Rowling says ‘Career of Evil’ is Her “Best Planned Book” — Is It a Ring?

f39171174Have you finished Career of Evil yet? When you have or when you’re curious about what she may have meant in 2014 when she said her planning for the book was “insane,” head on over to, where I’ve posted my first take on the book’s structure.

f42033126In brief, my working thesis for your collaboration or debunking efforts is that the chapters featuring the killer as narrator mark the beginning and end of each one of the book’s seven parts, that Career‘s beginning, middle, and end Parts, 1, 4, and 7, conform to ring composition formula, and that the novel is a turtle-back ring as well, it’s other four Parts, 2 and 6, 3 and 5, echoing or reflecting one another across the story axis.

Which would be consistent with the scaffolding of Casual Vacancy and the first two Strikes.

See you over at!

‘Career of Evil’ Publication Day! An Almost Spoiler Free Review of Rowling’s Latest Cormoran Strike Mystery

COEBy a happy providence, I was able to purchase and read Career of Evil the weekend before its publication date. The only real grin and giggles I have had from the book, though, has been showing it to friends at the annual Chestnut Hill College Harry Potter conference.

Because Career is not a book for laughs, believe me. I’ll try not to fill this day of publication review with spoilers, but, if you want your reading experience to be pristine (quite the trick because of the Amazon book description and the two chapter excerpts published last week), you’d best stop here.

The story is straightforward. A 21st Century Jack the Ripper is loose in London and he has a special hatred for Cormoran Strike. The murderer, who narrates chapters throughout Career, sends Strike’s partner, Robin Ellacott, the dismembered leg of a woman he has butchered. The story when it hits the newspapers dries up work at the detective agency so Cormoran and Robin do their best to track down the three men from his past that Strike believes are sufficiently twisted and motivated to commit these crimes. During their investigations across the UK, we learn both Robin’s painful backstory in the context of her imminent wedding to Matthew Cunliffe and the circumstances of Leda Strike’s death.

f38696678I haven’t yet done the heavy lifting that a proper appreciation of a Rowling novel requires, namely, charting the book by chapter and parts to break out its ring elements as well as working out the links toPrisoner of Azkaban. That’s work I’ll do for the full discussion we’ll have here at in the weeks to come.

Right now, though, I think serious readers of Jo Rowling will walk away from the third Strike detective thriller convinced of three things that they may have thought but were not sure of:

  • Narrative Slow Release

We were told at her outing as the author that the Cormoran Strike books were a seven book series, a position Jo Rowling has walked back since to allow there could be an indefinite number. In discussions at MuggleNet Academia and here at, the idea that Rowling continuing to publish these books under a pseudonym because she is a writing a series in parallel to the Hogwarts Saga and as commentary on it has become a commonplace.

As interesting a theory as that is – and, yes, there are Prisoner notes in Career – what we see most clearly in this installment is Rowling’s genius in laying out a story that is a satisfying, fully engaging tale in itself while simultaneously revealing elements of the larger over-arching seven part mystery that create something like fascination with the story to come. Just as the Marauder revelations in the Shrieking Shack gave Harry’s parents’ death and his battle with the Dark Lord a third dimension, so Strike’s memories in Career about his mother’s death and our meeting the man he thinks responsible for her death bring that event, the core enigma of the series, into greater focus.

dollsRowling’s unique ability to write this kind of Matryoshka ‘Nesting Doll’ story inside a story is in full flower inCareer of Evil and those who appreciate her craft will be delighted. Her ever more sophisticated and rich use of language, too, makes another reason to celebrateCareer’s publication today.

  • Violence Against Women

Patrick McCauley’s wonderful new book Into the Pensieve is important work on several levels but I think his discussion of the subliminal and essential place of violence against women in the Potter Schoolboy Epic is his most significant contribution (listen to him talk about it on MuggleNet Academia, episode 36). In brief, Harry, Voldemort, Dumbledore, and Snape are the men they are because of tragic abuse of the most important women in their lives. This and the several suggested rapes imbedded in the novels (Katie Bell, Dolores Umbridge, Helena Ravenclaw, Ariana) make violence against women as much a part of the Wizarding World backdrop as the magic.

Casual-VacancyMcCauley’s thesis, of course, has only been confirmed by Rowling’s post-Potter oeuvre. Casual Vacancy is a painful slide show of women of all ages, class, and belief in duress, usually because of the abuse of men with whom they are in relationship. The first two Strike mysteries, too, are about the painful lives of women unable to be the people they wanted to be; Lula Landry is haunted and hunted by the press and all the women attached to Owen Quine – wife Leonora, agent Liz Tassel, lover Kate Kent – are abused by him.

