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Review of "Lethal White" by Robert Galbraith

3 / 5 Stars

"Lethal White" by Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling).

Context first: I am an unashamed superfan of Harry Potter (who knew?). Therefore, Robert Galbraith being a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling means I trip over myself to buy "his" books almost as fast as I did Harry Potter. Almost. Galbraith's crime novels are extremely entertaining, but not quite worth sleeping on the Barnes & Noble sidewalk for.

That said, I offer the following disclaimer: Galbraith's novels are high-stakes heart-pounding life-and-death Gringotts cart rides I'm always confident I'll enjoy. But of the current four novels, Lethal White felt more like a leisurely sail across the Black Lake.

The first chapter sets a dizzying pace and continues a dramatic plot between the detective and his secretary, thrusting the reader into a whirlwind of tension, both maddening and delightful. It's almost as good as hating Professor Umbridge. So far so badass.

After this tight introduction, the Lethal White case unfolds. It is more political than the previous stories, and for me, that aspect was difficult to follow. It may just be my American ignorance about British politics, but maybe the connections and implications could have been made more accessible for a diverse audience.

I find no fault with the intricate story or the many characters popping in and out serving as red herrings, but the tension in the case lagged in the middle. The pace of the plot relied often on the secretary's post-traumatic-stress symptoms disrupting her work, which got us closer into the character's mind, but further from tangible real-life danger.

Two qualms about the ending (no spoilers):

  1. the unveiling of the mystery was so low-stakes as to be anticlimactic, and

  2. (and worse) the identity of the criminal was intentionally hidden even as the characters discussed this person. They hold several conversations about this person without revealing the name. They don't even specify the gender, because, tension? But rather than heighten tension, it created frustration, because the author's effort to conceal this resulted in unnatural and confusing dialogue. The conversation floated off the page and out of my mind because I was unable to decipher the context. It felt more like a trick than craft. Mystery is good, but censoring even the main character's thoughts (to which we've heretofore been privy) to conceal information suggests the character both knows but doesn't know the information, of which sense that makes bollocks all.

This story also exhibited a tendency toward verbosity which I hadn't yet experienced in Rowling's writing. Generally her prose is sharp as a needle and tight as a crew cut and every detail is significant for story, character, or voice, but the narrative in Lethal White often felt heavy with extraneous detail.

Even so, I still soaked up the story like a sun-dried Sahara-Desert sponge, because even as the crime aspect was less thrilling, the dramatic aspect was more-so, and I am more than a little excited to read the next development in the relationship between detective and secretary.

Say I'm a romantic sap, just don't say I drink the J.K. Rowling Kool-Aid.

But that's just one person's review. Have a different view? I'd love your thoughts. Add a comment below!

[ Like this? See more at #mysteryreviews. ]



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