Ian Rankin and Cormoran Strike

​​​​​​​For serious readers and fans of Robert Galbraith’s ‘Cormoran Strike’ mysteries, it’s been a busy week. There have been a relative flood of stories about the three novels because of the ‘Strike’ BBC1 television show premiere in advance and to promote the 27 August broadcast of the first ‘Cuckoo’s Calling’ episodes. No news about the publication date of the fourth novel, ‘Lethal White,’ but I’m hopeful, even confident that the five ‘Strike’ adaptations of the first two novels being broadcast this month and next are preamble to ‘White’s rollout in October or at the holidays.
My thoughts this week have been about Ian Rankin, the Edinburgh writer of detective fiction. His only relationship with the Cormoran Strike stories seems to be the kerfuffle he caused in 2007 when he told a book festival in his and Rowling’s adopted home-city that his wife had seen Jo Rowling scribbling away at a murder mystery at their neighborhood Starbucks (back then Rowling lived on the same street as Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith, which avenue became known as ‘Writer’s Block’). The Presence denied it and Rankin said he’d been joking.
That only became interesting in 2011 when Rowling signed with Little, Brown and specifically with an editor who specialized in working with very successful writers of detective fiction. Because the world didn’t know that Casual Vacancy was in the works, The Guardian speculated that her first post Potter novel would be a detective piece, as Rankin had suggested. Rowling denied this and said that the rumor started because she and Rankin had discussed how much whodunnit atmosphere there is in the Hogwarts Saga. Her representatives at the time, Christopher Little, said rumors that she was writing crime fiction were “unfounded.”
Which wasn’t true, of course. The rumors started in 2012 because of the editor she had made a deal with and the 2007 comments were about Rankin’s wife and what she had supposedly seen. And Christopher Little, though he didn’t know it, had already been passed over for Neil Blair as Rowling’s agent and may very well have been unaware of what she was writing. Still, a non-story.
Here are three other notes about Rankin and Rowling beyond this not-really-news story:

 (1) Rankin’s detective is a policeman (retired now, if still on the job) named John Rebus. All literary alchemists raise their eyebrows at that because the ‘Rebus’ or hermaphrodite is, like the Philosopher’s Stone, a product of the Great Work (it is why Rubeus Hagrid has the name he does, for instance, and why the half-giant wears an apron, knits, and mothers the most dangerous creatures…). Rankin, though, has explained that his detective is named for John Shaft (!) and Rebus puzzles.
(2) Rankin writes fairly gory novels and he likes to give them titles that are taken from favorite songs or album titles of his preferred rock groups. Two of his most famous Rebus mysteries, for instance, are ‘Let It Bleed’ and ‘Black and Blue,’ two Rolling Stones albums. Might Rowling’s ‘Career of Evil,’ the most violent and disturbing of the Strike novels to date (if the murder in ‘Silkworm’ is hard to top), with its Blue Oyster Cult album title and chapter epigraphs, be a hat-tip or pointer to Rankin’s work? It certainly was a departure from the classical quotations in ‘Calling’ and the Jacobean Revenge Drama citations in ‘Silkworm.’
(3) In Ian Parker’s ‘New Yorker’ profile of Rowling (‘Mugglemarch’), Rankin is quoted twice and at length about his neighbor. I thought this comment a remarkable observation:
Ian Rankin, the writer of Edinburgh-based crime novels, became friendly with Joanne Rowling when they were neighbors in another part of the city; he recently described her as “quite quiet, quite introspective.” He recalled urging Rowling to join him for an onstage interview at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, a few years ago. After Rowling watched Rankin being interviewed at a similar event, she told him, “I don’t think I can do that.” Rankin said, “I think she feels uncomfortable in a room full of adults. I’ve seen her in a room of kids, and she’s in her element.” Rankin noted that Rowling, in her writing, retains “the power of life and death over these characters.” She is wary “of situations you can’t always control—in the real world.”
That is worthy of note, I think, to serious readers of her Cormoran Strike novels, because of the demands for control that Rowling makes in interviews (revealed in the ‘New Yorker’ piece):
“stipulated precisely when the interview would occur and who would be the interviewer and photographer; how and where it would be advertised and promoted in the paper and on radio; and gave Rowling full approval of captions, headlines, straplines, line drawings, graphics, headings, advance trails, quotes and photographs.”
If Rowling were a character in one of her novels, we would be obliged to conclude that she is not only controlling the narrative in the stories she writes but, as much as possible, writing the stories she wants to her readers to read about her JKR persona or character in the drama of real life. Hence her owning the production company that made the ‘Casual Vacancy’ television adaptation and is making the ‘Strike’ shows, of which she is Executive Producer and makes daily script changes.
Even she doesn’t have the money to make blockbuster films. Hence the small screen adaptations of her novels over which she can have complete control. Why even write the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ screenplays then? Well, though she has described the collaborative work as “excruciating,” it does give her some control over the stories Warner Brothers is making (they own the rights to the schoolbooks and had planned to make a travelogue…).

And Rowling has said her legacy to the world will be the work of Lumos, her charity dedicated to the abolition of institutional child care around the world. Fantastic Beasts is her platform for that cause in a way that Cormoran Strike never will be. Ditto for the money.

My Parthian aside here is that Rowling’s “press releases” should always be read as closely as her fictional narratives. They’re anything but off the cuff and, as likely as not, have only a resemblance to the truth.
Your thoughts?

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