Lethal White; Lethally Boring

Lethal White is the fourth Cormoran Strike mystery novel by Robert Galbraith, a pseudonym for a fairly well-known fantasy writer, J.K. Rowling. Rowling left behind the YA world of Harry Potter (you may have heard of him) and started writing mysteries, with a slightly non-conformist detective and his smart, beautiful and terminally insecure female partner Robin Ellacott.

I’ve read my way through the others and, mostly, liked them, although I do have to admit I’ve liked each one a little less. The mystery is always the weakest part of the book. Usually it’s a convoluted plot that is wildly implausible. Usually the topic surrounding the mystery is interesting. And up until now, the will-they/won’t-they Unresolved Sexual Tension dynamic between Corm and Robin was at least interesting.

Then there’s Lethal White.

I’m writing these words before I’ve finished the book because there is a good chance I won’t finish it. It’s long, 630+ pages, which too long for a mystery. It is mostly boring, with brief showers of behavior that is maddening and makes me lose respect for the characters even more, especially Robin, who I want to like and admire. This book makes that impossible.

Warning, spoilers:

At the end of the book before this one, A Career of Evil, Robin married her longtime fiance Matthew. She was conflicted and unsure but did it anyway, presumably because she felt pressured since her parents spent a lot of money on the wedding. Lethal White picks up at the wedding reception itself. Matthew is a jerk; staying with him weakens Robin, and marrying him even more so. To try to keep the flagging tension going, Galbraith invents a series of tiny emergencies that make Robin feel like she has to stay; for instance, on their honeymoon, just as she’s decided to tell him she wants an annulment, Matthew falls sick from a coral scratch, and begs her not to leave him (he’s delirious). These events that make Robin feel sorry for him give the book the dated flavor of a 1940s melodrama. Like it or not, the reality of marriage in the 21st century is that a marriage isn’t hard to get out of. Robin, get a divorce and put together a payment plan to reimburse your folks for at least part of the wedding costs, okay?

I’m sure she is going to leave him because this book is dropping heavy hints about what might be going on between Matthew and a female co-worker, but I probably won’t hang around to find out.

And then there’s the mystery… well, maybe there is. There’s a story from the past, ten years previously, told to Strike by an unreliable person; there’s a dirty-tricks job in the House of Commons which conveniently involves the same family as the ten-year-old story, and in a 630+ page mystery a corpse appears right around page 250. There is a decadent aristocratic family with horses and cutesy nicknames, and we are beaten about the head and shoulders with those names; Izzy, Fizzy, Torks, Pog… Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. I get that we’re making fun of the aristos and indirectly the class system… it’s just overdone.

It’s overdone, and I’m probably done. I’m nearly to page 300, and see no compelling reason to continue.

I hope Rowling– oh, sorry, Galbriath — just had a bad patch, and that Lethal White is an anomaly, not an indication of where this series is going. As it stands, I’m counting myself out. Unlike Robin, I do know when to leave.

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