Creosote-Colored Tea Leaves: Louise’s First Musings for Cormoran Strike 5

As has been pointed out multiple times by John Granger and others, the Cormoran Strike series seems to be following a pattern of parallels to the Harry Potter series, with Book 2 centered on the havoc wreaked by a mysterious autobiographical book, Book 3 on a notorious escaped criminal stalking the protagonist and Book 4 on patricide of a government minister, set against the backdrop of a major sporting event. For this reason, we should expect echoes of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in Cormoran Strike 5.

John has also pointed out the multiple ring structures in the Harry Potter series, with similar themes in books 1, 4, and 7; 2 and 6; and 3 and 5. The large number of parallels seen between Cuckoo’s Calling and Lethal White suggest the pattern is continuing with the Cormoran Strike series. Thus we should expect echoes from both Career of Evil and Order of the Phoenix in the next installment of Robin’s and Cormoran’s adventures.

With that in mind, I’m going to start a few preliminary muses about themes, ideas and storylines that might come up. Keep in mind this is pure, very early speculation. More after the jump.

Order of the Phoenix took a scathingly satirical look at a government more interested in making itself look good than in serving its citizens, and in collusion with a media more interested in selling papers than speaking the truth. It also roasted the government-controlled educational system, with Dolores Umbridge introduced as the most incompetent teacher and oppressive administrator ever seen.

So, one possibility is that Cormoran and Robin could find themselves in trouble with the law-– perhaps even charged with a crime, standing trial at the start of the book and having their butts saved by a savvy defense attorney (read: Ilsa). Arguing against this is the fact that the Dynamic Duo were actually on good terms with the police, for a change, with the Met having finally wised up and decided, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Geriant Winn would undoubtedly like to see Robin in court for bugging his office, but he will presumably not be in a position to do much about it, once his wife-the-minister divorces him, and Cormoran certainly has the dirt on him, between the charity fraud, the railroad station blowjobs and rumors of sexual improprieties in front of young girls.  Having solved the murder of a conservative minister, presumably there will not be many in Parliament eager to throw the book at the agency, nor many judges willing to lift the ban on Jimmy Knight and allow him to sue Strike for assault.

Could Cormoran and Robin be unfairly targeted or mercilessly hounded by the press? Almost certainly; this has been a recurrent theme in every book to date. So, while I think this will happen, I think it is unlikely to be the root of the central mystery in CS 5. Been there, done that.

So, I’m going for my third possibility as my official first prediction: the storyline will involve some sort of scandal, corruption or crime in an educational setting. According to Wikipedia, one major news story of February 2013–within the possible time for the next in the series–was the controversy over plans (ultimately abandoned) to replace the British General Certificate of Secondary Education with a more rigorous “English Baccalaureate.” The issues raised in this debate included questions of dumbing down the curriculum, to what extent the government should meddle in the school system and whether it was appropriate to eliminate students from certain career paths based on single exam scores at age 15. This sounds a lot like what Harry and friends faced in Year 5, with Professor Umbridge as the meddling government official, banning wands as too dangerous for use in DADA class. There is also the pressure of the OWLs, with Harry, the most skilled DADA student of his generation nearly having his career as an Auror derailed by scoring only “Exceeds Expectations” rather than “Outstanding” in Potions. It would indeed be exciting if the baccalaureate issue in some way formed a backdrop to the story. Or, perhaps I’m just a bit overconfident after my successful Olympics guess.

The major character echo in Prisoner of Azkaban and Order of the Phoenix was the Prisoner and Order member himself, Sirius Black. The most important event, and arguably one of the low points of the entire series—the depths of nigredo, as Alchemical Master Granger might say–was his death at the end of Order of the Phoenix, a death made more tragic because Harry, with some justification, blamed himself. Despite warnings, he let his “saving-people thing” trip him up, allowed Voldemort trick him into believing Sirius needed rescuing, and went off on a fool’s errand to the ministry.

If this theme repeats, it is bad news for at least one our heroes’ close allies, who is destined to bite the veil in the next volume. But who? Assuming it was someone who we first got to know well in Career of Evil, I have narrowed the field to two, depending on which of our protagonists makes the fatal error. If Strike, I believe the victim will be Shanker; if Robin, the victim will be officer Vanessa Ekwensi.

Shanker makes a pretty good Sirius-echo. He’s reckless, daring and has spent half his life in jail. He was mentioned in Book One as a source of information with which Strike can bargain, much as Sirius was mentioned as a mere motorbike-owner in Philosopher’s Stone. But he finally comes onstage in Career of Evil where Robin, like Harry, assumes at their first meeting he means her harm, but later comes to trust him fully. As for Strike, he is closer to Shanker than to most of his blood relatives, and depends on him for help and information. If Strike lets emotion override his common sense and takes off on an ill-fated rescue mission, Shanker is the natural choice to enlist to help. Sadly, I am visualizing tea leaves on the bottom Strike’s creosote-stained mug spelling out, “Die, Shanker, die!”

