Guest Post: Strike 5 A Bumpy Ride? Fasten Those Seat Belts! (Joanne Gray)

Fasten Your Seat Belts—Strike Book 5 Could Be A Bumpy Ride (Joanne Gray)

Strike fans received a gift in the early hours of Cormoran Strike’s November 23rd birthday when JK Rowling, in a tweet to another writer, wrote: “I’ll do the column if you write Robin’s internal monologue on the morning of her 29th birthday.”

To anyone who’s a fan of the series, this small bit of information actually says quite a bit. Besides finally confirming that she was currently working on the fifth book of the Strike series, it also revealed the date of the scene to anyone who knew that Robin’s birth date is October 8, 1984.

It also revealed to those who knew that the fourth book, Lethal White, ended on September 2012, when Robin was still 27. It would be another year and a month before she turned 29! 

A quick Strike fan tweeted JK Rowling: “So Strike 5 is set in late 2013!”

Unfortunately, she neither confirmed nor denied his comment. Nor did she reveal what chapter in Book 5 she was working on. So the question immediately presented itself—could there be another big time jump at the beginning of the fifth book—just like there was after the prologue in Lethal White, Book 4?

I personally do not believe that she will be making another big time jump in Book 5. I have no proof of this but when she wrote the ending of Lethal White she clearly seemed to be laying down a couple of story crumbs leading into the next book.

The last line of Lethal White contains a detailed description of “the magnificent mansion” on the Thames with “its front doors engraved with twin swans.” Both the detail and placement of this last image gives the reader an expectation that as a stepping stone into the next book, we should expect it’s story to be told in Strike 5.

Another expectation of something coming in the next book is the “Finsbury Park” echo that appears in the same position, in the next to last paragraph, on the book’s last two pages. Both times Finsbury Park is linked to Robin needing to get answers—to see if a man will talk to them. This has been crafted with real intentional emphasis.

As a further piece of reinforcement that these end pieces will play a part in the fifth book’s storyline, there is JK Rowling’s recent Twitter heading depicting St. John’s Gate. There is actually a link between St. John’s Gate and Finsbury since St. John’s Gate is in Clerkenwell and Finsbury is a sub-district of Clerkenwell. Interestingly, Finsbury Park is a neighborhood in Harringay, which has its own echo with Career of Evil.

Harringay immediately brings to mind the name “Digger” Malley of the Harringay Crime Syndicate, which is mentioned in the third Strike book. In Career of Evil, Strike had originally thought that “Digger” could be a possible suspect for sending them a woman’s severed leg, but he quickly struck him off his suspect list.

When the BBC TV (JK Rowling, Exec. Producer) version of Career of Evil did not even mention “Digger” among the suspects. I took this omission as proof that the Harringay Crime Syndicate was not coming back in future books. Surely JKR would have told them to include it in the script if she planned to use it in future books?

But then I saw the Finsbury Park echo on the last two pages of Lethal White and wondered if maybe “Digger” would actually make an appearance in Strike 5? “Digger” was, after all, a part of not only Strike’s past—“Digger owed his previous stretch of incarceration to Strike’s evidence” (Career of Evil Ch 12 pg 89) but Shanker also, at one time, actually worked for “Digger”!

Even though I believe that Strike 5 will start a few months after Lethal White, I also believe that October 2013 will loom large in Book 5. I base this on the closely reasoned findings and speculation of Prof. Granger in his wonderful October 27, 2018 post, titled “Lethal White:  The Big Change at the Turn — The End of the Strike Agency?

I agree with him that Strike crossing the legal boundaries he had always maintained between acceptable legal and unacceptable illegal tactics for his Agency in Lethal White may have some unforeseen consequences for Strike. Ironically, the very reason he crossed those boundaries—to save his Agency—could turn out to be the very thing that brings it all down.

Strike’s watershed moment in Lethal White came in chapter 10 (pg 110) when he crossed his own Rubicon and moved into the far more dangerous world of illegality with the words, “How d’you feel,’ said Strike, so quietly that she had to lean in to hear him, “about breaking the law?”

He convinced Robin they needed to engage in clearly illegal acts so he/they wouldn’t lose his/their highest paying client and risk him/them slipping back into abject poverty again.

If these repercussions are explored in Book 5 then Strike may experience a new level of fear (different than the fear for Robin’s physical safety he experienced during the events in Career of Evil). This new fear would be even more emotionally tormenting since he knows he is the cause if Robin finds herself in legal jeopardy.

