Career of Evil

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Career of Evil
Career of Evil Oct 2015.jpg
United States cover
Author Robert Galbraith
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Crime fiction
Publisher Sphere Books
(Little, Brown and Company)
Publication date
20 October 2015 (United States)
22 October 2015 (United Kingdom)
Pages 512
ISBN 978-0-7515-6227-9
Preceded by The Silkworm
Followed by Lethal White

Career of Evil is a 2015 crime fiction novel by J. K. Rowling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.[1] It is the third novel in the Cormoran Strike series of detective novels and will be followed by Lethal White in 2018.


Robin Ellacott, having worked for Cormoran Strike for a year, is now helping him as a full-time investigator in addition to carrying out her regular duties. Strike, meanwhile, has developed a relationship with radio presenter Elin but continues to have feelings for Robin, whose fiancé Matthew disapproves of the work she is doing.

One day, Robin receives a package containing a woman's severed leg and a message quoting from the Blue Öyster Cult song "Mistress of the Salmon Salt (Quicklime Girl)". Strike, who recognizes the song as one of his late mother's favorite songs, becomes convinced someone from his past sent Robin the package. He names four suspects to the Metropolitan Police, three of whom he knew from his time as an SIB investigator:

  • Terrence "Digger" Malley, a gangster with a history of mailing severed body parts and a member of the Harringay Crime Syndicate who was sent to prison after Strike testified against him;
  • Noel Brockbank, a Gulf War veteran and serial pedophile who Strike investigated during his time in the military and who blames Strike for taking his family away from him;
  • Donald Laing, a former member of the King's Own Royal Border Regiment who Strike arrested for physically abusing his wife and child, resulting in a dishonorable discharge and a 10-year prison sentence;
  • Jeff Whittaker, Strike's stepfather and a suspect in the death of Strike's mother who Strike believes is responsible despite the fact that Jeff was acquitted.

To Strike's annoyance, the police immediately focus on the gangster. Strike and Robin begin to look at those who have sent him unusual correspondence (stored in what they light-heartedly call the "nutters" drawer). Among these are letters from a young woman who had once requested Strike's help in amputating her own leg as a result of body dysmorphia.[2][3]

During another row about work, Robin deduces that Matthew had slept with his university friend Sarah Shadlock after Robin dropped out of university, which Matthew is ashamed to admit is true. Robin calls off her engagement and, drunk and miserable in the Tottenham, she reveals to Strike why she dropped out. Strike is dumbstruck by the revelation that Robin was raped and left for dead by an unknown attacker, but still manages to be impressed when she tells him that her evidence resulted in the rapist being convicted. Although he doesn't feel able to tell her so, Strike is hugely impressed by her resilience and strength.

Strike travels to Edinburgh, where one of his former SIB colleagues is now stationed. The colleague "forgets" to close out of Brockbank's military personnel file and leaves the room, due to his inability to disclose its contents to Strike, who is now classed as a civilian. Strike thereby discovers that Brockbank's pension is being sent to Barrow-in-Furness. He also borrows his colleague's car to visit Melrose, where Donald Laing's mother still lives. Hoping to gather information about Laing's current whereabouts, he is disappointed to find that Laing's mother is demented and is incapable of providing any help. In a stroke of luck, however, Strike is recognized and approached by one of her neighbours. The neighbour is good friends with the parents of Rona, Laing's ex-wife whom he was convicted of abusing, and agrees to arrange a meeting. During the meeting, Rona's mother expresses continuing gratitude to Strike (as he was the person who discovered her daughter, naked and chained to a bed), and enthusiastically offers any help she can. She tells him that Laing has not been welcome in Melrose for some time because of a history of violent behaviour, but that he did attempt to visit his mother recently before being forcefully driven away by his brothers. She reveals that, during Laing's childhood, a field owned by a farmer who dismissed Laing from his employ was mysteriously burned down, that several girls in the area had accused him of rape, and that she strongly suspects him of killing their family cat after Rona's parents warned her of their concerns regarding her then-boyfriend. None of these suspicions were ever confirmed because of Laing's charm when speaking to police. Finally, she admits that Laing visited Rona once since leaving prison, threatening to kill her in retribution for his son (who had died of neglect while Rona was chained to the bed). Armed with a photo of Laing (which Rona's mother had kept in the belief that she would one day need to give it to police), Strike returns to London.

