Lethal White by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling

Review – Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

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Book four of Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike Series was finally published mid-September. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Robert Glenister. When it comes to the suspense and character development, Lethal White is on par with the rest of the series, even though it has some flaws.

I know it is customary in a book review to give a summary of the text. When it comes to crime novels I am not sure of how much I should tell you. After all it is much more exciting when you know as little as possible. But I can tell you that the book starts exactly where Career of Evil, book 3 in the series, had left off. The mystery that the private investigator has to solve involves political intrigue, the secrets of a powerful man and his family and seems to have a strange connection to a mentally ill young man who begs Strike to help him.

The previous books in the Cormoran Strike series: The Cuckoo's Calling, The Silkworm, Career of Evil
The previous books in the Cormoran Strike series: The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, Career of Evil

My Thoughts on the Novel

By and large I have really enjoyed the novel. I like J.K. Rowling’s, who is the person behind the pen name Robert Galbraith, writing style. The mystery in Lethal White is in my opinion compelling and definitely kept me in suspense. I also enjoyed the developments in Strike’s and Robin’s private lives and their relationship with each other. Some misunderstandings between them were very frustrating though.

I also liked that Robin was not completely unaffected by their last case. She clearly suffers from PTSD and I am glad that Rowling did not swept that under the rug. Instead, dealing with it became a part of Robin’s personal development. Cormoran Strike himself also showed a more vulnerable side, which I also liked reading about. The relationship between Strike and Robin is my favourite part of the series (even though I have some reservations, but I will talk about that further below). I was quite satisfied with how that relationship continued in Lethal White.

The Flaws

Lethal White is by far not perfect. For one thing, it it is with its 656 pages (or 22 ½ hours in audio form) simply too long. I know that a good crime novel needs several suspects, red herrings and twists, but there were way too many.

The case itself seemed at times too disjointed. I wish Rowling had decided to either focus more on the political intrigue or the family drama, instead of weaving them together. As it is, the attentions of the reader was pulled in too many directions, which caused the individual plot threads to loose on impact. There are scenes and characters that could and should have been edited out.

Audiobook Adventure

As I already mentioned, I have listened to the audiobook of Lethal White. The audiobook is, like the previous audiobooks in the series, pleasant to listen to. For listeners who are not used to listening to English audiobooks or watching films and TV shows in English, this one might not be the right choice, though, as the dialects can be a bit difficult to understand to unaccustomed ears.

What is Rosamund’s Home?

However, even if you are very much used to hearing English, it can happen that you hear something completely inaccurately. As it is the case with the previous books, each chapter of Lethal White begins with an epigraph. This time the quotes are from the play Rosmersholm by Henrik Ibsen. It happens to be a play that I am not familiar with at all, which might be how I missheard the name every single time. Lethal White has 71 chapters. Therefore, I heard “Henrik Ibsen, Rosmersholm” 71 times, but embarrassingly always thought Robert Glenister was saying “Henry Gibson, Rosamund’s Home.” I even tried to google it while listening to the audiobook, because I wanted to know what Rosamund’s Home was about. Could not find any info though… Only when I read another review that mentioned Rosmersholm did it click.

Another disadvantage of audiobooks is that it becomes more difficult to analyse a text. On the other hand, I have to listen to the novel because I will otherwise skim ahead and spoil myself (I really should get a handle on that particular compulsion). So I have to make a choice: Do I want to just purely enjoy the story or do I want to focus on the structure etc. of the novel. Of course I don’t have to analyse every text, but I genuinely enjoy doing it. Especially when it comes to Rowling’s writings. She tends to use stylistic devices like allegories, allusions, parallels within the book and within the series as a whole and intertextuality, that I find particularly exciting. It is interesting to look at a text on several levels. If you are also interested in interpretations and analysis, you should check out hogwartsprofessor like I do.

The Pen Name vs. the Author

When I started writing this review, I was actually somewhat torn. Should I call Robert Galbraith the author, even though it is generally known that that is J.K. Rowlings’s pen name or should I just speak of Rowling as the writer, even though it says by Robert Galbraith on the cover? Looking at examples in literary history does not help either. For example, we say George Eliot and not Mary Anne Evans or Lemony Snicket and not Daniel Handler. On the other hand, we call the Brontë sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne and not Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. I wonder if there are any rules or how it gets established which name we use for writers with pen names.

Other Forms

There is a great BBC series of the Cormoran Strike novels, by the way. I watched all of the episodes last week and thoroughly enjoyed them. Cormoran Strike is played by Tom Burke and Robin Ellacott by Holliday Grainger, both of whom are fantastic in their roles. I can highly recommend the series.

Regarding the future of the series, it has already been announced that Rowling is planning more books in the series. It not clear when we can expect the next instalment. Considering how busy Rowling is with Fantastic Beasts franchise and Lumos, I doubt it will be done anytime soon.

The Robin-Strike Relationship and My Reservations (mild spoilers)

Finally, I want to talk a bit more about the relationship between Robin Ellacott and Cormoran Strike. (I intentionally left this bit to the end of this post, because it might be too spoilery for some. If you do not want to read anything that might hint at the relationship status between the two detectives, I suggest skipping this part.)

I am definitely one of the people who would like to see Robin and Strike in a romantic relationship. I like how they understand each other on a deeper level and how their thoughts revolve around the other. Of course there are moment where the misunderstand each other or assume the wrong things, but that is part of the will-they-won’t-they suspense. A happy ending is more rewarding this way. They are definitely more compatible that Robin and Matthew. Robin and Strike might have problems communicating, but the problems between her and Matthew are more severe. That is why I was surprised that she stayed that long with him. He does many in Lethal White that were infuriating.

However, there is something that bothers me about their relationship: Robin is Strike’s employee. By now she has a higher position in the agency than before (she is a salaried partner and they even call each other partner), but it is still Strike’s agency. He is her mentor. This disparity in there power dynamics leaves a bad after taste. I would like to see them become complete equals in the agency, before they get romantically involved.

A Little Bonus

Lethal White takes place in 2012 when the Olympic Games were held in London. There is a certain scene in the novel where Strike watches the opening ceremony. This becomes funnier, when you remember that J.K. Rowling herself was part of the ceremony, just like a giant Voldemort figure. The part that Rowling was featured in was a tribute to the NHS and children’s literature. There is character in Lethal White that criticised that part as “too PC” and said that the international audience would not care about the NHS. Rowling herself gets criticised a lot for being too political.

The idea that Strike watched Rowling on TV is amazing to me. Maybe I should have referred to Galbraith as the author since Rowling seems to exist in the Cormoran Strike universe.


  • Michael Hartwell

    Thank you for your comments on Henrik Ibsen, Rosmersholm. I too heard it correctly. Fortunately when I did a search for “Henry Gibson, Rosamund’s Home,” I found your site.

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