Nick Jeffery – Strike Series Ranking

In our third in our series where Hogwarts Professor staff and friends rank the Cormoran Strike series, I will be adding my tuppence to the mix. You can find Kurt’s kick-off here, John’s here and Beatrice’s here to compare. No great literature scholar I, so expect a considered review of how much I enjoyed each of the books. I cannot say the ranking was easy; like @LudicrousMonica, I shrink for ranking my children. Let me know how I’ve done down below. Which are your favourites of the series?

I am new to the appreciation of fictional literature, having re-kindled by schoolboy love of reading only a few years ago. The novel that did this was Casual Vacancy but that is perhaps a story for another day. The spark that hooked me was the emotional response that a good book can elicit – Casual Vacancy is a veritable emotional Jungle Gym. In trying to analyse how this is triggered when I read, I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t just the situation and emotional state of the characters. To feel with and for Robin and Cormoran, we must be with them. To do that we must inhabit the story along side them. In a real sense we must forget we are reading and absorb the story. As Shakespeare put it:

Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;

Henry V Act 1, Prologue

To do this effectively is both an act of skill in the author and an act of trust in the reader. A clumsy phrase or a confusing description can wrench us out of the story and back into the conscious act of reading. I am aware that method of reading tends to obscure much of the artistry and scaffold of how the story is constructed, literary allusion can be missed, until the work is re-read. Therefore, I value the work that is published on this site, for while the artistry can be missed when reading, I’m convinced that it is an essential part of that act of skill in the author that allows trust when we read. Peaking behind the curtain is fun to do and allows us to marvel at the skill of the author but is not essential for us to enjoy the work.

As I construct my ranking, I will be thinking of how much I enjoy each of the books, based on how each book made me feel as I was reading it, how much I managed to inhabit the story, in the confident expectation it should mirror the more erudite lists of others.

6th Place – Career of Evil

While Career of Evil certainly contained feeling, and some passages of genuine pathos particularly from Robin, my overall emotional take-away is horror. The chapters in the mind of the psychopathic killer were always a very difficult read. Other titles in the series cover horrific acts by horrific people, but in Career it is no longer at one remove. Entering the mind of the killer is effective in drawing tension and revealing how very inhumane the target of Strike-Ellacott is, but the passages are so very unpleasant, that I couldn’t finish with one these chapters (no bedtime reading this) and only started reading one with reluctance. The arc of the series is expanded with further information about Leda, and the detective duo gain some valuable time together with a long road trip. So, the book is worth a re-read, but this is the one I am least likely to recommend to a friend.

5th Place – The Silkworm

If I had read Cuckoo’s Calling before Galbraith was unmasked as Rowling, I don’t think I would have been convinced by a clever, close reader, analysis that J. K. was really the writer. With Silkworm it is a different story, a setting of literary agents, editors and publishers, critics, and literary snark. At least as dark in places Career we are insulated by seeing the horror through the very human eyes of Cormoran and Robin, or second hand through the pages of Bombix Mori.

4th Place – The Cuckoo’s Calling

The first of the series and a wonderful introduction to Robin and Cormoran. As befits a foundation novel, the description of place and character, and particularly the mix of place and character set the benchmark for the other novels. My favourite of the early Strike-Ellacott series and one that is long overdue a re-read.

3rd Place – Troubled Blood

Bronze medal goes to Troubled Blood but to show how close the top three places are this book also contains three of my all-time favourites. Favourite crime scene (okay, crime scene is maybe a stretch) – but the walk from The St John’s Gate Practice through Clerkenwell, helped by its slow repetition is a masterclass in visualisation. It can be good fun to check the location photographs on the Strike-Fans website and compare them to what you visualised when reading. Favourite Strike-Ellacott ‘car crash’ is the infamous dinner party at Max’s. Cormoran ‘in vino veritas’ brings biting criticism of lazy social activism, while Robin slow boils into much justified wrath. Favourite epigraphs are from, of course, the wonderful Faerie Queene. A work of which I was entirely ignorant, but is of such breath-taking scale, it must be my favourite literary take-away from the series as well.

