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Review #55: Lethal White ★★★☆☆

Having grown up reading the classic whodunits, I can never restrain myself from a good mystery. Ironically, this also means that until now I had never followed a series as it was being written. This accolade falls to the “Cormoron Strike” series, though not particularly for its literary prowess.

Had it just been Robert Galbraith, I imagine that I would have never picked up the series since time is the biggest constraint to choice. The media speculation following the revelation of the author is what got me to give this series, then only a book, a go. Even then, the choice of medium oddly fell to audio, as an accompaniment to my daily journeys. Since then, it has become my medium of choice for the series.

To digress even further, Robert Glenister does a stellar job of bring the narrative to life and in my humble opinion, makes the work much better than it is. Albeit a different medium, I can draw a parallel to the work of John Thaw who elevated the character of Morse to a much higher level in the TV series than envisaged by Colin Dexter in his books. Speaking of TV, the BBC series on the book isn’t as captivating as it could be because of the source material, but Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger certainly do a good job of salvaging what they can.

I appear quite cynical of the literary aspect of the series and can’t justify it otherwise. My perception is based on hearing the unabridged audio version of the book and I can only imagine a reader going through the emotions simply to get to the end. While the audio book can be a good accompaniment to long, boring journeys; the same cannot be said of a printed book being read on the couch. I imagine authors will always try to get away with as many words as the editor will permit, but it is not something a reader begrudges.

Length aside, it seems that the series has fallen in to a rut and the fourth book brings about a dreaded sense of “more of the same”. It plays safe and does nothing to further the age-old whodunit template, but what makes it worse is that it ashamedly follows the template established in the earlier books. So, what you get is the intermingling of the unusually chaotic personal lives of its protagonists with a slow churner of a case involving broken relationships, upper-class idiosyncrasies, long-drawn conversations, staying in friend’s houses, Land Rover rides and a made-for-TV, action-packed climax.

Somewhere in all the drama, there is a story, and this leaves me to reminisce of the days when whodunits were all about the mystery. An Agatha Christie classic would develop a character to lead and mislead the reader in pursuit of the case whereas over here it is more of a means to have a nine-book or nine-season series. A well-placed drama within the context of the story can still be ornamental but unfortunately that is not the case here. The need to artificially generate it towards the end falls extremely flat and one can be forgiven for mistaking it to be a screenplay. It might be a reflection of the times or simply economics, but a lot of readers would be worse for it.

To give credit where its due, Rowling manages to intricately carve a scene which gets the imagination running. I had never read any of the Harry Potter books, but I can imagine its effectiveness in a make-believe world, if it works so well with real-life locations. Having never been to London, I do regret being unable to generate a mental map of a place, but the descriptions substitute for it quite well. However, this alone does not redeem the book when the content fails to live up to expectations. As a result, I don’t feel it obligatory for a reader/listener to part with their hard-earned money in favour of this book.

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