By Robert Galbraith. (Mulholland, 512 pages, $28.)

The third Cormoran Strike novel, "Career of Evil," begins with the delivery to his London office of a severed female leg with chipped nail polish. And the story only gets darker and more graphic from there. Interestingly, the leg is sent not to Strike but to Robin Ellacott, his assistant, friend (and perhaps much more). The thriller by J.K. Rowling, writing under the pen name Robert Galbraith, traces not one but four possible sources for the leg, each a man from Strike's past with a hunger for revenge.

"Career of Evil" intersperses the detective work with chapters from the killer's perspective, and the result is a somewhat sprawling journey for readers. (The killer's viewpoint comes across as both exceedingly graphic and almost laughably stereotypical, labeling a woman as "It," among other things.)

As with all three Strike novels, the relationship between Cormoran and Robin remains fascinating at the same time as her continued romance with the insufferable Matthew grows increasingly implausible.


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By Howard Axelrod. (Beacon Press, 211 pages, $16.)

Howard Axelrod, 20-year-old golden boy — a junior at Harvard, summer job lined up editing for the "Let's Go" travel books — stops by the gym to shoot hoops with some buddies, and just like that, his life changes. A teammate's finger in Axelrod's right eye severs his optic nerve, blinding him permanently and wreaking havoc with his balance, perspective and the entire way he interacts with the world.

The new life, he writes, has "questions about the very nature of what is real, what is important, and what is worth living for. You have to answer them. You have no choice."

His eventual solution is to withdraw from the world in order to figure it out anew, and his new place in it.

"The Point of Vanishing" covers the two years that Axelrod lived in a rented cabin in a remote corner of the Vermont woods. This is not a lovely wilderness adventure; though the writing is achingly beautiful and his observations of the natural world keen and sharp, this book is tough. It is life and death. Over time, Axelrod withdraws from society, from his friends and family, and very nearly from the Earth itself.

"I wasn't sure whether I was one step further away from reality or one step closer to it," he writes.

Beautiful in its intensity and description, "The Point of Vanishing" is a breathtaking read.


Senior editor/books