Though Strike has only met his biological father twice, his famous parentage has loomed large over his life. Jonny Rokeby, legendary rock star and lead singer of The Deadbeats, conceived Strike during a fleeting encounter with his mum, Leda Strike.
Given Jonny has an August birthday, what better time to take a deeper look at Strike’s father, the half-siblings on his father’s side and the troubled distant relationship between father and son.
Jonathan Leonard ‘Jonny’ Rokeby, b. August 1st 1948, is the lead singer of 70s rock band The Deadbeats, member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a multi-Grammy award winner. Rokeby has been married three times: to his art-school girlfriend Shirley Mullens, with whom he had one daughter, Maimie; to model, actress and human rights activist Carla Astolfi with whom he has two daughters, television presenter Gabriella Rokeby and jewellery designer Daniella Rokeby, and he is currently married to film producer Jenny Graham, with whom he has two sons, Edward and Alexander.
Rokeby also has a daughter, Prudence Donleavy, from his relationship with the actress Lindsey Fanthrope, and a son, Cormoran, with 1970s supergroupie Leda Strike..
After a paternity test, Rokeby regularly paid Leda upkeep for their son, but Leda threw the money into extravagant treats or failed business ventures, so the cash didn’t prevent Strike leading a nomadic life on the margins with sister Lucy, Leda and a series of Leda’s boyfriends. Rokeby to him was a mythical figure, glimpsed in magazines and on TV. Strike longed for some sort of acknowledgement from his father, and received nothing, feeling crushed as every Christmas and birthday passed without so much as a card. Eventually he realised his uncle Ted, a role model and steady presence, was his real dad in every way that mattered.
Strike’s father’s fame has hovered over large chunks of Strike’s life.
Strike escaped the shadow of parental fame in the army, but it keeps returning during his more recent life and career. Before Strike sleeps with a supermodel, he had to check he’s not in danger of sharing a lover with his father. His sister Lucy’s friends in the suburbs, his agency clients and witnesses, none can’t resist asking about his connection to the father he hardly knows. People talk to him about Rokeby as if discussing a mutual friend, repeating well-worn press stories and anecdotes as though they had been personally involved.
Rokeby’s attempts to reach out to Strike began when he lost part of his leg in Afghanistan and Rokeby, through his lawyer, offered him money to found his agency. Strike accepted, but only on the condition it was a loan not a gift, and that caused offence. During the investigation into Lula Landry’s death, Rokeby’s lawyer hounds him for repayment, and Robin has the great pleasure of telling him a cheque is in the post when the case concludes in triumph and a glow of publicity.
Once Strike grows famous, Rokeby begins mentioning his son in interviews. Through his son Al, who Strike knows, and his daughter Prudence, who Strike has never met, Rokeby pressures Strike to attend the celebration of the Deadbeats’ 50th anniversary. It irritates Strike, and when Rokeby sends him a birthday card with a bloodhound on it, he is furious, thinking of all the other birthdays Rokeby missed, and even more furious that Rokeby still has the power to upset him. Al is sent to tell Strike Jonny has cancer, in a final attempt to get Strike to come to the party and join in a group photo, but Strike, knowing it’s a curable form and caught early, is unmoved. ‘As long as they’ve caught it early, he’ll be fine. Probably live to father another couple of kids he never sees.’
It’s unfortunate then that he’s tricked into a meeting very near to Spencer House where the party takes place. His bad temper on finding out leads to a brawl, a tabloid story, and a black eye for Robin, but also a conversation in their office over curry where Cormoran explains his feelings about Jonny to Robin in a way he’s only ever done before to his ex-fiancée, Charlotte.
Robin discovers who her boss’s famous father is at the end of her first week at the agency through Mrs Hook, one of his very few clients at the time. Robin has heard of Jonny Rokeby of course, everybody has, but goes to wikipedia to remind herself of the facts.
‘One of the reasons Strike realises how much he values Robin is the fact she never interrogates him about his father after finding out who he is.‘
She realises straight away how sensitive he is about the subject, and she steers clear of the topic, even when they find themselves in a pub with pictures of Rokeby on the walls.
It’s years until Strike tells Robin the whole story of his relationship with Rokeby, though she pieces some things together about his childhood before then, especially after meeting Lucy and some of Strike’s oldest friends.
Only after years of working together, does Strike tell Robin about the only two times he met his biological father (Troubled Blood). The first was when Leda took him to the studio where Jonny was recording. Strike was seven, and very excited, thinking his dad wanted to see him. He discovered, painfully, they hadn’t been invited at all. Leda forced her way in and began fighting with his manager in front of a bewildered Cormoran, until Rokeby himself appeared, attracted by the noise.
Instead of the hug and the greeting Cormoran was hoping for, Strike was first ignored, then heard Jonny refer to him as a mistake.
The second time he met Rokeby was at his lawyers office. Strike had just turned eighteen and had a place at Oxford. Rokeby offered him the money which had been put aside for him. Strike told him where to stick it, went to university and then left Oxford for the army.
The only half-sibling on his father’s side Strike knows at all is Al, nine years younger than Strike and Rokeby’s son by his third wife, Australian film producer, Jenny Graham. Al made the effort to visit Strike in hospital after the explosion in Afghanistan and has kept up with him since. Not as tall as his brother or father, with mouse-brown hair, Al might not have his father’s looks but he is intelligent and friendly.
Al enjoyed a private education in Switzerland among the children of other celebrities and has the easy entitlement of a charming, privileged young man with plans to go into business, while his brother Eddie pursues a music career. . He both admires and resents Strike for never trading on their father’s name, feeling it gives Strike a credibility he lacks in his own gilded and leisurely life. He tries repeatedly to bring his father and brother together, and Strike understands his loyalty to Jonny, who Al obviously loves, but occasionally finds his attempts to make peace between them wearing.
Al is eager to help Strike when he can though, and that comes in handy during the investigation in the death of Owen Quine (The Silkworm). Al gets them into The River Café where Owen was spotted arguing with his agent, and the club where Strike plans to confront Quine’s killer. He even takes part in the final chase, bringing down the killer with a perfect rugby tackle on Strike’s order.
Strike heard from Prudence first while Rokeby was pressuring him to attend his birthday party. A Jungian therapist, Prudence was like Strike the result of a brief affair, so he naturally feels he might have more in common with her. He does not intend to follow her advice and establish a relationship with Rokeby, even though she has found it healing.
While he and Robin pursue the killer of Edie Ledwell (The Ink Black Heart), the half-siblings exchange texts, and arrange to meet, but at the last minute the dinner is called off due to a family emergency. Charlotte, who knows Gaby Rokeby, another of Strike’s half-siblings, a TV presenter he barely knows, tells him Pru’s daughter, Sylvie, fell from a climbing wall. He also learns that Charlotte tried to go to Pru for therapy, though she turned her down as a client.
As the investigation in Edie’s death barrels towards its conclusion, their contact continues. Strike learns that Sylvie fractured her femur, and that Prudence is still keen to meet. When at the end of the investigation Strike is in hospital, it seems that meeting is imminent. He can’t, as he admits to Robin, claim to be busy while he recovers from his wounds.
‘Mark 26 September in your diaries, and see what twists and turns Strike’s relationship with his family will take next in the new chronicle of Robin and Strike’s investigations, The Running Grave.’