The tone of the novel is tragi-comic, but simmering underneath is a commentary on the way male violence is tolerated. Strike is Galbraith/Rowling’s exemplar of a decent but damaged man, struggling to overcome his own worst instincts. It’s a blistering piece of crime writing, but a great deal more than that...
As it turns out, the novel is slightly disappointing... Rowling/Galbraith does a brilliant, toe-curling job of portraying the misery of Robin’s marriage, and Matthew, although as objectionable as ever, is a bit more subtly drawn, with the author seeming not quite so determined to steer her readers’ sympathies away from him. Strike remains a compelling hero, with a peculiar charm all his own. The problem is that the various cases that Strike and Robin are investigating, one of which sees Robin going undercover at the House of Commons, are not quite interesting enough to sustain a volume so much longer than the average whodunnit. The writing seems sloppier than in previous volumes, too... There is a great deal to enjoy and admire here, but it does seem as if the busy cultural icon JK Rowling has taken the Pascal’s letter approach and written a long book because she didn’t have time to write a short one.
Lethal White is too long, and too complicated, but there is sharp social comedy to be found here, whether it’s the skewering of the upper classes, who call one another names such as Torks and Tinky and make horrible cups of tea, or the equally pointed lampooning of Jimmy Knight and his lefty protesters. Yes, sometimes the writing is overblown – can thoughts really go “scampering back like a dog to a blissfully pungent lamp-post”? – but Galbraith has learned an awful lot from Rowling, because this is the sort of gulp it down, obsessive reading experience that is reminiscent of her previous series.
The thriller story is gripping enough but the real suspense comes from the will-they-won’t-they dynamic between bluff ex-soldier Strike, who lost a leg to an IED in Afghanistan, and Robin, who started as an assistant but is now a partner in their detective agency. It’s a tension, you suspect, that won’t be resolved any time soon.
Galbraith’s novels have always been strongest when Robin and Strike are interacting, navigating their complicated feelings for each other while on a case. Unfortunately, for much of the novel they are kept apart... It proves that it’s the characters, not the mystery, that make the Galbraith novels worth reading... Lethal White is full of twists and turns, and when its many threads come together, it’s exciting and engaging reading. But with a bit of editing, it could have been brilliant reading.
Weighing in at 647 pages, Lethal White is the longest Cormoran Strike novel so far, and yet doesn’t feel overstuffed, meandering or verbose – more like a confidently-written, well-paced character-driven detective story that takes its time to come to the boil. Whether Robert Galbraith novels would be topping the bestseller charts without the big J.K Rowling reveal, we will never know. But judging from Lethal White’s merits, they’ve earned their place
...one suspects that Galbraith might have been a little more rigorously edited were he not the alter ego of our most successful living writer. The central murder doesn’t happen until nearly 300 pages in; while the slow burn to the plot shows admirable restraint, all the detail – the exposition and the setups that hint at withheld information – creates a sense of inertia.
The crime novelists I admire most – Simenon, Christie, Chandler – are more stiletto than broadsword. Galbraith is perhaps the first I would compare to a ladle. Why is the book so long? ... If it wasn’t autumn I’d say take this to the beach, enjoy what you can and leave it in the hotel.
The problem is that the various cases that Strike and Robin are investigating... are not quite interesting enough to sustain a volume so much longer than the average whodunnit. The writing seems sloppier than in previous volumes, too, with a surprisingly large number of laboured, pleonastic sentences; all the adverbs scrupulously edited out of the other new novels of the season seem to have been offered safe refuge in this one.
The mystery format is where Rowling is technically at her most virtuosic and thematically at her weakest. She excels at tossing extraneous details and bits of plot detritus at her reader and making it feel almost possible to organize them all into a coherent solution, and the result is maddeningly entertaining: It feels as though you should have everything you need to know exactly whodunnit and why, but you can never quite put the pieces together the way that Strike and Robin can. When they finally make their grand reveal, everything falls into place with an almost audible click. It’s immensely satisfying.
Written with JK Rowling's usual witty verve, quick-paced dialogue and with the deliciously complex mystery to wrap your head around at its heart, I expect fans of the Strike novel will devour Lethal White despite its hefty 656 pages, just to get to the heart of the excellent whodunit… while of course remaining highly invested in the complex relationship between Cormoran and Robin and where it'll be headed next.
At times you might feel as you did when reading the Harry Potter books, particularly later in the series, when they got longer and looser. You love the plot, and you love being in the company of the characters, and you admire the author’s voice and insights and ingenuity, and you relish the chance to relax into a book without feeling rushed or puzzled or shortchanged. At the same time, you long for the existence of a sharp garden implement. Not a machete, necessarily, but a pair of pruning shears.
Rowling says she was working on a play and two screenplays while writing Lethal White. It shows... The Potterlings won’t care; they don’t know any better. The convoluted ending relies on Robin behaving stupidly and placing herself in peril once again. Do yourself a favour and wait for the inevitable telly adaptation.