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Literature / Cormoran Strike Novels

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Cormoran Strike, as portrayed on the cover of The Silkworm.

The Cormoran Strike Novels are a series of Crime Fiction books written by J. K. Rowling under the Moustache de Plume Robert Galbraith (though this time by choice rather than Executive Meddling).

The novels focus on two main characters. Cormoran Strike, a British veteran of the war in Afghanistan turned Hardboiled Detective with a missing leg, a massive debt, a messy break-up, and no clients; and Robin Ellacott, a young just-engaged woman whose temping agency has accidentally given Robin her dream job of working for a private eye — Cormoran. Robin quickly becomes his Hypercompetent Sidekick, and together, they solve crime.

There are currently seven books in the series. Rowling plans to wrap the series up with the tenth book as she does not want to get to the COVID-19 pandemic:

The first five books in the series have been adapted into a BBC show called Strike.

This series contains examples of the following tropes:

  • An Arm and a Leg
    • Cormoran lost his left leg to an improvised explosive device while on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
    • Career of Evil's plot kicks off after someone mails a severed leg to Cormoran's office.
  • Author Avatar: Robin's appearance as described in the books is pretty similar to a younger Rowling. It doesn't help that she is already famous for writing an hypercompetent sidekick based on herself. Robin is also the character who Rowling uses to voice her own political beliefs.
  • Black Comedy: A Rowling staple returns in full force in this series. In Career of Evil, Strike's use of black comedy as a coping mechanism for dealing with horror is actually a minor plot point.
  • Cluster F-Bomb / Country Matters: To a lesser degree than The Casual Vacancy, but still, this is not a series accommodating to virgin eyes.
  • English Rose: Robin, who in the first book is described as having "a milkmaid's coloring", pale, blonde, going pink when she blushes. Also curvaceous and sexy, with the only possible difference between her and the standard English Rose being that she's taller than the average woman.
  • Epigraph: Each book has one epigraph per chapter, with sources themed after the plot. The Silkworm quotes Elizabethan-era plays, while Career of Evil quotes lyrics from Blue Öyster Cult songs and Lethal White quotes the Henrik Ibsen play Rosmersholm. Troubled Blood returns to the Elizabethan era by quoting Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, written about Queen Elizabeth 1st herself.
  • The Ex's New Jerkass: Even before Matthew cheats on Robin with her, Robin describes Sarah as unpleasant, manipulative, and arrogant. She is no more pleasant after Matthew and Robin split because of his cheating and Sarah gets pregnant in what Robin perceives to be The Baby Trap.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Siblings-in-law with Cormoran's late mother Leda and his Aunt Joan. Leda loved her children but was also a fun-loving, acid-dropping hippie and groupie who lived a nomadic existence in communes and squats and the like. She was also a Horrible Judge of Character who dated various lowlife musicians, her last husband Jeff Whittaker being the worst. Aunt Joan, wife to Leda's brother Ted, offered a calm, stable maternal presence, and sometimes took Cormoran and his sister Lucy home when things with Leda got out of hand.
  • Funetik Aksent: Rowling uses this a lot with people who have non-RP accents. Wilson the Jamaican security guard in the first novel says "musta" for "must've" and "yuh" for "you". Janice the nurse in Troubled Blood speaks with a thick Cockney accent and says "fort" for "thought".
  • Gallows Humor: Cormoran and his comrades' use of it is sometimes a source of tension with Robin, with her being new to the industry. She doesn't understand how they can laugh and make jokes; they understand that they'd go nuts if they didn't.
  • Gay Best Friend: Guy Somé to Lula Landry, Joe North to Owen Quine.
  • The Ghost: Six books in and Al is the only member of Cormoran's family from his father's side to appear as he's the only one who makes a point to have a relationship with Cormoran. He speaks to Jonny briefly on the phone in Troubled Blood and spends most of it and Ink Black Heart texting with his sister Prudence but their planned meeting falls apart at the last minute during the latter.
  • Girl of the Week: Books 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7 all find Strike with a girlfriend. He dates Nina Lascelles from Roper Chard Publishing in The Silkworm after getting introduced to her so he could gain entrance to the publishing house, he's dating Elin the divorcing mom in Career of Evil, and in Lethal White his girlfriend is Lorelei, who runs a vintage clothing shop and wears corsets to bed. All four books have the Girl Of The Week wanting more of a commitment and Strike, who fears being tied down, ultimately bailing from the relationship. All four books have Robin being jealous of Strike's girlfriends even as she won't admit it to herself. Troubled Blood sort of tweaks this formula by putting more emphasis on Strike's ex-lover Charlotte, who starts determinedly trying to win him back despite the fact that she's now a married mother of two (Robin is still jealous). The Ink Black Heart goes back to the formula by matching Strike up with Madeline, who owns a jewelry store and is acquainted with Charlotte. In The Running Grave Strike has a brief fling with a loudmouthed but hot co-worker of Ilsa's named Bijou Watkins; he knows it's a bad idea but does it anyway to distract himself from his feelings for Robin. The only exception is the first book, The Cuckoo's Calling, where Strike has a one-night stand but does not have a sustained Love Interest (that doesn't stop Robin from being jealous, of course).
  • I Have Many Names: Among the nicknames that Strike gets from friends, family, and lovers are Oggy, Diddy, Mystic Bob, Bluey, Bunsen, Monkey Boy,note  and Stick. Robin lampshades this at the very end of The Silkworm when she notes that Strike has a million nicknames but no one has ever called him "Lightning" Strike.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: The UK-specific version. Cormoran dropped out of Oxford, where he met Charlotte and almost all of the wealthy people in London (or so it seems); the publishing characters in The Silkworm all met at Oxford.
  • Lampshade Hanging: In The Cuckoo's Calling, the accused killer remarks to Strike that he should take up fantasy writing if his detective career doesn't work out.
