Lethal White: a review

Lethal White: A Cormoran Strike novel by Robert Galbraith
Lethal White:  Robert Galbraith


The fourth in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith. Listened to it on Audible read by Robert Glenister.


As a disclaimer, I read the first three of the Strike novels, and really enjoyed them: I had the new one on my Amazon List, but given I had an eight hour drive ahead of me, I ended up using my new Audible credit to buy it on Audio: I’d listened to at least two of the others that way, and Robert Glenister is a damn fine narrator. I think it can be a real test of a book as to how listenable it is as an audio edition: success falling somewhere between the quality of the writing and the reader of it. My first ever audio book (on about twenty five cassettes if I recall correctly, or perhaps it had just moved into CDs…) was ‘The Firm’ by John Grisham, and read by, I think,  D. W. Moffett. It was a good production and got me reading Grisham for a long time after.)

So, this review is based on the audio version, not the printed word.

It’s come in for a little bit of stick from some readers, this new Strike book: with too much romance and not enough thriller for many of them.

Me personally? I have absolutely no problem with the ‘will they/ won’t they’ on-going story line between Strike and his partner Robin – it’s a question/ plot point that has been earned in the three books which preceded this one, and I like them enough as characters to want to know what happens between them. It’s true that this time around the whole thing is a bit more in your face – there’s no subtlety this time around as to what they think of each other: we’re told it enough times through their inner monologues, which are incredibly simpatico at times…and it does occasionally bring the plot to more of a halt than the previous tales have, but I wouldn’t go anywhere near as far as to see it as ‘second rate Mills and Boon# as some of the unkinder critics have claimed.

Where it is like a Mills and Boon, in some respects at least, is that as a regular reader we by now  know what to expect to a degree – Robin’s fiance as was/  now husband, Matthew is a two-dimensional snivelling little foil to show how good, caring, and dammit, right for Robin, Strike is. Strike is irascible to the point where if you met him in a pub (where he’d definitely be drinking Doombar -seriously, is there a promotional tie in going on here?) you’d think he was a complete git, but we’re encouraged to see it as quirky/ lovable – as every woman in the world does, despite him being a ‘fat pube haired cripple’ as he repeatedly tells anyone who listens – yes, the self depreciating is another winning characteristic. Robin is as plucky and naturally adept to her relatively new calling, and despite constantly getting into trouble, the books are at pains to tell us she is far from being a damsel in distress…even though, well, most of the time she ends up as a DiD…The characters around them are of the usual Strike type- both in the re-occurring characters (in a much reduced role this time around), and the new entrants: we have the snobs who look down at Strike and are fundamentally flawed even if they’re not murderers, the Press who are pretty much gutter snipes, the ex-girlfriend who’s appeal I still haven’t understood despite four books trying to describe her dazzling looks and ‘out-there’ personality.

If that all sounds disparaging, it’s not meant to. I enjoy the Strike books in the same way I enjoy the Jack Higgins’ Sean Dillon books (who by my reckoning should be dead by the end of each book through alcohol consumption, never mind the hi-jinx. Comoran has his Doombar, Dillon his non-vintage Krug…and they each seem to drink pint after pint of their respective tipples…): that is, for what they are. I find both very, very readable.

And that ‘readable’ is not meant as damning with faint praise: there’s far too much of that in genre writing, and particularly crime and mystery: “Oh, it’s very readable…” implying not real literature but, ‘okay for what it is…’ – that’s not a new thing either and unfortunately, not one that’s likely to go away soon.

All this to say, of the four books in the series so far, I did find Lethal White the least effective. It’s not because of the over emphasis on the romance, it’s because of the basic plot and the bringing together of PTSD, dodgy politics, an Olympics plot which I’m not sure had any need to be there, and a bunch of secondary characters who we spend a lot of time with, but who seem to disappear off without a by-your-leave.

Mostly, however, I was disappointed with the heavy handed exposition in this one: there are essentially two scenes where two characters have pages and pages devoted to a conversation which outlines everything that has gone before: the worst culprit of this being in the final showdown, where in a reverse Bond villain move, the bad egg insists a character reveal their own plot to them, to ascertain how much the police know…and boy, does that go on some…

All that said, Cormoran Strike remains one of the more interesting detectives out there in literary land at the moment, and the Strike/ Robin partnership offers something different to the overdone buddy duo staple. I’ll watch the TV adaptation of this one, as I did the others, and I’ll look forward to the next one coming out. I just found this one a little plodding, a little predictable, and a little light on the mystery…

But I do claim my £5 for being the only reviewer anywhere in the world not  to mention JK Rowling…dammit! Lost the £5. 


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