Lethal White: The Big Change at the Turn The End of the Strike Agency in Book 5?

Lethal White, if as suspected it is the ‘story turn’ or pivot in the CormoranStrike series as Goblet of Fire was to the Hogwarts saga, must include a crisis that points to the action of the next several books and especially to the finale in Strike7. Evan Willis has given a credible explanation of what this might look like in his ‘Mythic Context’ post, namely that those characters who have lost their beloveds to Cormoran and Robin, Matt Cunliffe and Charlotte Campbell-Ross respectively, will be going to war to exact revenge.

It’s not hard to imagine this scenario; Charlotte has clearly ‘weaponized’ Jago Ross to hate Cormoran via the Strike case internet searches she let him find and her ‘dinner date’ with Strike while hubbie was Stateside and Matt will have lost his house, his job, his self-respect and his ability to go home to Massham when Robin divorces him. It won’t take much for Charlotte to turn him into a guided missile. It’s a far cry from the re-incarnation of the Dark Lord in a Black Mass at Little Hangleton graveyard (please note the ‘hanging’ element there and the graveyard aspect of the Dell scene in White…) but we have been told sufficient times in the first four Strike mysteries that Charlotte is an animal who lives for revenge that it seems almost a promise.

Having said that, how are Cormoran and Robin vulnerable to investigation and exposure via Mitch Patterson and whomever Ross might hire or Cunliffe may enlist? Is there some secret that the C. B. Strike Detective Agency has that could mean their ruin and the end of Robin and Cormoran’s seemingly destined marriage in the finale? Was it shared in Lethal White? Yes, yes, and yes, I think so. I explain after the jump.

I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of Lethal White for several hours almost daily now since the book was released and I finished my day-of-publication hurried read. [Aside: Robert Glennister’s read-alouds are magnificent and borderline essential for Americans, I think, to appreciate much of the sub-narrative in the Strike stories but especially White because we are blind and deaf to the class distinctions and regional differences a UK citizen sees and hears even while reading.] Several things I missed my first time through, besides more Goblet and Cuckoo echoing about which ‘more later,’ turn on the wild changes from previous Strike novels in this ‘crucial’ fourth book.

Not only do we get the dissolution of the Matt and Robin dead-end marriage and the return of Charlotte as anticipated, but there is the big reversal in the Strike Agency’s relationship with the Metropolitan Police. Robin and Cormoran are invited in to the Met in the end as ‘Friends of the Investigation’ near the finale and it is their co-operation and resources that save Robin in the end, even if it is Strike who figures out the Matt phone calls are from a burner phone.

The biggest change, though, and their vulnerability going forward is a change in policy at the Strike Agency, something highlighted in the many asides about ethics and the repeated confusion of good and bad news for the Agency. ‘Dodgy Doc’ is molesting young women again? “Great! I mean…” “This job really messes with your ethics…” “We’re like lawyers, Robin. We’re on the client’s side. We get garbage on people every day. It’s a little late to be growing a conscience now.” Et cetera.

The change in policy is the practice of illegal recording of people’s conversations without the targets’ knowledge or permission. In the shape of ‘hacking phones,’ this is a big part of Cuckoo’s Calling plot because Lula did much of what she did in fear that her friends were talking to the newspapers or their phones were being hacked. In The Silkworm‘s opening, Strike’s farewell to Dominic Culpepper includes a pointed statement to the journalist-who-hires-private-detectives that hacking phones is illegal. The Strike Agency working policy has been to stay on the right side of the law and to get information legally rather than with across-the-red-line surveillance devices.

Until Lethal White. Robin goes undercover twice in Strike4, as Venetia Hall in the House of Commons in Part 1 and as Bobbi Cunliffe in Part 2’s working trip to Camden, and both times she records conversations of people who do not know she has planted a recording device in their room. She learns about Geraint Winn’s pressuring Aamir Mallik to get pictures from the Foreign Office this way and that Della has a very personal affection for Aamir with the surveillance plants in the MP constituency office power socket. Her iPhone recording of Jimmy Knight and Flick Perdue in the New Age jewelry and knick-knack store bears similar fruit.

