Strike at Night

Posted on 27 Oct 2022

‘The cool night air touched her like a blessing.’

– Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

The nights are drawing in and Halloween is upon us…the perfect time to look at how Robin Ellacott and Cormoran Strike spend the hours of darkness.


‘Resigned to remaining in Sloane Square until at least 2 a.m., when it was usually safe to assume the young man was asleep, Strike’s thoughts lingered briefly on Robin, then drifted to another couple of niggling personal dilemmas.’

– The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith

The regular work of the detective agency often means long nights for Robin and Strike watching the comings and goings of their targets. Robin takes sandwiches and healthy snacks on her shifts, even though Strike accuses her of eating like a squirrel as a result. Strike smokes and thinks throughout the long hours of surveillance in Sloane Square, watching for ‘Fingers’. Even when not on surveillance he is a watcher in the night, surveying London from his attic flat in Denmark Street, watching the Friday night revellers or Christmas shoppers, allowing his thought to drift while he listens to the thud of the bass from the 12 Bar Café below him.


‘Evenin’,’ he said laconically. ‘Nice night for a grave robbin’.

– Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

As well as surveillance, the two detectives have other duties which take them out at night. During the investigations into the Chiswell household (Lethal White), Robin, Strike and Barclay spend the hours of darkness excavating a dell outside a derelict cottage on the grounds, looking for a grave with only the fractured memory of Jimmy Knight to guide them. The movements of small creatures in the grass and trees seeming extraordinarily loud as they dig by torchlight, then just as they discover disturbing evidence wrapped in a pink blanket, the dogs begin to bark.


‘confused dreams of catastrophe filled the night.’

– The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The investigations of the detective agency often lead to disturbed nights where personal and professional preoccupations collide in dreams. During their investigations into the disappearance of gothic writer Owen Quine (The Silkworm), Strike’s dreams are strange and ugly  – he sees his ex-fiancée Charlotte getting married in a vast, dark empty space, struggling into a blood wedding gown. While dealing with divorce and the cold case of Margot Bamborough (Troubled Blood) Robin dreams that the agency’s client, Miss Jones, was her husband Matthew’s real wife all along, and that Robin has to defend herself against a charge of fraud at the end of a long, polished table in a dark boardroom.


‘It was one in the morning. Strike had become almost deaf to the constant muffled thuds of the bass guitar from two floors below.’

– The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The night also gives the two partners time to think about cases, which they rarely have during the day. At home with her family in Masham for Christmas during the investigations into the disappearance of Margot Bamborough, Robin is at the kitchen table before dawn on Boxing Day, pondering on Strike’s notes on the esoteric investigative notebooks of detective Bill Talbot (Troubled Blood). When Strike stops looking out of his window at the Friday night revellers, he returns to the files on the mysterious death of Lula Landry in Kentigern Gardens (The Cuckoo’s Calling), puzzling through the statements of friends and witnesses and only falls into an exhausted sleep when he has consumed it all. Sometimes night is the chance to think about the personal too. During the nights she is on honeymoon in the Maldives (Lethal White), Robin spends hours walking the beach, thinking about her marriage, her career and Strike.


‘We don’t talk about personal… you don’t talk about personal stuff.’

– Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

The investigations into the disappearance of Owen Quine begin after Strike has spent all night receiving the confidences of a broken-hearted and betrayed woman (The Silkworm); and Robin solicits the confidences of a young girl as they walk the night streets of north London (The Ink Black Heart), providing a break in the case of Edie Ledwell. Strike and Robin seem to find it easier to confide in each other by night too. Robin hears about Strike’s tortured relationship with Charlotte after digging him out of the pub early in their relationship, and he returns the favour after her first major break with then fiancé Matthew. Sharing curry at the office as the daylight fades during the investigations into Margot Bamborough’s disappearance they exchange deeper confidences, Strike telling Robin about his father, and Charlotte’s suicide attempt, while Robin talks about her divorce. The confiding mood is only shattered when Barclay arrives and switches the lights on, chasing the intimacy of shadows away. (Troubled Blood)


‘When, Strike wondered, would he next enjoy a pint on a Friday with friends?’

