r|A|i|N

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"ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which i will not put."

Message to Readers

i wrote this for school and had way too much fun with it. tell me what you think, if there's anything i should change. and especially let me know if you've read the book! i'd love to discuss it with you!!

The Ups and Downs of J.K. Rowling's Lethal White

May 10, 2020

FREE WRITING

12
    Enter post-2007 J.K. Rowling, most notable for inventions such as Pottermore and the nightmarish Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Broadway play.  She has been noted too for the uninspired, un-fantastic Fantastic Beasts screenplays, as well as her ever-raging, ever-controversial Twitter account.  Suffice it to say, it has been a downhill road since our beloved Potter books were first published in 1997.
    Few fans, however, have traversed the largely uncharted territories of Rowling’s post-Potter novels.  There are five, in total––The Casual Vacancy, a long novel detailing the happenings of a small English town; and the Cormoran Strike crime fiction series, consisting of four books as of yet and concerning the title detective and his assistant Robin Ellacott.  This week, I finished the Cormoran Strike series’s lengthy latest installment, Lethal White, which means that I can celebrate the not-very-celebratable milestone of having read every book J.K. Rowling has ever written.  Before I discuss this week’s read, I should provide background on the other works of this non-Potter phase of Rowling’s career.  She kicked off her exploration of the larger writing world with 2012’s realistic fiction The Casual Vacancy.  In one word, the book is unpleasant––it reeks with bitter, bickering conflicts and horribly unlikable characters.  The book feels as though Rowling had felt liberated from the constraints of children’s fiction and delved deep into the nastiest renditions of adult life.  Gone mad with the power of her new adult fiction abilities, Rowling confided all of her worst fears about the darkness of the adult soul to readers with raised eyebrows, and sought to strip every character she imagined to the very worst of their person.  She manage to mellow her tone in the following years with the Cormoran Strike whodunit books––The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm, published in 2013 and 2014 respectively, contained their own multitudes of glimpses into adult life (this time alongside the lurid corpses of crime victims) but the characters here had much more heart than the characters in The Casual Vacancy––they felt like actual people, as opposed to Vacancy’s cruel, callous machines.  Rowling quested for darker plots again in 2015’s Career of Evil, which was much grislier than either of its predecessors, featuring Jack the Ripper-like antics, the worst of which included gorey glimpses into the murderer’s collection of women’s body parts and a severed rotting toe taped to a wedding card.  But again, the characters were lovable and the relationships were endearing, and so the few Potter fans who had dared to venture this far into the darker recesses of Rowling’s troubled mind forgave her for the nightmares that Career of Evil caused.
    By the time Lethal White rolled around in 2018, the whodunit narrative felt a little old, particularly as this book’s question of “Was it a murder or was it suicide?” felt like a direct copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling’s case.  At this point, I would enjoy the novels much more if the entire mystery were cut out and was instead replaced with a soap opera-like view of Strike and Robin’s forbidden attraction to one another.  They’ve had their closest call yet to admitting their feelings for one another when Strike, to quote the final pages of the novel, “pulled [Robin] clumsily into a one-armed hug.”  Who knows, what with Troubled Blood coming out later this year, maybe more hopeful fans could expect a hug with two arms next time.  I’m certainly getting my hopes up that the upcoming novel will feature more character drama than plot drama, because I cannot for the life of me follow and enjoy the actual mystery, and I’m sick to death of elongated scenes in which Strike stumps around the London streets, brooding about the case and complaining about how much his amputated leg hurts.
    Here is a quick run-down of Lethal White’s plot: 
    Jasper Chiswell, a wealthy government minister, hires Cormoran Strike to investigate Jimmy Knight, a young activist, and Geraint Winn, husband of another government minister, who were blackmailing Chiswell for a cause unknown to Strike.  Strike agrees and places Robin Ellacott, his assistant, in Chiswell’s Parliament office undercover to keep tabs on Winn.  Robin meets Chiswell’s employees, including many of his children from various marriages to younger women.  Chiswell is then found dead in his office from overdose and then suffocation.  The death is believed to be suicide, but Chiswell’s daughter Izzy hires Strike to investigate further, hoping that Chiswell was instead murdered by his current wife Kinvara.  Strike discovers that Chiswell was being blackmailed because he built gallows for export, one of which was stolen by rebels in Zimbabwe and used to murder a British teenager.  Strike identifies Kinvara and Chiswell’s illegitimate son Raphael as accomplices in the murder, and Robin’s detective work reveals that Raphael’s motive was to steal a painting of Chiswell’s valued at twenty-two million dollars that he recognized as a work of George Stubbs.  After Strike and the police agree that the murder was the combined work of Kinvara and Raphael, Robin is captured by Raphael and held at gunpoint.  She survives long enough to be saved by Strike and the police.
    The case is interspersed with scenes from Strike’s and Robin’s personal lives.  For Robin, this means a rapidly deteriorating marriage that climaxes when she discovers that her husband is cheating on her, continued suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after being attacked by a murderer in the previous novel, and fending off her attraction for Strike.  For Strike, this means dealing with his nephew’s appendix bursting, breaking up with his girlfriend Lorelei, fending off his attraction to Robin, and––of course!––the endless complaints about how much the prosthesis attached to his amputated leg hurts him.  And there are many, many case-related plot details that I neglected to mention in my summary, because I think if I tried to mention everything of importance in the novel, my summary would be longer than the actual book.  I’m still not sure what the significance of some of those details were.
    I have read four of these Cormoran Strike books now, and each time I read one I start out by adequately understanding what is being talked about.  I get into such high spirits about understanding one of the mysteries that I completely miss the next wave of information being thrown at me, so that by the time the case concludes I’m drowning hopelessly in a sea of plot details that were lost on me.  When I was two-thirds through with Lethal White, I confessed to my sister, who has read the Strike books as well, that the ocean of plot had me drowned again, worried aloud that I might never truly enjoy detective fiction, and then added desperately, “But I understood Agatha Christie!”  To which my sister told me that she never really had a grasp on Rowling’s plots either, and then she said that I could follow Christie’s stories better because Christie was simply better at detective fiction.  To which the indignant Harry Potter fan in me rushed to defend the hero that we all know J.K. Rowling is, despite her lack of showing it over the last thirteen years.
    Despite my naivety at the details of the Strike cases, I would easily recommend Cormoran Strike to a friend.  All of the books in the series are more or less the same––confusing plot, intense and interesting looks into the lives and personalities of the characters, lovely prose, fairly satisfying conclusion.  They’re not perfect books, but they’re solidly dependable and easily readable.  The language and style of prose is heavily reminiscent of Harry Potter, and an astute reader will notice little exchanges between Strike and Robin that are worded exactly the same as exchanges between, for example, Harry and Hermione.  Therefore I enjoyed Lethal White.  And more importantly, I was so glad J.K. Rowling was filling up her time writing detective fiction: it means that the next Fantastic Beasts screenplay just might be slightly delayed.

