It has been a few years since J K Rowling’s last book was published, and so earlier this year when we first read the media release that the next Cormoran Strike story by Robert Galbraith aka J K Rowling is going to be called The Lethal White and due to release in October, we added it to the ‘books to read’ list with happy anticipation.
|Book Title||:||Lethal White (Cormoran Strike 4)|
|Publisher||:||Sphere; (19 September 2018)|
|# of Pages||:||
1480 KB 656 (Kindle EBook)
|# of Chapters||:||69|
The name made me think that it would carry on the strands of Strike’s past and present life through to current strife and vortex that the immigrants of various races and nationalities are facing in the modern-day Europe. A few centuries ago, Europeans went out to claim the world and then in a wave of what is sometimes called “reverse colonisation” the natives of European colonies have come to call Europe home for the past few generations. This topic, however, will have to wait for a future post as the J K Rowling novel is entirely something else. But then, I didn’t grow up with horses :-).
We have discussed all J K Rowling works post ‘Harry Potter series’ on this blog, and how she has impressed us with her storytelling skill with each one of them, whether it is ‘The Casual Vacancy‘, or the three Cormoran Strike novels by Robert Galbraith: ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling‘, ‘The Silkworm‘ and ‘The Career of Evil‘.
Because the world came to know her mainly from the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter series, it is easy to forget what she had lived through before. The council flats, the poverty, the rejection of her work by multiple publishers – it all just adds a nice touch to the rags to riches story, and majority of the reading world didn’t quite make the transition from the magical world of Harry Potter to the harsh realities of 21st century Britain when she painted an excellent picture of it in the Casual Vacancy. No wonder she decided to adopt a pen name to gain the freedom she needed to create Cormoran and Robin and a fledgling detective agency that could have shut down just as it was starting.
But both Cormoran and Robin are survivors, of more than one calamities, and however unlikely they seem to appear on first impressions, the duo bonded and solved the mystery of Lula Landry’s murder followed by some spectacularly macabre cases including that of Owen Quine and then the Shacklewell Ripper.
As you can see, this cover is different from the past three books in terms of the lightness of shades and vibrancy of colours. But more importantly, instead of one man (presumably Strike) walking in the area lit by a single lamppost, we have now two detectives (Robin and Strike) walking through what appears to be London fog.
When we left them at the end of Career of Evil, Strike and Robin had almost fallen apart and she was marrying Matthew, mainly out of desperation and rejection, if not entirely so. And that’s where we meet them again as The Lethal White starts.
We are back at Robin’s wedding ceremony and it has barely finished before a major rift occurs between Matthew and Robin. All Strike offers her at this crucial moment is her job back. The attraction between them remains unacknowledged on both sides. Is the marriage finished before it has even started?
Well, one year later – it appears not. Matthew and Robin are still together, moving to a bigger house. Instead, Robin and Strike have become estranged partners – speaking only when the work requires it. Robin is taking therapy for dealing with the panic attacks she has had since the Shacklewell Ripper nearly murdered her a year ago, but has not shared this with Strike. She is afraid of losing fieldwork part of her job, which is the only thing keeping her sane.
While life has been far from mundane thanks to the publicity they got during and after their last high profile case – it is still mostly routine cases of divorces, business frauds and so on.
Until Billy comes into their life.
Under severe mental stress and with a stench of poor hygiene, this vulnerable young man walks into Strike’s office claiming he witnessed a child being strangled. Before Strike can get him to talk sensibly, he flies. But Strike has gained enough to start a surveillance around Billy’s brother Jimmy Knight. Meanwhile, as the most curious co-incidences go, Strike is contacted by Minister of Culture Jasper Chiswell, about a blackmail he is facing from none other than Jim Knight, in league with Geraint Winn. Geraint Winn is married to the Minister of Sports Della Winn, who has suffered from blindness since birth.
And so the mysteries start, separately, but intertwined. Robin goes undercover in the Parliament offices to keep tabs on Geraint. She learns a few very important facts and also meets Jasper’s children – Isabella (Izzy) and Raphael. Strike’s latest recruit Barclay infiltrates Jim Knight’s political party and becomes his right-hand man. Strike fills in the gaps in the surveillance when either Robin or Barclay are unavailable.