Of course, Robin could also be the one to put caution to the wind and drag Shanker off on a risky mission, just as she did in Career. Although, Shanker has promised Strike he wouldn’t let that happen again. The next logical choice to perish assisting the Titian-haired Temp would be her friend Vanessa Ekwensi. And if John is right about her name and race being a reference to the black Vanessa atalanta butterfly of Nabokov’s Pale Fire…  well, the “black” part certainly doesn’t bode well for her.

We should, over course, expect other characters introduced in Career of Evil to reappear in Book 5. Of the three main suspects, Laing and Brockbank are presumably in jail, leaving Whittaker as the likely candidate. Young Stephanie could well turn up dead, leading Strike and Robin on a personal mission to prove Whittaker killed her; Strike motivated by his hatred for ex-Stepdad Dearest and Robin by her guilt at not being able to help the young woman she befriended. Cormoran’s investigation could naturally lead him to learn more about Leda’s death and his own fragmented childhood, analogous to Harry’s search for the prophecy in Goblet of Fire. Perhaps we’ll get more hints about what Jonny Rokeby was doing behind the scenes and what really happened with the anachronistic DNA test, though I doubt the full story on that will be revealed until later in the series,

Onto some slightly less grisly topics:

Another possibility is that Whittaker’s son, Switch LaVey Bloom, will make an appearance–he would be 20, likely a university student and ready to meet his famous half-brother. Maybe it is his university where the education-related mystery unfolds? A final option would be Brittany Brockbank. I’ll admit that my speculation about these two is fueled partially by their mention (SLBW)  and appearance (BB) in the TV version of Career of Evil. 

Robin will likely have to worry more about her divorce from the Flobberworm than catching killers, as he is liable to fight her getting even a portion of their joint bank account, which contains the proceeds from their flat sale. Ilsa can probably recommend a good lawyer, and Strike presumably knows a little something about evidence that can be used against straying, spying and emotionally abusive spouses. She may need their encouragement to properly advocate for herself. Cormoran, for his part,  has the sale of his building to worry about. They may find themselves with more financial than legal problems, at least in the short-term.

Because of these complications, I think the budding attraction between Robin and Strike will cool off for now, as both will have reasons to make sure Matthew has no basis for his suspicions of Robin and Strike’s relationship. I noticed that there were few if any instances of Robin musing over her attraction to Strike after she left the Flobberworm, and had the breakdown on the verge. In fact, even as he is buying her champagne, they are speaking mostly as co-workers; he calls her, for the first time ever, “Ellacott” instead of Robin, and even their jokes–a sign they are re-gaining their own comfort levels– are in the context of their boss-employee relationship.  “Maybe you could put that on the next employee satisfaction review. ‘Not as bloody annoying as the woman who shagged my husband.’ I’ll have it framed.”

I actually think Robin might be the one to date someone new in the next book, once the divorce is settled, much as Order of the Phoenix began and ended Harry and Cho’s ill-fated romance. In the era of #metoo, I think JKR will be wary of having Cormoran and Robin become an official couple while he’s still her boss. Perhaps once they become agency co-owners, which could happen if Robin’s divorce settlement helps them avoid eviction from Denmark Street. But, in the meantime, I hope they can stabilize their genuine friendship and working relationship before the romance develops further. Cormoran also needs to work on becoming closer to Lucy and Jack: he’s been as emotionally distant from his sister’s family as he has from the women he’s slept with, but hopefully got a wake-up call on that front with Jack’s hospitalization. 

Besides, Cormoran will have enough on his hands with Charlotte, who will undoubtedly be making him miserable. Whether she will actively try to destroy him or attempt to lure him back into her clutches as a (genuine?) victim of domestic violence remains to be seen. Was she ever pregnant with Cormoran’s child? Was her quick marriage to Ross because she convinced him she was carrying the Potential Male Heir, and, when that didn’t pan out, was she pressured into fertility treatments to produce the Promised Son? The other wild card is Tom, who holds Matthew’s employment over his head, and who may have cottoned on to the affair before Robin let herself see it. He appears to be trying to warn her to be vigilant as early as the house-warming and his unexpected explosion at Matthew later suggests he was at least having strong suspicions. He could do enough damage to the Flobberworm to help Robin out.

