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Literature / Career of Evil

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Career of Evil is the third crime novel in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith.

When Robin Ellacott receives a strange parcel containing a woman's severed leg, it's time for her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, to investigate. As there are are several persons from his past capable of such an act, Strike and Robin must race against the clock to find out the truth before somebody else dies. They eventually discover that a Serial Killer is stalking the area. Meanwhile, Robin's wedding to Matthew approaches, even as she grows less sure about Matthew, and even as she struggles to suppress her feelings for Cormoran.

The book was published on October 20th, 2015, with the first chapter being made available on October 9th, 2015.

Adapted into the third season of the BBC drama series Strike — and yes, it does use the Blue Öyster Cult song to kick off the show.


This book contains examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: A point throughout the book is that people often mistake Cormoran's name as "Cameron." This may have been inspired by the fact that this mistake sometimes shows up in reviews for the series online. Kirkus Reviews's review of the title gives the protagonist's name as "Cameron Strike."
  • Berserk Button: Strike doesn't take it well when when his disability is belittled. He is personally insulted by Tempest's flippancy on the matter, wanting to be disabled, using a wheelchair despite being able-bodied, staying off work with a faked back injury, and repeatedly turning down psychiatric help.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Shanker does this twice. First, he charges in to save Robin when Noel Brockbank has her in his clutches and is breathing murder. Then at the end he bursts into Laing's apartment to save Strike's life right as Laing is about to stab Strike with a carving knife.
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  • Black Comedy: Becomes a point of contention between Strike and Robin. He's somewhat accustomed to gory sights from his time in the military police, and has developed humour as a coping mechanism. Robin sees it as callous, particularly right after the event.
  • Cliffhanger: The book ends on a huge emotional cliffhanger, where Strike accidentally knocks over an ornamental vase at Robin's wedding, causing her to look at Strike during her vows instead of Matthew. Lethal White picks up immediately after this.
  • Continuity Nod: The character of Noel Brockbank is briefly mentioned without being named in The Silkworm, in which Strike remembers arresting an "alcoholic major" who was abusing his daughter, and how said alcoholic major swung at him with a broken beer bottle before Strike punched him out.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Cormoran’s career in the military police was so... colourful that upon receiving a severed human leg in the post, he can think of four suspects right off the bat.
    Robin: "You know four men who'd send you a severed leg? Four?"
  • Disposable Fiancée: Matthew is set up as this for the first two books of the series, and Robin promptly dumps him upon discovering that he cheated on her with Sarah Shadlock. Then subverted. She forgives him and they get married, though it reeks of emotional manipulation on his part and she’s unaware that he deleted some apology voicemails Strike left for her.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: The killer, who sometimes preys on prostitutes (although one of them survives his attack), believes this strongly.
    "Prostitutes didn't fucking count, they were nothing, no one cared."
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Charlotte, Cormoran's ex, is mentioned to have physically attacked him on more than one occasion, leaving him with scratches and black eyes. It's certainly not played for humour or excused, but it's not labelled as abuse either.
  • Dramatic Irony: Chapters presented from the killer's point of view are presented throughout the novel. Towards the end of the novel, after Robin is confronted by the killer when trying to investigate him, another of these point of view chapters confirms that yeah, it was him, in case the reader hadn't figure it out already.
  • Dramatic Sit-Down: "Robin sat down hard on the needle-point stool" after Strike calls her and tells her that the cops found the rest of the body that the leg came from.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Pretty much everyone ranging from policeman Wardle to career criminal Shanker is horrified about the severed leg sent to Robin.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Strike has one when he realizes the detail he missed that allows him to crack the case.
  • Extreme Doormat: Jason is so meek that he turns bright red whenever anyone addresses him, and he's in tears when Strike raises his voice, even before Strike really gets angry.
  • Finger in the Mail: The plot is kickstarted by a severed woman's leg that arrives via courier.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Transabled Tempest uses a wheelchair even though she doesn't need one. Donald Laing doesn't need his crutches either.
    • When Strike first sees a relatively recent picture of Donald Laing, he is startled by how much Laing has aged and fattened up since Strike knew him in the army. Strike thinks that he'd never have recognized the picture. This foreshadows how Strike does not in fact recognize Laing when meeting Laing in his disguise of Ray the fireman.
  • Girl Friday: The trope gets discussed. Various people refer to Robin as an assistant or secretary, which bothers her to the point that she insists on Strike making her a full partner. When Strike eventually fires her and puts out an ad for an assistant to replace her, she worries that this is all she ever was.
  • Happy-Ending Massage: Strike visits a massage parlor in a small village while looking for information about one of his suspects.
  • Homage: J. K. Rowling revealed in a BBC interview in November 2015 that she is a fan of Blue Öyster Cult. Not only is Career Of Evil Titled After the Song, but the band's discography is a significant part of the plot. The book is also dedicated to the band, as well as their frequent collaborator Patti Smith.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Tempest earns the ire of Strike and Robin for her delusional insistence that Strike has BIID like her and Jason and lost his leg on purpose. Given that she was also hopelessly in love with the sound of her own voice, barely letting anyone else get a word in edgewise during their conversation, she doesn't come off very sympathetically.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: In the chapters from the killer's POV, he is often thinking of the woman that he is living with, because he needs a safe place to stay. He always refers to her as "It" and longs to kill her.