Career of Evil takes this theme to agonizing new levels. Rowling has said the research she did for this novel gave her nightmares. Sensitive readers will certainly flinch at the violent histories and events recounted in Career, all of which seem to involve the rape, beating, or mental torture of wife, girlfriend, mother, or sister. Not to mention the stalking of Robin Ellacott and our murderer’s fantasies of dismembering her.

Dickens may be dismissed as a one note author. All of his books except Pickwick turn to greater or lesser degree on the helplessness of children in modern, industrial England. I suspect Rowling may be remembered as a writer consumed by the nightmare of women at risk, women in abusive homes and relationships they cannot escape.

It is not a risky theme, certainly; no one is ‘for’ violence against women and speaking out against it requires no more courage than being against slavery or air pollution. But, like Dickens and his orphans, Rowling’s women stay with the reader and brings to the front of the mind, the tragedies that surround us, what we too often dismiss as inevitable or inconsequential.

  1. Popularity

Which brings me to my concluding point. I have said more than once in the previous months that I believed Career of Evil would be the book that brought Harry Potter fans to the Cormoran Strike series in the way that Prisoner induced Potter Mania at the end of the 20th Century. I predicted, correctly, it turns out, that the third book would include larger story revelations that give that mystery its first real substance. I thought this would excite Rowling’s fans to get on board her Peg Legged Private Eye’s train.

I doubt that now. I doubt it very much. As good as the writing is – and, again, Rowling’s sophistication as a writer and wordsmith is almost apace with her brilliance as a plotter and story teller – as wonderfully real and archetypal as her stock and new characters are, as exciting as the book itself and the backstory revealed are, and as relevant as the pictures of suffering women must be, this last is painful enough, the exposition so specific and memorable, I have to doubt it will inspire joyous repeated readings and conversations as her Potter adventures did.

Rowling is to be admired for this, I think, and applauded. She is lending her art to generating different, more personal conversations between men and women, and, one hopes, resolutions of escape from abuse among her women readers. I have learned in the wake of reading Career from different women stories they had not shared with me before about abuse they, their sisters, mothers, and daughters have experienced. I am newly aware of a crisis all around me and grateful to Jo Rowling for dedicating her books to fostering this awareness.

My Willy Wonka Moment: Finding the ‘Career of Evil’ Golden Ticket

f38699558Do you remember the grave fandom concerns in 2007 around the possibility that copies of Deathly Hallows would be stolen before the official Midnight Flood Gates Opening? The Presence Herself mentioned her hope in almost every interview in the months leading up to the Event that the finale would not be spoiled for many readers by those determined to find a copy of the seventh book and post a flash scan of it online.

Of course, a few Black Hats did do their best to burst the party balloons, but for the most part the readers who bought copies before anyone else were able to do so, not by subterfuge or intrigue, but because of errors made by store clerks. If memory serves (and mine is doing the dishes now), there was a Walmart or CostCo in Toronto in which an overnight stocker disregarded the ‘DO NOT OPEN UNTIL –‘ stamps on each side of a box and put out 20 copies of Deathly Hallows. Which were promptly purchased and disappeared.

No harm done. A few turned them in but most of these happy readers just read the books privately and waited for the rest of the world before commenting at their favorite web sites.

I had this experience this past Thursday, believe it or not, if the release of Career of Evil does not merit a reading on the literary-release seismic scale as did the earth-shaking Deathly Hallows. And I’m still in this odd book-possession-limbo.

Chestnut Hill College1Friday last was the annual Harry Potter Conference at Chestnut Hill College, an event which is rapidly becoming a Hogwarts Saga Serious Reader ‘must event.’ 37 challenging talks in one day with three first-tier plenary speakers, two book launches with authors on hand, and a Secondary School Essay Contest with thousands of dollars in college scholarship money to be won, all on a campus with a classroom castle on the hill that screams ‘Hogwarts!’ The hospitality, the school, the Quidditch Tournament, the town that plays Hogsmead to gown’s School of Wizardy — if you haven’t been, they’ve already announced next year’s date — 21 October. See you there.

