Cormoran, Robin and the Deleted Phone Calls: Evidence of Strike’s Remarkable Insight.

In the countdown to Troubled Blood, every Strike fan out there must be, on some level, wondering what is next for Cormoran and Robin. Are they ready to acknowledge their feelings for each other? Or will they keep a safe distance, at least until Robin’s divorce from the Flobberworm is finalized, which would, of course, give Charlotte plenty of time to try to sink her claws into “Bluey” again?

One point has been bugging me since I first read Lethal White, so much that I paid special attention to it on my latest re-listen to the audio book. How does Strike find out the Flobberworm deleted his apology message to Robin, and blocked his calls?  Is this a plot hole, or is it more evidence that Cormoran recognizes who and what Matthew is long before anyone else, including Robin does?  For more of the story, continue after the jump.

We know the breaking point in the Cunliffe marriage was Robin’s discovery of Sarah Shadlock’s earring in her bed, and the realization that Sarah and the Flobberworm had resumed their affair.  But, as Robin tells us: “I ought to have walked out of the wedding once I knew you’d deleted those calls from Strike.”  It was, in fact, that violation of trust that probably doomed the marriage. Let’s take a close look at how that revelation unfolded, from both Robin and Strike’s perspectives.

The setting is the wedding receiving line.  Strike first enters the room and meets Robin’s eyes, at the exact moment the Flobberworm is trying to tell her something. Presumably, he wants to come clean to her before Strike can tell her he calls.  Of course it doesn’t work.

“Robin,’ said Matthew. ‘Listen, I need—’
‘In a minute,’ she said, with a joyfulness that had been conspicuously absent all day.” 

“Before you talk to him, I need to tell—’
‘Matt, please, can’t it wait?”

Once Cormoran makes his way over to her…

“Yeah, sorry about knocking over the flowers,’ said Strike, including the sullen Matthew in his apology. ‘I did call, but—’
‘I haven’t had my phone on this morning,’ said Robin, aware that she was holding up the queue, but past caring. ‘Go round us,’ she said gaily to Matthew’s boss, a tall redheaded woman.

“No, I called – two days ago, was it?’ said Strike.
‘What?’ said Robin, while Matthew had a stilted conversation with Jemima.

“A couple of times,’ said Strike. ‘I left a message.’
‘I didn’t get any calls,’ said Robin, ‘or a message.”

Robin is shocked, at this point, and no doubt thrilled that she has her job back. She immediately turns her attention to insisting Cormoran stay for the wedding and getting him seated, summoning her mother to take him over to Stephen and Jenny’s table.  Only after he is gone does she question the Flobberworm.

“Why didn’t I get Cormoran’s calls?’ she asked Matthew, as an elderly man shuffled away towards the tables, neither welcomed nor greeted.
‘I’ve been trying to tell you—’ 

“Why didn’t I get the calls, Matthew?’
‘Robin, can we talk about this later?”

The truth burst upon her so suddenly that she gasped. ‘You deleted my call history,’ she said, her mind leaping rapidly from deduction to deduction. ‘You asked for my passcode number when I came back from the bathroom at the service station.’ The last two guests took one look at the bride and groom’s expressions and hurried past without demanding their greeting. ‘You took my phone away. You said it was about the honeymoon. Did you listen to his message?”

“Yes,’ said Matthew. ‘I deleted it.’
The silence that seemed to have pressed in on her had become a high-pitched whine. She felt light-headed….Her eyes found Strike, who was standing with his back to her, waiting beside Linda while an extra place was laid at her elder brother Stephen’s table. Robin imagined striding over to him and saying: ‘Let’s get out of here.’ What would he say if she did?

So, the confession happens, but not when Strike is in a position to hear it, or even infer anything from Matthew and Robin’s  facial expressions or body language.  He facing away from the “happy couple” and standing next to Robin’s mother and brother, who know nothing the deleted calls until the family knock-down drag-out in the bridal suite, after the dance.

A cacophony had ensued. Stephen, first to grasp what Matthew had done in deleting Strike’s calls, started to shout at him…Then Linda had finally grasped what Matthew had done, and began telling him off, too.

Yet, Cormoran seems to know about the Flobberworm’s deceit, since he leaves the reception convinced Robin is going to quickly and sensibly exit the marriage.  Two days later, in the Travelodge:

He was sure that Robin would be going through a hellish time, holed up in Masham while deciding whether to pursue a divorce or an annulment, arranging the sale of their flat while dealing with both press and family fallout.

 Once he learns Robin has gone on the honeymoon, Strike is so disappointed in her that he seeks comfort in a rather disastrous combination of Coco and beer. Interestingly, none of his musings about “the twat” at this time specifically mention the deleted calls.  It is only after Chiswell’s murder, more than a year later, that we have explicit evidence that Strike knew why his apology message wasn’t received.

Clicking out the nib of his pen, Strike made a note on his pad. As he did it, he wondered whether Robin’s husband, who had previously deleted her call history without her knowledge, knew her current passcode. These small matters of trust were often powerful indicators of the strength of a relationship.

There only seem to be two choices: either Robin told him about the blocked calls sometime during the skipped year, or Cormoran deduced it in the reception line, before Robin herself did. The former seems very unlikely; during the year of their emotional distance, they “talked about their private lives in the broadest brushstrokes, and then only when necessary. ” We know, for instance, that Strike learned of the seaborne bacteria incident only when Robin joined him at the hospital with Jack. A talk about the deleted calls seems equally unlikely to have come up. 

