Guest Post: “What’s With Robin?”

Today’s HogwartsProfessor post is from a Serious Striker writing under the pseudonym ‘Albus.’ It is more a cry of the heart about Robin Ellacott’s choices in Ink Black Heart than an analysis of the mythic or anagogical content of Strike6 or speculation about The Running Grave, which is to say, it represents a departure from most of what we write and discuss here. I publish it with some misgiving; I do not find the interrogation of Pierce a lapse in ethics or morality, as ‘Albus’ does, Puritanical as I must seem to many. The decision to ‘bug’ the offices of a Parliament office not mentioned in this piece, seemed a far greater jump into illicit behavior than Ms Ellacott’s manipulation of a sleazy character to tell all.

That caveat aside, I offer ‘What’s With Robin?’ for your reflection on how one thoughtful reader experienced the sea-change of Robin Ellacott in Ink Black Heart. If you are like me after my first reading, you may suspect that this experience of disappointment and confusion may have been the point of Rowling-Galbraith’s choices with respect to this character’s story-arc, the hardening of Robin into someone less sympathetic and admirable by conventional standards, into a woman able to journey through the psychological forge of hell successfully. See the post on the Psyche and Cupid mythic backdrop of Ink Black Heart for more on that possibility.

I hope readers will respond in the comment boxes with their take-away with respect to Robin’s choices in Strike6, especially with respect to the Pierce interview. Are you more with or against Albus’ reading of the mystery? Was it an aberration and mistake on the author’s part or a calculated move to disturb and challenge the reader? Make the jump for Albus’ “What’s With Robin?”

WHAT’S WITH ROBIN? A Guest Post by ‘Albus’

I hesitate to post this where it will be critiqued by actual scholars.  My own undergraduate English degree seems quite remote these days and, while I can’t claim to be a “serious” reader with allusions to classical literature or mythology, I try to be a careful one. I tend to focus on verisimilitude and the realities that fiction writers sometimes gloss over or miss entirely in service of sustaining a narrative or plot device. I believe that detective and noir fiction in particular should be grounded in the plausible. But, for me at least, there were several instances in IBH where the story—often via Robin—simply “jumped the shark.”

If JK Rowling’s intent at the conclusion of IBH was to leave readers unsettled (or enthused) by Robin’s sexual reawakening, her nascent and much-needed independence, her seeming emotional separation from Strike and the fate of their relationship, it was successful. But in doing so, she degraded a much-admired character and called into question Robin’s competence as a member of a private detective agency. At key points she also abandoned any pretense to realism.

Robin is brilliant, perceptive, dogged, sensitive, ethical and kind. She is the heart and at least half of the brains of the agency. But many of her decisions in recent books have been 101-level errors of judgement—impulse-driven and reckless—putting herself, her partner and the Strike-Ellacott Agency in existential jeopardy. It’s becoming clear that foolhardiness is a purposeful feature of Robin’s character—perhaps her own demon to confront akin to Strike’s resistance to anything resembling self-care. But if true, the contortions that JKR went through in IBH to reveal this trait speak more of expedience or, worse, sloppy editing.

A recurring theme for Robin is the battle to establish herself as a woman in a male-dominated profession. Her drive to excel was born of doubts about her own ability and nurtured by an uber-traditional upbringing, her “lost years” after being raped and her terrible marriage to a fault-finding, gas-lighting cheat. She loves and trusts Strike for believing in her, for his innate honesty and for never making her feel “uncomfortable” when they are alone.

Yet, as the series progresses, Robin displays an increasing tendency to act behind her partner’s back, ignoring the flashing red warning lights and exposing herself to implausible risks that no professional outfit would long tolerate or reward. Certainly risks are inherent in her line of work, making the need for trust between partners all the greater. Damning the torpedoes and repeatedly plunging head-long into peril cannot be part of any sustained partnership, particularly when paired with deceit.

In IBH, implausible risks and inconsistencies reach a crescendo. These are not merely mistaken dates or misattributed epigraphs. They are structural narrative elements that require of readers such a suspension of disbelief that I sadly concluded they weren’t worth the effort. Here’s a partial snapshot of Robin’s risk progression through the series:

—In CoE, due to pure carelessness after Strike warns her not to be on the street after dark, Robin is slashed by the Shacklewell Ripper who she knows is actively targeting her. OK, rookie mistake. Lesson learned.

