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Reading 'Running Grave' as the End of the Strike Series (A)
Strike7's Parallels to 'Cuckoo's Calling' Make it the Completion of a Ring Cycle
Last week I wrote a post saying that it was time to start pretending that Rowling had died or written her last book and move on to the next (and final) stage of literary criticism: ‘Is Rowling’s Best Work Behind Her Now?’ I caught quite a bit of blow-back on that intentionally provocative post, but not for the reasons I expected.
I thought Strike fandom would line-up to say what an idiot I was because the detective series is supposed to be ten books long per the author and her publisher, the Strike-Ellacott romance obviously hasn’t played out, and the last three novels have been the best in the series, no sign of Rowling-Galbraith having lost her touch. Silly me, I anticipated that readers would object to the assertion that Cormoran Strike wasn’t over, rather than quibble at my twenty-five year rule (when I listed significant counter-evidence to that rule).
That’s a shame, really, because I thought I had set-up wonderfully with that post this post and the next one that are about why the Strike novels really are over with Running Grave. Strike7, if read as the seventh installment in a seven novel ring cycle, checks all the boxes for a masterful ring composition, namely, Latch, Turn, and Turtle-back Lines.
I’ve already detailed, exhaustively detailed, the connections between Cuckoo’s Calling and Lethal White; see the three posts on that here, here, and here and the two posts here and here on the ‘Missing Page Mystery,’ Rowling-Galbraith’s signal in the center of Lethal White that book four was the series turn that would end in book seven.
The Turtle-back lines connecting Career of Evil and Troubled Blood were spelled out in detail by Louise Freeman here (check out the comment thread for the majority of her finds). Those connecting The Silkworm and Ink Black Heart are here; again, Louise Freeman made her best connections in the comment thread, I made three — about the epigraph-link, the ‘nice bloke’ Strike dismissal of Robin’s dates, and Strike’s facility with Latin — and Kelly, Amelia, EE, Laura, Robyn, Beatrice Groves, and Sandy joined in with great finds. That was a real team effort.
Having already made the Books 1-4 connection and drawn the 2-6 and 3-5 Turtle-back Lines, all that is left to do to make the case that (1) Running Grave closes the Latch on the series is to detail the echoes in it from Cuckoo’s Calling for that start-to-finish conjunction and (2) the connection of the Story-turn in Lethal White with Strike7 to complete the 1-4-7 ring-cycle axis. Just to touch every base — and because Louise Freeman and the HogwartsProfessor Irregulars found so many connections between Cuckoo’s Calling and Troubled Blood — I’ll spell out the Career of Evil reflections in Running Grave to see, if, as in the Hogwarts Saga, the series is best pictured as a Chi-Rho asterisk rather than an archetypal ring.
I’ll cover the Latch today, Cuckoo’s Calling and its echoes in Running Grave, and discuss Lethal White-Running Grave in a follow-up tomorrow. I’ll close then with thoughts about why we should think of the series as closed, some obvious (and not so obvious!) reasons for thinking it is not over, and the next steps I’ll be taking here on the assumptions that it is and that it isn’t over.
On to the seven book series Latch; are there strong connections between Cuckoo’s Calling and Running Grave?
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The Series Ring Latch: Cuckoos Calling and Running Grave, Books 1-7
The Murderers: John Bristow and Abigail Glover
In my first quick survey, I found two really important correspondences between the first and the last (most recent?) books in the series that I think would constitute a ring-latch even if there weren’t a bunch of other fun and relatively minor echoes. I found fifteen of those and suspect there are many more.
The first and most important connection is between John Bristow in Cuckoo and Abigail Glover in Grave. Both are older siblings who kill their younger siblings when very young, a brother in Bristow’s case, a sister in Glover’s. In each case, the motive is in essence sibling rivalry; both children-murderers are not related to their sibling by blood and both feel that their parents much prefer the younger child to them. John Bristow kills his younger brother Charlie by pushing him into a quarry; Abigail Glover plots to have an accomplice butcher her younger sister and feed her remains to pigs. Each gets away with the crime because the father elects to ignore the evidence that his child is a psychopath.
