Career of Evil- Robert Galbraith

This is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series, so there are probably spoilers in here for the previous two.  If that is a thing you care about.

THIS BOOK. SO SO SO GOOD.

Strike and Robin are back, keeping busy with some surveillance cases. One day, Robin receive a woman’s severed leg in the post and it is clear this killer has a personal ax to grind with Strike and has his sights set on Robin as his next victim. Strike is quick to identify three likely suspects from his past and when the police don’t take his leads seriously enough, he and Robin do some investigating on the side, of course. All the while, the killer is keeping busy, stalking Robin and killing and dismembering his way across London.

Plot-wise, this wasn’t my favorite mystery in this series. There are several chapters told from the killer’s POV that read like textbook serial killer behavior. He’s misogynistic. He puts on a pretty face to his girlfriend. His thirst to kill ramps up over time and he gets clumsier and more desperate as he seeks that kill-high more and more frequently. All of that felt very done before, not to say that the killer wasn’t super creepy. It was kind of interesting to see the killer’s POV in the story, but again, it’s been done before and I guess evil serial killer is just not compelling enough for me any more (I guess I’ve read too much serial killer stuff).

In addition to the somewhat tired feel of the killer, there are three clear and obvious suspects from the start. While they are all horrible men and I never was certain who was the killer, I was almost able to pull all the pieces together. Galbraith/Rowling is very good at not constructing a mystery in which the answer is obvious to the reader, leaving enough out of the text to leave you wondering and pursuing the truth, but there was such a limited suspect pool for whom we all get extended backstories, it would be impossible to not come up with a theory that touches on the actual solution to the mystery. All that to say, I still cared about the mystery and the killer was dangerous and there were some seriously scary parts with him in them, but really, this book was more about the Strike-Robin dynamic than anything.

There is a serious amount of character and relationship development with Strike and Robin in this installment and Strike and Robin are what make this series as good as it is. The more Rowling that I read, the more I realize that her strength lies in the development of characters, something that was apparent in The Casual Vacancy, but is especially satisfying in the Cormoran Strike series. Robin is amazingly likeable– smart, strong, principled, and wickedly talented at detective work. And I have a weak spot for Strike– he’s exactly the kind of gruff, intelligent hero I can’t get enough of and his interactions with Robin are always the highlight of these books. I was kind of blown away by how much I liked seeing the two of them together in this book– there were a lot more opportunities for a new kind of intimacy to develop in their relationship. This book is the first time that Strike and Robin really acknowledge that they are friends and confidantes, that their relationship is more than strictly professional, and that there might even be more than platonic feelings between them.  I don’t want to say too much, but this is the first time I’ve really seen Rowling write sexual tension and go figure, she’s amazing at it.

The final chapter left me with my mouth hanging open. I have no idea what actually happened there and I’m sure it will be at least another year before I can find out. More Strike, more Robin, an actual answer to what the heck that last sentence meant–gah, I can’t wait. These books are some of my favorites. Basically, everyone needs to read them and love them as much as I do.

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Winter Mini-Reviews 1: Liane Moriarty Binge Read

I am trying to wrap up my 2014 reviews by posting some mini-reviews for things I neglected to review in full.  This is the Liane Moriarty Binge Read Edition.

I had been hearing a lot about Liane Moriarty’s books since The Husband’s Secret started getting billed as a Gone Girl readalike last year.  So when her 2014 release started getting tons of buzz, too, I decided to give her book a try.  I have seriously enjoyed every last one of them and Moriarty has become an author for me to watch.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

This book starts out with someone dying at an elementary school fundraiser.  Then it flashbacks and follows three slightly different suburban kindergarten moms in the lead-up to this tragic event.  Madeline is the experienced mom; the kindergartener is her youngest child.  She’s on marriage number two and her teenage daughter from her first marriage is giving her some trouble.  Celeste is beautiful, rich, and married to a charming man and is a full-time mom to her twin boys.  Jane is single mom to her kindergarten son and does freelance work to support her family.  Despite their different backgrounds, the moms become friends.  But alongside these domestic concerns and bonds of friendship are some darker, more serious concerns all of which culminate in the death at the fundraiser.  Part mystery, part chick lit.