As Prof. Granger also speculated, the UK Phone Hacking scandal could play a big role in Book 5. The year 2013 is when the biggest names in the News and the private eyes they employed to hack the phones for their newsgathering were being swept into the non-stop media coverage of the scandal. It was all reaching its final act of them all appearing before the Judges at Old Bailey.

Add to all this the possible trouble Cormoran and Robin could experience from both of their exes, Charlotte and Matthew, and it becomes a real “perfect storm” that could sweep them into the media tide of October 2013.

October 28, 2013 – The trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner begins at the Old Bailey in central London. All are accused of conspiring between October 2000 and August 2006 “to intercept communications in the course of their transmission, without lawful authority.” They deny the charges.

October 30, 2013 – It is revealed that former News of the World employees Neville Turtleback, James Weatherup and Greg Miskiw have pleaded guilty to phone hacking.

October 31, 2013 – Prosecutors reveal that Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson had a clandestine affair.

However, I have to believe that they can escape actual arrest or, at least, any convictions because such a prospect is just too hard to process. In the real world, the most famous of the arrested private detectives, Glenn Mulcaire, worked for “News of the World” and, although he was given a light sentence, he never afterwards found steady employment.

That fate would be one of Cormoran’s worse nightmares. Looking back over these speculations for Strike 5, it appears that no matter how you look at it, the  ‘Fasten Your Seat Belt’ sign has been turned on for Book 5. To paraphrase Bette Davis, we all need to prepare for a “very bumpy ride”.


  1. Joanne Gray,

    Of all the Lord Peter Wimsey novels written by Dorothy L. Sayers, I’ve found that the ones featuring Harriet Vane are the ones that come alive the most for me.

    Harriet makes her first appearance in Sayer’s 1930 effort, “Strong Poison”. Wimsey has nothing to do with Harriet’s being on trial for suspicion of murder, however he does fall head over heels for her. This development gets somewhat in the way of his efforts to clear her name. Aside from questions of respect and privacy, how can you tell if that “vision” you have of someone is clouding your judgment? It definitely creates several barriers between the two characters.

    I bring this up because of one question. Keeping in mind your suggestion that maybe Strike could wind up getting Robin in legal jeopardy, could it be possible Ms. Rowling to slyly invert Sayer’s original set-up? I don’t say that’s what will happen. This is just one interesting inter-textual avenue of thought, even if it leads nowhere.


  2. FYI, the reason Davis says “bumpy night” instead of “bumpy ride” is that there were no seat belts in cars of that time, only in airplanes. “Night” rhymes with “flight,” which is what the pilot or stewardess would have said to passengers when instructing them to buckle up.

  3. Hi ChrisC,

    Thank you for your comment. You reminded me that I really have to find a copy of Dorothy Sayer’s “Strong Poison”. I remember JK Rowling saying that this was a favorite of hers (although she mentioned that she wasn’t particularly keen on Sayer’s Peter Wimsey 😉

    I hope we will get another Twitter update about progress on Strike 5, with the bonus of hearing what chapter she is actually currently working on. I remember she did that several times during the long Lethal White writing period. I’m really hoping we can see Book 5 published in 2020 (although “only” two years away–it sounds (and feels) far, far away). I also remember JKR mentioning that she already has a title for Book 5–so maybe we will have another contest to guess this book’s title like we did with Lethal White.

    Thank you so much, John, for posting this and for the great visuals you added to the post. I debated about adding a note that the movie quote “bumpy ride” was “bumpy night” in the film but its one of those more often than not, misquoted movie lines. Although, not quite as misquoted as Bogart’s “Play it again, Sam” (which is totally made up).

    If JK Rowling gives the fans a Christmas wish–I really hope the Strike fans can get a couple of Book 5 hints to guide our New Year speculations in the right direction.

  4. Joanne Gray says


    Just a follow-up to your wonderful suggestion about Dorothy Sayer’s “Strong Poison”. There were some clear lines in this book to Lethal White as well as the Strike series in general. The main detective, Peter Wimsey, employes “enquiry agents” from Miss Katherine Climpson’s agency (underwritten by Lord Wimsey himself) that appears to be a typing service. In the book “Strong Poison”, Wimsey uses one of Climpson’s employees as an undercover secretary in the office of the main suspect. Wimsey also employed Miss Climpson herself to get inside the mansion of the woman who has the original will (a main piece of the evidence).