Here’s the thing. We know this a huge no-no in Rowling’s view and it’s not especially hard to see how Strike’s enemies use this to make Strike5 into a nightmare akin to Order of the Phoenix with Harry’s appearance before the Wizangamut.

Sorry to get into author biography territory for interpretation of text, but Rowling hates the media with a passion or justified conviction, however you want to look at it. She sued the Sunday Express successfully in 2008 to secure the privacy of her children after they ran photographs obtained with telescopic lenses of her family on vacation. More to the point, Rowling was a “core participant” in the 2011 Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking of celebrities by journalists. She testified in what is now known as the ‘Dr Ford Outfit’ — dull sportscoat, messy hair, and large spectacles for ‘the serious-thinking-woman-librarian’ look — against illegal media intrusion into private lives. You can watch that testimony here.

We skip a year inside Lethal White, from Robin’s wedding in the Prologue to 2012 and the London Olympics, but the Leveson Inquiry was a big part of the eclipsed interval. Dominic Culpepper’s News of the World goes out of business, for example, during this gap time because of the phone hacking scandal which is why he is writing for The Sun in Lethal White. Who was in charge of the Leveson Inquiry? It was a “Judicial Public Inquiry” made up up of a judge and six-member panel that was funded by the Home Office and by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the same Government Ministries that are the principal offices featured in Strike4. 

Rowling was planning and writing the first Strike novels and the series as a whole during this period. Yes, I think it’s a good bet that this private concern has bled into her fiction the same way her barbs about “Fucking Amazon” and the anti-Semitism of the political left in the UK found entree into Lethal White.

Jago Ross, The Sun, or both have hired private investigators to track the movements and activity of Cormoran and Robin. Mitch Patterson, the other PI of choice, is a former Met policeman who Eric Wordle has made clear in conversationwith Strike is ethically challenged. He may very well be the investigator Culpepper was alluding to as the hires he had made who hacked people’s phones to get the dirt he wanted for stories.

Geraint Winn has sworn to Robin that he will be revenged on her. Jimmy Knight has been banned from suing others without permission of the Courts because he is a litigating machine.

Do you think it unlikely that Mitch Patterson, say, when he watches Strike leave the office in Lethal White and does not pursue him, is above having forced his way into the Strike Agency office and planting a listening device or hacking their phone? Any of the subsequent “debriefs” Team Strike has in the office or in Strike-Ellacott conversation over the office line will reveal the illegal surveillance done in the Winn office and Camden Store. The Sun will run the expose under the Culpepper by-line, the Winns and Jimmy Knight will sue, and the Agency could lose its license and be destroyed financially. There could even be jail time potentially for the Dynamic Duo.

And I don’t think there will be a Dumbledore-equivalent who will Apparate into the Ministry ex machina to manipulate the Muggle Wizangamut show trial judges into a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict. We could be seeing the end of the C. B. Strike Detective Agency in Strike 5 because of the failings in ethics that occured in Lethal White.

Let me know what you think in the comment boxes below! Have Robin and Cormoran set themselves up for exposure and ruin by breaking the law in Lethal White? Is this the method Charlotte and Matt will use to exact revenge on Cormoran and Robin for not loving them and for stealing their beloved partners? Have all the Culpepper asides and Spanner mentions pointed to this phone-hacking, technological takedown? Will Robin wind up at the Met and Strike back with SIB, at least temporarily? Egad!


  1. Louise Freeman says

    Very interesting: and perhaps more plausible than “Mick Jagger: Drug Kingpin” or “Cormoran Chiswell.”

    There is another shadow hanging over the beloved business: the sale of the property to a developer. From the get-go, when we were introduced to the series with Robin being nearly knocked down the stairs, the setting of Strike’s office building has almost been another character in the series, with the dingy offices, Strikes apartment upstairs, the broken birdcage elevator and the farting sofa. Having to relocate would definitely change the tone of the series. Could Charlotte or Matthew wind up connecting to the developer and tormenting our heroes through this angle, as well?