Finally, if someone other than the Flobberworm sent the 50 roses whose card was never read, Book 5 is the logical time to find that out. 

Some other questions that need answers, though not necessarily in the next book:

  1. Who is Strike’s second godchild? We’ve been told he has two, yet only met little Timothy Cormoran. Who, besides someone whose life he had saved, would be foolish enough to name Strike, confirmed child-disliker and apparently not religious, godfather?
  2. What was Leda’s original surname and why was she so eager to change it and give a two-week husband’s to her son?  We’ve heard lots about Rokeby, the father whose name he doesn’t use; will we ever learn anything about the original Mr. Strike, whose name he uses? For that matter, are there any other maternal relatives besides Uncle Ted?
  3. Will we ever learn more of the other Rokeby-spawn beyond Al? I am particularly curious about the illegitimate daughter, the ironically-named Prudence.
  4. What’s the full story of Dave Polworth and why was he, along with the army and the agency, among the things Charlotte wanted Cormoran to give up to prove her love for her? 
  5. Is there more to the story of the IED explosion, especially given the hint from the TV show of the child who could have shot Strike, but didn’t?

So, to sum up for those keeping a score, I predict:

  1. An education-related case to solve. 
    1. Possibly related to aborted English educational reforms of 2013.
  2. Shanker dies; Strike blames himself.
    1. Alternate prediction: Vanessa dies, Robin blames herself.
  3. Whittaker versus Strike, Round Two. With baby brother in the mix. 
    1. Alternate: Brittany Brockbank turns up; Strike gets a redo in helping her.
  4. Cooling of Strike-Robin romance for now.
    1. Possible new, short-term relationship for Robin.
  5. Matthew and Charlotte as major sources of trouble.
    1.  Conflict over joint bank account with flat proceeds as divorce settlement.
    2. Charlotte uses real or fabricated abuse issue to recapture “Bluey.”
    3. Rose mystery possibly solved.
  6. Financial issues related to sale of building.
    1. May connect to Robin’s divorce, if she is reluctant to fight for her legal share, but might do so if money needed to keep office. This could lead to her becoming the business co-owner.

Some final questions for our British readers to help us Yanks suss this out:

  1. Were the proposed education reforms of 2013 a big enough news story to be written into Book 5? How newsworthy, compared to say, the Royal Wedding or the Olympics?
  2. How long does a typical divorce take in the U.K.? Would documenting Matthew’s misbehavior: the infidelity, the cell phone tampering, the attempted assault–she’s got the ripped green dress as evidence–get Robin a higher financial settlement?
  3. Are British detective agencies licensed? I noticed Strike worries about trouble with the police and the press, but never about losing his professional license. A licensing board would seem to be the logical body to discipline P.I’s for illegal bugs. Most states in the US require licenses to work as a P.I. 


  1. Dr. Freeman,

    After being able to think of only two ways for book for to go (an either/or choice between the comic and the tragic) I have to say your theory is the one that hits the target dead on.

    I like the idea of Strike trying to solve a case involving the future of the British school because of the thematic potential it offers. Such a plot would, or could, involve Rowling making possible thematic link with some classic works of the detective genre.

    If Strike were to take on a case involving the English educational system, it could, potentially, mean we get to see the Sleuth of Denmark and his Gal Friday make their first visit to closest site England has to a Hogwarts, Oxford University.

    I just like the idea of the grim and ungainly Strike trying to find clues around the prim and proper settings of one the finest centers of learning/Inkling base of operations. Such a setting would also serve as a literary callback to another great crime yarn set in the OU. I’m thinking here of Dorothy Sayers “Gaudy Night”. Part of that novels thematic structure was the controversial for the time subject of women being given the opportunity to study for a University degree. There was a lot more going on in the Sayers book, though, and it’s just an interesting thought that Rowling might decide to tread a similar path.

    That said, the nature of the Robin’s backstory makes me wonder if her old school would make an ideal setting for the mystery. It would prove something of a challenge for Robin to revisit the scenes of trauma from her past, and how well she can cope with it in the present.

    My final reason for hoping an investigation of the UK school system is in the cards is because of the literary alchemical potential inherent in such a plot. By that I mean that it could be a chance for Rowling to at least hint at the metaphysical nature of the classical Trivium.

    After giving it some thought, the closest thing I can find to something like a Founding Document for the ideas of both “The School, or Center of Learning”, and it’s curriculum, is a treatise written by Martianus Capella. It’s title is “On the Marriage of Mercury and Philology”.