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  • May 10, 2020 - 11:28am (Now Viewing)

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7 Comments
  • van gogh's girl

    wow. this is so interesting. im just starting out here and im mainly a poetry person, but it's soooo nice to see a v informative essay on here!!! is it weird i sorta liked cursed child, though?


    6 months ago
  • r|A|i|N

    @ursa thanks so much!


    6 months ago
  • Ursa

    I aspire to write book reviews this good ;;
    a delightful read for sure. your narrating voice is entertaining and you supply information in relevant, concise amounts. good work!


    6 months ago
  • r|A|i|N

    oh no, it wasn't a bad book - i personally didn't connect with the mystery, but i loved the characters and the relationships. it's a solid, dependable book, but it doesn't exceed that, in my opinion. if you liked the cuckoo's calling, you'll like all of the rest of the strike books - they're all about the same. thanks for reading!


    7 months ago
  • Wicked!

    I read The Cuckoo’s Calling last year, and though I actually liked it, I never really got down to reading the other Cormoran Strike books. After reading this, I don't know if I will. But this is such a well-written piece—you should actually consider sending this to pop culture websites or something.


    7 months ago
  • Dmoral

    i don't normally read pieces like this, but i figured since i liked you as a writer i might as well try something new. i liked it and it was very interesting.


    7 months ago
  • joella

    wow!! if this wasn't for an assignment, I'm in awe at your dedication to writing this piece (actually, even if it was. this is great :)


    7 months ago