Lethal White, the fourth installment of Robert Gailbrath’s Cormoran Strike series, proves to be the best one yet (In my humble opinion). I quickly learned I was of the minority for not really enjoying Career of Evil. I felt it moved too slow and after a while the plot seemed obvious. However, I did thoroughly enjoy learning more about Cormoran’s past. And that ending?! Well.
Going into Lethal White I was eager to dive back into the worlds of Robin and Cormoran. I’m glad I only finished Career of Evil a couple of months ago, because Lethal White begins right where Career of Evil left off.
For anyone who is not familiar with the plot of Lethal White:
When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.
Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott—once his assistant, now a partner in the agency—set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.
And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been—Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.
**This review will contain major spoilers. If you have not read the book yet, stop now**
Lethal White opened at Robin and Matthew’s wedding right after the ceremony aka right after Cormoran drops a flower-pot and Robin says her “I do” vows while looking at Cormoran. Matthew of course gets angry because he still believes Robin secretly has the hots for Cormoran. Robin FINALLY finds out Matthew deleted Cormoran’s calls and voicemails from her phone, and a huge fight happens at their wedding which results in Robin’s brother punching Matthew. After the drama of the opening chapter, the book jumps an entire year and we are transplanted in the midst of Cormoran and Robin’s lives. Robin and Matthew are of course unhappy and Cormoran seems to have a healthy relationship with a woman who owns a vintage shop, Lorelei. The agency appears to be running better than ever since Cormoran caught the Shacklewell Ripper, and they are able to hire some extra help, including a man Cormoran once had to investigate during his army days, Sam Barclay.
Throughout Lethal White, it was hard to read exchanges between Matthew and Robin because let’s face it, Matthew is awful. He’s been awful this entire series. I was hoping Robin would come to her senses at the end of Career of Evil and decide to not go through with the wedding, but alas. During Lethal White you find out Robin has been experiencing panic attacks as a result of the events during Career of Evil. I mean, who wouldn’t have some resulting affects from being attacked?! Matthew of course is not supportive which makes Robin hide her attacks from Matthew. Needless to say I was jumping for joy when Robin decided to leave Matthew once and for all at the end for sleeping with Sarah Shadlock AGAIN. Gross.
The plot of the book at first seems simple enough: a young man named Billy comes into Strike’s office claiming to have witnessed a murder of a child when he was younger. However, because Billy suffers from a serious mental illness, and has been off his medication, he is not very coherent and Strike is reluctant about his story. But if we know Strike it’s not going to leave his mind entirely.
And it doesn’t.
Strike decides to do a bit of digging and finds out Billy’s full name is Billy Knight and he has an older brother, Jimmy Knight, who heads a local radical activist group who are against the London Olympics. Strike decides to attend one of the group’s meetings in hopes Jimmy knows where Billy’s whereabouts are.
Jimmy says he doesn’t know where his brother is, but Strike isn’t so sure he’s being honest.
Here’s where the plot starts to thicken in true Gailbrath fashion.
After Strike attends the activist meeting, he gets a call from the Minister of Culture, Jasper Chiswell who believes Jimmy Knight is the person black mailing him for unknown reasons Chiswell won’t say. Just that it was “in the past.” Chiswell is hoping Strike will help him obtain information on not only Jimmy Knight, but who he believes is truly responsible, Geraint Winn. Winn is the husband of Della Winn, who is the Minister for Sport. Of course, readers are left in the dark as to the specifics of Chiswell’s reasoning’s behind the blackmail. Strike agrees to help out Chiswell because he is offering to pay a pretty penny. He instructs Robin to go undercover at parliament as one of Chiswell’s many godchildren to try and bug Winn’s office, and has Sam Barclay go undercover in Jimmy Knight’s activist group to gain Jimmy’s trust.