—In Lethal White, Robin explores Kinvara’s house alone while fully aware that someone—possibly a killer—is lurking in the rooms above her. “She knew what Strike would say: stay put.” Instead of calling for backup from her partner—or simply establishing contact with him on the phone—she walks alone to the upper floors to confront who-knows-what. Later, she gives personal information to the lecherous Rafael, a suspect in Jasper Chiswell’s murder, leading to her abduction and very nearly getting herself killed. “And don’t you ever—ever—tell a suspect anything about your personal life again,” Strike admonishes her. Alright, she won’t ever make that mistake again.

—In TB, Robin ignores the extremely dire warnings of both Strike and Shanker and finds herself alone in a hospital room with the “fuckin’ psycho” Luca Ricci and his demented, snuff-filming father. What could go wrong?

—In IBH, Robin without hesitation “takes three steps” and jumps into the path of an oncoming train to rescue Red Soles, requiring Strike to pull her to safety “with half an inch to spare.” If the “brown-skinned man” had not helped her, Strike would be advertising for a new partner. In the book’s climactic moments, she physically struggles with Strike before impulsively rushing into a pitch-dark house to rescue Flavia, heedless that her incapacitated partner would be obliged to follow. In jumping on Gus’s back, she very likely saves Strike’s life but later “[blames] herself for what had befallen her partner.” So she knows she’s putting others at risk, but she can’t seem to stop.

Robin is not totally responsible for Strike suffering a life-threatening stabbing but professionals do have a primary responsibility to their partners. That applies especially to partners they are in love with and especially in moments of crisis that require making the right snap judgement . . . the opposite of taking impulsive, grandiose chances.

But it is the chapters starting with the absurdly coincidental meeting with Pez Pierce at Highgate Cemetery in which implausibilities and Robin’s adventurism culminate in a train wreck.

Mere minutes before encountering Pierce hissing at her serpent-like from the foliage at Highgate, not far from where Edie was killed, Robin has a mini-panic attack. Hugh Jacks has just raged at her over the phone, full of aggressive male entitlement and calling her “bitch.” She is so shaken she must nervously scan her surroundings to be certain Jacks isn’t actually stalking or coming for her. It’s well-established that Robin cannot tolerate people sneaking up behind her, having reflexively pulled a knife on Saul Morris in TB, and screaming at the dead rat Bram surprises her with in IBH.

Yet we are to believe that this woman, still showing clear signs of rape and near-death, assault-induced PTSD, would accept Pierce—a murder suspect in the case Robin is investigating—unexpectedly and without romantic prelude, snaking his tongue into her mouth. Robin, for her part, is all of a sudden able to evaluate an aggresive assault dispassionately . . . and even return the favor!

Robin keenly feels both guilt and sorrow for Edie Ledwell. Yet she allows an active suspect in Edie’s murder—her possible killer—to “probe the deepest recesses of her mouth,” putting on a show for the pub’s regulars and rationalizing that this is what the world-wise Jessica would do. Then, after extracting nothing from Pierce that would actually remove him from suspicion, Robin decides he doesn’t smell so bad after all and spends another hour with him gratuitously necking. All the while acknowledging that he has not been ruled out as a suspect because many of his characteristics “fit the profile of the murderer.”

Much is made of the wig Robin wore while impersonating Jessica. It was realistic, made of human hair and tightly fitted. Pierce fondles the wig as he kisses her so forcefully that their teeth clatter together. We are to believe that someone aggressively kissing another while his hands stroke her hair would not also feel the thick layer of Robin’s own hair compressed beneath the wig. Or that Robin—whose photo has been all over the internet after saving Red Soles—would not be petrified that Pez might notice a yielding mat of hair where her skull should be . . . risking exposure that could torpedo the investigation, end her career and possibly nuke the agency. Not our Robin! She somehow feels OK extending those risks for a bonus hour.

Of course, none of this would be necessary were it not for the author’s need to deliver a shocking twist to highlight Robin’s unstoppable determination. We also are meant to finally grasp the depth of her suppressed sexuality, revealing just how primed she is for a relationship with the idyllic Ryan Murphy patiently waiting in the wings. So Robin must endure a tawdry, career-threatening public tongue-fest with a randy satyr she doesn’t particularly like (but is obviously aroused by) basically to establish that she’s relentless and horny. This is the Robin who correctly forbade Saul Morris from using sex with Gemma to further an investigation. Yet she has no qualms about using her own sexuality for a similar purpose.