  • Meaningful Name: As lampshaded by Cormoran, Robin is the perfect name for a young sidekick. One wonders if Rowling knew about female Robins like Carrie Kelly when she chose the name.
    • Cormoran is the name of a giant in Cornish folklore, and Cormoran Strike is not a small man. The name is also one letter off from "cormorant," a kind of seabird, while his surname is one letter off from “shrike”; given Robin's avian name, it's appropriate that he'd have one too.
  • Police Are Useless: To a degree. The police in the series are not so much incompetent as they are unwilling to explore other possibilities when they already have a perfectly reasonable suspect or explanation at hand.
  • Posthumous Character: Frequent in the books. The Cuckoo's Calling, The Silkworm, and Troubled Blood all focus on the murder victims as posthumous characters: Lula Landry was a good person that everyone liked, Owen Quine was an Asshole Victim, and Margaret Bamborough (missing some 40 years and presumed dead) was a feminist doctor who inspired the women in her life. Lethal White does this not with the murder victim, but with Freddie Chiswell, scion of the Chiswell family, killed in Afghanistan some years ago and also a monstrous asshole whose past depravities are a major story catalyst. Additionally, throughout the whole series the memory of Cormoran's mother looms. Cormoran has complicated feelings about Leda Strike the free-spirited rock "super groupie", who was manifestly an unfit mother but also loved her son deeply.
  • Production Throwback: Strike's office is located on Charing Cross Road, the same street as the Leaky Cauldron, though, as a Muggle, he is unaware of its existence.note 
  • Product Placement: Doom Bar Ale, many times.
  • Rich Sibling, Poor Sibling: As his father Johnny Rokeby refused to acknowledge him, Strike grew up poor and shuffled around, although loved by his irresponsible mother Leda while Rokeby's other children, like Al, grew up in the height of luxury. Rokeby finally acknowledged Strike as an adult and wanted to bankroll Strike after he lost his leg in Afghanistan, who refused, making it an enforced trope. Al is the only person on his dad’s side of the family that Strike is semi-close to and Strike notes in the fifth book that he suspects the reason Al goes out of his way to have a relationship with him is because he’s appreciative of knowing someone who didn’t grow up in the lap of luxury and had to work hard for everything he has.
  • The Stakeout: A fairly common thing that Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott do as part of their job. The realistic way in which it's presented is one of the ways the series shows the gritty, sometimes unglamorous side of detective work.
  • Starter Marriage: Robin and Matthew's is nearly a non-starter when Robin discovers that he intercepted texts she received from Cormoran in an attempt to keep her from getting her job back and almost leaves him before the marriage is even consummated. Deciding to go on the planned honeymoon anyway so that they can hash things out away from the prying eyes of family and friends, she falls victim to the Florence Nightingale Effect when Matthew becomes violently ill due to an infection, and despite her continued misgivings, they remain married for over a year.
  • Start to Corpse: Variable.
    • The Cuckoo's Calling opens with the news stories on the death of Lula Landry, but it's believed to be a suicide. Cormoran Strike is hired to investigate it as murder by the killer.
    • The Silkworm opens with what is believed to be a missing persons investigation into the disappearance of the writer Owen Quine, but around the end of the first part of the novel, Strike discovers his brutally murdered body.
    • Fairly on in Career of Evil, Robin is sent a severed leg. The body is discovered later.
    • In Lethal White, Strike is visited early on by a man named Billy with mental issues who tells him that he witnessed a murder when he was a child. He is later approached by Jasper Chiswell to investigate a blackmail case and it isn't until a fair ways into the book that Chiswell is killed.
    • Not applicable for Troubled Blood, since Strike is investigating a cold case. However, Robin and Sam do find the missing woman’s body but it’s not until well past the 2/3 mark that they do so.
    • Fairly early on in The Ink Black Heart, a couple of chapters past the prologue, when one of the co-creators of the comic The Ink Black Heart who came to Robin hoping to have online harassment investigated is stabbed to death.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That:
    • Cormoran has long given up trying to correct people who mispronounce his name as "Cameron", since as a detective it makes for a more cooperative witness for him to just go with the flow. In one instance in Career of Evil, he actually gives his name as "Cameron" to a subject that he suspects wouldn't be able to grasp his real name.
    • For that matter, Strike often finds this to be a good practice in general sometimes to go with something an interview suspect puts out there if he can manage to do so believably, as they can often be more cooperative if they think they're being believed.
  • Switching P.O.V.: All the books continually switch off POV between Strike and Robin. Career of Evil mixes this up by also including some chapters from the POV of a serial killer. Every once in a while the books will briefly shift to Matthew's POV, always for a moment when he's pissed off about Robin and Strike.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The first two books are set in 2010, the third in 2011, the fourth in 2012, the fifth 2013-2014, the sixth in 2015, and the seventh in 2016.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Cormoran and Robin. Robin cannot stop herself from being jealous when Strike gets a girlfriend in Career of Evil, and she comes within an inch of running away with him at the beginning of Lethal White. Strike for his part cannot stop himself from noticing how curvy and hot Robin is, starting with the first book when he gets her a clingy green dress.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Robin does this a lot, donning wigs, putting on glasses, and affecting various accents as part of her undercover work.
  • You Know the One: While Lula Landry and Owen Quine are referenced by name after their respective books, their murderers, John Bristow and Elizabeth Tassel are only mentioned indirectly. The "Shacklewell Ripper" case from Career of Evil is referenced a couple of times without giving away who the Ripper was.