The very unusual thing about Lethal White by Robert Galbraith is that it is a whodunit and it is almost 700 pages long; unusually long for a mystery. Two hundred pages in the book and you would realize the editors lost their scissors by the time Galbraith was done with the manuscript (not that, it would deter you to go ahead and finish the book, especially, if you’re absolutely in love with ‘words’ like me). I would call it one of the perks of being J. K. Rowling. I’m not sure about the readers, but any author would know what I mean by that. I remember the strain, the frustration, the heartbreak I suffered when I had to chop off 50,000 words straight out of my manuscript of ‘Tied to Deceit’ to get to the standard length of a debut whodunit; a 80,000 words finished novel! Ah! The perks of being J. K. Rowling.
A ‘not-so-right-in-the-head’ man named Billy bursts into Strike’s office one day and claims that he saw a child strangled and buried during his childhood. Unfortunately, Billy flees before offering more information. Strike and Robin’s curiosity about the likely cold case leads them to try to trace Billy. In the mean time, Strike’s agency is engaged by Culture Minister Jasper Chiswell to protect him against a blackmailer, Jimmy Knight who is in fact Billy’s older brother and leader of the Real Socialist Party, a socialist resistance group. The Knight brothers are offspring of the Chiswells’ old handyman, Jack Knight.
The Chiswells are a proper dysfunctional lot; the prestigious, reputable, once-rich family members are as manipulative, backstabbers, mean, and greedy as you could hope for. But they’re not the only high-profile snobby jerks in the story. There is Minister for Sports, Della Winn and her husband Geraint, the former not ‘all whiter’ Winn and the later as lowly as one could expect him to be.
Lethal White has everything a good whodunit should have; deception and treachery; blackmail; insinuations of a past business venture, so dark that no one wants to talk about it; a strangulation and a burial that took place years ago; and generally sketchy behavior of those in high-profile positions in government.
I actually figured out the culprit(s) around the time I was 400 pages into the book. Not for the correct reasons though. There was a particular mention of the meaning of a certain term and I guessed the culprit. It was the right guess but not the smart guess.
The plot is ridiculously simple but the way Galbraith implements it into the story is what makes this book utterly complex. The first murder happens when we are almost 300 pages into the story. Mind you, a usual whodunit is about that length in proximity. In Lethal White, Galbraith takes her sweet time to mull about her protagonists’ feelings and the emotional baggage they carry, the actual conversations they make with their other halves, the dense traffic of London, running commentary about politics; the corrupt Tories and devious democrats, in fact, every mundane detail of her protagonists’ lives.
If you’re a sort of mystery lover who love their mysteries fast and to the point; just wanna fly through their mysteries, you’re the wrong candidate to read Lethal White.
But if you love to lie down and immerse yourself into a slow burning mystery with countless side plots which, no matter how hard you try, are unable to make sense until the very end; if you don’t really care about the ‘mystery part’ much but are secretly in love with the author’s magical words; if you love author’s insightful musings and her brilliant ingenuity; and last but not least, if you love the underlying romantic tension between the main protagonists and root for them to realize their love for each other soon, Lethal White is the book for you. That’s the thing about Cormoron Strike books anyways; it is the characters and not the mystery in itself that makes the series tempting.
With a mystery this dense (with countless sub plots), it can be hard to keep track of who has done what and why. My advice: don’t even try to do that. You gotta go with the flow, forget about the mystery, and just bask in beauty of Galbraith’s glorious writing which details even the minute aspects of protagonists’ lives.
A solid 5 stars!
First published on The Prairies Book Review.
Neena lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, two children, a highly energetic German Shepherd, and a lifetime collection of her favorite books.
A hermit at heart, she’s a permissive mother, a reluctant housekeeper, a superb cook, and a hard-core reader.
Tied to Deceit is her debut novel.
Read Chapter 1 of Tied to Deceit here
Want to read chapter 1 and chapter 2 together. Read here on Neena’s home page.