Lethal White, otherwise known as Lethal Wait, amiright?
Since October 2015, I’ve been slowly turning to dust waiting for the fourth instalment of Robert Galbraith’s crime fiction series about Cornish detective, Cormoran Strike. The third book, Career of Evil, ended with Strike capturing the “Shacklewell Ripper”, crashing Robin’s wedding and receiving a death stare from her now-husband, Matthew.
Lethal White begins by tying off the loose ends following Robin’s “I do”. For those readers lamenting Robin’s decision to proceed with her marriage to the obviously unsuitable Matthew, and who have been wondering what she will do when she learns Matthew blocked Strike’s calls on her mobile phone (i.e. all readers); this gets answered in a lengthy prologue at the start of the book.
The novel then jumps forward to one year later. London is preparing for the Olympics. Business is booming following Strike’s fame as the man who caught the Ripper, and he’s distracting himself from thoughts of Robin with the beautiful and convenient Lorelei. Meanwhile, Robin has been experiencing panic attacks and comparing her marriage to the act of “moving chess pieces on a board that was vibrating in the preliminary tremors of an earthquake.”
The plot kicks off when Billy, a disturbed young man, bursts into Strike’s office and says he witnessed a child being strangled “up near the horse” and buried in a dell. An elaborate spiderweb of a story ensues. Strike discovers the dell is on an Oxfordshire property belonging to Minister for Culture, Jasper Chiswell, where Billy and his older brother, Jimmy Knight, grew up. Chiswell subsequently hires Strike and Robin to investigate a case of blackmail involving Jimmy, the leader of a radical left wing political group protesting the Olympics. Robin goes undercover as Chiswell’s goddaughter, working in the House of Commons to get dirt on Minister for Sport, Della Winn and her lecherous husband, Geraint. Here she meets Chiswell’s latest wife, the much younger, horse-obsessed Kinvara, his industrious daughter, Izzy, and disturbingly charming illegitimate son, Raphael.
There’s plenty of sordid activity amidst both groups – affairs, sexual harassment, deception, double crossing and betrayal which seem disparate but are somehow masterfully connected by the end of the novel. And at 650 pages, it’s a long time to wait for answers. However, I was so absorbed in the story that by the time we finally reached the end of Part 1, and the suitably gruesome and dramatic discovery of the dead body, I’d forgotten I was reading a murder mystery. In fact, there’s so much going on it’s impossible for the reader to correctly guess the answers to any of the novel’s questions – why is Chiswell being blackmailed? Why are they quoting Latin? What do all of these horses have to do with anything? Towards the end when Strike is encouraging Robin to piece together the solution, even she gives up and chooses instead to sip champagne and enjoy a warm breeze.
There’s an overarching theme of ‘pairs’ throughout the novel but as usual, the core of the story is the pairing of Strike and Robin. Amidst second-guessing their feelings for other and analysing each other’s romantic relationships, their discussion of the case and their banter as they bounce theories off each other provides the most enjoyable parts of the novel. Unfortunately, in Lethal White, much of this doesn’t occur until the final quarter when Strike and Robin are literally digging in the dirt for answers.
J.K. Rowling (we all know she’s Robert Galbraith, so I won’t digress) wrote the best-selling series of books in history so naturally, everyone has high expectations for her latest work. Lethal White doesn’t disappoint – it’s superior storytelling, balancing an entertaining mystery with the personal lives of its main characters, especially Robin, who has hit a wall and uses this novel to find her feet again. There’s some clever writing between the lines, themes with multiple interpretations and subtle political commentary including a statement Della makes during Strike’s interview about men’s crimes always being blamed on women “who should have stopped it, who should have acted, who must have known.”
Several other reviewers have stated it needs a good edit, but we’ll leave that up to the poor sod who has to turn it into a screenplay for the next television adaptation. This is a novel to savour while we eagerly await the next one.
Lethal White by Robert Galbraith is published in Australia by Hachette.
Standout Simile: –
It was no use trying to suppress the panic: that only made it fight back, trying to bend her to its will. She must ride it out, as though the fear was a bolting horse, easing it onto a more manageable course. So she stood motionless, palms pressed against the partition walls, speaking to herself inside her head as though she were an animal handler, and her body, in its irrational terror, a frantic prey creature.