Cuckoo’s Calling: 25+ Lethal White Finds

I mentioned in my most recent Lethal White post that I was re-reading the first Cormoran Strike mystery, Cuckoo’s Calling, to see if there were Lethal White pointers and echoes I had missed. I promised to share those I had not already discussed in ‘Lethal White: Cuckoo’s Calling Retold?‘ or in ‘Lethal White: Add Seven Cuckoo Echoes.’ Before I list them, I am obliged to explain why the echoes and correspondence between Books 1 and 4 of the Cormoran Strike series are important.

Close reading of the first four books has revealed that they are written in parallel to and perhaps even as commentary on their equivalent number in the Harry Potter series, e.g., Lethal White features a ‘Minister of Culture’ who is murdered by his psychopathic son very reminiscent of the Bartimaeus Crouch storyline in Goblet of Fire (see ‘Does Lethal White echo Goblet of Fire?’ for much more on this).

This strongly suggests that the series is structured in the same way as the Hogwarts Saga, which is to say, as a seven-part ring cycle or composition (for that structure, see Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle). While we have been able to chart each book’s structure as they come out to see if they are rings (they are; see Lethal White: The Ring Structure’ for the diagrams and explanations), we have had to wait for the fourth book in the series to see if, as with Philosopher’s Stone and Goblet of Fire, there were strong references and parallels between the first and middle books that will play out in the seventh. A proper ring has a story-turn which reflects the story origin and points to the finale,which pivot creates a story axis.

These parallels between Books 1 and 4, because they would confirm the ‘Series in Parallel’ theory, are especially interesting, too, because Rowling in person and her spokespeople have repeatedly denied that the Cormoran Strike books are a seven book series. As she repeatedly denied that she was writing murder mysteries before she was outed as ‘Robert Galbraith,’ however, makes her and allies in the game known perjurers and hence unreliable witnesses. We have to trust the texts.

Which brings us back to Cuckoo’s Calling, the series starting point, and the search for any pointers to or echoes in Lethal White. There are many more than those we have discussed here already in the posts mentioned above. “Many more” as in “more than twenty-five”!

I remember reading Lev Grossman’s account of how he went about writing one of his Magician’s trilogy novels as something of a cooking recipe exercise. “I wanted to be sure to include a magical portal, a sword fight, and, most important of all, a dragon.” This is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’ account of how he began writing the Chronicles of Narnia, that is, that there were images that had haunted him for a long time about which he felt obliged to write a story. If memory serves, in Lewis’ case this was the image of a faun with an umbrella.

Re-reading Cuckoo’s Calling after immersion in repeated readings of Lethal White has left this reader with the impression that Rowling began the writing of Strike 4 with a list, a long list, of Cuckoo’s Calling story points that she wanted to weave into the story line of Lethal White. Beyond the many already mentioned by myself and other readers in the posts made on this subject and in the attendant threads, here are the ones I found after another look at Cuckoo’s Calling:

Redheads: Tomato red haired women pop up in Lethal White; both Coco, Strike’s one night stand to get over his grief about Robin’s having gone on her honeymoon, and Felicity ‘Flick’ Perdue have this hair color. In Cuckoo, Mel at Vashti and Guy Some’s PA, Trudie, have tomato red hair, too. Are we to look for someone to be shot in the head in Strike 7, the series finale, the way that Raff threatens to kill Robin at the end of Lethal White?

Times Never to Forget: The first paragraph of the first  Cuckoo’s chapter has Robin noting that “she had never before woken up in the certain knowledge that she would remember the coming day for the rest of her life” (p 11). Strike not long after is said to reflect, “Just like Robin, Strike knew that he would forever remember the last twelve hours as an epoch-changing night in his life” (p 16). Robin echoes this “forever to remember” pre-emptory nostalgia in Lethal White when she enters the House of Commons in her Venetia Hall guise and, of course, when she prepares for her farewell to Matt in the vestibule of their rented house.

Batman: Strike thinks to make a ‘Batman’ reference in Cuckoo when he learns Robin’s name but chokes it off when he sees her blush because she thinks he has made a ‘Robin Red Breast’ joke (p 38). He finally makes the reference in Lethal White when he tells Jimmy Knight, “I don’t live in a bat cave” (p 72).

Sherlock: Lucy calls Cormoran “Sherlock” in Cuckoo’s Calling (p 238); the newspaper gossip columnist calls him a “modern day Sherlock Holmes” in Lethal White after his meeting with Charlotte.