  2. Joanne Gray says

    Wonderful insight and very well thought out and argued. It makes me even more eager to have Book 5 while simultaneously making me much more fearful to read it. The fourth book ended on such an up beat note for both Cormoran and Robin, smiling and looking forward to a pleasant evening together, that it does seem the (author’s) perfect moment to have them take that next step and find that they are actually on the edge of a cliff that neither realized they were about to step off.

    Also wonderful points, Louise. The teaming up of the two, Matthew and Charlotte, reminds me of an insight by Truman Capote about the two criminals in his book In Cold Blood. That individually they were bad people but together they were the worst of the worst. I don’t think JKR would go to that level but the thought of these two working together for revenge against Cormoran and Robin is truly frightening.

    I’m not actually an advocate that Jasper Chiswell is Cormoran’s real father. My theory may be wrong–that the “most famous photograph of Cormoran’s parents” was actually the author’s way of planting a piece of misdirection by showing Leda and Jonny at opposite ends of the 5 people in the photo. JKR is speaking true–but a truth told slant. I believe she was showing Leda standing next to the man–an unnamed playboy aristocrat–who will actually (at some point) be shown to be Cormoran’s biological father. I think she has Jonny Rokeby standing at the furthest point from Leda to emphasize he’s not the father. I concede I could very well be wrong. Hopefully, we will soon find out one way or the other, with some real facts, if Jonny really is Strike’s biological dad.

  3. On Cormoran’s father, Leda’s true love was the Blue Oyster Cult, and if I remember correctly, the only other character in the stories to have his hair described as “pube-like” was the lead singer of that band.

  4. Yes, it would be funny if it turned out that ‘Blueie’ was indeed the son of another rock band’s lead singer…

    The only person, though, whom Strike is said to resemble as a “spitting image” is his Uncle in Cornwall, which makes the most genetic sense, him being the only male person in his immediate family we know (if knowing is a bit of a stretch because we’ve never met him except in flashback). Galbraith seems to make a lot of an uncle’s influence, though, between Strike’s choice of the SIB over Oxford and his favorite team being, like his uncle’s, Arsenal (the Gunners). The Nephew Jack and the Beanstalk Giant Cormoran sub-narrative seems to be working as an echo of that.

    But, hey, can we get back to the Leveson Inquiry and reserve the ‘Cormoran Chiswell’ discussion for that post’s thread?

  5. If the agency is to dissolve, it would make sense with a theory and a sense that I have. Rowling (as Galbraith–a male) has lured an audience into these novels under the pretext that they are primarily about Strike–a male. However, as I read the story and the devices she’s using as an author and has used elsewhere, what emerges for me is that this is not Strike’s story–it is Robin’s. Robin is the character undergoing an arc. Robin is coming into her own more and more. I read Robin as a stand-in for Rowling. She took the male pseudonym to see if she could “make it” on the merits of her writing in this genre that she loves. But why not choose a female pseudonym? Throughout the series, we as readers are constantly pressed to psychologically consider gender issues. Strike can follow killers, why can’t Robin? Strike is missing half a leg, so don’t tell me it’s because he’s tougher. Strike is missing half a leg, I believe, for the same reason that Robin suffered her assault. What is equivalent to a woman suffering that type of attack? A man losing a limb.
    The more we proceed through the story, the more Robin’s star will ascend and Cormoran will give way to her. In the end, perhaps she joins the met.
    Dear God, do not let them shag or marry. That would undercut the whole thing. Much as I’d love to see a resolution to the “will they, won’t they”, if this is a story meant to make us grapple with gender and how we need to stop relegating women to roles that are only appropriate for frail sex objects, we need Robin to stand on her own, to succeed on her own, to show them all that she is fierce, competent, and pursuing her calling–not reacting to the things men have done to her or will do to her. She’s shed Matthew at the apex and crux of the Ring. She should shed Cormoran in Book VII (and I love him as a character, but it’s this very love that would make this story a true epic worthy of the creator of Harry Potter, if he were to be a foil to her self-actualization).

  6. Why is everyone so sure that Rokeby isn’t strikes father? Why wouldn’t he be? I never thought that was supposed to be a mystery? There was a DNA-test…

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