Guest Post: Rokeby Redux – Is Strike’s Father More Snape than Lord Voldemort?

Rokeby Redux by Kurt Schreyer

I’ve long admired this site, but I’ve never commented before. I’d like to propose an alternative theory to your account of Jonny Rokeby several years ago as the arch villain of the Strike series (‘Heroin Dark Lord, 2.0‘). As Beatrice Groves succinctly summarized when I ran it by her: “Rokeby is the Snape and not the Voldemort” of this story. All citations below are from the Kindle edition.

Our initial impression in Cuckoo’s Calling is that while Peter Gillespie is a jerk, Rokeby may be the real villain. “Got you working weekends now, has he?” Strike asks the first time we meet the lawyer over the phone (p. 346). Before hanging up, Strike rebuffs the demand for repayment of what is often and clearly called a “loan” in this novel (p. 347). Before this conversation, Lucy tells her brother that she finds it “outrageous” that Rokeby is using Gillespie as a cat’s paw. She says that he’s never given her brother a single penny and that “he ought to have made it a gift” ( p. 130). At the end of the first novel, there’s a hint that in fact Rokeby wishes to make a gift of the money. When Gillespie calls this final time, Robin replies to an offer we aren’t privy to: “Mr. Strike would rather pay.” (p. 549). Did Rokeby tell Gillespie that he wanted Strike to keep the money? The reader is left to decide whether this is a sincere offer or a cynical ploy to share the limelight with the now-famous detective.

But in Troubled Blood, these matters are presented rather differently. We learn that Rokeby’s money was not a loan until Strike made it one: “My mother got a letter…reminding her I could use the money that had been accumulating in the bank account” and Rokeby repeated this offer when he learned that Strike was out of hospital and trying to start a detective agency ( p. 723). Robin replies in disbelief, “That money was yours all along? … Gillespie acted as though—” (p. 724). But Strike interrupts her and we’re given a crucial piece of information from Strike himself:

“‘You get people like Gillespie round the rich and famous,’ said Strike. ‘His whole ego was invested in being my father’s enforcer. The bastard was half in love with my old man, or with his fame, I dunno. I was pretty blunt on the phone about what I thought about Rokeby, and Gillespie couldn’t forgive it. I’d insisted on a loan agreement between us, and Gillespie was going to hold me to it, to punish me for telling him exactly what I thought of the pair of them.’” (p. 723-24).

Before I continue, I’d like to point out that this important revelation is, as Rowling/Galbraith seems fond of doing in both series, cleverly concealed in an ensuing romantically charged conversation as both Robin and Strike become aware that “they were sitting mere feet from a double bed” (p. 730).

If Cuckoo let us assume that Rokeby was behind Gillespie’s hounding of Strike, Troubled Blood — through Strike’s own admission — shifts the blame to the lawyer. This is the same Strike who also admits here that he had behaved as a “self-righteous little prick” for refusing to use Rokeby’s “nest egg” to pay for university. We should note, too, that Rokeby set up this trust for his natural son before he went off to Oxford, and therefore long before he knew that Cormoran would become a detective who could potentially solve the mystery of Leda’s murder.

If we re-read this scene, putting aside the thoughts of Strike’s bed upstairs, I think it’s also possible to see that it is Strike’s understandably injured feelings (and Lucy’s in Cuckoo) that have led us to view Rokeby suspiciously all along. Earlier in the novel, Al tells Strike their dad has been trying to reach him, Strike replies, “When would this be? When he set his lawyers on me, chasing me for money that was legally mine in the first—?” (p. 384).

Notice that Strike is accusing his father of turning the gift into a loan. But this is flatly untrue (& unfair) as we will later learn on p. 724 when Strike tells Robin that this financial arrangement was his own doing and played into the hands of the shark-like Gillespie. Al defends Rokeby, “Dad didn’t know how heavy [Gillespie] was getting with you, I swear he didn’t.” (p. 384). When Rokeby himself later calls Strike, we hear in his own words, “There are two sides to every story. Nothing’s black and white.” (p. 476). Those two sentences fit another supposed villain quite well — Severus Snape.

Added to all of this, Troubled Blood gives us another “bad dad” who is reconciled with a long-estranged child: Roy Phipps. Might we not see Anna’s reconciliation with her (very flawed) father as an anticipation of this possible outcome for Strike and Rokeby? The reader learns from this father and daughter and their extended family (which by the end of the novel I would argue includes the once alienated and accused Oonagh Kennedy) how estranged relatives may reconcile, heal, and move forward together in full awareness of one other’s shortcomings.

One of the central themes of the Harry Potter series is that part of growing into adulthood means coming to terms with the fact that beloved parental figures are often deeply flawed yet nonetheless worthy of love. “The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.” Sirius famously tells Harry, adding (in the films anyway), “We’ve all got both light and dark inside of us.” Just as Harry must come to terms with the fact that James Potter was not as wonderful as he would have wished, so too, perhaps, Cormoran will have to confront more uncomfortable truths about his mother Leda, whom he already knows was flawed, but who may bear more of the blame for her failed relationship with Rokeby than he has considered.

