Running Grave’s Extended Excerpt: First Thoughts of Elizabeth Baird Hardy

Earlier today I posted the news of the second excerpt from Running Grave that has been released by Rowling’s publishers. Elizabeth Baird-Hardy, Deputy Headmistress of HogwartsProfessor, shared her first notes about the eleven chapters we have now and I pass them on to you, post haste. If you do not want to learn anything of the story until its publication on 26 September, now would be your moment to stop reading; if you’d like to read the eleven chapters first (good idea!), it is still available via this link or was when I started writing (note: this link has been disabled and I have not yet found an alternative that includes the ‘new’ five chapters); if you’re ready to read Elizabeth’s insights, scroll down and enjoy!

Strike Seven: First Thoughts on the First Bits of Running Grave

Now that we have access to the first 160 pages (or 200, depending on your device and its use of the app) of The Running Grave, it’s time to start breaking down what we have or don’t and to continue our predictions for the rest of the book to follow in just a smidge over two weeks!

I’d like to share my first observations after a hasty read of the new text (I keep fearing that link will die). Of course, we’ve had a taste of the first chapters for some time, but this new chunk is a respectable addition.  Even with a promised complete book length of 961 pages, the preview is a nice bit and gives us some fodder for what is to come, so here are a few of my thoughts, some of which are fairly prosaic, but others of which may bode much for the future in two weeks:

Murphy’s Law:

I probably should have put down money on my predictions about Murphy after the publication of Ink Black Heart. I was fairly certain Robin and the CID man would become a couple in the new book, so when the first preview dropped, I was not shocked by his appearance as her date to the christening of Nick and Ilsa’s much anticipated bundle of joy.

However, I was also predicting that, should Murphy and Robin match up, Murphy would meet a bad end, perhaps one that Strike feels is his fault, thus continuing the long delay of the hoped-for Strike-Robin pairing. Should Murphy die, perhaps because Strike failed to warn/help him or in some other circumstance that Strike feels is his fault (indirectly or otherwise), Strike will doubtless feel guilty, but even if Murphy dies through no fault of Strike’s, it’s clear from our detective’s internal monologue in these sections that he would feel guilty, as he is frequently hoping Murphy will get out of the picture and grumbling to himself about the whole situation.

In this new section, though, we have another possible wrinkle. Wardle, himself smarting over his own failed marriage, makes clear that Murphy was a nasty drunk before he got on the wagon. He describes a person very different from the nice guy Robin is enjoying dating, so perhaps we will instead see a Murphy who falls back into his ways and becomes no longer interesting or downright dangerous.

One way or another, we can probably safely expect Murphy to go to the curb, if not in this installment, then in the near future. Just as sharp readers knew Matthew would not remain in Robin’s life, we can probably see the chinks in Murphy’s armor as well. It is interesting how Robin ponders on the way her new relationship is marked by “guardedness,” and it will be interesting to see how, as the story evolves, if that guardedness becomes more or less a factor. 

Notes and Emails:

As in Ink Black Heart, this volume includes large epistolary sections of “documents” at the beginning; rather than the in-game conversations of the mods of Drek’s Game that lead up to the thickening plot of Ink Black Heart, we have letters and emails setting the scene for the situation with the Edensor family and their quest to rescue Will and unmask the UHC’s schemes. In the new section, more emails are included, with more details from former UHC member Kevin Pirbright, who has, readers suspect, been murdered to shut him up about the cult’s inner workings.

We may reasonably expect still more epistolary elements, especially as Robin goes undercover and may have to communicate via letters, which may be in code or use other clever tricks to get her messages out past the UHC watchdogs. Since only handwritten letters can be used to communicate with UHC members, letters may be more than just a plot device. After all, the mod conversations of Ink Black Heart served a critical narrative purpose. Readers who were not caught up in complaining about how the passages interrupted their reading were able to unpack valuable clues in those texts, and chances are that this element will be a strong one in The Running Grave as well.

Messages from the Grave(s)

As our title is clearly already hinting at the “grave” consequences of messing with the UHC, it should not be surprising that these previewed sections already give us some great clues about the way graves will factor into the novel. Many of those references come from the emails sent by Kevin to Colin Edensor.

  • In the email that opens the most recently revealed content, Kevin quickly mentions that Chapman Farm is the site where the five UHC prophets are buried, so their graves are central both to the UHC and to our story.
  • The second email begins with an explanation of the manifestations of the prophets by going into detail about those five graves.
  1. First, Kevin explains about the death of Daiyu Mace, who drowned, and then he mentions Rusty Anderson, the so-called Wounded Prophet, killed by a drunk driver.
  2. We will also hear much more about Rusty, or Rust, in this section, as he is the focus of the meeting at the temple when Robin attends for the first time. 
  3. Also buried at the Farm is Alexander Graves, whose name clearly ties to our title and Dylan Thomas poem. Described third, and thus at the center of the five prophets, Graves, the Stolen Prophet, is definitely going to be central, not only because he committed suicide, but also because he did so after being rescued/kidnapped by his parents in much the same way as the Edensors would like to do to retrieve Will.
  4. The other Prophet graves at the Farm are those of Healer Prophet Dr. Harold Oates and
  5. the Golden Prophet, fabulously wealthy Margaret Cathcar-Bryce.