The police in both cases accept the explanation of “accidental death.” Both mothers go a little around the twist after the killing and create something of a saint out of the departed child. Both Bristow and Glover later kill other people to be sure that their first murder isn’t revealed; Lula had just learned from her adopted mother that John’s uncle thought the boy had killed Charlie and Kevin Pirbright had just put together the pieces around the death of Daiyu Wace.
This is, frankly, an in-your-face connection that is so obvious that I think Rowling-Galbraith may have taken steps to disguise it. This assumes, of course, that The Presence is aware that we chart her books and look at ring correspondences; we do that charting — but all of us, to some degree, have accepted the author’s assurances that the series will not end at Running Grave and were not looking for Cuckoo-Grave symmetry. Shame on us; all the Cuckoo-Lethal White correspondences should have had us anticipating another John Bristow in Grave.
If you think that I’m taking myself too seriously here — “Are you saying, Gilderoy, that you believe the author took steps to disguise her killer because readers would be looking for an angry sibling murder per Ring Theory?” — check out the red herrings Rowling-Galbraith carefully created in Running Grave. When we meet the Edensors in Part One, it is in a restaurant much like the aristocrats dining room in which Strike meets Chiswell in Lethal White. Unlike that luncheon with Jasper, Sir Colin’s other male children are present and they proceed to act out in dramatic fashion their ill feelings about their younger sibling and how their father prefers him to them. It’s a match both with Cuckoo Bristow and White Raphael. Nothing comes of that ‘Angry Sibling’ possibility, of course, but Rowling-Galbraith is sure to revive it in Strike’s last meeting with Sir Colin in Part Eight. Unless she thinks readers would be looking for another jealous sibling murder, why start out with that dead-end distractor?
I thought the Delaunays were the murderers of Running Grave because Phillipa makes an appearance (sort of!) in the page-and-chapter center of the book on Strike’s trip to Comer (until Strike7, the murderer had appeared in each book’s center in disguise). If I had been thinking series-ring, the macroscopic structure of the books, rather than Part-rings, the relatively microscopic examination of the chapter sets, though, I still would have loved the Delaunays as suspects. She and her husband despised how her rich parents fawned over Alex Graves and mourned him and his death by suicide as The Stolen Prophet (Jonathan Wace’s talk at the center of Part One is all about this death which sets it up as suspicious).
The jealous daughter and her stuffy Royal Marines husband are over the top in their effort to get Strike not to open up the UHC case (and the Delaunays family meeting is like the Chiswell gathering in White, no?). I think it wonderfully credible that Rowling put down this second red herring in parallel with the Bristow murders — Alex being killed by his brother-in-law, a murder disguised as suicide in conjunction with Wace and the Marine killing Pirbright to cover up that crime — because she assumed we would be looking for a Bristow-esque parallel in Running Grave.
I can understand why readers who are new to the idea that Rowling-Galbraith is consumed by structural correspondences or who are skeptical about its importance might roll their eyeballs at the idea that the author worked extra hard to provide cover to the real murderer in Strike7 by putting forward two other suspects that matched up with the killers of Strike1 and Strike4. But what if there was a character early on in Cuckoo’s Calling who is the victim of a crime committed by her sister whose name means ‘Latch’? Would that be compelling evidence that Rowling-Galbraith had planned the series to resolve in seven books with a crime committed by a sister that completes the ring-cycle?
I give you Mrs. Hook and the first case solved in Cuckoo’s Calling, a woman who attacks Strike when he gives her the bad news about the woman with whom her husband is sleeping. Robin peels the enraged woman off Cormoran and consoles her, a mirror image of the final confrontation with Bristow at the first book’s end. Mrs. Hook is the Latch of the Series: “I didn’t think it was my sister!”
