On The Road

Posted on 31 May 2022

Land Rover scene, The Strike

‘Did you have a good journey? Come up from London?’
‘Yeah, it was a nice drive,’ said Strike.

Troubled Blood, Robert Galbraith

The mysteries which Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott investigate take them to dozens of contrasting corners of London, but often the trail leads them out of the capital too and away from those familiar streets. These journeys and destinations offer new leads, and new perspectives on their cases, themselves and each other.

Tithebarn House – near Tiverton, Devon

…the interior of Tithebarn House increased Robin’s unpleasant sensation of vertigo.

The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith

Cormoran and Robin almost don’t make it to Tithebarn House at all – only Robin’s advanced driving skills save them from a serious crash on the snowy motorway. Her quick thinking and training – and ability to ignore Strike at a crucial moment – means they reach this gleaming ultra modern home near Tiverton almost exactly on time. Tithebarn House is the home of Daniel Chard, CEO of the publishing company Roper Chard, a man who, it seems, had many reasons to despise the writer Owen Quine. Tithebarn itself is a massive oblong structure, converted by an ambitious architect, with much of its ceiling replaced with glass. The monochrome look of the house’s exterior, beside a patch of woodland and up a driveway lined by dark green rhododendron bushes, is matched by the interior – the housekeeper, Nenita, is dressed in black, the furniture is mostly cubes of black or white leather, and the dizzying interior includes Chard’s black bed, and a disturbing white marble statue of a partially dismembered angel. Its vast interior has no dividing walls and the staircase is suspended by metal cables. The journey back is almost as stressful as the journey there. Strike and Robin have a fight over their burgers in Tiverton service station, about Robin’s future at the agency, then there is a race against the clock to get Robin to Kings Cross in time for her to get the train up north and attend the funeral of her fiancé’s mother. It’s a close run thing, but thanks to Strike’s unconventional directions, his generosity, and a desperate sprint to the platform, when the train pulls out Robin is on it.

Chiswell House – near Woolstone, Oxfordshire

Everything was threadbare and worn.

Lethal White, Robert Galbraith

The home of the Chiswell family near the village of Woolstone is a very different country house. The plain-faced neo-classical house of dirty yellow stone is falling apart – the windows are unwashed, the driveway potholed and strewn with weeds, and dark patches on the wall show where paintings have been removed. Even the lantern in the hallway is missing half its light bulbs. The Uffington White Horse, visible from the road where Strike and Robin pause so Strike can reattach his prosthesis before they arrive, is much better cared for. All the money the Chiswell family has seems to go on Kinvara Chiswell’s nine horses.

The grounds of Chiswell House also contain Steda Cottage, once the home of Billy and Jimmy Knight. It is now nearly derelict but Robin’s discovery of what looks like a cross in the small dell outside the cottage makes them look at Billy’s strange, paranoid stories in a very different light.

After finding the cross, Robin needs to clean up and luckily the little village of Woolstone has got a decent pub, called The White Horse. It is the very image of picture postcard England with leaded windows, climbing roses and a beer garden. There Strike and Robin discuss the interesting crosscurrents of the Chiswell family and the secrets hidden in their past.

Melrose – Roxburghshire, Scotland

…this place of serene beauty

Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith

A grisly delivery arrives at Denmark Street and sends Strike into his own past, looking for old enemies out for revenge. The search takes him to Scotland, looking for a trace of Donald Laing, and on to the small rugby-loving town of Melorose. Cormoran’s injury and size mean the Mini his friend Graham Hardacre provides for him makes for an uncomfortable drive from Edinburgh but the journey has compensations. Strike finds the countryside round Melrose has an alien grandeur. It is a place of woodland and river, mysterious and secretive, with its spectacular viaduct, twin miniature castles and an ancient abbey. The velvet grass of the town’s rugby pitch brings back memories of another old enemy of Strike, his mother’s boyfriend Jeff Whittaker, but the small-town looks prosperous in the sunshine, and the acid-yellow Ship Inn has an interior which is instantly calming.

