In anticipation of the release of the seventh Robert Galbraith novel, The Running Grave, let’s reacquaint ourselves with where we left Strike and Robin professionally and personally as they complete the investigation into the death of Edie Ledwell at the end of The Ink Black Heart.
The bombing of the office by the Halvening meant a new office chair for office manager Pat Chauncey, a sofa which doesn’t make farty noises, and, most significantly for Robin, a new glass panel in the door. Robin first saw the frosted glass door five years previously, when she’d been sent as a temp to an unknown business and realised she’d been sent to work for a man who was doing her dream job. Then the words engraved on the frosted glass had read: ‘C. B. Strike, Private Detective’. Replaced after the bombing it now reads: ‘Strike and Ellacott Detective Agency’. Robin sees the picture of it while visiting Strike in hospital and is overwhelmed, with Strike reminding her they’ll need new business cards.
Subcontractors have arrived and left. Andy Hutchins, their longest serving subcontractor resigned late in 2014, the job being too difficult to manage alongside his MS. Robin and Strike found two excellent new hires, both ex-police; Michelle ‘Midge’ Greenstreet, recommended by Robin’s policewoman friend, Vanessa Ekwensi; and Dev Shah, poached by Strike from a rival agency. Midge quickly proves herself, obtaining the footage documenting Jago Ross’s abhorrent treatment of his older children which saves the agency from being dragged into Jago and Charlotte’s divorce, and gets Jago’s first ex-wife full custody of her children. Dev proves he’s talented at undercover work, playing Azam Masoumi, ‘Dealer in Antiquities and Objets d’Art’ to trap ‘Fingers’, the step-son of a multi-millionaire they’ve been watching for months.
They have also managed by June to dispose of the services of Stewart Nutley, an ex-redcap hired out of desperation as their workload became unmanageable, who decided to stop working for them after the office was bombed. And Sam Barclay proved to be somewhat cowardly, once he only decided to work again for the agency after the bombers had been caught.
Strike’s grudging respect for their chain smoking office manager, Pat Chauncey, deepened when her observation and quick thinking saved both their lives during the bombing, so when he receives her gift of a fruitcake via Robin in his hospital bed he declares ‘I always liked that woman,’ the memory of their early, much spikier relationship blown away in the bombing of the office.
Home and health
Robin’s roommate and landlord, Max, has now got a blossoming TV career and a new partner, Richard. Robin, her divorce finally settled, finds herself in a position to buy a place of her own. After weeks of searching, Robin finds a flat on the second story of a modern block in Blackhorse Road, Walthamstow, near the tube station. Strike helps her get settled and buys her a pot plant, which she assures him, is not the same as buying flowers as an emergency gift, which he has done in the past. Although she has to move to a hotel while the bombing is investigated, she has peace and independence in her new home, and Strike is pleased to note the road is busy and well lit.
Strike remains in his flat above the office, briefly interrupted by the bomb, but he ends the investigation into the death of Edie Ledwell also trying to make some positive changes in his life. Pushing himself to the limits and not taking care of his health has caused the condition of his stump to deteriorate. He spots early signs of choke syndrome which could cause the skin to ulcerate and breakdown, making it impossible for him to wear his prosthesis, and by early June he is suffering myoclonic spasms. It’s enough for him to start asking Robin for advice about his diet and start using a vape rather than smoking his usual B&H. He still appreciates Pat’s fruitcake though.
Friends and Family
Robin and Strike are both glad to learn that their friends Nick and Ilsa are expecting a baby boy, and are going to ask them both to be godparents, but for both of them family continues to be a source of friction in their personal lives.
Robin avoids Christmas with her family, not wanting to meet her ex-husband with his new wife and their baby in the local they share in Masham, though she keeps pictures on her mantlepiece of her parents, and her brothers, and her toddler niece. Her father’s heart trouble is resolved with a stent, and Robin is sure her mother, Linda, isn’t minimising the seriousness of the situation when she assures her he is fine, but Robin still faces an uphill struggle to convince her mother her home is in London now, and she is doing work she loves, despite the danger.
Strike faces continuing pressure and disapproval from his half-sister Lucy, refusing to settle down with a house, children and a mortgage, and finding it difficult to make time to spend with their recently bereaved uncle Ted. But he has a project from his favourite nephew, Jack, on the battle of Neuve Chapelle, up on his fridge, and is about to meet another of his half sisters, Prudence for the first time, while he recovers in hospital from injuries sustained capturing Anomie.
Robin believes Strike values their working relationship over a romantic one. She manages to avoid the passive aggressive advances of Hugh Jacks, who she met while skiing, but she does not want to be a lovesick fool committed to celibacy in the hope that Strike might one day want what (she tells herself) he so clearly doesn’t. She decides she needs to fall out of love with him. Her confidence bolstered by undercover flirtations with Pez Pierce, she agrees to a date with CID man Ryan Murphy. Even Strike admits from his hospital bed when he hears the news that he seems like a decent bloke.
Strike, still sensitive to the memory of Robin moving away from their kiss after her birthday drinks, convinces himself that Robin is not interested in him romantically and wanders into an affair with Madeline Courson-Miles. He meets Madeline, a jewellery designer, on New Year’s Eve when he is working and she is with Valentine Longcaster, one of his ex-fiancée Charlotte’s stepbrothers. For a while the affair suits him, but Charlotte models for Madeline’s new campaign and uses the opportunity to stir up trouble. Strike’s resistance to being photographed, and his tendency to avoid conflict by occasionally lying to Madeline about his whereabouts becomes too much. The relationship ends with a messy break-up, climaxing in Madeleine kicking Strike to the ground with a well aimed stiletto heel, when he is already in agony with his leg.
The situation with Madeline, and Charlotte’s divorce, causes Strike considerable physical pain and worry, but during the investigations into the death of Edie Ledwell, Strike realises he is, finally, free of his ex-fiancée. Her attitude to her children and her addiction to drama now leave him cold and he talks to Robin about her, in a way he never has before.
But Strike is forced to face a new truth. In his hospital bed, Strike realises that the news of Robin’s date with Ryan has clarified his feelings about her, delivering a blow to the heart that’s likely to cause him problems in the months to come.
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