The highlight of my year has occurred: Robert Galbraith’s third book, Career of Evil, was released yesterday. For those of you not in the know, “Robert Galbraith” is J.K Rowling’s pseudonym for her crime fiction novels. A couple of years ago I was spending a Saturday afternoon leisurely enjoying reading interviews with JKR. She was asked if she’d ever publish under a pseudonym and her response was something like, “Oh, it would be fun, but I’m sure the secret would get out in about five minutes, so probably not.” Could you imagine my excitement, then, when I arrived at work (a bookshop) the following day to the news that The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, released about six months prior, was actually penned by the literary queen herself? I screamed. I nearly fainted. I checked the stock level at the supplier as we did not have a copy on the shelves. They had one copy, a hardcover, which was rather pricey, and I needed it. Of course once the announcement was made, plenty more copies were printed and made available, and I didn’t have to rely on the slim chance that this one copy might find its way to me no matter how deserving of it I felt.
Now while I have reasonably diverse taste in books, crime is not one of my preferred genres. I love true crime but seldom get stuck into the made up stuff: I don’t pick up any of the clues, forget which character is which, and when the big reveal is made, struggle to understand the chain of events that lead to the conclusion. However, I was prepared to enjoy this one thanks to my unswerving bias towards anything that HRH JKR puts her pen to, if not her name. And what do you know, I loved it. The Cuckoo’s Calling is the story of Cormoran Strike, a private detective, and his recently acquired assistant, Robin Ellacott, working to uncover who killed Lula Landry. Landry is a supermodel who died after falling, jumping or was pushed off a balcony, and the death is ruled a suicide. Her brother seeks their services because he disagrees. There are several suspects, each with their own motives, who could be guilty and it’s anyone’s guess whodunnit. I thought I had a fair idea about the identity of the killer. I was completely wrong.
One of my favourite facets of JKR’s writing style is how she goes about planting innocuous seeds early on that bloom in importance further down the track: for example, Sirius Black is mentioned in the very first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, then not again until Prisoner of Azkaban and the pieces start to fall into place. And that whole thing with the Elder Wand throughout Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows… Genius! This talent translates perfectly into crime. Clues are laid early on, and as the story progresses everyone becomes a suspect. Most of these are, of course, red herrings, and I found myself completely sucked in to thinking the killer was one character or another. I was shocked by the reveal but of course the clues were there all along.
About a year later, book two was released. The Silkworm picks up where the first left off, and Cormoran and Robin find themselves with no shortage of clients to appease and mysteries to solve after their success with the high profile Landry case – particularly as they completely trumped the police, who were left looking a bit silly in their inability to solve the crime in the first place. The characters are allowed to develop, and we learn a bit more about Robin’s fiance Matthew, who doesn’t like Robin’s line of work. He thinks she is overworked, underpaid, and that her boss shows her an interest other than professional. I have my own opinions on him which will be disclosed if you continue reading. (Hint: I don’t like him.) Book two’s plot follows the design of the first, and I wonder how long it will be before it starts to seem formulaic. The answer is, “not yet.”
Which brings me to book three, Career of Evil. I finished a book on Sunday and had the difficult task of choosing what to read on Monday and part of Tuesday before CoE hit the shelves. It had to be something I wouldn’t mind putting down while I read CoE, and could come back to in a potentially distraught state that my new book was over. I decided on The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I’ve read it before. It’s at the top of my favourites list alongside Winnie the Pooh, and is so vastly different from a murder mystery that I was unlikely to confuse the two. I own two copies of this book so I can lend one out and maintain sanity if it takes a long time to come back to me, if (perish the thought) at all. Unfortunately they are both in a storage unit, along with hundreds of other titles, but my local library had two copies. We’re on the same wavelength, the library and I. I had my friend good friend Elle, who still works at the bookshop I used to, promise to inform me as soon as CoE came in yesterday, and took ULoB out for a walk. Naturally my anticipation was so high that I couldn’t sit still. I had been walking and reading for nearly an hour and a half, was getting tired and heading home, when a perfectly timed text came through from Elle. I ran to the bookshop and we were in business.