– The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Strike occasionally visits the more glamorous parts of London, and though the women he meets sometimes like to take him to clubs and restaurants, it’s normally work which brings him to fancy nightspots. While searching for the truth behind the death of Lula Landry, he finds himself whisked away to the hyper-cool club, Uzi, with supermodel Ciara Porter to meet musician Evan Duffeld (The Cuckoo’s Calling). As the investigations into Edie’s stalker begin (The Ink Black Heart), Cormoran is working on New Year’s Eve at the exclusive Annabel’s in Berkeley Square. Among the well-heeled clientele he meets Madeline, who chooses him for her New Year’s kiss.

            Robin has a variety of working nights out during the investigations. While dealing with the dark history and current troubles of the Chiswell family (Lethal White), she attends an exclusive reception for the Paralympics, wearing the clinging green dress Strike bought for her. During the same investigation she also ends up at a party in a run down Hackney flat packed with young social revolutionaries in her disguise as Bobbi Cunliffe, the goth daughter of an ex-miner. At least during their night in the art deco jewel box of the Rivoli Bar at the Ritz celebrating Robin’s thirtieth birthday (The Ink Black Heart), both Robin and Strike have the chance to be themselves.


‘Strike replaced his earphones and returned to the report he was reading’

– Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

The sound track to Strike’s night-time work is often Tom Waits, and Robin remembers this, giving him DVDs of Waits’s concert No Visitors After Midnight for Christmas during the investigations into the disappearance of Margot Bambourgh (Troubled Blood). It’s at night too that Robin, looking for insight into Margot’s character, discovers the power of Joni Mitchell’s music, lying in her childhood bedroom in Masham, letting the songs overpower her until tears start in her eyes.

Being afraid

‘He walked for miles until darkness fell, past lit pubs where men and women laughed and flirted, past restaurants and cinemas, looking, waiting, with a hunter’s patience.’

– Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

It’s not just Strike and Robin who inhabit the night. Some of the monsters they encounter operate there too. The Shaklewell Ripper stalks his prey in the small hours; Margot never made it home from work that night almost forty years ago; dark deeds were done in Sir Jasper’s Chiswell’s London home after the Paralympics reception. The imaginative world built by Edie and Josh for their cartoon The Ink Black Heart is one of shadows and darkness too. When Anomie, in their online Drek costume, floats towards Robin’s avatar in the animated graveyard of the multiplayer game, she feels a shiver of actual fear.


‘Strike checked his watch. He was supposed to be going out with Elin this evening.’

– Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

The women Strike gets romantically involved with during his investigations all learn that his work is the most important thing in his life, but occasionally he experiences the relief and release of a Friday night in their company. One such night is when he arrives at Lorelei’s flat during the Chiswell investigations, turns on the TV and watches Channel 4 News for a while, drinking his wine, and smoking in pleasurable anticipation of Pad Thai and other sensual delights. Strike doesn’t feel able to love anyone after his fiancée, Charlotte, but that doesn’t mean he can’t savour the loving embrace of other beautiful women.


‘The icy night air scoured his lungs as they emerged on to the top of the building.’

– The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Night can make everything look different, even London itself and even to someone who knows it as well as Strike does. It is on a November evening during the search for Owen Quine (The Silkworm) that Strike is struck anew in the frosty haze by the aged beauty of the old city. On his way to meet Nina at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub he notices how the seventeenth-century façade of the Old Bell Tavern, with its diamond windowpanes aglow, exudes a noble antiquity; the dragon standing sentinel on top of the Temple Bar marker is silhouetted, stark and fierce, against the star-studded blackness above; and in the far distance the misty dome of St Paul’s shines like a rising moon.