent twists, so the simplistic writing style stood out more than usual, and the usually subtle ‘will-they, won’t-they’ sub-plot between Robin and Cormoran became far too obvious and irritating. All these points aside, I did keep reading it, and will definitely read the next one that comes out. If COE were read with no pre-conceived expectations of sublime storytelling, I’m sure it would be a very enjoyable and entertaining light read. Rowling herself almost admits it in the acknowledgments, as she describes writing as Galbraith as her ‘playground’. Goodness knows that after the pressures of completing the Harry Potter series satisfactorily, she needs a bit of fun. Unfortunately, and this I assure you comes from a deep respect for J.K. Rowling, Jo can do better than this.

* As I’m assured the kids are calling it these days.

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