Barrow-in-Furness – Cumbria

‘Not overselling themselves, are they?’

Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith

Robin is back behind the wheel again when their investigations take them to Barrow-in-Furness, and this time she is driving her father’s ancient Land Rover. It smells of Wellington boot and Labrador. Robin and Strike are travelling through the southern Lake District to the isolated Cumbrian seaport in search of another old enemy of Strike’s Noel Brockbank. The town is in a geographical cul-de-sac and though it contains architectural gems that speak of a prosperous industrial past, the streets, reminiscent of the paintings of L. S. Lowry, also show signs of industrial decay and the high unemployment. Still The Last Resort café leaves Strike and Robin well fed. Looking for Brockbank takes them right up against the heavily protected shipyard where nuclear submarines are built by BAE systems. That leads to a visit from the police when Robin starts taking pictures, and some worried calls from her parents when the police phone them about the Land Rover.

Robin and Cormoran discover, as well as a lead on Brockbank, a distinctive sense of community in Barrow and an accent unlike any other in the UK. It reminds Strike of his uncle Ted, part of the fabric of another coastal community, St Mawes in Cornwall where Strike spent large parts of his childhood.

Skegness – Lincolnshire

‘I used to love coming to Skegness when I was a kid.’

Troubled Blood, Robert Galbraith

Robin’s memories of childhood are awakened by their trip to Skegness, chasing a lead in the disappearance of Margot Bamborough. While Strike watches for the appearance of their person of interest, Steve Douthwaite, Robin watches the comings and goings on the Grand Parade and remembers trips to the seaside resort with her aunt who used to live in nearby Boston. Feeling nostalgic among the fairground rides, parks, amusement arcades and families eating ice cream she thinks of how she and her brother would race each other to get first pick of the donkeys on the beach – their favourite was Noddy. She and Strike discuss the case in the sunshine eating fish and chips – and Robin has hers with mushy peas, or Yorkshire caviar as she calls it. Strike thinks it looks horrible and sticks to ketchup with his.

They find Douthwaite, but Strike has no luck trying to find a toy donkey for Robin. They do get see the famous Jolly Fisherman – symbol of Skegness – and to stand on the beach admiring a wide expanse of flat ocean, the colour of chalcedony, beneath a periwinkle sky.

The donkey sticks in Strike’s mind, and makes a reappearance after the case is solved. Strike’s first present for Robin’s thirtieth birthday is a balloon in a box in the shape of a donkey’s head.

The Office – Denmark Street – London

The nondescript black-painted doorway of the office she sought stood to the left of the 12 Bar Café; the name of the occupant of the office was written on a scrappy piece of lined paper Sellotaped beside the buzzer for the second floor.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

Denmark Street, just off Tottenham Court Road in central London is home to several shops selling guitars, keyboards and all sorts of musical ephemera. From the time Robin arrives it is also a building site – the street constantly vibrates to the sound of pneumatic drills as the streets surrounding it go through a major phase of reconstruction, demolition and rebuilding. Strike’s Agency shares the building with a dour and eccentric graphic designer, and the attic flat at the top of the building is occupied by the manager of the bar downstairs. Strike’s offices, reached via an old fashioned metal spiral staircase, consist of two rooms, the outer office where Robin works, with a sofa which makes farty noises, and Strike’s inner sanctum. The building becomes Strike’s personal as well as professional home – first when he is living in the office after his break up with his fiancée, Charlotte, and then when he takes over the attic flat. It’s tiny, but it’s convenient and Strike can look out from his window over the rooftops and down onto the teeming streets below. The office may be small with only a tiny dank toilet out on the landing, but it is the heart of the Agency, scene of many late night take aways and sandwich lunches; intense discussion, personal drama and danger. It is also the place where most of their investigations, and all the journeys those investigations send them on, begin and end – a fixed point for them both as their fame spreads, the agency grows and new clients find their way to the nondescript doorway