‘I th-thought it was Valerie,’ whimpered Mrs Hook, her dishevelled head in her hands, rocking backwards and forwards on the groaning sofa. ‘I th-thought it was Valerie, n-not my own – n-not my own sister.’ (Cuckoo, 81, emphasis in original)
The Hook case is the latch of Cuckoo’s Calling because the poor woman thought it was Valerie, her husband’s “accountant,” though it was in fact her sibling that was the object of her straying husband’s ardor. John Bristow is revealed at the finish to be the murderer, whom Guy Some and Lula called “the accountant” (though he wasn’t one) and who was (not really) a sibling as well. The Hook case is the latch of the series because Alison Glover is the step-sister who murdered her unsuspecting sibling just as poor Mrs Hook was blind-sided by her own family.
That latch or hook is fun, I hope you’ll agree, but the much more substantive connection is in the parallel murders as young people ruled an accidental death followed by killings to cover the first crime years later. The criminals and victims of Strikes1 and 7 are mirror images — a boy killing his younger step-brother and then killing a woman, whose death opens the mystery, a set reflected by a sister killing her younger step-sister and then killing a man, whose death opens the mystery — and near perfect reflections. I think, though, that there is a stronger link between Cuckoo and Grave in the relationship mystery laid out in the first book’s first chapters being resolved in the seventh book’s last chapter. The real latch is the resolution of the Charlotte-Cormoran and Matt-Robin story-lines in open confession and conversation at the close of Running Grave.
The Latch of Robin and Cormoran’s Relationship, Cuckoo’s Calling to Running Grave
Both Strike and Ellacott in their thoughts in Graves’s chapter 136 make this connection explicit. “For years now, Robin had longed to know what Strike really felt for Charlotte Campbell, the woman he’d left for good on the very day Robin had arrived at the agency as a temp” (941-942). “Strike, meanwhile, was aware he was breaking a vow he’d made himself six years previously, when, fresh from the rupture with a woman he still loved, he’d noticed how sexy his temp was, almost at the same moment he’d noticed the engagement ring on her finger” (942). These references to their first meeting in Cuckoo continue throughout Grave’s last chapter which it pays to review.
The prologue to Strike1 is the crime scene where Lula Landry’s body is being packed for transport to the coroner’s. The first chapter proper is told from Robin’s point of view; she is elated the morning after Matt Cunliffe’s proposal of marriage in Piccadilly Circle beneath the statue of Eros (whoops!) and on her way to a temp position as a secretary on Denmark Street in London. She misses a “collision” with a woman of “extraordinary beauty” at the entrance to this job, a “dark woman” with a “livid, yet strangely exhilarated” “white face” (13).
When she climbed the spiral metal staircase to the Strike Agency landing, Robin learned that she would be working for a “private detective,” “it felt like a wink from God” “somehow connected with” “the ring,” “even though, properly considered, they had no connection at all.” Being a private investigator, we are told, was “her lifelong, secret, childish ambition,” one she “had never confided in a solitary human being (even Matthew)” (14). And then Strike bursts from the door.
This time, there was no near-miss. Sixteen unseeing stone of dishevelled male slammed into her; Robin was knocked off her feet and catapulted backwards, handbag flying, arms windmilling, towards the void beyond the lethal staircase.
The next chapter begins from Strike’s perspective.
Strike absorbed the impact, heard the high-pitched scream and reacted instinctively: throwing out a long arm, he seized a fistful of cloth and flesh; a second shriek of pain echoed around the stone walls and then, with a wrench and a tussle, he had succeeded in dragging the girl back on to firm ground. Her shrieks were still echoing off the walls, and he realised that he himself had bellowed, ‘Jesus Christ!’ (15)
There are subtle and obvious correspondence with this moment in the conclusion of Running Grave. As noted, both of the partners refer to this meeting explicitly in chapter 136. The ending, too, has Strike walk Robin to the door to the landing and close it behind her, the woman clearly in something like shock after hearing that Strike, in an oblique way, has confessed that he loves her, a “reverse echo” of their violent meeting when she first entered the office. Entrance to exit, a start and finish correspondence in the same spot.
