Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

This is the fourth instalment in Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling) detective series based on former war veteran and now PI, the fabulously named, Cormoran Strike. This book, Lethal White, picks up from the moment the last one ended – at Robin’s imminent wedding and will she/won’t she. From there, the novel then jumps to a year later, and a rather strained relationship between Strike and Robin has developed.

Before we can plume the depths of this, a new case presents itself, a new case that involves the blackmail of a current minister – the one responsible for the London Olympics as it happens. Seemingly unrelated to this is the strange tale of a young man who seeks Strike’s services to uncover the mystery of a murder he saw years earlier. Intrigued and concerned, Strike cannot let this young man’s request go, even if the story appears to be the product of a disordered mind.

As the case around the minister throws more leads that become increasingly complex and appear to be misdirections rather than aiding a resolution, it’s not until a murder occurs that Strike and Robin understand they’re dealing with desperate and dangerous people. So dangerous that, the closer they get to solving this tangled web others have weaved, the more other lives, including their own, are put in danger.

Once more, this is a slow-burn, gum-shoe detective story that relies heavily on old-fashioned plodding police and brain work rather than technological devices and DNA to be solved. Galbraith takes the reader into London, Westminster and the heart of dysfunctional families and relationships, including Strike’s and Robin’s in order to bring sense to this series of senseless crimes. Not only does London become as much a character as do the various homes and offices to which we’re privy, but class plays a big role as well. The way Galbraith captures the smells and sounds of the city or class differences and prejudices with just a word or brief description is magical.

Longer than the other Strike novels. I absolutely loved losing myself in Robin and Strike’s world and the differing viewpoints. Understanding how Robin and Strike regard each other, how they attribute certain motivation and even actions, is really well done. So too is seeing how they operate successfully and unsuccessfully in their relationships with others. Causing pain or having it inflicted upon them seems to be par for the course for these integrity-rich pair. You’ll find yourself bleeding for them as what’s apparent quickly to the reader takes longer to become clear to the one in the thick of it. Nevertheless, you champion their decisions and actions – even wrong ones – because you know they come from either a good place or they’re the right ones for them at that time. This is what Galbraith has given the reader – characters that live and breathe on the page and thus ring emotionally true. We care deeply.

Equal parts frustrating and rewarding, the further we get into the main tale, the more complicated and twisty it becomes, but never does Galbraith lose the plot. She also manages to expose the vulnerabilities and fears of her main characters without weakening them – on the contrary, their foibles give them additional strengths and make them so very human.

I was so disappointed when I finished this book. Not so much because the plot was amazing (which it was), but because it’s so very easy to care for Strike and Robin and want to be a part of their world. I guess even for a short time is better than none.

But now I have to wait so long for the next book… again, waiting is better than having nothing to wait for. Another fabulous read.


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The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

The first book in what’s known as the Vera Stanhope series was nothing like I expected and I mean that in a good way – and I had high expectations – expectations which were more than met. You see, having watched and loved the BBC series, Vera, I thought I had a fair idea of how, at the least, the principal characters in the TV show, Vera and her DS, Joe Ashworth would be represented. How wrong was I? In fact, Vera herself doesn’t appear until almost halfway through the book and Joe is barely there and, for a fan of the show, this is what makes this story very different. But what makes it stand out from the crime genre as well is the way in which the story unfolds.

Set in a small village in the north of England, the tale opens with three women – Racheal, Anne and Grace – arriving to stay at a farmhouse while they conduct an environmental survey on an area in which a proposed quarry is set to be developed. Rachael has been coming to the area for years and has become friends with the landowners. When Rachael arrives, she is horrified to discover the dead body of one of the owners, her friend Bella. Convinced it’s suicide, it’s not until other bodies start to appear that the initial assumption appears wrong or at the very least, suspicious. But why would Bella kill herself? And what could possibly connect her to the others? And why would anyone be killing these people anyhow?

Enter, Vera, stage left. A large, ungainly woman with a propensity for being a “gabby cow” (her words), Vera understands not only small village life and what people will be prepared to do to hide their secrets, but this particular area as she grew up nearby. But as the secrets start to be exposed and the various threads that connect people unravel, and the politics of environmentalism versus those with money and power start to come to the fore, more lives are put in danger.

Cleeves does an amazing job of bringing a series of characters (and the setting) to life with all their warts and foibles, strengths and anxieties. A great deal of the book focusses on Rachael, Anne and Grace – a part being dedicated to each point of view. The final part is Vera’s to own, so the reader is able to immerse themselves in the world these characters occupy, understand the network of relationships they’ve formed and often long before a murder is committed before seeing it from Vera’s point of view. It is so clever. Rather than making it easier to discover the perpetrator, it is much harder, which makes you appreciate Vera’s task (and respect her results) all the more.

This was a very fulfilling read that surprised me by being so character-focussed and yet not on the character I’d wrongly assumed would receive all the attention.

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