The third instalment begins when Robin signs for a package that encloses a woman’s severed right leg. Not only is this creepy and just a bit icky, it is worth noting that Cormoran Strike is missing his right leg, amputated below the knee just like the one Robin receives. Before you ask, no she didn’t order it as a present for him.
I began reading Career of Evil at exactly 2pm on Tuesday 20 October and had the idea to document my thoughts on it while reading. Honestly it was a bit annoying to do, but if and when I give the book another read, I won’t have allowed myself to forget my reactions on the maiden read. One of the great tragedies of my existence is not being able to read good books again for the first time. So here it is.
WARNING!! THERE MAY BE SPOILERS!!
I do not give away who the killer is but do reveal other plot points. Read on at your own risk.
Tuesday 20 October 2015
2:00pm – Here we go!
2:09 – The severed leg is a thinly veiled reference to Cormoran!
2:11 – Uh-oh. 11 minutes in and I’ve spilt beetroot on the book.
2:17 – I understand, Cormoran. No one ever gets my name right either. (NB: Attenborough is not my real surname. Like all great writers, of which I am surely one, I use a pseudonym. But my first name really is Erin.)
2:18 – Hmm that beetroot stain kind of looks like blood. What a fitting food to have eaten messily over a crime novel.
2:31 – “…referred to her (Robin) as Strike’s secretary.” Is that a clue?
2:45 – What on earth is a Waitrose? Probably should google it.
2:51 – I think it’s an off-licence supermarket.
2:52 – Yep. Google confirmed. Can read on with impunity.
3:00 – Robin’s drinking hot chocolate. I might have a cup of coffee. And look, I’ve been reading for exactly an hour!
3:06 – I wish my glasses wouldn’t fog up when I drink a hot beverage.
3:43 – Hehe, Cormoran missed his train stop because he was busy thinking. Sounds like someone I know who is usually too busy reading.
3:54 – Nearly another hour. All this talk of severed limbs is making me thirsty. Good time for a cuppa tea.
3:58 – Is that grammatical error intentional?
4:09 – Oh Cormie, you make me feel normal. I’m ten years younger than you and I hate loud noise and crowded places too. What are you doing later? I don’t want to massage your stump, I promise.
4:11 – Masham… Isn’t that where Rosemary Shrager works?
4:14 – When did those coffee stains get there? Book must’ve been printed that way.
4:16 – Why are there buckets of Indian food at Robin’s florist? Oh, mimosa is different to samosa.
4:20 – Elin Toft… That’s rather like my name, if my surname was Toft.
4:25 – Beyonce used to be in Destiny’s Child? You learn something new everyday. Also, autocorrect knows to put the accent above the E. It is officially more clued in to pop culture than I am.
4:39 – Why do I have to pee? Oh right, those caffeinated drinks. Suppose I could bring the book with me just this once.
4:41 – Couldn’t do it. Ignored book for an entire minute. Needed use of hands.
4:43 – Although I did just manage to fold up a chair, and open, close and lock the two doors to the balcony with a book in one hand.
4:46 – Mary next door is watching the news. I wonder if she can hear me reading.
5:03 – Look at the time. Why do I have to go out? I wonder if I can do the washing up and get changed while reading. Probably not. Think I left my mug out on the balcony.
5:05 – I did.
5:24 – Okay book: if I have to go out, you’re coming with me. Don’t worry about those storm clouds; I brought an umbrella for you.
5:33 – I forgot how hard it is to walk and read with an umbrella. At least we’re on the train now. My, what a short walk to the station!
5:40 – No wonder Cormoran’s out of shape. All that beer and fish & chips.
5:44 – “…her fair-lashed eyes pink like a piglet’s.” Do piglets have pink eyes? Do people?
5:48 – Alight train at correct stop. Cormoran Strike: 0, Erin Attenborough: 1.
5:49 – Ugh, people. Peak hour. Can’t you see some of us are trying to read? Honestly, watch where you’re going.
5:51 – Venison pies? Seriously, Strike. You JUST ate!
5:52 – Nooo! Thunder AND rain. I wonder if this will wash out the beetroot and coffee stains.