There are less obvious but as important markers.
In Cuckoo, Robin is in shock as Strike pulls her from the landing into the office. Both have screamed in their collision and because of her near death experience. Strike had ‘saved’ her from a likely fatal plunge by “grabbing a substantial part of her left breast” (15), which she massages as modestly as she can because of the pain. The scene is a retelling of Psyche’s ‘rescue’ by Cupid, who had been tasked by jealous Venus, his mother and lover (it’s complicated!), to throw her from a mountain top. As fascinating as that mythological template is, the echo here is in Strike’s having grabbed her by the left breast, that part of a person immediately over his or her heart.
“A wink from God,” a divine love a la Cupid the god of love, his yelling, “Jesus Christ!” at the moment of their impact, all speak to the anterotic or selfless, sacrificial love that will join them, a painful but profound departure in their spiritual center or ‘heart’ away from romantic, psychological, and physically grounded, erotic love. Robin exits the Agency office at the end of Running Grave, her name now on the door as a full partner, grasping her heart, I have to think, in at least as great a shock about Strike’s declaration to her.
The reverse imagery in parallel extends to Robin’s arrival just having become engaged the previous night, only hours ago, to her departure in Grave for a weekend with a lover to whom Strike expects she will soon become engaged, only a few hours in the future (942). I like the echoing, too, of Robin’s having been “catapulted backwards, handbag flying, arms windmilling, towards the void beyond the lethal staircase” in the opening scene and Strike’s thoughts of himself in the office, just before exposing his heart to his beloved, as a trapeze artist, “preparing to swing out into the spotlight with only black air beneath him” (944). Will she let him fall or save him? As Strike says to Pat, “We’ll see.”
The big deal and correspondence between the first and last chapters of the first and seventh books in the series, though, is that, in the one, each is very much in love with another person for the wrong reasons, and in the close, each explains why those feelings were misplaced, not a real love.
Strike tells Robin at last what he feels about Charlotte Campbell, how stupid he was as a young man to have fallen for her, how unlike his true self he had been:
‘Always a bit of delusion in love, isn’t there?’ said Strike, watching the vapour rise to the ceiling. ‘You fill in the blanks with your own imagination. Paint them exactly the way you want them to be. But I’m a detective… some fucking detective. If I’d stuck to hard facts – if I’d done that, even in the first twenty-four hours I knew her – I’d have walked and never looked back.’ (943)
Robin responds by saying, “Ditto, buddy, double dittos!”
‘[W]e’ve got to forgive who we were, when we didn’t know any better. I did the same thing, with Matthew. I did exactly that. Painted in the gaps the way I’d have liked them to be. Believed in Higher-Level Truths to explain away the bullshit. “He doesn’t really mean it.” “He isn’t really like that.” And, oh my God, the evidence was staring me in the face, and I bloody married him – and regretted it within an hour of him putting the ring on my finger.’ (943)
Strike hears this, her pointing to their hug after her wedding to Matt (“within an hour of” my marriage) and her having known then — the half-way point of the series… — that she’d made a mistake, and “he knew, now, there was no turning back” (943). That “now” is the moment that both of them have said, “I no longer feel the love I felt when we first met and was deluded for thinking that even was love.” Now he can take the swing off the trapeze — and he does.
For reasons I’ll explain downstream, Strike doesn’t do what he could have done, namely, propose marriage to her on the spot, ring and all. But he could have and in a way he did. “We’ll see” means “I just blew up any chance Ryan had of getting a quick ‘yes’ to his proposal tonight over dinner.”
