Lethal White (2018) is the fourth Cormoran Strike mystery novel by Robert Galbraith a/k/a J.K. Rowling. I was well into the series and curious about the characters, so I knew I would have to get Lethal White. However, part of me didn’t want to read this book. I was disturbed by Rowling’s recent transgender comments, and I was partly annoyed that the book was so long (656 pages) when I have so much other stuff to do.
The main characters are what keep me coming back. They are wounded survivors who make mistakes, both professionally and personally. Their relationship has been a slow, realistic build-up of two people who, surprisingly, have a lot in common. Cormoran Strike was in the military until he lost his leg through an IED. He set up a private investigation business that sometimes squeaks by, but continues to grow in esteem as he solves one high profile case after another. Robin Ellacott started working at Strike’s firm as an assistant through a temp agency. She went on to work directly for Strike, and then became his partner. She loves the work, but her fiancé, recently turned husband, Matthew, hates the danger and time that come with Robin’s work.
These Galbraith mysteries have always been interesting and entertaining to read in the moment, but I remember almost nothing about the details of the murder mystery once some time has passed. I had to look back at a narrative of the third book to figure out where we’d left off with Strike and Robin, and I remembered literally nothing about the mystery. It probably wont’ be much different with Lethal White. The mystery and characters were well-written and engrossing, but I am not going to remember this very complex plot in the long run.
A severely mentally-ill man named Billy shows up at Strike’s office, rambling about a “child who was strangled up by the horse.” Strike cannot simply dismiss him and does a little digging. He finds Billy’s brother, Jimmy, who is involved in radical left-wing politics. This leads to an unexpected offer of work from Jasper Chiswell, a conservative Member of Parliament, who has dealt with a number of scandals in his family. He is being blackmailed by Jimmy Knight as well as Geraint Winn, the husband of the Minister for Sport. Strike, Robin, and some new hires begin investigating the blackmail.
Robin goes “undercover” as Chiswell’s goddaughter to work in his office and gain access to Geraint Winn’s office, which is next door. She would like to plant a listening device in order to hear details about the blackmail plot. What bothered me most about this section of the book was that Robin had apparently been in the press a lot because of their last case. In order to conceal her identity, she wears colored contacts and some fake glasses. How she thought this would conceal her identity is beyond me.
As Strike digs more deeply into the case, he discovers that Billy and Jimmy Knight grew up on the Chiswell family property. Their father, who happened to be horribly abusive, worked for the family. The Chiswell family is composed of a number of interesting/annoying characters. Izzy is the responsible daughter who runs her father’s office. She used to be friends with Charlotte, Strike’s seriously toxic ex-girlfriend. Her younger half-brother, Raphael, is very charismatic, but he recently got out of jail after driving while high and killing a young mother. Chiswell’s second wife, Kinvara, is dismissed by the family as a mentally unstable gold digger, but her life in that family seems pretty miserable.
As they dig into the case, a character dies under suspicious circumstances and their investigation shifts. At the same time, the odd story of the strangled child hangs over everything. Rowling does a good job with her characters as well as issues of class and relationships. Her characters feel real and dark, and they are constantly doing things you wish they wouldn’t. However, they’re still understandable and sympathetic.
I went from rather reluctantly picking up this book to some compulsive reading. It’s very likely that I will forget all the details in a couple of months, but I’m still glad I read it. I saw somewhere that there are possibly five more mysteries planned, and I will most likely end up reading all of them.
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