2nd Place – Lethal White

Lethal White was the first novel published when I considered myself a Rowling fan, although I was just starting the series, so I had to wait a while to reach this one. This book also has an unfair advantage in terms location. I studied engineering for three years at the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham with is overlooked by the Uffington White Horse. This is the first book that openly explores dissatisfaction with the disfunction of modern politics in the UK, class divides and sexual politics. Much of this should not make easy reading, but even given the length I was utterly absorbed, whether in the decayed gentility of a dusty country drawing room or the cramped and institutional parliamentary office of Jasper Chiswell.

1st Place – The Ink Black Heart

No other book in the series has moved so many places in my ranking between first and third reading. My first reading started on the day of publication and finished two days later. My aim was to avoid being spoiled on Twitter, and this was achieved, but at a cost. In order to immerse myself into a story I have to read slowly, often at speaking pace or even slower. At my second read at a more sedate pace this book came alive with all Rowling’s gifts of dialog, location and character. In my third recent re-read (I have just finished parallel reading Half Blood Prince with Ink Black Heart), even the chat logs ceased to be a distraction, and came alive. As the newest of the Strike novels and the one that I have most recently re-read, there is the risk of recentism. The topics of online tribalism and misogyny, bullying and extremism are also very recent concerns, so it will be interesting to see if I feel the same in twenty years. But right now, in terms eliciting emotion, be it rage, sadness, joy or triumph (yes really) The Ink Black Heart has no peer.


  1. I’d love to hear where you find joy and triumph in The Ink Black Heart. I did find rage and sadness but nothing much positive. The integration of chat logs was so flawed both in the roll-out of the ebook and even in print; and also disrupting to the flow of the narrative. Very jarring! It’s the first book where the characters often behaved in inexplicable ways and suspension of disbelief was very difficult. But I want to be persuaded to admire it or even come to love it, so looking forward to hearing your thoughts! I should add that I have read it multiple times, even in large print (3.65 lbs!)And listened to both the book and TSEF podcast.

  2. Louise Freeman says


    I think your rankings come closest to matching mine so far. I share your opinion that TIBH improves with re-reading. I took a lot of pleasure at Strike’s take-down of Jago and Charlotte, Pat’s and Strike’s improved relationship and Robin’s compassion for Flavia, Rachel and Zoe.

    More tomorrow!!

  3. Thank you for this, Nick! Plenty of surprises here — and a big push for me to begin the work of breaking out the structure and symbolism sets in Strike6.

    As an aside, I hope very much you will write up one day the story of your epiphany during the reading of ‘Casual Vacancy,’ the most curious, openly autobiographical, and critically neglected Rowling novel ever published. It sold very well as the first Post Potter Publication by the Presence but I doubt anyone not a member of the Royal Society of Rowling Readers has re-read it or put it on their shelf of beloved favorites.

    I look forward to seeing the chart of HogwartsProfessor choices of Strike novels ranked from best to worst. It looks at this point like ‘Career of Evil’ is the near consensus choice for worst of the lot with Contrary Kurt as the outlier and ‘Troubled Blood’ the best with ‘Ink Black Heart,’ from my view, making a surprising run for the top spot with a boost from more appreciative re-readers. I’m really enjoying this survey — and the anticipation of more tomorrow and the next day from Louise Freeman and Elizabeth Baird-Hardy!

  4. Really enjoyed this Nick – IBH was a surprise front-runner, but I bet the author would be delighted (authors always love their most recent-born best!). I like the fact that our favourites are all so different – and I’d love to hear more about your transformative encounter with Casual Vacancy. It was one of – if not the – most addictive of all Rowling’s books for me – and I think it had this effect on a lot of people. It is not talked about much any more – but it was really loved by readers at the time, voted the favourite book of the year and I don’t think that was *just* the Rowling effect.

    I love your point about how the deep structures of Rowling’s storytelling skill can be understood by a reader at a subconscious level – ‘while the artistry can be missed when reading, I’m convinced that it is an essential part of that act of skill in the author that allows trust when we read’ – yes!

  5. Nick Jeffery says

    Thank you all! I agree with Louise’s list of joys, and would add that the new agency name reveal was my note of triumph. So long overdue. Now at last Robin should avoid the annoyance of having to explain she is a partner.

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