  • Karma Houdini: Whittaker. Brockbank and Laing are arrested for child molestation and serial murder respectively by the end of the book, but the violently abusive pimp, crack dealer, and possible murderer is apparently free to continue his activities.
  • Kavorka Man: Strike is mystified at how the gross, unkempt, Obviously Evil Whittaker manages to attract and hold women. Even Robin, while thoroughly repulsed by Whittaker, feels a "magnetic pull".
  • Literary Allusion Title / Titled After the Song: It's titled after a song from Blue Öyster Cult's Secret Treaties, which also inspired aspects of the plot. Rowling has admitted to being a huge BÖC fan and this is far from the only Shout-Out to the group in her novels.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: "What had he done" is Strike's inner monologue after agreeing to let Robin continue to work, and sending her off after Whittaker, nearly gets her killed.
  • Neck Lift: Whittaker does this with Stephanie, his drug-addled hooker girlfriend, right in front of Strike. Strike punches him in the gut.
  • Never One Murder: The reason why Strike and Robin must hurry to find the murderer before he or she kills again.
  • Not Me This Time: Whittaker is not the killer, as much as Strike would hate to admit it.
    • Subverted with Brockbank. He's not the killer either, but he is still molesting little girls.
  • Not So Above It All: Despite Strike's tendency towards Black Comedy being a source of friction between him and Robin, Robin is the one to joke that Strike managed to resist punching a woman in a wheelchair while in a fancy restaurant.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Strike's various clients are only ever referred to by nicknames. The people involved in those cases are too.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Strike is unusually rattled and distraught for a moment at the idea that the severed leg might have belonged to Brockbank's stepdaughter, desperately hoping that it doesn't. It did come form a different girl.
  • Parents as People: Strike clearly loved his mother deeply, but doesn't deny that she was unstable, had drug problems, and exposed him and his sister to all sorts of bad situations. He mentions that he consciously chooses to set aside the uglier memories and focus on the times that she was a loving and proud mother.
  • Police Are Useless: As has become tradition in the series, the London police focus on the wrong suspects, forcing Strike and Robin to do the heavy lifting alone. This only becomes worse once Detective Inspector Carver takes over the case.
  • Rape as Backstory: Robin. It makes her very disinclined to turn a blind eye when she suspects sexual abuse is taking place.
  • Resolved Noodle Incident: The details of the incident that caused Robin to leave university are finally revealed. She was raped.
  • Revenge: The killer's motivation for going after Cormoran Strike, who he hates for exposing him to contempt, humiliating him and costing him his son.
  • Selective Squeamishness Suppression: Strike is not as shocked as Robin when he sees the severed leg in the parcel.
  • Smoking Gun Control: Strike has the Serial Killer narrowed down to four suspects (one of whom he writes off quite quickly). The killer's inner monologues reveal that he was raised by a man who called himself his father but really wasn't, and that the killer has a son who was taken away from him. It seems like this information might narrow it down come the hero' background checks, but then it's revealed that it doesn't. All three men ha d a biological son who was taken away from them by his mother or another relative after they were arrested for their crimes. All three men were raised by men besides their actual father (as a result of Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe, Family Relationship Switcheroo and a Wicked Stepfather). Then, later, it looks as if the field of suspects is down to two due to more monologues from the unnamed killer revealing he has a live-in girlfriend who he secretly despises. Only two of the suspects have been shown to have girlfriends, while the third lives alone. It later turns out that third one has a second alias he takes up at times, under which he does have a girlfriend.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Explicitly defied by Strike, who assures Shanker that he has no intention of stopping Robin's wedding. He only wants to be there for it. Of course, he ends up knocking over a big ornamental flower display and attracting everyone's attention at exactly the wrong moment, so Robin ends up beaming at him when she says "I do," instead of her new husband.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Downplayed with Matthew, who doesn't exactly want Robin barefoot and pregnant, but strongly disapproves of the (admittedly dangerous and low-paid) detective work that she does. He doesn't understand why she loves it so much, nor how good at it she is, and gets verbally abusive about it.
  • Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee: Strike's old SIB buddy Hardacre is even more blatant about this than most, not even bothering to step out for coffee, just saying how "careless" it was that he left out the confidential info about Brockbank and Laing that Strike came to get. Strike, while photographing the computer screen, agrees that it was very careless.
  • Straw Misogynist: The killer harbors a profound hatred for women.
  • Switching P.O.V.: While the first two Strike novels alternate between the POV of Robin and Strike, this one throws in some very unsettling POV chapters from the bad guy, a deranged serial killer. We also get a brief interlude from Matthew, in the scene where Matthew makes the momentous decision to delete Strike's calls and messages from Robin's phone.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Published in October 2015, the novel is set in the weeks leading up to the 2011 royal wedding.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Robin is fired by Strike for disobeying his orders and going to Brockbank's house to save his stepdaughters, which drives Brockbank, a murder suspect, into hiding.
  • Two Aliases, One Character: Donald Laing and Ray Williams turn out to be one and the same.
  • Villain Opening Scene: Starts with the villain, a serial killer, cleaning up from his latest kill and anticipating his revenge on Cormoran Strike.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Stephanie's fate is left unresolved, as Whittaker turns out not to be the killer, so they both disappear from the story.