On Saturday evening an Amazon box showed up on my doorstep. It was my copy of Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling’s newest book in the Cormoran Strike series, CAREER OF EVIL.
By Sunday morning Brunch hour, I was done with the book.
Anyone with whom I’ve talked books knows that I love me a good mystery, preferably with private detectives. I adore cozies and drink up WhoDunIts. I read THE CUCKOO’S CALLING after I found out that the writer was Rowling working under a nom de plume, and I hoped then as I hope now that my fangirl tendencies for Harry Potter doesn’t cloud my judgement of the books.
Because honestly, I really enjoy this series.
I hesitate to use the word love, for a few reasons, one of which is the aforementioned fangirlishness. I grew up reading Harry Potter, starting at 11 and finishing as an adult when the series concluded. I have my issues with it, but all in all, I am connected to the characters and, more importantly, the author.
JK Rowling is a badass.
A complete and total feminist, left-wingy, richer-than-the-Catholic-Church badass. She knows it. She doesn’t hide it. She sticks it to people when they need to be stuck. She ignores people who don’t deserve her attention. She is, for a lack of a better term, baller.
But I was worried, with THE SILKWORM, that Rowling-with-a-murder-mystery was being salacious for the sake of salaciousness.
The ritualistic killing, the sexytimes, characters who curse and murder and drink and debauch– I was afraid that she was trying on a persona that was the anti-Potter. Eschewing the “bored single mom with a writing habit” persona that she had worn in the press post-Potter for an almost 50 SHADES level of kinkery.
CAREER OF EVIL has me convinced this isn’t the case. Which is weird, because it’s the most fucked-up book yet.
Without getting spoilery, in EVIL, Strike and Robin are flush with jobs at their PI agency, so much so that Robin has started taking on much of the detective work, to both her glee and her fiancé’s chagrin. Until, you know, she’s sent a disembodied woman’s leg in the mail at the office.
The results are obvious- Robin’s boyfriend, boss, and everyone she knows tries to shield her from the gore, we go through a lengthy tumult of PI scenes, etcetera, etcetera. We, the reader, are given a new bit of insight in this book, as Galbraith intersperses Strike scenes with scenes from the POV of the murderer. From what I’ve seen on the Internet, everyone gets a strong inkling of who the bad guy is around the middle of the book, but I, personally, couldn’t figure out HOW the bad guy went about his business until Strike lays it all out for us. Which is just a divine feeling for a mystery-lover to have.
But two things are standing out:
The violent, disturbing misogyny of the killer.
Honestly, the violence from the mind of the killer is astounding, and I’m not even a very squeamish reader. He refers to his female partner as “It”, gleefully discusses how useless and despicable every woman on the planet is, and how he would love to just kill them all, if he didn’t, well, want to have sex with them.
The fact of the matter is, this would be cartoonishly evil if we didn’t know these exact men exist. Even just five years ago I would have found all of this seething, bubbling anger against my gender unbelievable.
But nowadays, 4chan basically has these despicable men documented plainly for the world to see. While reading, I’m sure many people will try to convince themselves that these people don’t exist. Or that maybe, just maybe, the reddit users and Internet trolls who gleefully espouse their misogyny on social sites won’t devolve into murdering women that stumble into their lives, but we know, already, that they do.
We know, of course, that Rowling is a feminist. I’ve seen her come out against sexual violence forced upon children in war zones, and she tweeted this poem about anonymous online rape threats:
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) October 8, 2015
CAREER OF EVIL feels, to me, like Rowling’s attack against gendered violence. I’m sure I’m reading into it. But I don’t care.
Robin’s history with assault
This book, more than the previous two, is about Robin Ellacott, Cormoran Strike’s assistant and partner in his PI firm. We know, already, that she’s in love with her work and has great respect for her boss, who returns the respect in-kind. Strike isn’t in love with the idea of sharing his workload with Robin, of course, but not always because she is a woman– he just knows how thoroughly PI work can ruin a person’s life.
Mid-way through CAREER OF EVIL, Robin drunkenly reveals a secret she has held from almost every person that she knows.
STOP NOW IF YOU HATE SPOILERS:
[Robin was raped by a stranger a year into her university studies and dropped out of school because of the trauma. Her family tries to discredit her detective inclinations, believing that it’s a manifestation of her desire to “get even” with her rapist, but she insists that her desire to work in law enforcement long preceded her attack.]
We, as readers, have to trust both our writer and our characters, even if we don’t necessarily agree with them or what they’re doing to themselves.
A lot of outrage I’m seeing online has to do with Robin’s backstory. [The usual outcry of, “Why does this have to happen to every female character?” ]
But here is where I remember that Rowling wrote these books. Rowling, who mapped out the plot of seven Harry Potter novels, who has built entire universes in her brain.
Rowling sowed the seeds of Robin’s life early on, in the first book. We have known for nearly 1500 pages that Robin dropped out of university. That she won’t tell people why. That something happened to her and she took, say, advance driving courses and other classes in order to get out of the house, and give herself something to do. We know that she’s dedicated to her boyfriend even though he’s a yutz.
This didn’t just happen to Robin, Rowling’s been building up to the reveal.
And honestly, I applaud Rowling for writing the character in the way that she has. Robin is a powerful, determined, brilliant young woman who stands up for herself and seeks justice. She’s a brilliant, headstrong character who has built a life for herself after something that, we must continue to acknowledge [happens to at least 25% of all women in their lifetimes].
If Robin’s history isn’t feminist, I don’t know what is. This isn’t one of those situations where a male writer thinks something has to happen to a female character to make her change, so … this… does. Robin is a character who undergoes a horrible trauma and emerges from the flames strong and determined and triumphant.
I wrote in my Literary Crash Course that your protagonist is the character who changes.
And if anyone is changing and growing in the Cormoran Strike series, it’s Robin Ellacott. She’s quickly becoming a top-rate detective, who kicks ass, takes names, and punches bad guys.
If that’s not a feminist dream, I don’t know what is.