Their images are also emblazoned on the ceiling in the Temple, a sight that rather unnerves Robin. Interestingly, the description of those ceiling paintings put me in mind of a similar one I know, which was done to honor children who had died of cancer. While less disturbing than the Prophet art, that ceiling is also a strange combination of beauty, sadness, and something a bit off-putting.

Since we now have those five Prophets, and their graves, clearly laid out before (or above) us, I expect we need to watch carefully how their roles unfurl over the course of the story, although I do expect, per the title, that Graves will be the most critical figure. 

Robin’s (egg) Blue Hair

Whether we generally picture our own ideas of Robin and Strike, or if we see Holliday Granger and Tom Burke, we do have clear images of our protagonists, so it is fun to have Robin make a radical change to her appearance. While we have certainly seen her disguise herself quite effectively in the past, this disguise is something more. From the expensive clothes borrowed from Prudence (more about that great new character soon!) to her new ‘do, Robin is undergoing a change of appearance that is pretty radical.

Her hair, cut to chin length with a graduated fringe and ends bleached out and dyed blue, is certainly different than the strawberry blond we’ve come to identify with her, but there may be other reasons for Rowling’s changing of our Robin’s look. As one possibility, there is the chance this undercover job may turn very dark, perhaps nearly sucking Robin in for real, so the fact that she does not look like herself may be foreshadowing. Also, the color is intriguing beyond the fun joke of blue being associated with robins due to the color of their eggshells.

The blue hair tips should call up shades of another female character, one far less loveable than our Robin. In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Delphi, the devious daughter of Bellatrix Lestrange and (possibly) Lord Voldemort, is described as having silvery hair with blue tips. No matter how we feel about the play (not everyone is a fan), it is interesting that Robin’s undercover transformation includes this specific characteristic that is specific to Delphi.

As we often point out, there are threads all through the Strike series tying us to the Hogwarts adventures. Is the blue highlight a coincidence, just a trendy color? Or is it an intentional connection to Delphi to warn us that things are not always what they seem and that Robin may be as much in danger on her undercover mission as the hapless Albus and Scorpius are when they allow themselves to be deceived by Delphi.

Mistakes, or not?

PercyL has already noted one mistake with dates, per the census. But sometimes mistakes are not actually mistakes. One interesting point is that Strike, in recalling the traumatic six months he and his sister spent with their mother at the commune, points out that Leda thought her kids “unscathed” by the experience and was thus shocked that her “pastoral fantasy had indeed been a hotbed of paedophilia.”  

That passage leads us to believe that, despite the conditions at Aylmerton Community, Strike and Lucy were not seriously harmed by the experience, making it just the least pleasant of the unpleasant places where they lived with her mother in her nomadic existence when they were not safely with Ted and Joan.  Yet, when Strike goes to warn Lucy about the case and the possibility that it might include press covered, Lucy bursts into tears. This is the end of the previewed section, and it is likely is cut here for a reason.

It seems very possible that something terrible did happen to Lucy and possibly to Strike at the commune. Whether they were victims or witnesses, the experience hurt them both, and Lucy is clearly deeply damaged. We can expect to learn much more about that as we get the rest of the text.

One other point may also be an intentional mislead. At the temple, Robin, like the rest of the listeners, is urged to think of a number or word and then to see if that crops up after the service. Robin randomly selects the number 48. Then, shortly after the service, as she is on the phone to Strike, she sits in a café and, immediately in front of her, two American men sit down. One is wearing a NASCAR shirt with “the name Jimmie Jones and a large 48.”

Of course, this is supposed to entice us to believe, as Kevin does, that there really are supernatural forces at work. However, here’s the catch: the now-semi-retired driver who raced under number 48 (the Lowe’s car), was Jimmie JOHNSON, not Jones.

I am wondering about this mistake. I do joke that New York publishers are hopelessly out of touch, so maybe they don’t know Jimmie Johnson from Julius Caesar, but I am sure I am not the only one who will catch this (I do live in NASCAR country and shop regularly at Lowe’s, so I have seen Mr. Johnson and his #48 so often that I saw that 48 connection coming the second I saw the word NASCAR. I have never met Mr. Johnson, but I did once get to babysit another driver, at a book talk). I wonder if the mistake might actually be intentional, a way to show that the whole spiritual shell game being played by the UHC is a trick. It would certainly reflect better on Rowling than the possibility that she and her publishers don’t know the names of very famous American racecar drivers.

So, as we ready ourselves for the rest of the book, what are your thoughts? Have you read the previews? Do you agree with our early observations? Jump in the comments to discuss as we dash toward the release of The Running Grave!

Jimmie Johnson, Really?