    It’s a lecture couched in an allegory. The allegorical myth tells of the betrothal of the two titular gods, one of them being none other than the Roman version of Hermes Trismegistus. The lecture within the fiction is Capella setting forth his case for the value of what has to amount to the first historical ordering of the modern educational curriculum. It seems to be the work which marks the first appearance of the Seven Liberal Arts. The difference is how Capella both presents and perceives to be the purpose of a school education.

    In contrast to modern schools, which seems to be focused on acquiring enough skills to make a successful entrance to the job market (if it exists), Capella saw the goal of training in the Liberal Arts as the shaping of character. This is important because for Capella, the character of a human being was that’s person’s essence. In other words, in the Middle Ages, the character was the Soul of a man. Here is where Capella’s use of literary alchemy is so important. He likens education to an alchemical experiment that shapes the soul of the student into the perfect soul. The school is the vessel, the Liberal Arts are the ingredients, and the character of the student is the material to be worked on.

    It would make an almost too perfect sense if Rowling were to utilize Book 5 as a partial vehicle to elucidate the hermetic-religious character of the Liberal Arts as part of that book’s satire or allegory. For this reason, I wish your theory the very best.

    A good recourse for Capella’s treatise can be found here:


    It just occurs to me that Charlotte would be the perfect Heir to the Umbrage legacy.

  2. Joanne Gray says

    Louise, you have come up with some wonderfully inclusive speculation for Strike Book 5. I confess that you have touched on some events that I think have a chance of being proven correct in future books. Ever since reading in Career of Evil that Shanker was “in charge” of looking after Leda while Cormoran went off to Oxford–and that she was killed during that time–I thought it was likely Shanker would be killed during the investigation that he and Cormoran would eventually undertake to solve her murder.

    I also like your idea about the educational setting for Strike Book 5. JK Rowling has admitted that both Cormoran’s admission to Oxford and his knowledge of Latin figure into important plot points of his life story of how he managed to gain admission to Oxford, especially given his extremely erratic educational history. Getting into Oxford definitely requires, not only the right academic credentials, but the money to do so.

    I have no doubt Cormoran’s intellectual abilities would qualify him for admission to Oxford but that is only one of the hurdles he would have to get past. How did he manage all the other barriers in his way? Then there is also the question of how (and why) did he learn Latin?

    Since there was a great deal about Leda scattered throughout the 3rd book, I hope we will finally see some solid dates (in Book 5) surrounding her story and Cormoran’s own birth and childhood: When did Cormoran have the DNA test? When and what were the circumstances behind the two times Cormoran met Jonny Rokeby; to name just a couple of the many questions.

    In my research it appears that it takes at least a year–for an uncontested divorce–to become final in England. I think that means that Robin will not be truly divorced until the end of Book 5–at the earliest. We probably won’t see any suitors for her until Book 6.

  3. This is just the site I have been looking for. An intelligent discussion about the books.
    I have no idea of what the mystery of book 5 would or could be, but the ideas in the article make sense. I have more ideas about the characters.
    Mathew will give Robin all kinds of difficulties about the divorce. Without Robin’s knowledge, Strike assigns the elusive Andy to follow him and gets the evidence that Mathew is continuing his affair with Sara. Strike confronts Mathew with the evidence and effectively blackmails him into dropping his objections to the divorce and giving Robin half of everything in the bank account.
    Robin uses the money to buy into the agency, for what ever reason, and it becomes Strike and Ellacott Investigations. Robin enrolls in Open University and starts to finish her degree.
    Charlotte does leave Jago. She leaves a letter stating she always loved Strike, she only married Jago to spite Strike and she is going to Strike to make him love her again. Jago storms into the office demanding Strike tell him where she is. Strike calms him down by taking him upstairs to his attic flat and asking if Charlotte would live in a place like this. Jago realizes she isn’t there and isn’t likely to come there. While they are upstairs, Strike clears up the so called dinner at the Franco’s and explains why he left her. He couldn’t take her chaos any longer and wouldn’t take her back even if she showed up on his doorstep wearing nothing but 6 inch heals and a mink coat. Jago asks to hire Strike to find her, but he refuses. This, he reasons, is just what Charlotte wants. She wants to entangle both of them in her chaos and lies and he won’t buy into it any more. He does ask Robin to give Jago some tips on finding missing persons so he can start a search himself. He might even recommend another investigator.
    I don’t think Robin will get involved with anyone else so soon after Mathew. After she left him she determined that investigation was her life and, I may be wrong, it had no room for relationships. She also told Strike she wanted to learn more, get better at the job and make the agency the best in London.
    Even with all their baggage, Robin and Strike begin to realize they are happier with each other than with anyone else. That’s a beginning.

  4. Louise Freeman says

    Welcome, Rita! I am glad you are joining the discussion! Please invite any other serious Strikers you know to join us!

