Because my brain doesn’t seem to hold onto the details of mystery books the story is often new to me again. This time I didn’t have that experience though, I had already binged the BBC adaptation of the books, but I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with the characters. Once again Career of Evil is Rowling writing an intricate, but not unsolvable, mystery where the clues are right there in front of you, and even if you don’t catch the signs along the way, the resolution make sense after the big reveal. This story dials down its setting and pace to the precision of a master craftsperson, making a long book covering several months move quickly and evenly to its eventual crescendo.
In my first reading of Career of Evil, I pulled apart the ways that sexism and misogyny were being examined and in this reading I saw more details Rowling was using in setting up those subtexts. This book remains explicitly and implicitly about misogyny. Rowling uses the sexism of daily life and the many incidental ways woman are made to suffer and are put at risk by the world we live in to create a looming sense of dread throughout the novel. It is also a discussion of prejudicial treatment of women both casual and pervasive. Rowling places us into the minds of the men who are in the wrong, from the story’s main antagonists (including a serial killer who objectifies women); to Strike himself, a man who tries to be good and still ends up short sometimes; and Matthew’s very real internalization of white male privilege and co-dependence we take a tour of what must be endured and hopefully conquered by women every day. All of this is before we even dig into the mystery at hand or how it relates to Cormoran’s military past.
As I discussed in my The Silkworm reread review, I had previously missed that Rowling had taken what I assumed to be a non-critical character in Charlotte and instead used her as a foil for a larger conversation. Instead of merely painting a picture of Cormoran’s past (as I thought she was there to do) she was really a comparison point to Matthew. In The Silkworm Rowling as Galbraith was gently showing how unhealthy, codependent relationships are incredibly subtle, persistent, and destructive. Even though Charlotte does not appear in this book (except in a memory of Robin’s) her relationship with Cormoran is echoed in Matthew’s relationship with Robin. As I knew what to be looking for this time through I was more and more unsettled by how toxic, but entirely typical, Robin and Matthew’s relationship is (I also know that I am bringing some very personal baggage to the table here, but I don’t think it’s inappropriate). We are supposed to see familiar behaviors and themes and gradually understand them to be the destructive forces they are. It works brilliantly layered in against the more obvious violence and abusive behaviors of other romantic partners in the book.
The other thing I didn’t talk about in my original review of Career of Evil that I’d like to this go round is Shanker. All of the character history I had assumed would only come from Charlotte is eclipsed by the revelations surrounding the character of Shanker. There’s something about the personal moral compass of Shanker (and his insistence that everyone pays for his services, regardless of history, loyalty, or friendship) that speaks to me. He lives his life on the wrong side of what most people would consider correct, but he is steadfastly about something, and often that something is something commendable, if gotten to in less than legal ways. Some of my favorite parts of the book include Shanker and I simply found him to be delightful.
I don’t know how the smile Robin gives the battered Strike while saying ‘I do’ to the ever-more-hated Matthew is going to play out, and now that the fourth book is finally out my waiting on the cliffhanger is almost over. I am however glad that I decided to read these books again before digging into Lethal White, if only to make sure then many moving parts are clear in my mind’s eye.
This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.