Performance review:  “Ms Ellacott displays dogged determination and the highest levels of professionalism, discretion and adherence to ethical standards of conduct in all matters . . . except when needs-must or in the presence of male pheromones.”

Strike, too, is not spared from head-scratching inconsistency. In CoE, Strike fires Robin for jeopardizing the investigation into the Shackleford Ripper, after she saved Angel and Zahara from the predatory Noel Brockbank. Strike ultimately realizes Robin did the right thing and admires her all the more for her selfless heroism. Yet, he treats the greater potential damage to the Edie Ledwell case and the survival of the agency without wagging a finger. His only reaction to listening to a recording of the woman he loves getting it on with a murder suspect: “Some people’ll go to any lengths to further their interests. Both thought immediately of Robin letting Pez Pierce thrust his tongue into her mouth.”

This is the same Strike who is so exposure-averse he lurks in the shadows at Madelyn’s opening rather than risk being seen by the media. Similarly, his congratulations to Robin on the Pierce interview are puzzling since little to nothing useful was gained beyond the suspect’s unverified assertions of who and what claims to be. We are told Robin would “feel” it if Pierce were the real killer. (Pull-eeze! Did those Tarot cards scramble her senses?) And what made Robin decide to down her wine in one after barely sipping it during the interview’s first hour? Did the idea of being roofied—a la Dennis Creed—or not keeping a clear head suddenly evaporate?

The very worst excuse for Robin’s behavior—the rationale behind half the bodice-rippers ever written and the one that Rowling evidently wants us to go with—is that Robin “had no choice.” Initially caught unaware by Pierce’s aggressive approach, she was forced to respond the way she believed Jessica would. But, of course, she was in fact not Jessica. Rather, she was a private investigator interviewing a murder suspect while incognito. It was Robin, not Jessica, who would cope with any fallout from discovery and it was Robin’s body—not Jessica’s—that would suffer from whatever Pierce might do to her.

Her reaction to being stimulated by Pierce showed that her ability to think clearly, ethically or morally had been compromised. Robin/Jessica could have flirted, could have signaled an insincere promise for later in the evening or could have kept him on the hook by saying, “down boy; let’s take this a bit slower.” She had no problem deflecting Paul Satchwell in TB, while prying genuinely useful information out of him. So, it’s clear that she’d been attracted to Pierce since first seeing him disrobed at North Grove. Failing to assess that attraction and the risks that would surely result was nothing short of amateur hour.

All that said, it’s entirely possible that JKR is setting up Robin’s own overdue reckoning with her impulsive, go-it-alone risk-taking that—while often noble in intent—would mark her as a dangerous, if not unfit, partner. Will that reckoning take the form of Robin risking chances that get Strike, herself or Ryan Murphy injured or killed? I guess we’ll see.

Pairing Robin with a smelly satyr for a soft-core “one-night stand” was painful to read—much like Strike’s series of one-night stands with Madelyn— but it delivered the requisite shock. Yes, she didn’t go all the way with Pierce but that was a technicality, akin to “I didn’t inhale.” Robin is a normal, healthy, adult woman. Much of her attractiveness comes from a sense of character, strength and decency that are constantly tested by the sordid realities of her profession. Often, she rises above circumstance to achieve something noble or, to use one of Rowling’s favorite words, something “moral.” Neither of these were to be found in the contrived encounter at the Gatehouse as Robin was manipulated into situations that would be laughable if they weren’t mired in BS.  

And does anyone actually believe that guys like Pez Pierce stop at first base? This was not the bad boy in high school every girl’s mom frets about. This was a guy who, despite his own descriptions of himself that Robin credulously (um) swallows, “ticks” a lot of boxes. “Several of the things Pez had just said about himself fitted the tentative profile of Anomie,” Robin acknowledges in real-time. But, as we saw, “Somehow, she felt, she would feel it if Pez were the real killer.”

Robin’s initial decision to pump Pierce for info by turning herself over to him for recreation was, in the most clinical sense, a cold-blooded business calculation mixed with sexual attraction and ego. Morally, on the far end of that continuum, resides sleeping one’s way to the top. Harsh, perhaps—and I’m not suggesting she’d ever do it—but it’s another example of skating to the edge, especially if that wine had been laced.