Fame Opener: Cuckoo opens with an epigraph for the Prologue from Lucius Accius, “Unhappy is he whose fame makes his misfortunes famous.” White’s first chapter starts with the Austen-esque one-liner, “Such is the universal desire for fame that those who achieve it accidentally or unwillingly will wait in vain for pity” (p 29).

Dead Body in a Hole, Justice: Cuckoo’s Calling begins with John Bristow reminding Strike of his old friend, Charlie Bristow, a boyhood chum who had died on Easter morning when he fell into a quarry on his bike (p 22). Bristow claims to be on a mission for “justice” in the death of his sister, Lula (p 32). The inciting incident of Lethal White also happens in Strike’s office when Billy Knight comes there with his story a child murdered years ago, a child who could be found “down in the dell, by our dad’s” “where they buried her” (p 42). Strike describes this meeting in the Epilogue to Izzy as “[Billy] came to my office in the throes of psychosis, trying to get justice for someone else” (p 640).

“Could Have Drawn Perfectly from Memory”: “She could have drawn [Charlotte] perfectly from memory” however fleeting their encounter outside Strike’s offices at the opening of Cuckoo (p 13). In the wedding reception prologue of White, we read “Her eyes returned so often to his back that she could have sketched with perfect accuracy the creases in his suit jacket, the dense dark curls of the back of his head, the difference in the thickness of his ears due to the knife injury to the left” (p 15).

Knife Scar on Beautiful Woman: Robin’s scar rather alarms the wedding photographer in Lethal White: “That long scar down the bride’s arm had put him off her from the start. He found the whole thing ominous and distasteful” (p 2). Lula Landry had “a jagged scar running down the inside of her left arm that fashion editors seemed to have found an interestingadjunct to her spectacular face, for it was sometimes given prominence in her photographs” (p 110). Strike, of course, has his arm slashed open at the end of Cuckoo, so he and Robin sport parallel scarring.

Mentor Teasing: Strike teases Robin when he has figured out whodunnit in Cuckoo by giving her the clues she needs to solve it herself: “It’ll be good for your detective training” (p 361). He does the same in Lethal White’s finish before they begin digging at the dell; “No good mentor would deprive you of the satisfaction of working it out for yourself” (p 571).

The Watchful Paintings of Young Women: Strike returns to Charlotte’s apartment in Cuckoo to get his things and is confronted by the oil portrait of her as an 18 year old woman. He thinks she is watching him collect his things and leave (p 75). In Lethal White, Strike visits Della Winn and is similarly disturbed by the portrait on the mantelpiece of the Minister of Sport’s dead daughter, Rhiannon, “the picture of the dead daughter she had never seen” (p 481). “Rhiannon Winn watched over them from her cheap gilt frame, wearing a smile that didn’t reach her wide anxious eyes, her teeth glinting with heavy braces” (p 477-78).

Mothering Instinct Gone Wrong: “Strike thought it far more likely that Della was a woman possessed of that which Charlotte so conspiculously lacked: a burning, frustrated maternal drive, tinged in Della’s case, with unassuageable regret” (p 478). “[Aamir] accused me of… of smothering… controlling…” (p 477). Cuckoo is filled with references to the smothering, “warped” maternal instincts of Lula’s adoptive mother, Lady Yvette Bristow (see pp 100, 198, and 255 for Kieran Kolovas-Jones, Tony Landry, and Guy Some’s comments about the Bristow mother, all about her being “fucking weird” and her frustrated maternal instinct). Strike’s meeting with Lady Yvette at her deathbed in Cuckoo (Part 4, ch 14) is as melancholic and pathetic a scene as his White call on Winn.

“Where did you say you got this?” Both Oliver Bargate (p 325) and Eric Wardle (p 126) ask Strike this question when he gives them the Shanker information they need to make an arrest and for which he gets inside police information he needs.

Bad Freddies: Freddie Bestigui’s abusive treatment of his wife in Cuckoo is the only reason she heard the killer throw Landry from her penthouse apartment — and his covering up that abuse by making his wife say she was inside their apartment is the only reason there is a mystery about her death. Freddie Chiswell’s abuse of his younger brother and his shooting and burying a miniature horse are the background mystery of Billy Knight’s fragmented, haunting memories — and Izzy and Jasper Chiswell’s determination not to tell Strike these stories from the start of his work for each of them are the only reason we don’t know what happened until the conclusion. Are we to look for a bad Freddie with a hidden secret in the series finale?

