My Willy Wonka Moment: Finding the ‘Career of Evil’ Golden Ticket

f38699558Do you remember the grave fandom concerns in 2007 around the possibility that copies of Deathly Hallows would be stolen before the official Midnight Flood Gates Opening? The Presence Herself mentioned her hope in almost every interview in the months leading up to the Event that the finale would not be spoiled for many readers by those determined to find a copy of the seventh book and post a flash scan of it online.

Of course, a few Black Hats did do their best to burst the party balloons, but for the most part the readers who bought copies before anyone else were able to do so, not by subterfuge or intrigue, but because of errors made by store clerks. If memory serves (and mine is doing the dishes now), there was a Walmart or CostCo in Toronto in which an overnight stocker disregarded the ‘DO NOT OPEN UNTIL –‘ stamps on each side of a box and put out 20 copies of Deathly Hallows. Which were promptly purchased and disappeared.

No harm done. A few turned them in but most of these happy readers just read the books privately and waited for the rest of the world before commenting at their favorite web sites.

I had this experience this past Thursday, believe it or not, if the release of Career of Evil does not merit a reading on the literary-release seismic scale as did the earth-shaking Deathly Hallows. And I’m still in this odd book-possession-limbo.

Chestnut Hill College1Friday last was the annual Harry Potter Conference at Chestnut Hill College, an event which is rapidly becoming a Hogwarts Saga Serious Reader ‘must event.’ 37 challenging talks in one day with three first-tier plenary speakers, two book launches with authors on hand, and a Secondary School Essay Contest with thousands of dollars in college scholarship money to be won, all on a campus with a classroom castle on the hill that screams ‘Hogwarts!’ The hospitality, the school, the Quidditch Tournament, the town that plays Hogsmead to gown’s School of Wizardy — if you haven’t been, they’ve already announced next year’s date — 21 October. See you there.

I had to fly out of OKC to get there Thursday night because, hey, it’s a one day conference that squeezes more quality scholarship into ten hours of meetings on parallel tracks than should be legal so they start early. I wanted something to read so on my way to the plane I looked into an Oklahoma City bookshop, a glorified newstand truth be told, for something to read on the flight and in Dallas for my one stop before flying to Philadelphia.

sun-rotherhamI don’t often read newspapers (thank you, Rolf Dolbelli!) but I was in the mood. I didn’t like anything I saw, though, at least nothing I was willing to pay more than a dollar to read. I looked at the magazines. I’m getting a little old for the fare that was available and I’m sufficiently disconnected from American Celebrity currents that I wasn’t tempted by the various flavors of People magazine on offer. Which brought me to the paperback books over by the candy racks.

I read a lot of thrillers for my MFA papers (“annotations”). I may have succeeded in overwhelming the attraction I ever may have felt for the genre by that forced immersion. Almost all of the paperbacks were of the sort with exciting one word titles and action figure silhouettes speed roping from helicopters. So took a look at the one column of hard cover books in the corner with three books across and six shelves top to bottom. The math suggested I wasn’t going to be excited by the selection.

Sure enough, most of the books were celebrity tell-alls, historical fiction, or business effectiveness guides.

COEThere were, however, five copies of Career of Evil looking up at me. They were on the shelf section marked ‘#18 on the New York Times Bestseller List.’

I looked at the copies for a few seconds before what I was seeing finally registered. The book I had stayed up three night in a row writing about with blinders on — because the book wasn’t available until the 20th, right? — was on sale at an indoor newsie in OKC five days ahead of schedule.

A friend at Chestnut Hill on Friday called this a ‘Willy Wonka’ moment. Call me ‘Charlie.’ I’d got my golden ticket for the Chocolate Factory tour.

My first thought? “I won’t be able to write my predictions post…” [Read more…]

Five Reasons Harry Potter Fans Are Not Excited About Cormoran Strike (Yet)

COEI’m leaving early tomorrow for the annual Harry Potter Conference this Friday at Chestnut Hill College just north of Philadelphia (I hope to see you east coasters there!). Before I leave, I wanted to write up some annoying thoughts that I wish I could dump into a Pensieve for more relaxed observation. When I get back home from Penn’s Woods, I will deliver on the promise to discuss the critical memory that eludes Cormoran Strike in The Silkworm and which I think is as important to the finale, in all likelihood, as the “gleam of something like triumph in Dumbledore’s eyes” at the end of Goblet of Fire. Stay tuned.