If all this doesn’t resonate, consider flipping the scene. Now Strike is in the pub with Kea Niven, who believes he’s just a good-looking, sexy bloke out for some fun. His face is in the public domain as well, but he’s shaved and in a suit and somehow she hasn’t made the connection as he steers her to a dark corner. So it’s a coin-toss if others might recognize him. Would it be ethical, moral or plausible for him to exploit her with an evening of heavy snogging—even if she were initially the aggressor?

But what if all this was foreseen and intended by the author? What if this encounter is a faint echo of the state of anomie, the absence of ethical or social standards, that pervades the book—infecting the heroes, albeit to a far lesser degree, than the fandom, the trolls and the assorted low-lifes? A mild case of Covid among a wider cast of characters on ventilators? Strike’s emotionless, transactional relationship with Madelyn is described at one point in surprisingly graphic detail, leaving no doubt that he’s just in it for the mindless endorphins. Still, he persists. Robin, for her part, seems to have no qualms exploiting Pierce or getting it on in public with a potential killer, chalking the encounter up to a day’s work playing Jessica. “You think I’d go out on a date with a suspect,?” she asks Strike incredulously in the final pages, with an almost visible wink to readers.

So was it all for laughs? Has the alleycatting Strike gotten a small taste of his own medicine? Are there literary allusions to the the cuckolding of Menelaus or maybe Will Smith? Or is this part of Robin’s journey to perfection? If so, I only wish JKR could have accomplished her transformation without the probing tongues, without the damned wig and without diminishing a character she’s worked so hard to elevate.







  1. 1. Strike DID have sex with a witness/suspect(?) in Cuckoo’s Calling, and to a lesser extent also used sex for vocational advantages in Silkworm.

    2. Robin clearly had felt attraction to Pez throughout the novel, and this felt more like a culmination than a random and unexpected “next-step” in their “relationship”.

    3. As someone who works closely with several victims/survivors of sexual abuse, I have to disagree quite strongly with this line:

    “Yet we are to believe that this woman, still showing clear signs of rape and near-death, assault-induced PTSD, would accept Pierce—a murder suspect in the case Robin is investigating—unexpectedly and without romantic prelude, snaking his tongue into her mouth.”

    If this interaction was mutual (and I think JKR provides enough textual support before, during, and after, that it was), then it would be a triggering event for her.

    With those caveats, I completely agree with these behaviors being concerning an unethical (I would argue the same for Strike’s behaviors mentioned in point #1 as well). This deeply concerned me, did not seem in line with Robin’s progression of character in the series as a whole, and yet it wouldn’t necessarily be condemnable from Strike’s vantage point simply due to (1) the log in his own eye, and (2) the mutual affections shared by Strike and Robin.

  2. Correction in the penultimate paragraph: “then it would NOT be a triggering event for her.”

  3. Hi, BJ. Good thoughts. And complete agreement here concerning Strike’s behavior.

    My wife is a retired clinical psychotherapist in private practice for many years, treating far too many sexual abuse victims. She agrees that if the attraction were mutual and between an ordinary dating couple with no major power imbalance, that the initial surprise “kiss” would not necessarily have been triggering. But, she also believes, it might have been. Pez set her up with a predatory trick to get close enough to her to spring. That element of surprise might easily trigger people without Robin’s history.

    My point is that there was nothing normal or balanced about the encounter between Robin and Pez. As a potential murderer closely associated with the commune tied to the killing of Edie, Pez represented a potential threat that would have been keenly felt by any detective, regardless of gender or romantic attraction. Given the panic attack Robin suffered hours earlier, after a mere phone call from Hugh Jacks, it strains credulity that she would be able to welcome sudden, aggressive intimacy from a potential violent murderer.

    This is not a comment on Robin’s courage or her right to get it on with whoever she likes. Rather, it is a critique of her judgment and JKR’s apparent desperation to come up with a scene sufficiently shocking to jolt her readers.

  4. I wonder where the Robin character is heading, too. In the tv version of TB, Robin lays her hands on Ricci while he’s helpless in his chair. The show emphasizes her anger and demand for justice for victims, an avenging angel type of character, not averse to a bit of low-level assault. If Rowling has given clues to the screenwriter and actor about the direction of the character then I’m not crazy about it. Robin needs to be Strike’s equal, and treated as such, but her transformation feels a bit uncontrolled even though she argues she knows what she’s doing.

  5. Kay Jay, I’ve had similar thoughts. Wondering if they’ll have to change the theme song from “I Walk Beside You” to “Go Your Own Way.”

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