5:57 – Turns out I do remember how hard it is to read and walk under an umbrella. Especially when you start sneezing and trying to document the experience. Also, someone needs to invent windscreen wipers for glasses.
6:00 – I give up. I’m nearly late as it is.
—break for things that are less important than reading—
10:18pm – Oh Robbie G, why did I leave you? Safe on the couch once more. Anyone could’ve been tailing me while I was reading you in transit. This is the only reason I’m not a private detective.
10:21 – Oh Robin, you poor girl. At least you can now enjoy the single life. But please don’t go walking around alone at night within days of receiving a severed leg in the mail. Sincerely, your mother.
10:27: Strike: 1. Hey, a pun! Why didn’t I think of that sooner?
10:31 – Matthew you scoundrel. Never trust an accountant.
10:32 – I hope my dad (an accountant) doesn’t read this. Or my mum. She probably will. Frau, don’t tell Tub what I said.
10:33 – With Sarah Shadlock! More like Sarah BADlock. I knew I didn’t like her.
10:38 – Oh Robin. Come sit by me. You can share my blanket and I’ll make you tea. Strong tea like you had at the bridal shop.
10:40 – Vitiligo, huh? I didn’t have to look that one up. I have it too.
10:54 – Robin’s a complicated middle child with two brothers too!
10:55 – Correction: she has three. Guess we’re not the same person after all.
10:57 – I don’t know what a needlepoint stool is (hehe… stool…) but it sounds uncomfortable.
11:04 – I really hope that spelling mistake solves this crime. Maybe I could be a private detective after all.
11:09 – The victim doesn’t have a One Direction tattoo, surely.
11:17 – More fish & chips. For real?
11:22 – I could almost be Cormoran, you know. I nearly had my leg amputated. I’d have to eat more fish & chips though. And actually have my leg amputated.
11:31 – Just remembered I prepared a treat for a late night of reading. Frozen yoghurt with blueberries, oh yeah.
11:39 – “He’s got a cauliflower ear.” I really want that to be literal.
11:45 – Ate something without spilling it on my book. I am an adult!
11:47 – Every time I read they’re going to Barrow-in-Furness I picture a wheelbarrow on fire.
11:51 – Searching for Cauliflower Ear in Wheelbarrow-on-Fire. Shouldn’t be too hard.
12:08am – “Yew.” Is that a reference to Voldemort’s wand? Oh wait, this is Robert Galbraith, not J. K. Rowling.
12:27 – One more chapter, then bed.
12:28 – Guess what they’re eating. Hint: it’s always fish & chips.
12:38 – Matthew and Kimberley. Like the proper names of the band. Good old Matt and Kim.
12:41 – Just one more chapter.
12:42 – “Why had she had waved?” Why the extra “had”? Honestly, doesn’t this publisher employ proofreaders?
1:03 – Actual last chapter now.
1:32 – I lied. I read two.
Wednesday 22 October 2015
10:12am – I’ve got a couple of hours before I need to be anywhere. Go!
10:14 – Correction to earlier thought: I am nine years younger than Cormoran, not 10.
10:25 – The royal wedding. I watched about five minutes of that. Got bored after it seemed unlikely Kate would fall over.
10:59 – You’ve thrown away the flowers, received another body part, and still haven’t opened the note. Is nobody else as curious as I?
11:09 – Another One Direction reference. I was totally right about the tattoo.
11:10 – What a competent detective I’d make.
11:26 – I wonder if anyone stalking me might think of me as The Librarian. It would be strange to refer to me as The Secretary.
11:33 – Just chips this time. No fish.
11:39 – I wonder if Two-Times has anything to do with this.
11:41 – Nah, can’t be. Two-Times has money.
11:48 – Uh-oh. Don’t do anything rash, Robin.
11:58 – And they know what Two-Times looks like. Duh.
12:06pm – Damnit, things are getting very interesting and I have to go! I’ll be back. With a vengeance.
—another unwelcome break—
2:15pm – We’re back on.
2:19 – So are Robin and Matthew. I confess myself disappointed.
3:31 – They’re “taking a fortifying drink of tea.” Think I will too. I need some fortifying if I’m to solve this case.