The police soon learn that the leg sent to Robin matches the recently discovered body of the would-be amputee who had written to Strike and, shortly thereafter, Robin is sent another package. This time it contains a toe from the left foot of the same corpse, along with more Blue Öyster Cult lyrics. Strike is very concerned that both packages, while meant to taunt him personally, had been addressed and sent to Robin by name. The negative publicity from the receipt of the leg, combined with Strike's efforts to protect Robin from the risk posed by the killer, jeopardize both Strike's business and their working relationship.

Strike and Robin journey through England to track their three suspects, with mixed results. They travel to Laing's last known address, in Corby, and meet Lorraine, a middle-aged woman whom Laing had been living with shortly after leaving prison. Lorraine provides important information, including the fact that Laing now suffers from psoriatic arthritis, and provides them with a more current photograph, in which his physique is almost unrecognizably different. She describes him as moody but nonviolent, admitting that he did rob her of her money and jewellery before suddenly leaving. She was unaware that he was ever married or that he had been to prison.

From Corby, Robin and Strike travel to Barrow-in-Furness to seek out Holly Brockbank, the person who has been cashing Noel's military pension cheques. Robin displays great skill in questioning Holly– under the pretense of being a lawyer interested in Noel's military injuries– without Strike's presence. Robin discovers that Holly is Noel's twin sister who had been left to care for him following his departure from the army, which was the result of a brain injury that also left him physically disfigured. Holly reveals that he had been prone to violent outbursts, destroying her flat more than once and occasionally striking her. She discloses that their stepfather had been molesting them for their entire childhood and that she is completely aware that her brother is a paedophile. After a particularly violent outburst, Holly finally kicked him out of her flat and threatened to tell the police of his sexual proclivities. In desperation, Noel offered Holly his military pension in exchange for her silence. Holly also confirms that Noel's blaming of Strike for his circumstances have amounted to an obsession and that he brings the subject up to everybody without provocation. Before leaving, Robin extracts Brockbank's most recent place of work from his sister.

During the long car rides between towns, Strike gradually brings Robin up to speed on his ex-stepfather, Jeff Whittaker. Strike reveals that Whittaker displays all the symptoms of being a narcissist sociopath, and that he has always been unusually fascinated by death. He used to quote Satanic lyrics to Strike regularly, especially those glorifying death and decay. Strike asserts that, although his mother was a notorious rock groupie, she had never taken heroin at the time that she supposedly overdosed, which was soon after a confrontation with Whittaker over money. Strike reveals that Whittaker was found to have kept a dead woman's body with him in a flat for over a month some years after Leda Strike's death. As Robin and Strike approach London at the end of their trip, Strike is tipped off that Whittaker is currently living in London, pimping and possibly selling methamphetamine.

The killer strikes twice more during the investigation, cutting two fingers from one victim and the ear lobes from another, leading to the killer becoming known as the Shacklewell Ripper and officially transitioning the police case into a hunt for a serial murderer. Meanwhile, Wardle's brother is struck and killed in a hit-and-run motor accident, necessitating his departure from work. He relinquishes the case to Roy Carver, the lead investigator on the Lula Landry case. Carver is still furious that Strike solved the case, which Carver had ruled a suicide, thereby shaming the police. He spitefully informs Strike that the open line into the department's investigation he had enjoyed while Wardle was in command is now closed and threatens legal action if Strike continues his own investigation. Exploiting a technicality, Strike agrees not to go anywhere near Carver's suspects, which are vastly different from his three leads.