Hotels in Oxford with French Names: It is the Malmaison Hotel in Oxford in Cuckoo where Ursala May and Tony Landry have their adulterous tryst; Strike and Robin spend a great deal of time trying to figure out what happened there. Robin visits the place and comes away with vital information (p 356). In Lethal White, married Kinvarra spends her birthday with her stepson lover at La Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford, which meeting because of Robin’s finding of Jasper Chiswell’s inquiries about this place and her own visit there on her anniversary stay with Matt, helps solve the case.

Strike’s PTSD in Cars: Strike explains to Robin that he still struggles with panic attacks when driving a car or being driven because of his loss of limb in the Viking explosion in Afghanistan (p 543). Like Robin, I thought to myself, “Really? When have we seen you show panic attack symptoms associated with cars?” In Cuckoo, where else? On p 306, he wakes up in a panic attack much as Robin does in a reliving of the IED blast and, on p 334, when leaving Uzzi’s with Duffield and Porter, he all but loses it with the vivid and most detailed recall of the dismembering blast.

Sunglasses: Robin lies to Matt in White about Strike’s call from the roadside by telling him that Vanessa had called about Chanel sunglasses she had left with Robin that she wants back (p 164). Strike gets Rochelle Onifade to give him her cell phone number in Cuckoo by telling her he needs it because Kieran Kolovas-Jones has a pair of sunglasses he wants to return to her (p 236).

Drug Abuse Backdrop: In Lethal White, Sam Barclay’s cannabis habit is treated as something of a joke but Raphael’s use of ecstacy and subsequent vehicular homicide of a young mother is not. Freddie Chiswell not only puts dope in Billy Knight’s yogurt for a laugh, but also spikes Rhiannon Winn’s punch with a drug that results in her stripping, being photographed and shamed, and her suicide shortly thereafter. Cuckoo’s Lula Landry was in recovery from a drug problem which led the police and public to assume she was the type to commit suicide; her boyfriend Evan Duffield was such a heroin addict that she had dumped him because of it. Leda Strike’s supposed death by heroin overdose is in the weave of both these backdrops.

Mental Illness Backdrop: Billy suffers from Paroid Affective Disorder and is “sectioned” and confined in “a secure ward” in Lethal White. Strike spends much of the novel trying to find Billy to interview him. At book’s end he is managing his mental illness with medication. Lula Landry had been “sectioned under the Mental Health Act,” we learn in Cuckoo, and been held on a “secure ward” before her diagnosis with Bipolar Disorder and recovery under medication (p 110). Strike spends much of Cuckoo calling Rochelle Onifade, another woman suffering from mental illness, after interviewing her. Both women were murdered by John Bristow throwing them from a height.

Polish Cleaning Woman: Lechsinka in Cuckoo’s Calling is the real deal (pp 278-28). Flick Perdue plays the part in Lethal White at Jasper Chiswell’s house on Ebury Street.

Cormoran’s Drunken Grief: Strike only loses himself to a drunken binge twice so far in this series. First, when he learns that Charlotte Campbell has become engaged to Jago Ross in Cuckoos Calling (pp 300-305). He does it again in Lethal White in his parallel agony after Robin’s wedding; he retreats to a Travel Lodge and drinks himself into unconsciousness (p 31). Robin finds him in the first grief episode; Strike reaches out to her in the second by calling her parents’ home and learns that she is on her honeymoon. Enter Coco…

Late Brother Oedipal Jealously: John Bristow, meet Raphael Chiswell; you have something in common in having brothers you hated because your parents loved them much more than they do you, especially post mortem.

Reading Text on Absent Person’s Phone: Evan Duffield reads the text from Freddie Bestigui’s wife Tansy that gives the important clue about where she was when Lula died that all but convicts Bristow in Cuckoo (p 349). Robin in White reads Lorelei’s text to Strike about “restaurants and brothels” when he is in the bathroom (p 412). 

Fence Climbing: Strike climbs the fence in Cuckoo to get a look at the backside of Lula’s Kentigarten Street flat. He falls and chides himself for trying to impress Robin (pp 70-71). Robin climbs the fence behind her own flat to escape the reporter or PI doing surveillance outside her front door and comes down hard enough that she falls and dirties her jeans (pp 322-323).

Belly Ache with Jack: Strike plays briefly with his nephew Jack in Cuckoo’s Calling and pretends to have “taken a bullet to the stomach” from his gift toy soldier (p 176). Jack, of course, in White, has ythe ultimate in “stomach aches,” a burst appendix, which brings his beloved uncle to the hospital bedside.

