Ink Black Heart: 30 August, 944 pages

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Will The Ink Black Heart Reveal the Circumstances of Strike’s Medal?

Troubled Blood cleared up one oft-mentioned part of Strike’s history: the two times he had met his biological father. We can hope that, as the series progresses with the eagerly anticipated The Ink Black Heart, to hear more about Strike’s history.  One possibility, mentioned by Joanne Gray way back in April, before we even knew the title, was that we might finally learn the circumstances under which Strike was decorated for bravery.

The medal was mentioned in all three of the first Strike books, but relatively little is known about it, including its current location. We have never seen or heard of the medal being in Strike’s attic flat or the boxes of items Strike brought from Charlotte’s, which makes me think it is on display in either Lucy’s or Ted’s home. I know I won’t have trusted Charlotte not to destroy it, given her hatred of his Army career. And we know that it is a source of tremendous pride for his family. Jack drew a picture of Uncle Cormoran getting his medal on his homemade birthday card for Strike in The Silkworm.

Many people, Robin among them, who met Cormoran Strike after his Army career assume the medal was awarded for his heroism in the IED explosion that cost Strike his leg. That certainly seems to be Carver’s impression in The Cuckoo’s Calling.

“He’s ex-SIB,” threw in Wardle, from beside the filing cabinet.

“I know that,” barked Carver, raising wiry eyebrows flecked with scurf. “I’ve heard from Anstis all about the fucking leg and the life-saving medal. Quite the colorful CV.”

Strike doesn’t bother correcting him. It is not until Career of Evil that we learn the medal was awarded for something entirely different, during his conversation with Robin about the significance of his missing leg.

“There’s nothing heroic about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“You’re a decorated veteran.”

“I wasn’t decorated for being blown up. That happened before.”

“You’ve never told me that.” She turned to face him, but he refused to be sidetracked.

So, we know the medal was for bravery, and, if Carver is to be believed, (not a given), for saving someone’s life, and well before he dragged Anstis to the back of the vehicle in the IED explosion. However,  Strike seems to actively avoid talking about the circumstances under which he earned it. So, what could the circumstances be?

We’ve heard mentions of Strike traveling all over the world during his Army career: Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Bosnia, Nairobi, Cyprus, Germany. One of the more interesting mentions is from Bosnia, where a faulty cell phone data dump triggered a series of mishaps that almost got a good friend killed in Mostar.  Could the heroics of this mission have been the reason for the medal, as well as leaving Strike with an ongoing mistrust of electronic mapping devices?

We also know that Strike has a particularly hair-trigger temper regarding any mention of child sexual abuse: hence the punching of Brockbank and the drunken dinner party argument. Not that this is an unreasonable response to such a crime, but it is at odds with his “you can’t save everyone— there are kids being abused all over” attitude of Career of Evil. Could the event have involved busting a child porn or sex trafficking ring? We know he worked on a case like that in Kosovo– which is not far from Bosnia.

Finally, we know he has another godson out there besides Timothy Cormoran Anstis. Could this child be the son of a different colleague that he saved, or worse, failed to save? Or a child trafficking victim he rescued?

Finally , when was the medal awarded?  Strike was in the army about 15 years, from shortly after Leda’s death in late 1994 until the IED explosion in May-September 2007, and then for about 18 months more, while he was hospitalized and recovering. I have speculated that it was awarded in his mid-20’s, that Nick and Ilsa were invited to the ceremony, and reunited there, each dumping their current partners and marrying a year later.

Surely, even if they did not attend the ceremony, Nick and Ilsa know the circumstances of the medal. It is curious that they have not yet told Robin, and that she has not asked. I guess she’s still too fixated on Charlotte. Dave Polworth presumably knows, and likely Hardacre and Anstis, along with Strike’s blood relatives. Will one of them spill the beans to Robin?

Here’s hoping for answers in The Ink Black Heart.

Mia Thompson: The Mysterious Aussie Gaffe-fixer of Cuckoo’s Calling

Last October, I started a Twitter-based read-along of all the Cormoran Strike books, sponsored by our fellow Serious Strikers from Strikefans.com.  Some of the group who had read the books in print earlier had chosen to listen to Robert Glennister’s outstanding audiobooks this time around. Imagine my surprise when, during the Cuckoo’s Calling review,  someone asked “What happened to the Australian saleswoman at Vashti’s?”

“What Australian saleswoman at Vashti’s?” asked I, and several others. 

There are many continuity errors in the Harry Potter series, and some of the more egregious (such as James emerging first from Voldemort’s wand in the climax of Goblet of Fire) were corrected in later editions. But this was the first I had heard of a change in a later edition of a Cormoran Strike novel. 

Who is this mysterious Australian lady, about whom those of us who read the earliest edition of Cuckoo’s Calling had never heard?  Find out after the jump.

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Does Anyone “Really” Die in Stories?

As one year dies and another begins, and, at least in my part of the world, most outdoor growing things are dead or wisely biding their time to emerge in a few months, it is a fitting time to think about how stories, like those we analyze and discuss here, address the idea of death. Perhaps this is a rather glum subject, but it does not have to be. I sometimes joke with my literature and mythology students that no one ever “really” dies in mythology, that characters morph from one myth into another, that the stories themselves sustain the characters. In literature, characters can continue to live, as we revisit them, even if they “die” within the structure of the narrative. Rowling, like all the good storytellers and myth-makers who create the tales that teach and entertain us, works with the idea that those who die don’t really leave, whether they are family members or cuddly pigs; but perhaps it is a bit of stretch to assume no one “really” dies in these stories. Let’s ponder that further and see.

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Beatrice Groves and Kurt Schreyer – The Mystery of the Ink Black Heart

When The Ink Black Heart was first identified as a possible title for the next Strike novel, it had one big disadvantage compared to ‘The Last Cries of Men’. Try as I might I could find no literary allusion worth it’s name. Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of  Literary Allusion in Harry Potter and Texts & Traditions: Religion in Shakespeare, and Kurt Schreyer, Associate Professor of English Literature at the University of Missouri, and author of Shakespeare’s Medieval Craft: Remnants of the Mysteries on the London Stage have written a Hogwarts Professor Guest Post that not only offers a solution to this mystery, but potentially offers peak at a the story scaffold via Shakespearian epigraphs. After the break, read their elegant solution to the mystery of The Ink Black Heart.

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