In Part One’s chapter six, Robin reviewed her feelings about Strike and thought about “the way Strike had hugged her on her wedding day.” She remembered the moment she realized she loved him:
The long-delayed realisation that she was in love with her work partner had burst in upon Robin Ellacott the previous year upon finding out that he was having an affair he’d carefully concealed from her (Ink Black Heart, 265). At that point, Robin had decided that the only thing to do was to fall out of love, and it was in that spirit, a few weeks later, that she’d agreed to a first date with Ryan Murphy.
Since then, she’d done her utmost to keep an inner door firmly closed on whatever she might feel for Strike, hoping love would wither and die for lack of attention. In practice, this meant turning her thoughts firmly away from him when alone, and refusing, ever, to make comparisons between him and Murphy, as Ilsa had tried to do on the day of the christening. (51)
And at the end of the Epilogue, Strike has told her she was wrong to think that “her detective partner was a man perfectly happy with a single life punctuated by affairs with (usually gorgeous) women” (51). He loved her. She now has to compare Ryan and Cormoran and she has to think about “whatever she might feel for Strike” and she has to think about “him when alone.” The “now” of the two of them having at last closed the door on and answered the questions raised at their first meeting is of a much more profound, anterotic love than anything Ryan can offer her.
If you doubt that, I offer Running Grave’s bedroom scene, in which Strike and Ellacott sleep together, hand in hand, sans sex, with her repeating the mantra of her conjunction with her beloved partner:
Strike turned off all the lights and eased himself into bed, trying not to wake her, but when he’d finally settled his full weight onto the mattress, Robin stirred, and groped in the darkness for his hand. Finding it, she squeezed.
‘I knew you were there,’ she murmured drowsily, half-asleep. ‘I knew you were there.’
Strike said nothing, but continued to hold her hand until, five minutes later, she gave a long sigh, released him, and rolled over onto her side. (635-636, emphasis in original)
This transpersonal union, her awareness of him across a physical distance beyond sense perception as she ran away from the UHC, is their spiritual intersection, a gnostic elision of hearts, that transcends the erotic and sexual. Bed is for those kind of lovers, she had already made clear to him:
‘Listen,’ said Strike, ‘this was the only free room. You can have the bed, I’ll put two chairs together or something.’
‘Don’t be stupid,’ said Robin. ‘I’m with Ryan, you’re with… whassername?… Bougie…’
‘True,’ said Strike, after a slight hesitation.
‘So we can share the bed,’ said Robin. (633)
This in cameo is the latch of the series’ seven book cycle, question to answer, beginning to end.
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Fifteen Fun Cuckoo Echoes in Running Grave
In addition to the latch connections between the murderers and murders in Cuckoo’s Calling and Running Grave and the closing of the door opened in the first chapters in the last on the relationship of Strike and Robin, there are the relatively minor but compelling connections between the first and seventh books.
Both Cuckoo and Grave, for instance, begin with Prologues that involve the case which the Agency will be trying to solve in those books. We are at Lula Landry’s death scene hours after her fall and death in the first and learning about Will Edensor and Kevin Pirbright in the seventh. The only other books with Prologues in the series, Lethal White and Ink Black Heart, begin with chapters about Robin and Cormoran’s relationship, not the case to be solved.
Eric Wardle makes his first appearance in Cuckoo’s prologue, but the beginning and end echoing with Grave is that Strike takes him out for a nice dinner in the seventh book to get privileged information just as he had met him for drinks in the first to get the Lula Landry file. Wardle has a bad case of wandering-eye though married in Cuckoo and he is bitter and divorced in Grave; he shares with Strike some dirt on Ryan Murphy having made a pass at his wife at the dinner and clearly still has no warm feelings for Robin’s beaux in the last chapters of the book, either (71, 873). He refers to that first meeting in Cuckoo and hands Strike a Met murder case file:
When they’d first met, Strike’s friend Eric Wardle had been boyishly handsome. Though still good looking, his once full head of hair was receding, and he looked as though he’d aged by more than the six years that had actually passed. Strike knew it wasn’t only hard work that had etched those grooves around Wardle’s mouth and eyes; he’d lost a brother, and his wife, April, had left him six months previously, taking their three-month-old baby with her.