I had to fly out of OKC to get there Thursday night because, hey, it’s a one day conference that squeezes more quality scholarship into ten hours of meetings on parallel tracks than should be legal so they start early. I wanted something to read so on my way to the plane I looked into an Oklahoma City bookshop, a glorified newstand truth be told, for something to read on the flight and in Dallas for my one stop before flying to Philadelphia.

sun-rotherhamI don’t often read newspapers (thank you, Rolf Dolbelli!) but I was in the mood. I didn’t like anything I saw, though, at least nothing I was willing to pay more than a dollar to read. I looked at the magazines. I’m getting a little old for the fare that was available and I’m sufficiently disconnected from American Celebrity currents that I wasn’t tempted by the various flavors of People magazine on offer. Which brought me to the paperback books over by the candy racks.

I read a lot of thrillers for my MFA papers (“annotations”). I may have succeeded in overwhelming the attraction I ever may have felt for the genre by that forced immersion. Almost all of the paperbacks were of the sort with exciting one word titles and action figure silhouettes speed roping from helicopters. So took a look at the one column of hard cover books in the corner with three books across and six shelves top to bottom. The math suggested I wasn’t going to be excited by the selection.

Sure enough, most of the books were celebrity tell-alls, historical fiction, or business effectiveness guides.

COEThere were, however, five copies of Career of Evil looking up at me. They were on the shelf section marked ‘#18 on the New York Times Bestseller List.’

I looked at the copies for a few seconds before what I was seeing finally registered. The book I had stayed up three night in a row writing about with blinders on — because the book wasn’t available until the 20th, right? — was on sale at an indoor newsie in OKC five days ahead of schedule.

A friend at Chestnut Hill on Friday called this a ‘Willy Wonka’ moment. Call me ‘Charlie.’ I’d got my golden ticket for the Chocolate Factory tour.

My first thought? “I won’t be able to write my predictions post…” [Read more…]

Five Reasons Harry Potter Fans Are Not Excited About Cormoran Strike (Yet)

COEI’m leaving early tomorrow for the annual Harry Potter Conference this Friday at Chestnut Hill College just north of Philadelphia (I hope to see you east coasters there!). Before I leave, I wanted to write up some annoying thoughts that I wish I could dump into a Pensieve for more relaxed observation. When I get back home from Penn’s Woods, I will deliver on the promise to discuss the critical memory that eludes Cormoran Strike in The Silkworm and which I think is as important to the finale, in all likelihood, as the “gleam of something like triumph in Dumbledore’s eyes” at the end of Goblet of Fire. Stay tuned.

I’m getting a lot of feedback on my thoughts after a close reading of the Career of Evil excerpts. My speculation that the mysterious friend mentioned in both Cuckoo and Silkworm is the stepfather who was convicted of Leda Strike’s murder, that he will play a role in Career something like Sirius Black’s in Prisoner of Azkaban, and that the bad guy is not a Muslim terrorist or Afghan War veteran but Jago Ross as a postmodern Jack the Ripper has caused a parliament of owls to descend into my inbox, most of it of the “We’ll see!” variety. Not many want to join me out on the limb.

f38699878What is remarkable, though, is that there has been so little response to these predictions. Remarkable but very much in keeping with my experience at Harry Potter conferences the last two years. When I talk about the artistry and meaning of the Hogwarts Saga, I see big crowds, great interest, real enthusiasm. When I speak about Jo Rowling’s new seven book series, the Cormoran Strike novels, the crowds are much smaller and the prevalent attitude is a mix of curiosity and something like confusion. “Wait — there’s a new series from my favorite author? Why isn’t anyone besides John talking about that?” (Not knowing, it seems, that Karen Kebarle is also on the case….)

Which raises the question: “Why so little enthusiasm in the Harry Potter fandom for the Cormoran Strike mysteries?” Here are five reasons from the top of my head; please let me know what you think in the comment boxes below.


[Read more…]

Rowling Reveals WhoDunnit in ‘Career of Evil’ Prepublication Excerpts? Maybe!

COEYesterday, I posted my first thoughts on the two prepublication excerpts from Career of Evil posted on The Guardian and TIME websites last week.

I woke up this morning with the revelation that, if two premises are true about how the third book works, we have a very, very good idea of who the killer is — ten days before we have the novel. Your hints? It’s about the baby Charlotte claims she was carrying, the stepfather convicted of murdering Leda Strike, Jack the Ripper, and Prisoner of Azkaban.

blackIf you want to share in some wild speculation, all of it grounded in what we know from Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm, head on over to to read all about it. Those of you who have signed up have already received the url in an email.

You won’t want to miss this throwback to predictions made before the last three Harry Potter novels, especially if you were too young or not yet in the fandom at that time. This is Rowling Reading fun of the best kind. I’m beside myself with anticipation to read what you think!