Strike and Robin alternately tail Whittaker, who is squatting in an apartment with a young woman he is pimping. Noticing bruises on the young woman, Robin attempts to help her under the guise of Venetia Hall, Robin's undercover alter-ego. Although unwilling to leave Whittaker, the young woman does reveal that, on the night the first victim would have been killed, Whittaker had forced her to have sex with his entire band in a van. Robin therefore concludes that, while Whittaker is abominable, he is not the Shacklewell Ripper. Upon leaving her meeting with Whittaker's girl, Robin is attacked and nearly killed by the real Ripper. She receives a long gash up her arm, but manages to set off a rape alarm which attracts help and sprays him in the eyes with red paint, though she never sees his face. In the aftermath of the attack, Strike believes he has identified the killer, but Carver spitefully disregards all of Strike's information. Strike loses both of his remaining clients.

Robin takes action against Brockbank without Strike's knowledge, as she believes he is now molesting his current girlfriend's young daughters. Robin's intervention saves the girls, but sends Brockbank into hiding. When Strike discovers what Robin has done, he explains that Carver suspects her of having visited Brockbank on Strike's instruction and is rallying to arrest him for interfering in a police investigation. Overcome by his situation with Carver and the loss of his only remaining clients, Strike fires Robin for gross misconduct. Robin is bereft, but returns to Masham for her impending wedding to Matthew, with whom she had reconciled after her attack. Strike tries to contact her, but Matthew removes evidence of this from Robin's phone.

Now working alone, Strike forms a plan to corner the killer, whom he is sure he has identified. The killer is Donald Laing, who has built a separate parallel identity as Ray Williams, the live-in boyfriend of the would-be amputee's older sister. Together with his thug acquaintance Shanker, Strike attempts to gain access to the flat Laing is using as a base for his killing activities. Inside, he is attacked by Laing but manages to overcome him before successfully handing him over to the police. Brockbank is also apprehended, as a result of a tip from a local homeless shelter.

Now free from the stress of the murderer, Strike decides to repair his relationship with Robin by attending her wedding, the invitation to which was never formally rescinded following her dismissal. After a frantic dash to the church, Strike arrives just in time to see Robin and Matthew exchange vows. The novel ends as Robin looks into the room full of wedding guests, sees Strike, and beams.


Main characters[edit]

Cormoran Strike – a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and an ex-SIB investigator who was honourably discharged from the military after losing half of his right leg in a bomb attack.

Although he was able to stay with the SIB, he chose to leave to avoid becoming too comfortably institutionalized. He has since become a private investigator. He is a minor celebrity, thanks in part to his notorious rock star father and his solving of the two high-profile murders of the first two novels. At the start of the story, his business is flourishing.

Robin Ellacott – Strike's assistant (originally his secretary) who has just completed a course in criminal investigation, paid for by Strike. Her marriage to her longtime boyfriend-fiancé Matthew Cunliffe, an accountant, is rapidly approaching. As a survivor of a rape and attempted murder, she is extremely sensitive regarding sex crimes. As a result, she is unwilling to stop investigation of Noel Brockbank, one of Strike's suspects, once she discovers that he has a history of abusing children and is likely sexually abusing his current girlfriend's young daughter.


Donald Laing - a Scot from the Borders, formerly in the military where he and Strike first met. Laing had actually boxed against Strike in the Army, and had bitten Strike's face after realizing that he was losing, leading to disciplinary action. Despite this, Laing was charming and able to convince others of his good character. However, investigating on his own, Strike found that Laing had been physically abusing his wife and child. Laing was arrested and convicted for this, serving 10 years of a 16-year sentence.

Noel Brockbank - a former major from Barrow-in-Furness, who had served in both the first Gulf War and Bosnia, before becoming another longtime enemy of Strike's. He had married a deceased colleague's widow, who had two young daughters. When she was 12, the elder daughter told a school friend about her stepfather's sexual abuse and threats. When Brockbank resisted arrest, Strike struck him, and he suffered a traumatic brain injury from a preexisting skull fracture after which he feigned insanity. During the period of abuse, Brockbank had told his stepdaughter he once tried to saw her leg off (according to Strike she actually got it caught in barbed wire when she was younger, giving her a scar similar to the one on the leg sent to Strike's office which led him to suspect Brockbank); however, he was never tried and was instead invalided out of the military.

