It’s February, Black Heritage Month. The book that I want to share with you today is not directly related to the black heritage, but it’s relevant – I want to explore a stigma that we hope to break down in this society .
In my role as the Literacy and Readers Advisory Librarian, I have been trying to keep up with our Canadian literature, but sometimes I regrettably missed some really good titles. When I found Stranger by David Bergen, the 2005 Giller winner with many other subsequent awards, I was astonished by the profundity that his clean, short prose had offered.
The story started with a passionate love story between Dr. Eric Mann and Iso, the “keeper” of the same fertility clinic that the doctor worked for in Guatemala, with Iso thinking that Eric and his wife had been living separate lives. But one day, Eric’s wife, Susan, suddenly appeared at the clinic to take the fertility treatment. While Eric almost completely vanished from Iso during Susan’s presence, he continued to promise that he didn’t want Susan in town. When Susan left, Eric resumed his ritual with Iso, taking her on trips in his motorcycle, making love with her, enjoying the freedom without any need for responsibilities. Until one day, he hit a little boy on a country road, and at the same time, Iso found out she had had a baby growing inside her; you would think now there should be some consequence imposed on the doctor, but insanely, not quite …
I don’t want to spoil the rest of the intricate plot. But I suspect, at this point, part of the world might be questioning why Iso is so naïve, then the conversation might be steered into a very subtle and grey territory and put women in such situations at disadvantage.
Hornby is so good at illustrating our life’s unspeakable pain with acerbic humour. A Long Way Down is not actually about committing suicide. It is about how life can open up another chapter if we don’t die. On another new year’s eve, it makes me ponder how many people out there need a heart-to-heart conversation, and how we can start this conversation … I wish everyone a prosperous 2017. I also hope that we all can take a moment to care for the people around us.
“Career of Evil is the third in the highly acclaimed series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, it is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.”
Cormoran Strike was introduced by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame) in 2013 in the detective novel “The Cuckoo’s Calling”. As we have come to expect from Galbraith/Rowling this is a complicated mystery peopled with unique characters a suspenseful plot and a subtle dry humour.
The story opens with Robin accepting an unusual package from a motorcycle courier. Much to her horror this turns out to be the severed leg of a young girl accompanied by lyrics from a song by the rock group Blue Oyster Cult. There is a sub text that this perpetrator is targeting Robin to get to Strike. The combination of the limb (Strike is an amputee) and the lyric, which Strike’s mother, the rock groupie, sported as a tattoo, point to someone with a deep personal grudge against him who is capable of the most heinous crimes. Unfortunately, the list of these individuals is quite long but Strike manages to cut it down to three. Three sadistic men whom Strike has had dealings with and who he now must track down before someone else is harmed. Doing unpaid detective work the insolvent detective travels to many picturesque locations in the United Kingdom in search of his man.
As with the previous Cormoran Strike novels and really with everything J.K. Rowling has written, not only do we get compelling plots but extremely strong and fascinating characterizations. In Career of Evil we learn more of Strike and Robin’s back stories. In Strike’s case we already knew of his famous rock star father and drug addicted groupie mother; here we learn about his stepfather a failed musician, and a sociopath, who was tried and acquitted of the murder of Strike’s mother, though Strike is not convinced he was innocent. It is Robin’s story however that is most revealing and helps to explain her engagement to Matthew and her interest in detective work. We also get a sense through these characters’ eyes, even though they don’t admit it to themselves, how much attraction there is between Robin and her boss and what a disaster it will be if she goes through with her wedding plans and marries the shallow and manipulative Matthew.
Though this story is darker than the previous ones in the series and has quite a lot of gruesome even excessive detail, I enjoyed Rowling’s style, her ability to create both sympathetic and repellant characters, her evocative descriptions of Strike’s spare London office, of Robin’s parents’ cozy home and of the twilight streets of London. Cormoran Strike with his physical limitations and emotional baggage is not your average fictional detective but a compellingly written character with a sharp moral compass whom many readers are looking forward to reading more about.
- There is a delicate balance in mystery and detective fiction between giving the reader clues to solve the mystery and in keeping them guessing. Do you think Galbraith/Rowling achieves this balance in Career of Evil? Were you able to figure out the culprit before the ending?
- The author seems to deliberately paint the character Matthew as totally unworthy of his fiancé Robin. Does what we learn about Robin’s past in this novel help explain their relationship? Does it seem realistic that though they break up temporarily Robin goes back to him?
- It has been said of the Harry Potter books that though they appear to be about magic the real themes are good versus evil, loyalty, friendship and love. Can the same thing be said about the Cormoran Strike books?