Things start to unravel soon – with threads spinning in different directions – more chaos than order. Billy disappears. Jasper’s blackmailers are getting bolder while he is losing ground at both work and home. And one morning, he is found dead in his home. Suicide or Murder?
It is now Izzy who hires Strike to find out who killed her father, although her money is on his second and latest wife Kinvara whom the entire family believes to be a gold-digger. Kinvara is also insanely fond of horses. As Strike and Robin negotiate the minefield that a convoluted, extended, aristocratic family can be with its legacies and traditions, the clues still appear more confusing than revealing.
On the personal front, Strike has suffered a couple of blows and Robin’s marriage is in jeopardy as she finds Matthew is lying and cheating on her.
Strike and Robin finally have a frank conversation about the current state of their personal lives and restore their candid partnership, and find a key witness. A crazy pattern starts to form in Strike’s mind as he puts together the bits and pieces about the relationships in Chiswell family, their past secrets, the time that the Knights lived in Steda cottage on the Chiswell property, the sequence of events of last few weeks and the little mistakes and unanswered questions from the crime scene.
And the last and final missing pieces falls in place as Robin shares with him some facts about horses. You see, Strike didn’t grow up with horses, but Robin had a pony.
Is there one killer or two? Did Billy actually witness a child being strangled and buried in a pink blanket or was he hallucinating? Who killed Jasper Chiswell and why?
Although J K Rowling worked on it while also working on the scripts for ‘Fantastic Beast’ movies and a few other things, the complexity of this plot is just as high as the previous novels. She weaves the web with expertise that expands and stretches to involve characters like Jimmy and Bill Knight, Jim’s girlfriend Flick, Jasper and his family including two wives -Lady Patricia and Kinvara, and four children including Freddie – a dead soldier, daughters Fizzy and Izzy (lovely British nicknames for Sophia and Isabella) that don’t count much in his eyes and the “no good” Raphael, Della and Geraint Winn and their daughter Rhiannon who committed suicide years ago, a troubled young secretary called Aamir and countless others including the nice addition to the detective team of Sam Barclay.
As we have said before, J K Rowling hits the nail on head every time as she paints the picture of all these people, their lives, their pros and cons, their loves and loyalties, friendships and grudges and the isolation of the privileged from the poor. The remarkable observation capacity she has to note the little injustices of this world, she channels it all through her characters and her stories. Set with the background of London Olympics 2012, this book also takes us through the lives of Londoners who were moved aside to make way for the Olympic fever and their reactions to being on the world stage.
“This so-called celebration of the Olympic spirit, of fair play and amateurism is normalising repression and authoritarianism! Wake up: London’s being militarised! The British state, which has honed the tactics of colonisation and invasion for centuries, has seized on the Olympics as the perfect excuse to deploy police, army, helicopters, and guns against ordinary citizens! One thousand extra CCTV cameras – extra laws hurried through – and you think they’ll be repealed when this carnival of capitalism moves on?”
But her love of classics is also here. It reminds me of reading on Pottermore how she picked the names of Harry Potter characters from the classic literature, myths, and tales. The way the characters in ‘The Lethal White’ quote from old Greek and Latin classics, refer to Lachesis, or poems of Catullus for instance, the recurring themes that have not changed since the human tragedies started to play out in this world, it all lifts the book from being merely a ’whodunit’.
“I hate and I love. Why do I do I, you might ask? I don’t know. I just feel it, and it crucifies me…”
Although we liked all the books in the series, I must say ‘The Lethal White’ is also more like The Cuckoo’s Calling then the rest of the series. The Silkworm and Career of Evil took the macabre and the bleak and turned it up by a few notches. The Lethal White has its moments, but it is still an enjoyable thriller with the drama caused by characters that commit a crime but without being evil personified.
And although it will be seen as coming from the first encounter in hindsight, the real-life love and attachments are hardly all straightforward like the happily ever after romances. Two complicated characters like Strike’s and Robin’s cannot be seen coming together without their lives being turned upside down. This book allows them both to be human, have moments of weakness, make mistakes and pay for them – but this time not all their mistakes are about the case and involve an insane murderer.