Thus, we are left with Strike making an uncannily accurate inference, at the wedding. During the brief conversation, when Robin tells him she never got the calls, the Flobberworm’s “sullen” face must have revealed enough guilt that Cormoran deduced– and was 100% certainty–that the Flobberworm had intercepted his calls.  Keep in mind,  Matthew was in a “stilted” conversation with his boss at the time, and presumably doing everything he could not to reveal anything damaging about himself. But, we know the Flobberworm doesn’t have much of a poker face;  it was his facial expression that clued Robin into the fact that he had slept with Sarah in college.  Still, it was remarkably intuitive of CBS. 

Despite the rough exterior, Cormoran Strike is actually gifted with a high level of interpersonal intelligence.  He knows that what Matthew is and that Robin needs to leave him long before Robin lets herself see it. In Career of Evil, during the broken engagement, he is careful not to disparage Matthew, speculating that the relationship might not truly be over.  In Lethal White, he buys her overpriced champagne to toast his departure, He knows exactly how he uses and hurts the women in his life, from Nina to Elin to Coco to Lorelei, but that doesn’t stop him from doing in. He even has remarkable insight into how and why Charlotte affects him, and that the relationship isn’t and was never healthy.  Will that stop him from going back to her in Troubled Blood?  Just 20 days until we find out. 



  1. Kelly Loomis says

    I’m not actually going to comment on the post right now other than to let you all know the first 7 chapters of Troubled Blood can be read as a “sample” right now on Apple Books. And ChrisC will be pleased with the quotations!!

  2. If Strike follows his own advice over means vs motive, then Matthew would be the top person to have the means to have the pass code to delete the calls and messages off Robin’s phone. Of course, there could have been a problem with the calls going through but that’s less likely with multiple calls and a message. Or a chance that Robin did miss them, but that’s unlikely over multiple days, Robin’s attention to detail, and the circumstances of her being devastating at Strike sacking her.

    That said, I do think Strike understands perfectly who Matthew is, even with the very limited contact that they’ve had. Really enjoyed the whole article!

  3. I think Rowling should have had Strike observe something between the couple, and muse about it at the table. He may have deduced all of this, but a few words would tie it in a bow. I still think it is a plot hole.

    Rowling is a masterful writer, and makes so many believable, fully fleshed-out characters that I can’t even imagine what it must be like inside her brain. But she does make the odd mistake, now and then, so I think she can make a plot hole, now and then. Remember that Strike looked at his watch arm on the way to the wedding in the car with Shanker, but since he had no watch on, had to look at the dashboard clock. Yet, at the beginning of the next book, he looks at his watch while hiding out in the loo at the reception. “Yawning, again, he checked his watch.” He should have had to pull out his cell phone to see the time. And it was never explained how, in Cuckoo’s Calling, Robin appeared and stopped Strike killing John Bristow with his prosthesis. A single sentence during the taxi ride to the hospital giving us an insight into Robin’s thought processes and where she was waiting (maybe in the loo at the top of the stairs?) would not have gone amiss.

    I’m stumped about one reference in “The Cuchoo’s Calling”. Does anyone understand what caused Robin to blush when Strike asks her real name, after calling her Sandra several times? The Batman and Robin reference wouldn’t make me blush, and I blush easily. :o) Is this some Brit reference that I can’t find online?

    “Sorry I kept calling you Sandra. She was the last girl. What’s your real name?”
    “Robin,” he repeated. “That’ll be easy to remember.”
    He had some notion about making a jocular allusion to Batman and his dependable sidekick, but the feeble jest died on his lips as her face turned brilliantly pink. Too late, he realized that the most unfortunate construction could be put on his innocent words.

    I really want to know what was wrong with that.

    I hope Book 8 is out in 2023. Just can’t get enough of this series.

  4. Louise Freeman says

    I think the phrase that came to mind was “Robin Redbreast”… which Robin had after Strike grabbed her.

    Thank you for your thoughts here!

  5. Oh, what a RELIEF!!!! I have been trying to figure that out since I first read the book. That’s it.

    Thanks. :o)

    I love your use of “Flobberworm” for Matt. Part of the reason I can’t get enough of this series is that I was a secretary who learned a new profession on the job, became who I was supposed to be, and in the process outgrew an accountant, who tried to hold me down. He wasn’t quite as nice as the Flobberworm, unfortunately. Some of the arguments between Robin and the Flobberworm could have been taken verbatim from someone listening at my door, but I never stood up for myself as well as did Robin, because it wasn’t safe to do so. I actually asked, decades ago, if I didn’t get time off for good behavior. That didn’t go over well! :o)

    It’s funny now, but reading these books has brought up a lot of old stuff for me. My relief at my life “after” is very much like Robin’s musings on how she was free to do what really called to her, without a sulking Flobberworm to placate at home. I was fortunate to “trade up”, and have been happy for decades. I hope Robin doesn’t run off with Ryan Murphy, even though he is a nice guy. He’s not Strike, and Strike’s heart is finally free.

    Thanks again for clearing up that mystery for me. That’s absolutely it.

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