The new Galbraith novel featuring Robin Ellacott and Cormoran Strike, The Running Grave, will be released on 26 September, 2023, and we can’t wait. We know that the county of Norfolk will be featuring in the novel, and it’s a county with unique associations for Strike, so while we are waiting to get our hands on the new book, let’s acquaint ourselves with Strike’s previous visits, and get a flavour of the county as a whole.
In the course of his previous murder investigations with Robin, Strike has visited Norfolk only once. That was to interview Kea as the partners attempted to unmask an online troll and possible murderer known as Anomie (The Ink Black Heart). Strike arranged to meet her at her home in Kings Lynn, a pretty former fishing town on the north coast of Norfolk where the river Ouse meets the sea. Driving to the town from London, Strike reflects he had never wanted to visit the county again after living there for sometime when he was eight years old with his eccentric mother Leda at a quasi-mystical commune, a commune he hated and hopes no longer exists.
His impression of Norfolk was not likely to be improved by the visit. He ends up in a pub, the Maids Head, on the edge of the Tuesday Market Place, but is also attacked at Kea’s house by a vicious cockatoo.
Whatever Strike’s unfortunate associations with the county – of sleeping in a dank dormitory, a whipping, and watching Leda laying out her tarot cards – it is a spectacular part of England, with huge, wide open skies, long sandy beaches, pretty villages, scattered market towns and a rich history.
Norfolk was once the most populous county in England, famous for its rich soils, and the county is dotted with prosperous villages and grand stately homes. Forty minutes drive along twisting country roads from Kings Lynn is one of the grandest, Holkham Hall, home to the Earls of Leicester. It’s filled with treasures collected by the first earl on his grand tour and famous for its shooting parties. It is close to the famous Sandringham Estate, one of the royal residencies of Charles III, which is surrounded parks and landscaped gardens. Not everyone in the county remembers it, as Strike does, as an uncomfortable place to sleep.
Norwich is the biggest city in the county, and home of some of the country’s best preserved medieval streets and buildings. Built at the height of its prosperity from the wool trade, Norwich Cathedral dominates the town, and the Norman flint and stone building is reached from the oddly named street, Tombland. From Tombland you can explore a warren of narrow streets full of half-timbered buildings, ancient churches and historical gems. The city has its darker side too, of course. Norwich Castle, now a fascinating museum and art gallery, was once the site of the county gaol, and public execution. Charles Dickens is said to have been part of the huge crowd who witnesses the hanging of the notorious murderer, James Rush in 1849.
Between Norwich and the coast lie a twisting series of waterways known at the Norfolk Broads. They were formed when medieval peat workings were flooded as sea levels rose. They are now a favourite haunt of sailors, are dotted with ruined and converted windmills and rich in wildlife. Beautiful in the sun, the broads can be a lonely place at night though, when barn owls swoop like ghosts over the silent waters, and patches of woodland hide abandoned boats, overgrown with moss.
The train from Norwich reaches the coast at Great Yarmouth, a fishing village famous as the landing place of the herring fleets during the 19th century, which grew into a favourite seaside resort in the 20th century. It’s Golden Mile, running along its wide sandy beach, is lined with amusement arcades, traditional sea side cafés and hotels, and holiday goers can still explore the Britannia Pier, rebuilt in the 1950s after battles with flood and fire damaged the original beyond repair. On days when the weather is cold, the sky stormy, and the wind whips in from the north sea however, it’s easy to remember Yarmouth was the place where the body of executed pirate, William Paine, was hung in chains for more than twenty years, and the activities of Thomas Vaughn, body snatcher, which lead to a high fence being built around St Nicholas’s churchyard.
North of Great Yarmouth, another fishing town Cromer, also became popular with tourists, including Edward VII and a number of rich banking families, and ended up with many fine hotels, and a reputation for rich and distinguished visitors. It, like Yarmouth, has spectacular beaches and its own pier from which to contemplate the ocean with ice cream in the summer, or well bundled up during winter storms. The coast has always been treacherous as well as beautiful. The RNLI’s most decorated volunteer, Henry Blogg, was based here and saved over 850 souls from drowning.
In the south of the county, close by the market town of the the same name is Thetford Forest, a huge area of lowland pine which was created in the 1920s to create a new reserve of timber for the nation. Many miners from the north of England found themselves taking up forestry work in the area and created in the process, a haven for wildlife.
The town has something of a reputation for ghosts, including chanting monks, and in 2022 a burial was discovered where the body had been dug up and reburied upside down, its head removed, possibly to prevent it from returning to haunt the living.
Much of Norfolk is still farmland, huge open fields of barley and oil-seed rape, dotted with isolated farmhouses, and small villages joined by narrow roads and ancients paths. It is a county for pleasure seekers and sight-seers, walkers, sailors and history buffs.
It is also a place where it is easy to find privacy, or lose oneself under those vast, ever changing skies.
What will await Strike when he returns there?