Talk ran along conventional lines while both perused the menu, and only once the waiter had brought Wardle a pint and taken their order did the policeman hand a folder across the table.
‘That’s everything I could get on the Kevin Pirbright shooting.’
Cuckoo’s Calling is largely about the murder of Lula Landry. It is at least as much about Strike’s broken relationship with Charlotte Campbell. As noted, he breaks up with her just before the opening scene with Robin. Strike’s agonies when he learns that she has become engaged to Jago Ross and reflections about his feelings for her and his fears about the revenge he will take on him (thoughts that include the possibility of her committing suicide; it is just to prevent that self-harm that caused him to rush out the Agency door and almost kill the “temp”) are the heart of the book. Running Grave, likewise, has Charlotte living in Strike’s head-space; she meets him at The Grenadier, drops the breast cancer news on him, and texts and calls him repeatedly until her death, seemingly a suicide. Charlotte and her broken relationship with Strike define the first and seventh novels in this series. Strike’s meeting with sister Amelia and his conversation with Robin about his old flame being extinguished in the last chapters of Grave’s Epilogue seems to act as a latch on the book. More on that ‘seems’ in a moment.
I mentioned Strike’s yelling “Jesus Christ!” in Cuckoo’s second chapter when he reaches out to grab Robin as she flies off the Agency landing. Midge yells the same thing on entering the UHC Temple’s office and prevents Robin from murdering Mama Mazu with a rifle butt. The reverse echo is in the Name being invoked to save Robin from a miserable death on the spiral staircase of doom to its being called to save Robin from being the agent of an even more miserable death (908).
Speaking of Artemis-Robin avenging the suffering children by beating down on Mazu’s face, that’s an important Cuckoo-Grave parallel as well.
The gun went off; the bullet shattered the window and blew out the lamp outside. Robin heard screams from Wardour Street; for a second time, she rammed the rifle down on Mazu’s face, and as blood spurted from the woman’s nose, Mazu’s grip loosened and Robin succeeded in wrenching the gun from her grasp.
The door banged open as Mazu raised her hands to her bleeding nose.
‘Jesus Christ!’ shouted Midge. (907-908)
Where have we seen a detective being threatened in an office by an insane suspect with a deadly weapon — and that detective using the only blunt instrument at hand to pound in the Black Hat’s face while a woman screams? That’s right, the climactic confrontation between Strike and Bristow in the Agency office at the end of Cuckoo.
The desk was knocked over by Strike’s wrestling weight, and then, as he knelt with his good knee on Bristow’s thin chest, groping with his good hand to find the knife, light split his retinas in two, and a woman was screaming.
Dazzled, Strike glimpsed the knife rising to his stomach; he seized the prosthetic leg beside him and brought it down like a club on Bristow’s face, once, twice—
‘Stop! Cormoran, STOP! YOU’RE GOING TO KILL HIM!’ (442)
Both Cuckoo and Grave are chock full of gaffes, but that simply makes them Strike novels, not a Latch (Silkworm, let’s be fair, is almost Flint-Free…). There are two crazy mistakes in the first Strike novel, though, that are hard to look over or forget, they touch that closely on the plot. The first is John Bristow catching Ageyman as both run away from Lula’s flat, the step brother being older, in dress shoes, and delayed by several minutes; there’s just no way these two were in anything like proximity on the CCTV camera footage.
The bigger one, though, is that Bristow keeps Rochel Ontifade’s cell phone after killing her. Strike, inspired by the ghost of Charlie Bristow (?), is convinced that Bristow kept it (?), that the phone is in Lady Bristow’s safe (?) (and he finds that safe and knows the combination… (!) Wow, Cuckoo is really not-credible), which all but convicts Big John. That’s crazy — but, hey, Abigail Glover does the exact same thing; she kills Kevin Pirbright, steals his laptop computer, and, you guessed it, she keeps it — in her flat that she shares with an idiot. That’s a latch-match — the murderer who keeps damning evidence for no reason.
