Denmark Street – before the building work.

Before I started work this morning I came across a Reddit post showing views of Denmark Street from 2015 and 2020, clearly showing the building work that our favourite detectives complain of:

In a pleasing piece of synchronicity, at lunch I was listening to an old radio comedy from the late 60’s called I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, that featured a song written by Bill Oddie called Denmark Street. The song is clearly picturing a Denmark St. from a different age in it’s laid back and artistic heyday. If you are in the UK (or have a VPN that can make the internet think you are) you can listen to the episode on BBC iPlayer here. For the rest of the world the song can be found here.

More Hauntings in Cormoran Strike: The Ghost of Charlie Bristow Comes Calling in Cuckoo

Headmaster John has made a strong case for Margot Bamborough as a ghost who haunts Troubled Blood. Given that repetition of themes is a hallmark of Rowling’s work, shouldn’t we be re-reading the earlier Strike books with an idea of uncovering still more ghosts?  I’m going to begin with the first in the series of posts, and argue that young Charlie Bristow plays a “haunting” role in The Cuckoo’s Calling, as much or even more so than does the principal murder victim, Lula Landry. 

The ghost of  “Cuckoo,” the murdered model, calls to Strike as he reads her emails. Furthermore, we learn that the sensation of crime victims haunting him is not unusual. 

Out of these dry black marks on paper, out of erratically spelled messages littered with in-jokes and nicknames, the wraith of the dead girl rose before him in the dark office. Her emails gave him what the multitude of photographs had not: a realisation in the gut, rather than the brain, that a real, living, laughing and crying human being had been smashed to death on that snowy London street. He had hoped to spot the flickering shadow of a murderer as he turned the file’s pages, but instead it was the ghost of Lula herself who emerged, gazing up at him, as victims of violent crimes sometimes did, through the detritus of their interrupted lives.

Though Strike does not yet know his childhood friend was murdered, Charlie Bristow’s spirit has apparently been with Strike ever since the boy’s tragic death. Despite knowing the lad for only a couple of months, and the many competing people he met over the course of his itinerant childhood with its oft-interrupted schooling, Charlie is solidly fixed in Strike’s memory. This is likely because Charlie’s death was Strike’s first experience with the passing of a peer. 

From that day onwards, Strike had seen the face of a laughing blond boy fragmenting every time he looked at, or imagined, a quarry. He would not have been surprised if every member of Charlie Bristow’s old class had been left with the same lingering fear of the great dark pit, the sheer drop and the unforgiving stone.

When Strike sees Charlie’s picture by his mother’s deathbed, he re-experiences his friend’s presence.

With something akin to an electric shock, he found himself looking into the eyes of ten-year-old Charlie Bristow, chubby-faced, with his slightly mullety haircut: frozen forever in the eighties, his school shirt with its long pointed collar, and the huge knot in his tie. He looked just as he had when he had waved goodbye to his best friend, Cormoran Strike, expecting to meet each other again after Easter.

Charlie, we should remember, died on the day most associated with resurrection from a dark pit and stone tomb. Given that he expected to see with Strike again after the holiday, it is not hard to imagine him keeping the appointment,  post-mortem. The first favor Charlie did for his best mate may have been to give a prod to his big brother. John Bristow, like Gregory Talbot of Troubled Blood, claims support from beyond for his decision to work with Strike.

“Nobody,” said Gregory. “It’s been up in our attic for the last ten years. We had a couple of boxes of stuff from Mum and Dad’s old house up there. Funny, you turning up just as the loft was being mucked out… maybe this is all Dad’s doing? Maybe he’s trying to tell me it’s OK to pass this over?”

“Well you see, when I was looking for someone to help me with this business, and I saw your name in the book,” Bristow’s knee began jiggling up and down, “you can perhaps imagine how it – well, it felt like – like a sign. A sign from Charlie. Saying I was right.”

Unlike Talbot, Bristow is presumably lying, bringing up Strike’s connection to his dead brother as a form of emotional blackmail to get Strike to take the case. But, just like Ron Weasley’s made-up predictions in divination have a way of coming true, Bristow’s words are inadvertently factual. Charlie is described as “laughing” and “a clown;” Lady Bristow recalls, “He loved performing, do you remember?” Young Charlie appears to be getting the last laugh on the brother who killed him. John Bristow wants two things out of life:  money and his mother’s affection. If Charlie did supernaturally inspire John to seek out and hire Strike, it was the ultimate revenge act. First, John hands over a hefty chunk of his coveted cash to Strike, who sorely needs it. Second, Strike solves the case, which results in John both losing his adopted sister’s fortune and presumably being forever alienated from his mother, once he is exposed as the killer of the two children she loved. Third, and as an added bonus, Bristow gets pounded in the face with Strike’s prosthesis, winding up beaten to a pulp and with a broken nose and jaw.

In the book epilogue, Strike tells Jonah Agyeman about the Bristow family safe combination: “030483. Easter Sunday, nineteen eighty-three: the day he killed my mate Charlie.” Strike is remembering Charlie’s fatal plunge into the quarry; that means that he is again seeing the face of the laughing, angelic schoolboy. Even though he’s having a pint with Agyeman, the imagery is of Strike raising a glass with his childhood friend, toasting the “gotcha” that they have together pulled on the “surly older brother” and murderer.

Interestingly, the name “Charlie” does not come up again until Lethal White, where we discover that it is the horsey set’s nickname for Charlotte Campbell, the living person who continues to haunt Strike.

