Lethal White by Robert Galbraith: A review

This a big, sprawling tale, fourth in the Cormoran Strike/Robin Ellacott mystery series. Each one has been better than the last.

This one starts where the last one ended - at Robin's wedding to Matthew, an absolute jerk who everyone except her can see is wrong for her. Actually, even she sees it, but she has several years of her life invested in the relationship plus a lot of her parents' hard-earned money spent on the wedding and she just can't find it within herself to pull the plug.

Moreover, she has been fired from her job by Cormoran Strike and now her relationship with Matthew seems like the only thing she has going for her. The only bright spot of the day is when Cormoran shows up at the wedding and gives her a hug and they reconcile.

Fast forward a year. Robin is back at work as a detective, now a partner in the agency which is doing quite well. They've solved some big cases and gotten a lot of public notice as a result.

A young man named Billy Knight comes to their office to ask for Cormoran's help. He is obviously in mental distress and confused but he tells the detective a story about witnessing the murder of a child - a girl or perhaps a boy who looked like a girl - when he himself was a small child. He cannot remember all of the details but he seems quite sincere and convinced. Before Cormoran can really question him, he panics and runs out of the office.

Cormoran is intrigued and commits himself to getting to the bottom of the strange story.

Meanwhile, the agency is hired by Britain's culture minister, Jasper Chiswell (pronounced chizzel), to investigate an attempt to blackmail him over something that happened a few years back. Except he won't reveal exactly what that something is, so the detectives are working in the dark. In order to unravel the mystery, Robin goes undercover in the minister's office and thus we get a glimpse of the workings of the House of Commons.

Chiswell is from a well-connected, once-rich family that has now devolved into a group of entitled, power-abusing, greedy, backstabbing, thoroughly dysfunctional bunch of snobs. Thus, it is not too surprising when Chiswell is found dead in his office at home. At first the death looks like a suicide, but we just know that isn't the case; there are too many people who would have been glad to see the end of him. Suddenly, Robin and Cormoran have another high-profile murder to investigate.

While pursuing this case, Cormoran continues searching for Billy and trying to resolve that mystery. Robin, meantime, has another chance to go undercover to get more information about a provocateurs' group called the Real Socialist Party whose leader, Jimmy Knight, may be Chiswell's blackmailer and, it turns out, is Billy's brother. In the end, all the mysteries are connected and we see how everything fits together.    

This is an old-fashioned novel in many ways. It is 656 pages long and it offers thorough exposition of all the protagonists' feelings, motivations, and activities. Moreover, the major action of the novel takes place during the London Olympics and we get descriptions of the bad traffic which snarls the city as well as Londoners' feelings of pride about the success of the Olympics. We feel the pain of Cormoran as he hobbles around the city - he always seems to be walking somewhere - on his one-and-a-half legs, his prosthesis rubbing his leg stump raw. We suffer through the miserable year of marriage with Robin as she finally acknowledges that it just isn't going to work. We endure Comoran's angst over his various girlfriends and a family emergency that occurs in the midst of all this. It is all exhaustively described and while it may sound like exhausting reading, it really isn't. Even at 650+ pages, I was sorry to see it end.

That Robert Galbraith is quite a writer and I foresee a great future for him. He reminds me in some ways of another writer, the one who wrote all those exhaustively described Harry Potter books. What was her name?

My rating: 5 of 5 stars 


  1. Oh dear, I have fallen behind on this series. I liked the books right off the bat and have read the first two. I only might have just about had enough of Cormoran's raw leg stump but I am looking forward to the rest. It is amazing how this author, under whichever name, can keep a reader captivated throughout so many pages.

    1. She does tend to put a lot of emphasis - and descriptive passages - into that leg stump. But then I suppose that goes far in describing just who Strike is and she always wants us to know her characters very, very well. It is one of the more attractive aspects about her writing.

  2. I read a review of this book less than two weeks ago that was less glowing. The reviewer didn't like this book as much as the previous ones in the series, precisely because of all the hodgepodge of topics. Glad you thought different.

    1. I can see how some readers might find it a bit too much of a good thing, but I ate it all up.


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