‘Now, you might well say, “even if Daiyu was murdered in the woods, how d’you prove it was me?” Well, one of my detectives has been at your flat with your lodger tonight. You’d have done better to kick Patrick out when you said you would. A useful dogsbody, I’m sure, but thick and mouthy. My detective found Kevin Pirbright’s laptop hidden inside a chair cushion in your bedroom. He found the bulky black men’s jacket you borrowed from Patrick to murder Kevin Pirbright and to try and break into my office. Most importantly, he’s found a Beretta 9000 stinking of smoke, sewn up inside a cushion on your bed. Strange, the things a firefighter might find in a burning flat, when they’ve finished dragging junkies out of harm’s way.’ (923-924)
Robin makes her pitch for a job at the Agency at the end of Cuckoo, the novel-ring latch with their first meeting, talking to Strike from the landing to him as he descended the stairs. At the beginning of Grave and after her escape from Chapman Farm, Robin argues about how she is the only one who can do the job he needs to have done.
Strike ends each of these two books with an astonishing surprise gift for Robin. In Cuckoo’s Calling it is the Green Dress from Vashti she knows he cannot afford which moves her to tears (and to make her pitch to stay on as his secretary-assistant); in Running Grave, of course, it is his declaration of love for her, something she’d wanted desperately but didn’t think he was capable of.
Hey, that Green Dress! It’s a big deal in Cuckoo’s Calling, as noted, and we see it again in Lethal White at the ball where Charlotte sees her in it. Robin doesn’t wear a green dress in Running Grave but Charlotte does in Part One, chapter 18:
She returned within a couple of minutes, shrugged off her black coat to reveal a dark green silk dress, which was cinched at the waist with a heavy black belt, then took the seat Henry had just vacated. She was thinner than he’d ever seen her, though as beautiful as ever, even at the age of forty-one. Her long dark hair fell to beneath her shoulders; her mottled green eyes were fringed with thick, natural lashes, and if she was wearing make-up, it was too subtle to see. (157-158)
And I bet you’re thinking, “Oh, c’mon, John, that’s not latch worthy.” Charlotte at that same meeting in The Grenadier tells him that she has breast cancer. Strike in Cuckoo’s Calling grabs a woman by the breast to save her life, injuring her; in Running Grave, a woman holds out her diseased breast to Strike to gain his care — and he in turn, a reverse-echo turn, throws her under the bus (off the landing?). The religious language invoked here, the mention of mythology, makes the mirror-reflection connection with the Cuckoo scene out of Cupid-Psyche that much stronger:
All relationships have their own agreed mythology, and central to his and Charlotte’s had been their shared belief that at the lowest point of his life, when he was lying in a hospital bed with half his leg and his military career gone, her return had saved him, giving him something to hold on to, to live for. He knew he’d just shattered a sacred taboo, desecrating what was for her not only a source of pride, but the foundation of her certainty that, however much he might deny it, he continued to love the woman who’d been generous enough to love a mutilated man now career-less and broke. (159)
Strike is shot by a nephew, one of Lucy’s sons, in both books, each time with a gift Uncle Corm had given them. In Cuckoo, “Jack was making his soldier fire around the back of the sofa and Strike was pretending to have taken a bullet to the stomach” (176). He takes real fire in Running Grave, a blow especially significant because Cupid’s arrows are about to make him join Bijou-Bougie for a spell:
Strike made an uncharacteristic effort to appear cheerful [to Lucy] while at lunch, tolerating his brother-in-law and eldest nephew with a grace he’d rarely shown before. He didn’t rush away afterwards, but stayed until the rain had passed off, when the whole family went into the back garden and watched Luke, Jack and Adam play with their Firetek Bows, even feigning good humour when Luke, in what Strike refused to believe was an accident, discharged his dart into the side of his uncle’s face, eliciting roars of laughter from Greg. (105)
