“Death and hatchet had reduced the unknown female to a lump of meat, to a problem to be solved and she, Robin, felt as though she was the only person to remember that a living, breathing human being had been using that leg, perhaps as recently as a week ago.”
After two successful, high-profile cases solved with the help of his assistant Robin, business at Cormoran Strike’s private detective agency has never been better. But when a dismembered leg arrives in the mail, addressed to Robin, suddenly no one wants to employ a detective with such violent enemies, and their cases begin to evaporate. Worse for Robin, that fact that the leg was addressed to her has led Strike to believe that this killer with a personal grudge is trying to use Robin to get to him, and he responds by trying to sideline her from the case over her protests. Strike can think of at least four people who might have done the deed, but can he figure out who it is and track them down before they get to Robin?
Inevitably in almost any detective series, eventually the author will try to raise the stakes with a case that comes after the detective in a personal way, threatening themselves or their loved ones, and clouding their judgements. Such is the case for Career of Evil, the third volume in the Cormoran Strike series. If, like me, you are not particularly fond of this trope, then this may not be your favourite case.
Meanwhile, Matthew’s worse fears about the dangers of Robin working at a detective agency are coming true, making him even more insufferable than usual. Rowling reveals him to be more of a cad than in previous volumes, but I couldn’t find it in me to dislike him more than before. He is the character we are supposed to love to hate, but I value him primarily as a barrier to the tiresome hints about Robin and Strike possibly getting together. He is less a character than a conflict, but if you don’t ship Robin and Strike, then he is a useful impediment.
Rowling also finally delves further into Robin’s back story, revealing the events that led her to drop out of university, and give up her dreams of pursuing criminal psychology. Unfortunately, the back story is the most tired and least imaginative option of the many I considered as I puzzled over Robin’s secret past while I read the first two volumes. Robin has been fighting to be regarded as an equal in the business, but between this disappointing revelation about her past, and being targeted by a serial killer, she is facing a serious setback.
The mystery itself is quite twisty and intriguing, as Robin and Strike divide their inquiries amongst three serious suspects. One is Strike’s step-father, revealing more about his family life and his mother’s death, while the others come from his military past, making it a little difficult not to confuse the two. But given that the trappings are some of my least favourite aspects of the mystery genre, the twists and turns of the case couldn’t entirely make up for the deficits. As a matter of personal taste, this wasn’t my favourite installment of the series thus far, but your mileage may vary.
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