  1. Bonni Crawford says

    I read the pdf of the first preview that The Rowling Library shared, but sadly the libby link isn’t working for me (and I can’t access apple books) if anyone has a pdf or another link, I would be very grateful if you could share it, as I’d love to read the new, longer preview

  2. Three quick thoughts, Elizabeth, all inspired by your challenging first takes:

    Alexander Graves: Great catch on the name and the central position of ‘The Stolen Prophet’! I’d add that ‘Alexander’ is derived from the Greek for ‘Helper of Man’ and has messianic tones. In a book about a religious cult, that the central prophet has shades of Christ in his name, that his death was (supposedly) of his own volition, and that he returns from the dead and many people have witnessed his seeming victory over death, this may be a large part of Rowling’s allegorical artistry.

    You don’t spell out the importance of Graves’ death being a suicide, so allow me: the deaths in the first and fourth Strike novels were staged suicides, in which the victims seem to have chosen to kill themselves but we learn in the end they were murdered. Because of the Parallel Series Idea (PSI), we should expect per PSI that Strike7 will have the same relationship to Strike1 and Strike4 that Deathly Hallows did to Goblet and Stone. A prevalent theory since the publication of Lethal White has been that the murderer of Leda Strike, who supposedly died of a self-inflicted drug overdose, will be revealed in Strike7; maybe, though, it will be who killed Alexander Graves instead (or the brilliant and naive Will?).

    Robin as a Bird: I never would have thought of the color blue as a signature avian color for robins because of the baby blue egg shells, but right you are, of course. I’d only add that the only other allusion to Ms Ellacott as a woman with the avian characteristics of her first name is in her first meeting with Strike, during which he grabbed one of her breasts to save her falling to her death on the staircase up to the Agency offices. Strike says after being told her name that ‘Robin’ won’t be difficult to remember; he’s thinking of Batman’s right hand, ‘Robin the Boy Wonder,’ but she takes offense because she thinks he means ‘Robin’s Red Breast.’

    Now in Strike7, a book we assume will have heavy resonances of and allusions to Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike1, as the latch of a seven book ring per Deathly Hallows‘ more than forty echoes of Philosopher’s Stone. And here is a funny one right out of the gate! A Robin color joke.

    Jimmie Jones/Johnson: I love the way you have left the door open for there being a meaningful explanation for what seems to be another Galbraith Gaffe for the Ages. Let me try to walk through that opening in hopes of winning a Marvel No-Prize.

    Let’s assume, as you allow it is a possibility, that Rowling-Galbraith made this mistake intentionally to highlight or draw attention to these names.

    ‘Jones’ and ‘Johnson’ both derive rather obviously from ‘John.’ The hero of The Christmas Pig is ‘Jack Jones,’ both of which names both are versions of ‘John’ as well. I explained the meaning of ‘John’ in Rowling’s work in a longish post, ‘Christmas Pig 1: Jack Jones, Peter, and John.’ It ultimately springs, I think, from Rowling’s reflections on her first name which derives from the Greek ‘Johannes’ and her father’s name, ‘Peter John,’ and her relationship with him. Read that post for a review of the ‘John’s in Rowling’s work, as well as this one on seeming exceptions to the ‘John and Peter Rules’ (John = Good, Peter = Bad).

    Of course it is laughably presumptuous to think that Rowling is hat-tipping this interpretation of two of the most recurrent and formulaic uses of names in her stories. But — it does explain the gaffe, right? She’s making the intelligent reader who pays attention to details — take a bow, Deputy Headmistress! — gasp at what seems like an obvious mistake and then think about the names ‘Jones’ and ‘Johnson,’ thinking that might lead them to reflect on John-derived names in her writing.

    That’s the best I can do! Later this weekend I hope to write up the news about the hilarious reason that the Apple-book excerpt was taken down (tell me you didn’t laugh out loud when you first read or heard about Rowling Inc.’s careless and unforced error) as well as my first thoughts on the first eleven chapters. All on the Substack HogwartsProfessor!

    Thank you again, Elizabeth, for writing these brilliant notes up as promptly as you did!

  3. Could ‘Jimmie Jones’ be a reference to Jim Jones, the leader of the Jonestown cult in Guyana in the 1970’s, who led his followers to mass suicide?

  4. Could ‘Jimmie Jones’ be a reference to Jim Jones?

    Yes! That seems a good explanation for the gaffe; it highlights a murderous religious cult that was superficially “humanitarian.”

  5. Heather Easley says

    Thanks for your thoughts on this, Elizabeth. Speaking to the choice for the blue ends on Robin’s hair, my immediate thought was one that is, perhaps, simpler. I assumed Robin chose blue because she subconsciously knows that Strike loves her in blue (she’s very observant most of the time) and because Blue is Strike’s middle name so it’s another accidental-not-so-accidental head nod to him. Whatever the reason, I can’t wait to read more!

  6. “Could ‘Jimmie Jones’ be a reference to Jim Jones, the leader of the Jonestown cult in Guyana in the 1970’s, who led his followers to mass suicide?”

    That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw that name. I thought that was a weird coincidence. I don’t follow NASCAR so I wasn’t aware that there was an error in the last name. I had already been thinking of the Jonestown Massacre from the moment I heard that Robin was going undercover at a cult. I am extremely worried about her! Even if she is mentally and emotionally strong enough to resist being pulled into the cult’s philosophy she could be targeted by being drugged.

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