Career of Evil is the third Cormoran Strike novel by Robert Galbraith. That’s the pen-name J.K. Rowling uses for her murder mystery series. Career of Evil is a dark book, darker even than the second novel, The Silkworm. Galbraith takes a deliberate detour through the world of apotemnophiliacs and Body Identy Integrity Disorder, and it is odd indeed.
I’m including a link to the first article I found on this desire people have to be amputees; you can certainly find more.* (This article is nearly 16 years old.) Galbraith did a lot of research on this topic, and it’s an important one for the series, because Strike lost half his leg in an IED incident in Afghanistan. His status has been a recurring point in the books and to be confronted with people who want to have healthy limbs removed (and who have started an online rumor that he is one of them) is emotionally difficult for him.
With each book in this series, Galbraith has tried out a different type of mystery. The Cuckoo’s Calling was a locked-room mystery. In The Silkworm, the readers learned about 17th century vengeance plays. (Of the three, The Silkworm worked the best for me, because the vengeance play template inoculated me against any creeping sense of disbelief.) Career of Evil ventures into the realms of both Agatha Christie and P.D. James; we get a very Jamesian sense of the dark spots on people’s souls, but the book is filled with small puzzles, names that sound like other names, mirror images, lashings of red herrings dragged across the trail, even a set of twins; all evoking Christie’s classic puzzles. The mystery in this one was good but not great. It didn’t matter too much, though, because essentially this is a relationship book.
The book starts with information that this murderer knows and hates Strike, and (this is not a spoiler) he has targeted Robin. Robin, who is maturing into an excellent investigator, is a bit distracted, because her wedding in only two months away. Early in the book she and her fiancé Matthew have a wounding argument and she discovers something about him she would rather not have known. In addition to everything else, she struggles to decide (again) whether to go forward with the wedding. As the clock ticks down, this becomes a suspenseful part of the story.
Robin’s relationship isn’t the only one that gets examined here. Strike’s mother, long dead, is brought up by the killer, and Strike immediately suspects his hated stepfather, who he believes, but can’t prove, murdered his mother. Robin and Strike still have to figure out what they mean to each other; Robin’s mother plays a larger role in this book, and is a counter point to Strike’s “super-groupie” mother Leda. And the mystery itself is entwined around the nature of intimate relationships.
The book is a little longer than it needs to be, in part because of Robin’s soul-searching, but I also thought the sections from the murderer’s POV were too long, and a bit self-indulgent. I didn’t want to stop reading, though. And the book ends on a dramatic relationship cliffhanger.
If you liked The Cuckoo’s Calling, you will like this book. If torture, mutilation and sexual assault trigger you or upset you, don’t start this series and particularly, don’t read this book. I don’t think Career of Evil stands alone, either, so if you think it’s for you, at least read The Cuckoo’s Calling first, so you understand where the characters are coming from.
*Here’s a more recent article on BIID.