I might add here too the extra twist that the fifth novel gives us regarding Matthew and Robin’s failed marriage; few if any readers find much if anything to like about Matthew, and Galbraith could easily have left us feeling unqualified animosity toward him. However, we discover that this master manipulator is himself being manipulated — by Sarah Shadlock. The point is not that we should sympathize with him nor of course let him off the hook. Rather, “There are two sides to every story. Nothing’s black and white.” Just ask Severus Snape…and, perhaps, Jonny Rokeby.

Thanks again for providing this wonderful site and thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts.


  1. Joanne Gray says

    Thank you for sharing your very insightful post. I am very much inclined to agree with you because that was the way my own thoughts were trending at the end of Troubled Blood.

    Even though we haven’t seen any ongoing Strike character (yet) with anything approaching a Voldemort level of menace, that may finally change, if the “The Ink Black Heart” ends up being the title of book 6. When I ran this possible title pass my sister, the first one she mentioned was Charlotte. I have to admit she has been the only one that I could see kinda playing the role but it was the lack of seeing any of that early promise of an epic dark side that caused me to doubt it would happen. Now I think there is a real chance of seeing her “Ink Black Heart” unleashed for all to see.

    I have to say also that Cormoran is the only ongoing character’s who I can see in a Dumbledore role. He is the mentor who trained Robin to be a detective and detectives are the wizards of the Strike series.

    However, unlike Dumbledore, I don’t foresee Strike dying, but I do think we may see a scene devised by Charlotte/Voldemort, who has a penchant for threatening suicide, to try and take him with her via a scene reminiscent of Ibsen’s ‘Rosmersholm’ (the play that provided epigraphs throughout Lethal White).

  2. Ricki Lee says

    Rokeby can never be as fully redeemed as Snape was because he neglected Cormoran for years. However, I agree that he has probably been misunderstood and misrepresented.

    It is possible that Leda did something so awful, and Rokeby knew about it, that the kindest thing he could do was to keep his silence and his distance.

    But that potential excuse disappeared the day that Leda died. What prevented Rokeby from contacting his son and helping him after that? It may not be easy finding someone living in a squat, but it should have been no problem for Rokeby’s retinue to find a soldier with a unique name.

    Nevertheless, I think we will learn things in future books that will cast Leda in a worse light and Rokeby in a slightly better one. If nothing else, I think we will have an explanation of the “This was an accident” remark said to Leda while Rokeby was not even looking at his seven-year-old son. I think “this” will turn out to be akin to the “he” in “He’s at Hogwarts.” In that case, an entire book was built on the wrong assumption of who “he” was. It’s possible that Rokeby was referring to someone or something other than his son when he said “this.” In both cases a grammatical error of an unclear antecedent causes confusion and grief.

  3. Rowling/Galbraith has given herself a fair bit of wiggle room as far as Strike’s memories go. When guilt and whiskey drive Strike to confide in Robin about his two encounters with his father, he admits, “‘I can’t remember everything they said. I was a kid.—“” I wonder if the psychologist, Robin, might help Strike, via ‘that talking thing,’ explore some memories his consciousness has chosen to ignore, but his subconscious is very much aware of. Hence, his willingness to take a more honest look at Leda’s vices and not shut the emotional door completely on Johnny. That little boy buried in the giant soldier/detective is still longing for a hug from this father. Albeit, he might deck him first.

  4. Very interesting. You make a convincing case that Rokeby might not be as bad as Strike perceives him to be—and that Rowling is crafty about never quite letting us hear Rokeby’s side. Al, Prudence, and Rokeby himself have all made some attempt to mend fences or share a different side of him—but Strike never hears them out, so we never do either. We see Rokeby through the tunnel vision of Strike’s perspective, and we might not even realize it.

    Actually, I’m reminded of a different passage from Harry Potter. It’s when they’re all in the Shrieking Shack and Sirius and Lupin are trying to tell the trio how everyone’s got it wrong about Sirius as a traitor and murderer. They keep trying to get a word in edgewise—saying things like “If you only knew the whole truth!”—but keep getting cut off by Harry and friends, who are sure they already know what’s what. The way Strike keeps blowing off Al, Prudence, and Rokeby—ensuring none of us ever hear what they have to say—seems notably similar.

    But I’m not sure I see your case that Rokeby is a Snape figure, specifically. We certainly may find out that Rokeby, like Snape, was not the villain that he seemed. But Snape, of course, was more than “not a villain.” He was secretly a protector, secretly fighting bravely on the side of the angels. I can’t, at this point, picture how Rokeby might turn out to be a Snape figure in that sense.

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