Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) strikes with great thriller ‘Lethal White’
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Even as we mark 20 years of Harry Potter, author J.K. Rowling has moved on to more grown-up endeavors with her gritty, pseudonymous (and wonderful) Robert Galbraith mystery series.
Rowling’s wizardry as a writer is on fulsome display in “Lethal White” (Mulholland, $29), the fourth book in the series starring the detective duo of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott.
It’s a behemoth of a novel that flies by in a flash. And it’s part of a series deeply rooted in the real world, in which brutality and ugliness are leavened by the oh-so-human flaws and virtues of Galbraith’s irresistible hero and heroine.
Rowling can construct a bang-up mystery plot. But the real addictive tension in this series comes from the push-pull attraction between the gruff Strike, who lost a leg serving in Afghanistan, and Robin, who’s gone from assistant to full-fledged partner in their tiny London agency.
In “Lethal White,” Robin is having panic attacks, the result of a knife wound inflicted by the grotesque serial killer who darkened the pages of Book 3, 2015’s “Career of Evil.”
The Stieg Larsson-like depths we got in “Evil” are dialed back here, but Rowling’s signature strengths — indelible characters, Dickensian detail and inventiveness, her dry humor and empathy toward matters of the heart — have room to bloom.
And, as Galbraith, she has fun needling England’s class system.
“Lethal White” picks up where “Career of Evil” left off: at Robin’s wedding to accountant Matthew. Anyone rooting for Strike to show up and shout “I object” was sorely disappointed by Book 3’s conclusion. But we’re not giving much away by saying Robin is full of regret.
Strike, meanwhile, is rather lazily dating the smitten Lorelei.
The mystery plot is spun in motion (a year after Robin’s wedding) by the arrival at Strike’s office of a disturbed young man who sputters incoherently that he saw a little girl (or was it a boy?) strangled and buried years earlier, when he was a kid. Spooked, Billy Knight runs off, leaving Strike wondering how to find him.
Then, Strike and Robin are hired by England’s Minister of Culture, who’s being blackmailed by a colleague for reasons he won’t disclose. And that’s only the start of his problems.
More pressingly, where will Strike and Robin and their hurting hearts be by page 647?