The final two people who may have gotten a visit from Charlie are Lady Bristow and Lula, on the last day of Lula’s life. Charlie’s picture was likely present at her mother’s bedside then; at the very least, he was a topic of conversation:

“Can you remember what you talked about?”

“My operation, of course,” she said, with just a touch of asperity. “And then, a little bit, about her big brother.”

“Her big…?”

“Charlie,” said Lady Bristow, pitifully. “I told her about the day he died. I had never really talked to her about it before. The worst, the very worst day of my life…”

Strike thought of how the room would have looked on a winter morning months ago, when the trees must have been bare-limbed, when Lula Landry had sat where he was sitting, with her beautiful eyes perhaps fixed on the picture of dead Charlie while her groggy mother told the horrible story.

While this tale was unfolding, John Bristow was hiding in the middle flat of Lula’s building, trying on Deeby Mac’s clothes, and hatching the plot to murder his sister. Both Lula and her mother are marked for death; one knowingly, the other not. Perhaps it was only the post-operative pain and drugs that prompted Lady Bristow to finally confess the suspicions regarding John and Charlie’s death. Perhaps it was the sheer horror of what she had just heard that prompted Lula–for whom neither personal responsibility nor financial wisdom seem to be strong points–to immediately grab the blue note paper, write her will, call her trusted witness and set her affairs in order. But, with the imagery of the dead child’s picture in place, it is easy to imagine the veil thinning for both doomed Landry women, and Charlie’s ghost, with divine understanding of events to come, urging both his mother and his sister to take the actions that are needed to bring the killer to justice.

The Life and Times of Strike and Ellacott Timeline available for Readers

At long last, the timeline I created for Robin and Strike’s lifetimes is available to anyone who requests it by email.  See link at the top left of the homepage.

This timeline grew out of my interest in the errors and inconsistencies in the series as a whole, and particularly my efforts to make sense of Donald Laing’s timeline. Troubled Blood solved a few time mysteries, but also opened up others.

I am grateful to all the readers who have already contributed to the effort through their comments on this site, particularly Nick, who explained British school calendars to me. Lots of details, such as Switch LeVey Bloom Whittaker being a probably preemie, were the result of comments on my earlier posts.

The day-by-day book timelines available at were also very useful.

I fully expect this to be a “living document” updated not only with publication of new books, but when others spot dates that I missed, or correct my errors.



Troubled Blood: Steel Dagger Interview

Troubled Blood is up for another prestigious award, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. This annual prize is for the ‘Best Thriller’ and is given out by the British Crime Writers Association as one their Dagger prizes, the most prestigious of which is the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement. The Steel Dagger differs from the Diamond Dagger in focus and in being a relative newcomer to the Crime Writers Association.

Its focus is the thriller, which is an inclusive genre, no doubt about it:

[The Steel Dagger] award is for the best thriller novel first published in the UK. The broadest definition of the thriller novel is used for eligible books; these can be set in any period and include, but are not limited to, spy fiction, action/adventure stories and psychological thrillers. Ian Fleming said there was one essential criterion for a good thriller – that ‘one simply has to turn the page’; this is one of the main characteristics that the judges look for. Sponsored by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.

Unlike the Diamond Dagger, which has been an annual event since 1986, the Steel Dagger has only been awarded since 1982. The names on the Diamond list, as you’d expect for a lifetime achievement award, are relatively well-known; Eric Amber, P. D. James, and John Le Carre, for example, won the first three, and authors we have discussed here at HogwartsProfessor — Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, and Martin Edwards, for starters — are past winners. In contrast, I have read only one Steel Dagger recipient, though I have read everything that winner has written.

It’s a big enough deal that Rowling-Galbraith submitted answers to interview questions sent to all the nominees in hopes that she can add a Steel Dagger to Troubled Blood‘s trophy case, next to her Nibbie Crime and Thriller statuette. The interview is short but relatively revealing.

Join me after the jump for a walk through The Presence’s answers and two other thoughts about this award — [Read more…]

J. J. Marsh’s ‘Behind Closed Doors:’ Did Cormoran Strike Begin as a Bet that Rowling Made with Two Old Friends?

Rowling tweeted last month that “one of my best friends, who lives in Spain,” had sent her a video of an accomplished guitarist.

I asked Nick Jeffery who this “best friend” of Rowling might be and he, as always, had a good guess:

My guess (and it is a guess) is Aine Kiely, one of the Godmothers of Swing from the Prisoner of Azkaban dedication. She fits the bill as ‘one of her oldest friends’ and is currently working and living in Spain. The other Godmother of Swing, Jill Prewett, writes detective fiction under the name J J Marsh and lives in Switzerland. Both have holidayed with JKR in recent years.

I was struck by Nick’s aside that one of Rowling’s oldest and dearest friends writes detective fiction. I had read Prewett-Marsh’s 2013 interview with Rowling, one of the best, but hadn’t known the journalist here was a writer, too. I see now that Rowling mentions Ngaio Marsh twice in that very bookish discussion, the most frequently cited interview, I think, in our list of Rowling references to books and authors she likes.

I ordered, consequently, an omnibus or Box Set edition of J. J. Marsh’s first three Beatrice Stubbs novels: Behind Closed Doors, Raw Material, and Tread Softly. My thought was to check if these books, written by Jill Prewett and published at the same time as Rowling-Galbraith was planning and writing the Strike series, had any obvious over-laps with the more famous Cuckoo’s Calling and subsequent four books.

I read the first Stubbs book, Behind Closed Doors, last weekend and think there may indeed be a connection, a fun one.

Three notes before I connect those dots, all after the jump: [Read more…]