When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.
Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott – once his assistant, now a partner in the agency – set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.
And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been – Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much more tricky than that . . .
I managed to pick up a copy of Lethal White from the shop I volunteer at, another lucky find for me! I wasn’t intending to read it so soon, but I figured reading two 550+ page books in one month just wasn’t enough, and had to fit another one in!
Lethal White is the fourth book in the Cormoran Strike detective series and follows on directly after where the previous book, Career of Evil, left off. A lot of time is spent filling the pages with beautiful, if turbulent, wedding imagery setting the tense tone for the rest of the book. Things aren’t going well between Robin and her husband and their relationship drama is played out expertly as the novel progresses. As such, this is the first book in the series that the inter-character-drama feels like it takes centre stage. As mentioned in reviews of previous books in this series, I do appreciate the blend of character interactions and high-profile crime cases and how they’re weaved together so intricately.
After the first 30 pages or so, after the drama has played out, the time jumps ahead a year and things get back on track in terms of balance. Cormoran Strike is as moody and broody as ever and Robin goes through her own developments throughout the book; as does The Agency in which they both work. Business has boomed after the events of the previous novel and once again Strike and Robin are on the payroll of some unexpected employers.
Lethal White is a monster of a book. At 650+ pages. It was one of my larger reads of 2021 and while I found the plot engaging, it did take a while to get going. In many ways, it is a book of two halves, split neatly down the middle. It wasn’t until well into the middle of the book that things picked up in pace and started to really take off – I think if this had been a book in another series and I wasn’t already invested I’d have struggled to keep the pages turning.
There’s also a lot more political intrigue in the novel; partly due to the setting of The Houses of Parliament; political heart of the UK and the contractor of the case; Jasper Chiswell, MP. Also in part to the activism of C.O.R.E an anti-establishment political organisation; how these elements interweave with one another is the makings of expert story-telling. However, it always felt like there was something else being said throughout the novel. Something that didn’t feel a part of the fictional world/characters I was reading about. It felt, like things were becoming opinionated, rather than a part of the story, but where the line blurred, I couldn’t say with complete confidence.
While I have appreciated tension between the two leads, Cormoran and Robin, in Lethal White things just became that bit too much of a nothing. There is a romantic tension between the two that has been slowly building in previous books and here we are, four books later and very little has changed. We’re still being told the same things over and again about how they feel, but are to afraid to speak it. Or come up with excuses. Plunging into marriages/other relationships without addressing the elephant in the room.
Lethal White is also the first book that gave me a serious distaste for the lead character; Strike. His treatment of other people in previous books has been harsh and confrontational, but this fitted in with those in which he is speaking. In Lethal White he seems to turned from abrasive to down right bastardly towards with decent well meaning, and it’s a shift that I disliked. It turned me from enjoying the character to just feeling he got his just deserts after the 50th time he complained about his leg/stump hurting. I had no sympathy left for him, and it’ll be interesting to see if he redeems himself in the next book in the series or if he just remains a perpetual jerk! As for Robin, she seems to have taken a nose-dive in terms of personality; wanting to be defined by how much Strike priases her, rather then the strong-minded psychologist she has been presented as in previous novels.
The cases in this book are meant to be the hook and while they’re relatively interesting in some respects they don’t really compell the reader to keep at it. In typical Cormoran Strike series, everything is left to the last chapter or two for the big reveal and resolution; the same is true for Lethal White. However, the resolution is roughly twenty pages long and presented in moutache twirling, villinary, monologue info-dumping. It wasn’t very satisfactory and made the whole endurance of the novels slow-pacing feel unrewarding.
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. It’s great if you’re heavily invested in the Strike/Robin complications but the balance between relationship drama and crime was skewed to their bias. A lack of real character developments (that weren’t irritating) kept the main characters stuck in a rut. All presented on a political backdrop that seemed to transcend the parametres of the novel.