Cormoran is (finally) back
Because I read so many authors and follow so many series, I don’t always pay too close attention to how long it takes between books; but even I had noticed that it had been a really long time since the last Cormoran Strike novel by Robert Galbraith, aka J. K. Rowling. When the book finally arrived, I realized that although the first three in the series had been published just one year apart (2013, 2014, 2015), book #4, Lethal White, took three long years to produce! Rowling says in her acknowledgements to the book that she wrote it during the same time period she was writing a play and two screenplays, so that is a partial explanation. The other, of course, is that the book is just shy of 650 pages long, which is almost exactly 200 pages longer than any of the other three.
Several people on Goodreads expressed their hope that this series wouldn’t follow the lead of the Harry Potter books, in which each book became longer than the previous one; and while I agree with that sentiment as regards that series, I can’t really fault her for going a bit longer here. While there were probably areas that could have been edited out or tightened up without damage to the book, the truth is that the elements of this story were so complex, involving at least three separate mystery story lines as well as requiring its characters to confront the extreme messiness of their personal lives, that I doubt she could have come in under 600 pages. Still, I will hope with the other readers that the next book doesn’t run to 800!
I was completely enthralled by everything about this book, and there were few passages I rushed through to get to the next good bit. The initial mystery, of the mentally ill homeless man who has fastened onto the fame of detective Cormoran Strike and touchingly believes that only he can ferret out the truth about something the man witnessed as a child, is just the kind of thing that Cormoran latches onto like a dog with a chew toy and won’t let go until he’s thoroughly decimated it. But then, to have not one but two more cases to solve, both of which go somewhat against the usual principles that Strike and his partner Robin Ellacott consult before taking on a client, boosts up the energy exponentially, particularly when they all seem to have certain elements tying them together.
Speaking of ties that bind, the book picks up right where book #3 (Career of Evil) left off, which was immediately after the wedding ceremony in which Robin (against most of her better judgement) tied the knot with the conventional and whiny Matthew Cunliffe. The description of what happens next in her relationship is satisfyingly detailed, and the reader spends most of the rest of the book wondering just when she’s going to wise up for good and ditch this guy. Of course, being in equal parts embarrassed that she went through with the wedding and guilty for not being truly committed to making it work, Robin keeps all of this to herself, and suffers both Matthew’s complaints and her own panic attacks (generated by her close call in the last book) to herself. Meanwhile, Cormoran has taken the fact of the marriage ceremony as a sign that Robin is permanently off limits to him, and although he has invited her back to work as his partner, he also labors to keep their private lives carefully separate, and seeks distraction with several other women to keep from thinking of Robin in “that way.” It gives a delicious simultaneous sensation of frustration and anticipation to have all of this happening as back story during the complex work the two are doing, and definitely amps up the reading experience.
All in all, I’m a bigger fan than ever after Lethal White, and hope that the next one (back to 455 pages but still just as riveting) arrives in a lot less than three more years!
One question I have never heard answered and would like to know is, why Robert Galbraith? The tradition of the pseudonym for famous authors who are trying their hand at another age group or genre is well established; but I have to say I am disappointed, given the history of women subsuming their gender for the sake of credibility, that the woman who has perhaps the best credibility of anyone as an author didn’t pick a woman’s identity as her nom de plume. I did see in an interview that Rowling commented that she was “channeling her inner bloke” when writing this series, so maybe it’s as simple as that. Still, there are so many successful male writers out there; we could have used another female one to represent.