“It was my Sibling!” Mrs Hook in Cuckoo’s Calling hires Strike to investigate her husband, whom she believes has been sleeping with his “accountant” (add that to all the other accountant references in Cuckoo to Bristow as “accountant” and indirectly to Matt the accountant) but it turns out to be her sister he’s cavorting with (pp 79, 81). Izzy Chiswell hires Strike to convict Kinvarra of her father’s murder — and, egad, it was her stepmother, but it is her brother who is the mastermind murderer.

That entry on our list makes twenty-five echoes of Cuckoo’s Calling that can be heard in Lethal White in addition to the ones discussed in previous posts. I saved the best for last, though.

The Nightmare Norfolk Commune: Louise Freeman alerted me to how important she thought the reference in Lethal White was to a childhood experience of Strike’s:

Right hand on the wheel, left hand now grasping around for biscuits, Strike recalled some of the nightmarish spectacles that he and Lucy had witnessed as children: the psychotic youth fighting an invisible devil in a basement flat in Shoreditch, the teenager literally being whipped at a quasi-mystical commune in Norfolk (still, for Strike’s money, the worst place that Leda had ever taken them), and Shayla, one of the most fragile of Leda’s friends and a part-time prostitute, sobbing about the brain damage inflicted on her toddler son by a violent boyfriend. (Chapter 14, pp 143-144)

Prof Freeman thinks will be the occasion of a Strike adventure to come. Imagine my surprise, then, in finding a reference to this same commune in Cuckoo’s Calling:

He had slept in worst places. There had been the stone floor of a multistory car park in Angola, and the bombed out metal factory where they had erected tents, and woken coughing up black soot in the mornings; and, worst of all, the dank dormitory of the commune in Norfolk to which his mother had dragged him and one of his half-sisters when they were eight and six respectively. [Cormoran was born 23 November 1974 so this means his Norfolk nightmare was in 1983.] (Part 1, ch 7, p 49)

Let me know what you think! Can we say ‘Case Closed’ on the question of whether there are significant references and parallels between Cuckoo’s Calling and Lethal White? What do you think are the ones we will see in Strike7?



  1. In relation to the Robin Red Breast, in Chapter 9, when describing Georgina, it is said that “Her prominent bust and alert, bright-eyed mien put him in mind of a robin or a wren.” I don’t think it is casual that she compares her also with a “robin”, when she could’ve perfectly well said only a “wren”.

  2. Louise Freeman says

    I think I found another CC-LW connection that hasn’t been mentioned. In CC Strike uses the lie of lost sunglasses to get Rochelle’s number (tells her Kieran thinks she left sunglasses in his car). In LW, Robin lies to Flobberworm Matthew to conceal a call from Strike— she tells him Vanessa was calling about her lost sunglasses. Meeting her early to return them is also her excuse to leave the house early in the morning, and to sleep in the spare room.

    Whoops! I see now this has been mentioned. How about the ‘Charlies’ in Cuckoo and Lethal? In addition to two Freddies, there are two Charlies — Charlie Bristow in CC and Charlotte — called “Charlie” — by Izzy Chiswell. We hear this nickname for the first time at the Paralympic Ball. I guess Ms. Campbell was lucky not to be christened “Chizzy” by the horsey crowd.

  3. Louise Freeman says

    A couple of others have come up as I have revisited the books. I think these are new, though some might have been mentioned before.

    In his LW meeting with Della, Cormoran recalls a tacky joke an old friend made about his leg: asking when he tells a woman with whom he is planning to sleep that the leg will “come off with his trousers.” Cormoran faced exactly that situation in back in CC, in the limo with Ciara.

    Both open with a memorable and emotional encounter between Robin and Cormoran on a staircase. Both involve Strike apologizing to Robin for hurting her and agreeing to have her work for him.

    CC begins with Robin ecstatically happy and excited about planning her fairy tale wedding. LW opens with Robin at her fairy tale wedding, miserable and hating most of it.

    At the first scene in the detective office in both books (start of CC, after the year jump in LW) Cormoran has a new office temp that he is eager to be rid of as soon as possible.

    Both close with Strike being treated to lunch/drinks by a relative of the murder victim who, thanks to Strike, has received the large sum of money the killer hoped to acquire, but who is atypically unexcited about the windfall.

  4. Louise Freeman says

    One more: which came to me when writing my Chestnut Hill abstract. While Strike’s amputation is mentioned during every volume, the only time the fact that he has a phantom foot has shown up only in CC and LW. In the first, he feels it under the sleeping bag in his office, saying he could “flex the vanished toes if he wanted. In LW, between the murder and the Olympics opening, he remembers not being able to sleep after the amputation, because he felt his missing foot itching.

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