I’m getting a lot of feedback on my thoughts after a close reading of the Career of Evil excerpts. My speculation that the mysterious friend mentioned in both Cuckoo and Silkworm is the stepfather who was convicted of Leda Strike’s murder, that he will play a role in Career something like Sirius Black’s in Prisoner of Azkaban, and that the bad guy is not a Muslim terrorist or Afghan War veteran but Jago Ross as a postmodern Jack the Ripper has caused a parliament of owls to descend into my inbox, most of it of the “We’ll see!” variety. Not many want to join me out on the limb.

f38699878What is remarkable, though, is that there has been so little response to these predictions. Remarkable but very much in keeping with my experience at Harry Potter conferences the last two years. When I talk about the artistry and meaning of the Hogwarts Saga, I see big crowds, great interest, real enthusiasm. When I speak about Jo Rowling’s new seven book series, the Cormoran Strike novels, the crowds are much smaller and the prevalent attitude is a mix of curiosity and something like confusion. “Wait — there’s a new series from my favorite author? Why isn’t anyone besides John talking about that?” (Not knowing, it seems, that Karen Kebarle is also on the case….)

Which raises the question: “Why so little enthusiasm in the Harry Potter fandom for the Cormoran Strike mysteries?” Here are five reasons from the top of my head; please let me know what you think in the comment boxes below.


[Read more…]

Rowling Reveals WhoDunnit in ‘Career of Evil’ Prepublication Excerpts? Maybe!

COEYesterday, I posted my first thoughts on the two prepublication excerpts from Career of Evil posted on The Guardian and TIME websites last week.

I woke up this morning with the revelation that, if two premises are true about how the third book works, we have a very, very good idea of who the killer is — ten days before we have the novel. Your hints? It’s about the baby Charlotte claims she was carrying, the stepfather convicted of murdering Leda Strike, Jack the Ripper, and Prisoner of Azkaban.

blackIf you want to share in some wild speculation, all of it grounded in what we know from Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm, head on over to to read all about it. Those of you who have signed up have already received the url in an email.

You won’t want to miss this throwback to predictions made before the last three Harry Potter novels, especially if you were too young or not yet in the fandom at that time. This is Rowling Reading fun of the best kind. I’m beside myself with anticipation to read what you think!

Rowling Releases Two Pre-publication ‘Career of Evil’ Excerpts!

LegOn 9 October, the publishers of J. K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike mysteries took a play from the Harry Potter Mania playbook and posted two excerpts, a prologue and first chapter, from Career of Evil, the third installment in her open-ended seven part series.

Saracens_FC_logo.svgLinks to the excerpts and my first magical seven thoughts on what is revealed, confirmed, and suggested in misleading fashion in these fascinating preview pieces — to include a woman’s dismembered leg and a Rugby Club called the Saracens — can be found at, my new member’s only weblog devoted to discussion of the Doom Bar Detective’s adventures. Membership is on the house, of course, and if you signed up for the free pdf on Strike I offered in July, you’ve already received a notice of the site’s Grand Opening.

I look forward to seeing you all there for cogitation and speculation about Jo Rowling’s latest!

MuggleNet Academia: Cormoran Strike and the Invisibility Cloak – Happy Birthday, Harry Potter and Jo Rowling!

Cuckoo 1JKR hits the big Five-Oh today, Harry turns 35, and MuggleNet Academia rolls out its first show devoted to the elephant in the common room, Cormoran Strike, the Doom Bar Detective. What do these mysteries tell us about Harry Potter? About Jo Rowling as a writer? Are they a key, as the books suggest, to what the author thinks her previous books meant? Who are the bad guys of these books — and are they bad enough that Rowling chose to write under another name to avoid their wrath?

CareerOfEvil-UK-US-800x611Dolores Gordon-Smith, accomplished mystery maven and author of the Jack Haldean ‘Golden Age’ detective thrillers, and Karen Kebarle, English professor at Algonquin College and Potter Pundit, join Keith Hawk and me in a discussion of my paper ‘Five Reasons Jon Rowling Didn’t Want You to Know She Writes the Cormoran Strike Mysteries’ (you can download that provocative essay here).

It’s a rollicking, free-wheeling back and forth between serious readers about the new books by the best selling author of our times, of all time. Give it a listen, read the free pdf, and let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!