"Digger" Malley - a professional gangster with a previous murder to his credit and who had previously sent a body part, leading Strike to suspect him. In a joint operation with Vice Squad into a drug ring, Strike had uncovered the evidence for which Malley had been imprisoned. However, since Strike had given evidence anonymously, Strike believed that Malley was unaware that Strike was behind his arrest and conviction. The police then discovered Malley was in Spain when the leg was sent to Robin, eliminating him from the inquiry.

Jeff Whittaker - stepfather of Strike and widower of Strike's mother Leda. Whitaker was only a few years older than Strike and had married Leda because she was famous and because he presumed she had a large fortune; he persuaded her to write him into her will. After Leda's death in 1994, Whittaker went on trial for her murder but was found not guilty. However Strike and "Shanker", who both testified for the Crown, remained convinced that Whitaker killed Leda. Strike also primarily suspected Whittaker of sending the severed leg because the sender would have to had seen Leda naked in order to know about her tattoo, but Robin later discovered a nude photograph of Leda (with the tattoo visible) on the Internet, which opened the possibility of other suspects.

Other characters[edit]

"Shanker" - Nickname of a former flatmate of Strike, whose mother Leda took him in after she found him badly beaten in a gutter. Shanker works in the illegal drugs trade, is about Strike's age, has a disfigured face, calls Strike "Bunsen" and also hates Whittaker. He is willing to help Strike and Robin with just about anything in return for money. He helps Strike trace Whittaker, helps Robin confront Brockbank, helps Strike apprehend Laing and, at the end, drives Strike to Yorkshire for Robin's wedding.

Eric Wardle - The police detective inspector originally in charge of the case of the severed leg. He remained friendly with Strike after the events of the previous two novels. He dropped out of the case after the unexpected death of his brother, who was hit by a car.

Roy Carver - Wardle's replacement, who was the detective inspector who had been in charge of the Lula Landry case and who still harboured a grudge against Strike.

Matthew Cunliffe - Robin's fiancé, an accountant who distrusts Robin's relationship with Strike. After having many arguments and even splitting part way through the novel, Matthew marries Robin at the conclusion of the novel.

Elin Toft - Strike's girlfriend, a former violinist and current radio presenter.

Linda Ellacott - Robin's mother is supportive of her daughter, especially during her separation from Matthew. During the novel, Linda visits Robin in London.


In The Guardian, reviewer Christobel Kent called the novel "daft but enjoyable", with a "narrative dizzying in its proliferation of character, location and detail, and tirelessly, relentlessly specific." She summarised, "the whole is delivered with such sheer gusto – and, crucially, such a confident hold on a deliriously clever plot – that most sensible readers will simply cave in and enjoy it."[3]

On 30 May, Career of Evil was one of the six novels nominated for the title of Theakston Old Peculier crime novel of the year.[4]


In March 2017, Rowling posted a clue regarding the title of the fourth book in the series on her Twitter account. One fan guessed the title, with Rowling revealing that the title of her next book will be Lethal White.[5]

On 23 Mar. 2018, Rowling tweeted that she had completed the manuscript for Lethal White.[6]

In other media[edit]


On 10 December 2014, it was announced that the novels would be adapted as a television series for BBC One, starting with The Cuckoo's Calling.[7][8] Rowling will executive produce the series through her production company Brontë Film and Television, along with Neil Blair and Ruth Kenley-Letts. The three event dramas will be based on scripts by Ben Richards who will write The Cuckoo’s Calling, and Tom Edge who will write The Silkworm and Career of Evil. Michael Keillor will direct The Cuckoo’s Calling, Kieron Hawkes will direct The Silkworm and Charles Sturridge will direct Career of Evil. Jackie Larkin will produce. [9]

In September 2016, it was announced that Tom Burke was set to play Cormoran Strike in Strike, [10] and in November 2016 it was announced that Holliday Grainger will star as Strike's assistant, Robin Ellacott. [11]