    Robin has elements of both characters with the added level that she is actually moving up as an actual Private Investigator. I also could see a link to Lord Wimsey’s question to his undercover secretary–Joan Murchison, “Do you know how to pick a lock?” (a sort of echo to Strike’s question to Robin, “How do you feel about breaking the law?”).

    There’s also a bit of Shanker with the the book’s Cockney ex-lock pick that Wimsey employes to teach his undercover secretary how to pick the box lock holding the other document they need to prove Harriet’s innocence. Robin is carrying on the fine tradition of Miss Climpson’s Enquiry Agents.

    Thank you ChrisC for pointing out D. Sayer’s book as a strong link for interesting plot points that have found their way into the Strike series. Can’t wait to see if the legal jeopardy aspect of “Strong Poison” shows up in Book 5. It looks like there’s at least a good possibility that that might happen.

  5. My prediction: Book 5 – Robin solves Leda Strike’s cold case. It’s indicated in the swans at the inception and close of the ring. Possibly also double-entendre of “lethal white.” She’ll do what Strike couldn’t and readers will have to come to grips with her as the leader, reverse-echoing HP5, possibly concluding with her overcoming her trauma from her own attack by solving Ledas case.

    The fact that I even want to make a prediction is what makes this so much fun…

  6. Joanne Gray says

    Thank you, Bob R., very much for your comment. I am very happy that this post has inspired you to make your bold prediction and I don’t wish to dampen your continued (I hope) participation–but I’m afraid there are a few reasons that this particular prediction can’t play out in the series. (Although, if Matthew ends up murdered–Robin could solve it 🙂

    The main reason it has to be Strike who solves Leda’s murder is that there are some sacrosanct promises that a writer makes to their readers. Promises are made with the type of character the writer creates–in this case Cormoran Strike is “an exceptional detective”. This promise gives the reader an expectation that the book will show them this person’s exceptional deductions in action on the book’s pages. If the writer also gives this character a back story that includes an unsolved murder of a loved one–that is also a promise from the writer that we will see this exceptional detective solve that particular unsolved murder at some point in the series.

    In the case of this particular series, it has been even more emphatically implied by the fact that the unsolved murder victim is the main character’s mother. Leda Strike’s life and death has been shown to be the directing force behind her son’s chosen life path as a detective, as well as, the fact that Leda greatly influenced the man Cormoran became.

    Robin and others can and will give assistance but the actual solving of the crime must be accomplished by Cormoran; the one who has been promised to solve it or else the readers will feel cheated. As wonderful as Robin is, she is not the one who needs to solve the fundamental case of the series, “Who Killed Leda Strike”.

    I am curious about Robin linked to the swans. I can see she is in the both scenes, at the beginning and the end–but I felt it was meant to show that since swans mate for life–and the fact that the two swans never got together for the photo was to make clear that they were not life mates (just like Matt and Robin aren’t). It was when Matthew left the scene that the other swan finally came over–showing it’s the next man in line (Cormoran) who will fill the life mate space vacated by Matthew. The ending with the twinned swans with both Robin and Cormoran together foreshadows them as the twinned swans on the mansion’s door (Robin + Cormoran = Home).

  7. Beatrice Groves says

    Thank you for this Joanne – as we start the countdown to Troubled Blood it seems like a good time to revisit the old Hogpro posts on Strike 5 and remind ourselves of the early clues. That image of St. John’s Gate, Clerkenwell is one of my favourite of Rowling’s Twitter-header clues – I am looking forward to it turning up in Troubled Blood. I am also writing to you because looking for something else, I just noticed your great comment on my ‘Odi et Amo’ post in 2018:
    In The Silkworm, in chapter 42, Charlotte Campbell is linked to Catullus when her email name/address is given as The link is in the name Clodia which is the real life name of Clodia Pulchra, the person behind Catullus’ muse Lesbia, who Catullus is addressing in poem #85.

    I think this means that Charlotte will definitely be reappearing in Lethal White.

    Since there is so much foreshadowing in the first book about the fierce revenge that Charlotte always exacts on people who wrong her—it looks like she will be bringing some real fury in her return. (I confess I don’t have a clue what that will entail.) Since the real life Roman aristocratic, Clodia Pulchra, was suspected of poisoning her husband, it’s going to be interesting to see if Charlotte is still married or a widow in Lethal White.

    The Clodia e-mail address is a *brilliant* spot Joanne! And I just thought it might be worth reading it to HogPro readers’ attention in case you turn out to be right about this name proving prophetic about Charlotte’s actions, or – indeed – if it just continues to be a metaphor about the way she poisons Strike’s life…

Speak Your Mind