    I could very well see the Jago/Charlotte thing happening and the scene of Viscount Ross in Strike’s flat would be priceless. I hope Cormoran will be able to resist Charlotte as well as he has been, but I have a feeling she will get her hooks into him at least once more before the series is over.

    On the other hand, I think Robin would be furious if Strike tangled with Matthew behind her back. She made it clear before she’s had enough of other people deciding what’s best for her.

  5. Thank’s for the welcome. I agree that Robin would be furious if she found out Strike tangled with Matthew but, I don’t think she would. Matthew sure wouldn’t tell her Strike found out about a continuing affair with Sara and Strike wouldn’t tell her he had Matthew followed. Well maybe on their 25th wedding anniversary he might.

  6. Lots of fun predictions! Is JKR breaking the rules of detective fiction if she kills off a core character? Doesn’t detective fiction inherently have enough deaths without adding more? Obviously, Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes but only to resurrect him later. And Christie’s “Curtain” that kills off Poirot was published when she was in her eighties as almost her last book. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just attached to Shanker and Vanessa. But I feel like we didn’t get the warning shot like we did in Goblet with Cedric’s death, where we know that anyone really can die. But I do I think we’ll get more sympathetic murder victim/s then Chiswell in book 5, though, such as we had with the innocents in Career of Evil. That will give it more emotional impact.

  7. Joanne Gray,
    Thank you for pointing out Strike’s brief time at Oxford. To tell the truth, I recalled Rowling saying that Strike had been to a university for a fleeting amount of time. The irony is I could never recall what exact place that was. I just seem to have plain forgotten it was Oxford.

    It seems we have two potential plot threads here. One is Robin’s past at her Masham secondary school (does anyone remember the name, again? Say sorry, it’s just been a while, and Strike 3 wasn’t my favorite). The other is Strike with Oxford. Do you suppose it would be possible to have the investigation at the heart of Book 5 drawing them back to both locales? Just a thought.

    Rita L,
    Those are all intriguing ideas. The interesting part is that, to me, Charlotte is sort of like a walking bad luck magnet. Anything she comes into contact with will soon meet with disaster, and most of those disasters may be deliberate. It’ll be interesting to see how much damage Charlotte will be able to unleash before everything else is through.

    I can see her cropping up, like Umbrage, when and where you least expect her to throw a monkey wrench into everything. My own basic experience as a fan of Gothic novels is, the more mayhem, the merrier.

  8. Joanne Gray says

    ChrisC–I confess I have my hopes up that Book5 will finally begin the process of giving us some (actual, confirmed and nailed down) dates and background to the many questions we have from the current incomplete bits and pieces of Cormoran’s back story. At this point, all we really know is how much we still need before we can even begin to assemble and solve the mystery of Cormoran’s backstory.

    I think if Book5 does reveal the background behind how Cormoran came to Oxford–as well as how he came to learn Latin–that we will finally have one of those necessary pieces to his real origin story. I confess that I think the story behind it will reveal Strike’s real biological father.

    Rita L, I like the idea of Charlotte Campbell Ross being Strike Book5’s Dolores Umbrage. Both characters very much want to inflict pain upon there book’s lead character (Harry/Cormoran)–it will be interesting to see what Strike Book5’s version of Umbrages “cursed quill,” that she employed against Harry, turns out to be in Strike’s case.

    Now that Spring is finally coming, after a very long and cold winter, I hope we will also see a bit of light (in the way of information) coming to us about the progress on Book5. Even if its only a few crumbs of information–it would be much appreciated.

  9. Rita Lovely says

    Joanne, I think you may be right about something going on at Masham. As far back as Cuckoos Calling, when Robin is escorting a drunken Strike from the pub, she thinks it is like leading her Uncles massive Clydesdale horse. Later, in Career of Evil (I think) she tells Strike that the only horse he could ride was that Clydesdale. This could be a foreshadowing of at least a trip to Masham .

    I think we have already met Delores Umbrage in the person of Bryan Mathers. He is the disgruntled client who is sending Strike threatening letters. The letters are on pink paper decorated with kittens. Umbrage always wore pink and loved cats. They are also unsigned therefore, they could be called Poisson Pen Letters. Strike thinks he is nothing to worry about but, he could show up as a threat in Book 5. I just finished listening to Cuckoos Calling again and I am going to start Silkworm to see what else I can think up.

  10. Rita Lovely says

    I forgot, I have some questions for British posters.

    What is the difference between a Lawyer, Soliciter, Barrister, and Queen’s Council?

    What is the difference between a Private School, Public School and Comprehensive School, and are there more schools in the British School System?

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