— The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith
Cormoran’s Strike’s birthday on 23rd November gives us the opportunity to see how he usually spends the day. It’s clear, even with Robin’s thoughtful kindness, it’s often a difficult day for him, and he often approaches with vague dread.
Strike has an innate dislike of scheduled celebration and forced jollity. He is skeptical of New Year too, but his birthday also tends to bring back unhappy memories he normally tries to avoid. As his birthday approaches during his and Robin’s investigations into the disappearance of Margot Bamborough, (Troubled Blood), Strike tries to pick apart why he feels as he does. His mother, Leda had sometimes forgotten to buy him anything when he was a child but, perhaps most importantly, his father, Jonny Rokeby never acknowledged the date. Though Strike has, for a long time, wanted nothing to do with the aging rock star who sired him and has little to do with his various half-siblings on his father’s side, he still remembers the longing he felt as a boy for his father to send something, or phone: anything, to show that he knew Strike was alive. Rokeby never did.
Birthdays then have always been inextricably linked with the knowledge that his existence is accidental, that his genetic inheritance was contested in court, and that the birth itself, in his mother’s words, had been ‘hideous, darling, if men had to do it the human race would be extinct in a year’.
Still some birthdays have been more significant than others, and in the course of Robin and Strike’s investigations, readers have had the chance to see how some of them play out.
— The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith
Strike celebrated his eighteenth birthday at the Bell, a run down pub in Whitechapel in a joint party (including disco) with his best friend in London, Nick Herbert. Leda’s second husband, Jeff Whittaker interrupted the disco to sing one of his self-penned songs, and Leda was there, six months pregnant at the time with his child. Strike loathed Whittaker, and even Strike’s Aunt Joan and Uncle Ted, normally so careful not to criticise, couldn’t hide their distaste for him. Strike’s memories of his party are of his own fury and his longing to be gone to university in Oxford.
The party was life changing for Nick and Isla though. Dave Polworth, Strike’s oldest friend from St Mawes in Cornwall, came up for the celebration with Ilsa, their schoolfriend. She and Nick were at once dazed and amazed by their sudden, profound mutual attraction. After dating, breaking up, and getting together again they eventually married, with Strike as best man. As the investigations into the Universal Humanitarian Church begin, (The Running Grave), he and Robin are celebrating the christening of Nick and Ilsa’s first child, and renouncing the devil to become his godparents.
— Troubled Blood – Robert Galbraith
Strike was in the army and with his ex-fiancée Charlotte when he turned twenty-seven. If and how the day was celebrated is unclear, but it stands out as Charlotte was going through one of her intermittent phases of either rampant jealousy, or rage at his refusal to give up the army, and she threw his wrapped gift out of a third-floor window in front of him.
— Troubled Blood, Robert Galbraith
Strike’s thirty-third birthday was a memorable one. He’d just been discharged from Selly Oak hospital, after losing part of his leg in an IED explosion in Afghanistan and was walking for the first time on a prosthesis. Charlotte, who had swept back into his life after the explosion, took him back to her flat in Notting Hill, cooked for him, and returned from the kitchen at the end of the meal holding two cups of coffee, stark naked. They spent the night making love, discussing plans for the future, including opening the agency, and close to midnight Strike proposed.
— The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith
Strike’s last birthday with Charlotte, his thirty-fifth, was one of their final happy days together as a couple. Charlotte bought him an Italian suit and expensive shirt, and they ate together at the River Café, the famous restaurant in Hammersmith, London. After their break-up Strike might have thrown away the gift, but he makes a decision to treat it just as an item of clothing rather than a symbol of that long running and destructive relationship. He ends up wearing the suit several times when his investigations lead him to places where he needs to fit in among well-heeled Londoners.
Memories of his birthday surface when he wears the suit again to the River Café, this time for dinner with his half-brother Al, as part of his and Robin’s investigations into the case of Owen Quine (The Silkworm). Owen Quine dined there too, and made a dramatic exit, shortly before his mysterious disappearance.
— The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith
Although Strike tries to avoid celebrating with his half-sister Lucy as a rule, he agrees to a birthday dinner at her house in Bromley, the Saturday before the day itself. His friends Nick and Ilsa are there, to his surprise and pleasure, as is a single woman called Marguerite, a morose looking woman Lucy was obviously hoping would be a match for Cormoran.
Strike though has bought a guest of his own, Nina Lascelles, who works for the publisher, Roper Chard, and has just helped him steal Quine’s last manuscript, the shocking Bombyx Mori.
Strike goes out on the evening of his birthday too, with his former army colleague Richard Anstis, though much to his relief, Richard doesn’t know it’s his birthday. He does get to go for a pint with Robin though. Robin, who proves to be a thoughtful gift-giver over the years, presents him with a small basket covered in cellophane, adorned with ribbon and containing Cornish food and drink: beer, cider, sweets and mustard. He feels ridiculously touched.
— Troubled Blood, Robert Galbraith
Robin and Strike are beginning to pick through the disappearance of Margot Bamborough (Troubled Blood) when he celebrates his thirty-ninth birthday. He wakes on the Saturday morning to presents from Lucy, and his aunt and uncle, but among the joke cards from friends is one from Jonny Rokeby which, after all those unfulfilled longings for any sort of acknowledgement in Strike’s childhood, enrages him.
Strike, who is not a thoughtful gift-giver, hopes Robin has forgotten the date as she only got flowers (late) from him on her birthday, but on the way to Greenwich later that day, she gives him a card with a picture of St Mawes and a pair of headphones to replace the ones broken by his least favourite nephews earlier in the year. Guilty as he feels, he’s still touched and being with Robin helps him recover from the Rokeby induced rage. The day ends with another complicated encounter. Charlotte sends him a nude with the message ‘6 years ago tonight. I wish it was happening again. Happy Birthday, Bluey x’
— The Ink Black Heart, Robert Galbraith
On Robin’s thirtieth birthday in October, Strike manages to end his poor run of present giving and finally shows his partner he can be thoughtful when he tries. That awkward moment and almost kiss after cocktails in the Rivoli bar at the Ritz, means when Strike’s own birthday comes round in November, he’s unsettled and depressed, unsure about how Robin feels about him.
Nick and Ilsa organise a birthday dinner for him and Robin spends most of the evening making awkward small talk with Penny, wife of Dave Polworth. She does gives him a rare copy of Tom Waits’s first album, Closing Time, and though Strike is delighted when he unwraps the gift – surely if she makes this much effort to buy him something he likes, she can’t think him repugnant – but he can’t help wondering if she thinks of him and the then sixty-five year old Waits as contemporaries.
Now he’s in his forties, Strike has managed to separate himself from his long toxic relationship with Charlotte, and is coming to terms with the fact his feelings for Robin are a lot deeper than friendship. While he still wants nothing to do with his father, he’s also began to open up a little to family, spending time with one of Rokeby’s other children, his half-sister Prudence, and learning to appreciate that under Lucy’s conventional fussy exterior is a woman of great bravery and kindness.
Maybe there is a chance then for a few happier birthdays in the future…