3:38 – Someone’s “twerking”! I know what that means! Impressed that JKR does too.
3:44 – I wonder if JKR visited strip clubs herself for this kind of field research. Sorry, I mean RG. Himself.
3:55 – Was that run-in intentional? There’s a pun in there.
3:57 – People are sending you body parts. You should be bloody paranoid!
3:59 – Ha! What did I tell you? And her modus operandi is just the same as mine: fall over embarrassingly, find clue.
4:01 – It can’t be him though. Hmmm.
4:02 – Or can it? Maybe he’s faking it. Wouldn’t be the first one in this story.
4:03 – I knew it! The run-in WAS intentional!
4:09 – Prostitution in London sounds nothing like Secret Diary of a Call Girl. This sounds much more like Jack the Ripper territory. Note to self: do not take up a career in prostitution.
4:12 – “…a twenty-first-century Jack the Ripper was stalking the streets of London.” God I’m good.
4:17 – Strike’s hungry. I wonder what he’ll eat.
4:30 – Nothing. Mary next door is listening to classical music.
4:36 – Remind me never to get married. It sounds like an awful lot of trouble.
4:50 – Did Stephanie at any point tell Robin her name? Could’ve been a giveaway.
4:53 – Oh no!!
4:56 – Oh phew. You scared me good and proper there.
5:02 – I wonder if it’s Mad Dad. No wait, they’d recognise him too.
5:05 – Okay, Corm’s on it. Must go shower and get ready. Forgot to shower yesterday. Oops.
—break to shower and get ready for a somewhat important engagement—
6:12pm – On train, have book.
6:22 – Oh dear, Robin’s hatching a new plan. My bet is it will be reckless, physically dangerous, and Corm will hate it and between their plans they’ll get the guy.
6:32 – Straight outta hospital and in a fist fight. You’ve got balls, Ellacott.
6:35 – Off the train and into crowds. Yuck.
6:39 – Just tried to go up the down escalator. More important things to focus on.
6:44 – Alright better go. Was onto something with that last prediction.
—break for a somewhat important engagement—
8:51pm – On train.
8:55 – Strike’s figured it out. Tell me!!
9:01 – Damn that short train trip!
9:15 – Walking home in the dark. I have an umbrella and bag of groceries if anyone attacks. I know Cormoran has figured out who the killer is but he’s out to dinner with his girlfriend so it may be up to me and my groceries to bring him down.
9:25 – Back home, yoghurt and blueberries are in freezer for when I remember I didn’t have any dinner. Not even gonna change into something more comfortable.
9:35 – He’s eating a ham & cheese panini. I guess most cafes don’t serve fish & chips first thing in the morning.
9:37 – Of course he ate two.
9:43 – What’s a “Girl Friday”? No time to google it now.
9:44 – Swinton Park… Isn’t that exactly where Rosemary Shrager works? Will she be at the wedding? Will Cormoran? Please tell me they go home together!!
9:52 – It’s HIM!!
9:56 – Get out, get out, get out!!
10:05 – This is not good for my anxiety levels!!
10:12 – Yes, he’s got him! Cormie’s okay! Hooray for Cormie!
10:13 – For how long was I holding my breath?
10:14 – Redcap… Is that another Harry Potter reference?
10:19 – Flowers? That was the winning lead? The leader, if you will. And here I was thinking a mimosa was some kind of curry puff.
10:25 – Classy, Corm.
10:25 – Robin rocks.
There you have it. Please read Career of Evil soon so I have someone with whom to discuss it; I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Mostly if you correctly identified the killer. I decided it could be one of two people, and I was right. Well, half right. Even if I was all right, however, I doubt I would have been disappointed: Strike correctly evaluated clues I hadn’t even noticed. There were just enough twists to shock without confusing me; plenty of action that wasn’t corny; writing from the perspective of the killer that was creepily believable. Do not be fooled into thinking that because this was written by the brain behind Harry Potter, it will be childish or fantastical – I guess that’s why she takes a pseudonym. Joanne Kathleen Rowling, Robert Gailbraith, whatever you want to call her: she is one talented writer.