The opening epigraphs in Cuckoo’s Calling from Classical and Medieval authors are about happiness. The Prologue opens with Lucius Accius’ “Is demum miser est, cuius nobilitas miserias nobilitat,” Unhappy is he whose fame makes his misfortunes famous” (1) Part One starts on a similar note. Boethius in his De Consulatione wrote, “Nam in omni adversitate fortunae infelicissimum est genus infortunii, fuisse felicem,” which translates to “For in every ill-turn of fortune/ the most unhappy sort of unfortunate man/ is the one who has been happy” (9). Strike ends Running Grave reflecting on the Aeschylus quotation he had shared earlier with Amelia Crichton, Charlotte’s sister: “Happiness is a choice that requires effort at times” (936). The last words of the seventh book are, like the first classical quotations of the first book, turn on happiness:
Picking up his jacket and the folder Robin had left, he departed. Time would tell whether he’d just done something foolish or not, but Cormoran Strike had at last decided to practise what he’d preached to Charlotte, all those years ago. Happiness is a choice that requires an effort at times, and it was well past time for him to make the effort. (945)
The Norfolk Commune that was the nightmare of Strike’s life was first mentioned in Cuckoo’s Calling. It is the backdrop of Running Grave, in which the original commune has been closed only to be replaced by Chapman Farm, a place of at least commensurate horrors.
He had slept in worse places. There had been the stone floor of a multi-storey car park in Angola, and the bombed-out metal factory where they had erected tents, and woken coughing up black soot in the mornings; and, worst of all, the dank dormitory of the commune in Norfolk to which his mother had dragged him and one of his half-sisters when they were eight and six respectively. (Cuckoo, 49)
How about “Displacement Fucks with a Brain”? In Cuckoo, Strike uses Ciara Porter to assuage his broken heart for Charlotte Campbell, who has already hooked back up with Jago Ross. Ciara, supermodel, is described as a “good time girl” out for a “casual shag” but she had won a place at Cambridge and I doubt they give preferences there to brainless beauties: ‘I get so bored of telling people I’ve got a deferred place to read English at Cambridge’ (320). Ilsa describes Bijou Watkins as Strike’s “displacement fuck” in Running Grave, meaning his needing to act out his frustration about and longing for Robin because of her relationship with Ryan (113). For all of Bougie’s failings, she has qualified as at least a Solicitor; she’s more than a woman with “fake tits,” as Midge admits, she’s a “lawyer with fake tits” that he’s “shagged” (566, emphasis in original).
Last on my list of fun if trivial Cuckoo to Grave parallels is the businesses in London that the Strike Agency manages to blow up. In the first book of the series it is the law firm of ‘Landry, May, and Patterson,’ an establishment that will be collapsing as one partners sues another for sleeping with the other’s wife, etc. In the seventh book of the series, Strike combines with a QC to take down the Patterson Detective Agency for planting a recording device in his chambers without his knowledge or consent (687).
That’s fifteen fun correspondences and I’d bet a fiver there are many more. None of them, even all of them, however, are as important as the first book’s first chapters-last chapters of seventh book latch for Robin and Cormoran and the mirror image of the respective murderers and victims in these books. Those are the connections that hook Cuckoo’s Calling and Running Grave, Mrs Hook and her vicious sister pointing the way.
Tomorrow I’ll cover first the Lethal White-Running Grave connection that fixes the fourth book as the series’ turn as the many Cuckoo-White parallels suggested it would, then other series ring points only visible with the publication of Running Grave, and finally the ‘So What?’ conclusions. We know the series is not over; what does it mean that the first seven books were written as a structurally closed set?
Please share your thoughts about this series-latch post below — especially if you can add more Cuckoo-Grave connections I missed — and I’ll see you soon with the conclusion to my Running Grave ring readings!