Theirs are normal, routine mistakes we all make while choosing partners, failing to love in return just because we are expected to, having the courage or cowardice to walk away from something of long standing – and not necessarily because something better is on the horizon, but because it must be done. As much as we enjoyed the hunt for the killer, Robin and Strike in this book appealed to the part of us which always appreciates a journey of self-discovery.
As usual, trying to keep the spoilers at bay, here are a few quotes we would like to share:
The absolutely wonderful opening:
“Such is the universal desire for fame that those who achieve it accidentally or unwillingly will wait in vain for pity.”
And a few memorable one liners:
“One cannot be held accountable for unforeseen consequences.”
“Sometimes, the kindness of a stranger is transformative, something to cling to while those closest to you dragged you under in their efforts to help.”
“Life had taught him that a great and powerful love could be felt for the most apparently unworthy people, a circumstance that ought, after all, to give everybody consolation.”
The British clubs have been made a part of their cultural legacy through the literature of Victorian and Georgian era. Surprisingly enough they still survive:
‘Pratt’s was dimly lit. Brass picture lights dotted walls papered in dark red, which was largely obscured by stuffed fish in glass cased, hunting prints and political cartoons. In a blue and white tiled niche along one side of the room sat an ancient iron stove. The china plates, the threadbare carpet, the table bearing its homely load of ketchup and mustard all contributed to an ambiance of cosy informality, as though a bunch of aristocratic boys had dragged all the things they liked about the grown-up world – its games, its drink and its trophies – down into the basement where Nanny would dole out smiles, comfort and praise.”
The Internet is a double edged sword and people are regularly warned on routine bases to follow rules of cyber security on social media and following paras emphasise the same:
“If you knew where to search and had time and expertise, the outline of many existences could be unearthed in cyberspace: ghostly exoskeletons, sometimes partial, sometimes unnervingly complete, of the lives led by their flesh and blood counterparts….Often the most innocent social media sites held untold wealth, a minor amount of cross-referencing was all that was necessary to compile detailed private histories that their careless owners had never meant to share with the world.”
The working life of women has never really been idyllic. The long-standing traditions still linger at the back of the minds of men and women and direct their behaviour when it comes to changing roles in the changing world. This book has many places where the author highlights the injustices that take place without being noticed by the world:
“She had met plenty of them in offices, the type who watched you in a way that made you feel clumsy and self-conscious, who would place a hand in the small of the back as they sidled behind you or ushered you through doors, who peered over your shoulder on the excuse of reading your monitor and made chancy little comments on your clothes that progressed to comments on your figure during after-work drinks. They cried ‘joke!’ if you got angry, and became aggressive in the face of complaints”
And also that no matter how much the world changes, the fates of men and women are always blurred together with either love or hatred:
“Because men’s crimes are always ours in the final analysis, aren’t they? Ultimate responsibility always lies with the woman, who should have stopped it, who should have acted, who must have known. Your failings are really our failings, aren’t they? Because the proper role of the woman is carer, and there’s nothing lower in this whole world than a bad mother.”
“Why women thought there was any difference between them: the mother whom he called a whore, the stepmother he had seduced, Robin, whom he was about to kill so that he didn’t have to enter hell alone. Was he ill in any sense that would put him in a psychiatric institution rather than the prison that so terrified him? Or had his dream of patricide been spawned in the shadowy wasteland between sickness and irreducible malevolence?”
Life is no bed of roses for everyone all the time, but the way people react to their troubles is what determines the course of their lives:
“Both women had been touched by violence and sadism. One had reacted by burying herself where she hoped it would never reach her again; another was facing it almost daily, investigating and resolving other crimes and traumas, driven to do so by the same impulse to actively disentangle complications and disinter truths that Strike recognised in himself.”
J K Rowling has always given a prominent place to how our society treats young children and it is distilled in a few quote like the one below:
“His face betrayed the fear and hopelessness of a small, motherless child whose sanity had been broken by the men who were supposed to protect him. Strike, who had met countless rootless and neglected children during his rackety, unstable childhood, recognised in billy’s imploring expression a last plea to the adult world, to do what grown-ups were meant to do, and impose order on chaos, substitute sanity for brutality.”
A very nice, enjoyable and logical step forward in the Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott adventures…
We can recommend to anyone who enjoys a good, complex, suspense thriller.
8.5 out of 10.
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