What I liked: the pacing, the characters, the easy balance between serious and funny, and all the little mysteries to solve along the way
What I felt meh about: the ending felt a bit drawn-out and anticlimactic to me
All in all: I loved this book so much that I bought my mom a copy.  And picked up two more Liane Moriarty books.  One of the best books I’ve read this year.

 

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty

Ellen is a hypnotherapist who has just begun a relationship with Patrick.  Patrick is a widower with a son.  He also comes with a stalker, his ex-girlfriend, Saskia.  Ellen is initially fascinated by Saskia and intensely curious about what would drive a woman to the insane lengths Saskia goes to in stalking Patrick.  We also get Saskia’s point of view, here, watching as her obsession takes over her life and as she repeatedly inserts herself into Patrick and Ellen’s lives and relationship.  This is the story of love beginning and love ending and of a relationship crowded with people from the past.

What I liked: hearing both Saskia and Ellen’s points of views, seeing the character development for both Saskia and Ellen, the thoughts about love ending and beginning, the very crowded relationship that was Ellen and Patrick’s (both his  deceased wife and his stalker are in the background all the time)
What I was meh on: it’s a somewhat slow and quiet story
All in all: It was definitely intriguing and this one has stuck with me more than I expected it to.  Something about Ellen and Saskia just really got under my skin.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Cecilia finds a sealed letter from her husband, intended for her to read only after he dies.  She cannot overcome her curiosity and reads the letter only to discover her husband’s horrible secret which has the potential to destroy their lives and ripples through the community, as well.

What I liked: the multiple points of view (also includes the views of two other women in the community), her child characters are very real and funny, Moriarty’s understanding of marriage and motherhood, the examination of grief and guilt and moral ambiguities and the millions of what ifs and unanswered questions in life
What I was meh on: the title and blurb are a bit misleading as the husband’s secret was a very small portion of the plot, it was not as hard-hitting as Big Little Lies, and while I liked it, it was probably my least favorite of the three Moriarty books I’ve read
All in all: I’m definitely going to work my way through all of Moriarty’s books.  This was a good, but didn’t resonate with me like The Hypnotist’s Love Story or wow me like Big Little Lies.  Recommended, but I think I’d push Big Little Lies first.

 

 

The Silkworm- Robert Galbraith

If you read my review of The Cuckoo’s Calling, you’ll already know that I really enjoy the Cormoran Strike series.  In fact, I liked it so much I immediately started The Silkworm after finishing the first novel and am eagerly anticipating future installments in this series.

The Silkworm was even better than The Cuckoo’s Calling.  Mainly because we get to see the relationship between Strike and his assistant, Robin, develop more.  Robin shows a real interest and aptitude for investigative work and Strike, after some initial hesitation and a bit of a blow-up between the two, starts giving more responsibility to Robin and mentoring her.  I love seeing the two of them work together and the fondness they have for one another is so nice to see in a platonic and professional male-female relationship in fiction.  Getting to know more about Robin was definitely a highlight.  Her friendliness and ability to set people at ease is a great complement to Strike’s harsher, grumpier demeanor.

As for the plot, The Silkworm involves the investigation of a missing author.  Owen Quine has been known to disappear before, but his wife is starting to worry.  Strike soon discovers that Quine has left shortly after the manuscript of his latest novel, Bombyx Mori (the Latin name for silkworm), gets out.  It is inflammatory and smears everyone from his wife to his girlfriend to his editor, agent, and publisher.  Soon Quine is found murdered and the investigation ramps up, as the police focus in on Quine’s wife, whom Strike is convinced is innocent.  Strike, once again, has to set out to prove the police wrong by finding the real killer.

