I returned to the world of Cormoran Strike with great pleasure. The writing is so skilful, making the emotions, decisions and misunderstandings of the two main characters painfully and credibly clear, avoiding simple answers to complex problems and setting the whole thing against a nuanced and slightly acerbic understanding of the dynamics of class and power in England.
This book reminds me of an elegant broach: the plot provides a complex silver fretwork, interesting in its own right but really there to display sparking gems of scenes between well-drawn characters with dialogue so accurate and attitudes so authentic, that you feel sure you’ve met these people.
We get to see the upper-class, in their clubs and homes and in the corridors of the Palace of Westminster, always acting from a sense of entitlement so deeply embedded that it’s invisible to them.
We hang out with mansplaining anarchists and the children of the middle-class playing at being poor and socialist. We see how, even when the doctors are kind and well-intentioned, the mentally ill don’t get the support or the belief that they need.
We meet creepy men from different walks of life who combine weakness with narcissism and turn the resulting angry disappointment on the women around them.
Every scene, every interaction, is so well-observed, so nuanced that I was left wondering what it must feel like to see the world so clearly and to be able to display its essence at will. I doubt it’s a comfortable thing.
At the literal heart of the story, lie Cormoran and Robin. A lot of the energy of the book comes from gaining a deeper understanding of each of them and the relationship between them. At one point, Strike comments on the number of couples or pairings in the puzzle he’s trying to solve and it seemed to me that this “twinning” was also being used to discover and display Strike and Robin.
I came to see how similar they are: both overlapping with but not fitting into the worlds they investigate, both driven by a need to know, both damaged in ways that might disable them from doing the work they love but refusing to accept the constraint.
I also saw the fundamental difference between them, that drives their responses to the people close to them and their reaction to failure and threat. Robin is anxious to succeed, to prove to herself that she is not still a woman broken by rape, living with her parents and hiding from the world. Strike is almost belligerently confident and driven by a need not to fail himself or the people he cares for.
This is a long book (the audiobook takes more than twenty-two hours to listen to) but it never dragged once. The pace is perfect.
I strongly recommend the audiobook version of “Lethal White”. Robert Glenister’s performance is first-rate. He captures all of the accents and the phrasing of the classes of people. He carried me along through the twenty-two hours and left me hungry for more.
Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of his performance.