During Robin’s time in parliament the reader is introduced to multiple characters. First, there is Isabelle Chiswell, who goes by Izzy. Izzy is one of Jasper Chiswell’s daughters from his first marriage. Next, you meet Raphael, the half brother to Izzy. Raphael is seen as the black sheep of the family due to a drunken accident that caused the death of a young mother.Plus, he’s seen as the illegitimate child from the other Chiswell children because his mother had an affair with Chiswell while he was married to his first wife–the mother of the other Chiswell children. The book then introduces you to Kinarva Chiswell, Jasper Chiswell’s third wife and whom his children have nicked-named Tinky the Second. She’s described as being young enough to be his daughter, and comes across as shrill and aloof. Even at times needy.
Robin is successful in bugging Winn’s office and finds out that Geraint Winn has been embezzling money from his wife’s charities. Strike uses that information to have Winn back off Chiswell.
But then….Chiswell commits suicide. (or does he?)
Here we have what I consider to be our second main plot line: find out what happened to Jasper Chiswell. Mind you, we still have no idea if Billy Knight did in fact see a child murdered when he was younger. Are the two connected?
Izzy Chiswell believes Kinarva killed Jasper as she was preparing to divorce him, but there is no proof. The rest of the family believes it was a suicide. Strike believes it was a murder and Jimmy Knight is somehow responsible, but Strike has no proof. The last half of the book focuses on Jimmy Knight and his past. You find out Jimmy and Billy actually grew up on the Chiswell’s country side property, and their father worked for Jasper Chiswell doing something that “at the time was not illegal but is now” according to Chiswell’s words before he died. Strike is stumped about what this could mean.
Robin goes undercover again at a local shop to try to obtain information from Jimmy Knight’s girlfriend, Flick. Her work pays off when she goes to a house party at Flick’s and discovers a stolen note hidden in the bathroom written by Jasper Chiswell right before his death. Flick stole the note believing it had something to do with Jimmy. Robin is able to deter from this note that Flick posed as Chiswell’s cleaning lady to help Jimmy blackmail Chiswell. After Chiswell initially refused to pay Knight, Knight turned to Geraint Winn who blamed Chiswell’s oldest son Freddie for the suicide of his daughter, Rhiannon. Strike and Robin discover that Chiswell used to build gallows with Jimmy Knight’s father and when Jimmy’s father passed away, Chiswell cheated the Knight sons out of $40 million dollars — the sale of two gallows, and the amount Chiswell was being blackmailed for.
That makes the blackmailing part of the plot all wrapped up nice in a little bow. However, we still do not know who the killed Jasper Chiswell and if Billy Knight really did in fact see a child die.
To the question if Billy Knight saw a child murdered, the short answer is no. What he saw was Freddie Chiswell choke Raphael to unconsciousness one night “up by the horse” — meaning up by the local horse engraving on the hill. When Strike reveals the news to Billy in the final chapter he is relieved.
Now. Was Jasper Chiswell murdered or did he commit suicide? The answer: of course it was murder. It wouldn’t be a classic Robert Gailbrath novel if it wasn’t murder! But who did it? It wasn’t just one person you see, it was two people in fact. One person who wanted to be loved, and another wanting freedom.
The culprits? Kinvara and Raphael.
I will admit the reveal of who had committed the murders was not as fun as finally finding out all of the Chiswell family secrets. I kind of expected Kinvara to be somehow involved so to me it wasn’t a surprise. You almost feel a bit of remorse for her as she is portrayed as nothing more than a woman who wanted out of a loveless marriage and found somehow who she thought loved her back.
Raphael’s guilt was a surprise only in the bone chilling way he describes the plot to kill his father. How calculating and manipulating he was makes him the perfect murderer. Finally, he reveals he was eventually planning to kill off Kinavara, and his mother whom he describes as nothing but a high priced whore. What a charming guy. His reasoning for killing his father? He wanted freedom. He wanted what he thought was owed him and to be done with the family.
This was my favorite book so far in the Cormoran Strike series and I cannot wait for the next one. I hope Robin stays away from Matthew, and that the agency stays afloat. It was revealed in the earlier part of the book that a major developer had bought the building Strike lives and works in. Let’s hope they’re allowed to stay or hey–maybe this means they can move into a bigger office and get more clients!
Let me know if you’ve read Lethal White and what you thought about it.
Until next time!