Another thing that set this book apart for me from the first book was that it felt a lot more literary… most of that is because the victim was an author and his work is prominent to the crime.  But the crime and the quotes at the beginning of each chapter and the bits and pieces of Bombyx Mori are all very steeped in Elizabethan/Jacobean literature.  I am not super familiar with this stuff, but I did read The Faerie Queene my freshman year of college and having that background gave me some grounding for the heavy-handed allegory and symbolism of Bombyx Mori.  I also remember it being very vividly gross and violent, but I might be thinking of something else I read way back in Brit Lit Before 1700 so, forgive me.  But anyways, I really enjoyed the literary atmosphere and how the mood of this story echoed the literature it referenced.

Anyways, I can’t recommend this series highly enough for fans of detective novels.  Strike and Robin are delightful characters and the mysteries are twisted enough that they truly keep me puzzled until the end of the books.  I, for one, will be devouring every book in this series… can’t wait to see what happens next!

The Cuckoo’s Calling- Robert Galbraith

 

Supermodel Lula Landry falls to her death from her third-story balcony.  The police rule it a suicide, but Lula’s brother, John, is not convinced.  He hires the down-and-out private detective, Cormoran Strike, to investigate her death, insistent that Lula was pushed.  Strike is down on his luck, having just ended a relationship and being in debt up to his ears.  While he isn’t sure there is anything worth pursuing in the Lula Landry case, he need the big bucks John is going to pay him and feels compelled to delve a little deeper, so he accepts the case.  Things are, of course, not like they seem in Lula’s life or death.

I have no idea if I would ever have considered reading this if it weren’t for the fact that Robert Galbraith=J.K. Rowling and I’m sure that colors my feelings on this story, as well.  But I loved this book.  Namely, I love Cormoran Strike.  He’s a former army investigator, but since losing most of a leg in Afghanistan has been trying to eke out a living as his own boss.  His life is a total mess as this story starts.  His turbulent relationship with his fiance is finally over and he’s homeless and nearly penniless.  He’s been sleeping in his office, where he receives both weekly death threats from a crazy past client, and daily calls from his creditors.  He only has one client and her case is almost over.  And Strike isn’t exactly dealing with these hits gracefully.  He’s a bit sullen, slow to warm up to people.  But somehow Strike is also an incredibly charming character.  He’s very intelligent and knows how to get people talking.  He’s a bit scarred from a difficult childhood, but this seems to serve to make him more accepting of people, particularly the downtrodden.

Also noteworthy is Strike’s temporary secretary, Robin.  Robin is sharp and harbors a secret longing to be a detective herself.  She is clever and discrete enough to deal with really sticky interpersonal situations and is queen of Google.  She and Strike get along intuitively it seems and come to share a mutual admiration and affection for one another.  Their relationship is fun to watch develop and Robin scenes were always some of my favorite.

As for the plot, it was a fairly usual murder mystery.  Suspects abound.  Witnesses are lying or evasive or end up mysteriously dead.  But I wasn’t clever enough to guess the killer in the end and that always makes for a more satisfying mystery story.

I listened to this on audiobook and just wanted to mention that the narrator, Robert Glenister, was fantastic.  A lot of this book is dialogue with both male and female characters with all sorts of different accents and Glenister pulled it off.  The narration definitely contributed to my enjoyment of the story to the point that I plan on reading all of the books in this series on audio (already started The Silkworm audiobook, in fact).

If you like a good mystery with a gruff, but loveable detective (I’m thinking the TV show, House, here), this book is right up your alley.  Strike and Robin are a great duo to follow as they try to unravel the truth of what happened to Lula Landry.

I Am A Delinquent Blogger, or Mini-Reviews, Summer 2014

I have been a bit of a delinquent blogger lately (shock, gasp).  And well, I have been behind on reviews by almost two months for two months with little hope of ever catching up.  Mostly, I can’t remember enough about the books to write full reviews.  SO.  Mini reviews.  Because I am really trying to review most of what I read this year because I hate when I don’t have at least a sentence or two of what I thought about a book to look back at.

She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

Laureth is 16 and blind and the daughter of a famous author who has gone missing.  Laureth kidnaps her 7 year old brother, Benjamin, and flies to New York City to search for their father, following the sort of trail he has left behind in his journal.  Laureth’s father is obsesssssed with coincidence and finding meaning in coincidence, so that is a big part of this book, too.

What I liked: the writing, Laureth, seeing how a blind person navigates through life, the fact this is a book that can be read in a day or two
What I felt meh about: the ending was totally blah, the obsession with coincidence was sort of interesting, but pointless and felt a bit shoehorned into the story at points
All in all: I would like to read more Marcus Sedgwick.

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

This is the first Miss Marple novel and it was available for free through SYNC summer audiobooks.  I’d never read Agatha Christie before, so I thought I would give it a whirl given that I’ve been a mystery fan most of my life.  Colonel Provero is murdered at the vicarage and the vicar (our narrator) gets wrapped up in trying to solve the murder of a victim who most everybody in town has motive to murder and to which a couple different suspects confess.

What I liked: Miss Marple is hilarious and I wish she got more screentime.  Actually, a lot of the characters were unintentionally hilarious and very very British.  I did not guess the murder suspect correctly, which is kind of astonishing because I have a problem with guessing the endings of mysteries.  Also, great narrator, but I always like a book narrated with a British accent.
What I was meh on: In a way this felt a little too textbook murder mystery, not exactly special.
All in all: I’d read Agatha Christie again… if only for more Miss Marple!

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

I read Grave Mercy last summer and really enjoyed it (to my surprise), so when Dark Triumph was on sale for Kindle, I jumped on it.  Sybella has a dark past, brutally abused by her father and brothers, but found sanctuary and a purpose at the convent of St. Mortain.  The Abbess, however, send Sybella back into the fray, badly wanting the information Sybella can gather as a member of her powerful father’s household.  It is from her father’s household that Sybella rescues a prisoner, Beast, a legendary warrior who is an essential member of the Duchess’s forces.  The two must make it to the Duchess in time, in order to save Brittany from the growing threat within and without.

What I liked: I really enjoy the political intrigue in this series and appreciated that this was a little darker in mood than Grave Mercy.  Beast is the right kind of romantic lead for me.  And I liked that Sybella and Beast were both foreboding killers with dark pasts, but still had hope/love within them.
What I was meh on: I love these books while reading them and then quickly forget everything about them.  I usually want something with a bit more staying power.  I was also a bit concerned with the fact that Beast kept swooping in and literally knocking Sybella out to get her to cooperate with his decisions.  It is true that Sybella was going to make stupid decisions, but the use of force bothered me.
All in all: I will most certainly be reading Mortal Heart when it releases.

 

The Spellman Files- Lisa Lutz

Isabel Spellman is a private investigator at her family’s PI firm.  She’s a (mostly) reformed bad girl who loves her job and her family, but isn’t totally sold on working for her very crazy family.  Izzy’s family spies on one another, bribes one another, blackmails one another, damages one another’s property, invades one another’s privacy, and takes revenge on one another.  Izzy tries to separate herself from the family business after being tailed and phone-tapped for weeks on end by her parents.  However, she gets sucked into two missing persons cases that she has to finish before she leaves the firm forever.

Oh, this book was just so much fun.  Izzy’s family is crazy and pretty over-the-top, but there is no question that these people love another.  Rae, Izzy’s teenage sister, is also an awesome and very funny character, who is dangerously smart for her age and is fully absorbed into the PI life.  While the mysteries in this book were entertaining (though I figured out one of the missing persons cases early on), what really made this book special was its characters and their ridiculous relationships with one another.  This family wars with one another, makes up with one another, checks up one another, and tries to protect one another from a variety of evils.  It’s sweet that no matter what bad things they do, they still care about one another… even if that care manifests itself in the form of 24-hour surveillance.  All I can say is that I am glad this is not my family!

There are several more (not sure exact number) in this series and I plan on reading them, as I thought this was a really fun ride with some excellent and memorable characters.  If you like your mysteries with a cast of a funny, crazy characters, you will likely get a kick out of this series.