Strike Pattern: Bars in London and Out of Town Business-Conversations in Alternating Books; Strike6 Prediction

I have noticed a curious pattern in the five Cormoran Strike mysteries.

In brief, in odd numbered books, the pair have occasion to meet in a pub or bar and things get so out of hand, one has to escort the other home. This meeting advances the intimacy of their relationship significantly, if not immediately or obviously.

In even numbered books, the two share a meal and talk business, especially as it involves their personal lives. Their partnership in the Agency, which is to say ‘Robin’s role in it,’ is augmented after each of these discussions.

I think it fair to expect, if this is a true pattern rather than just a coincidence, that we will see another such business meeting over an informal meal in Ink Black Heart, perhaps as early as the Ritz Champagne Buffet birthday treat.

Details after the jump.

The Pattern: Odd books with London bar scenes, Even books with informal meals out-of-town

In Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike 1, Strike learns from Robin that his former fiancee Charlotte Campbell has become engaged to marry Jago Ross. He leaves the office to drown his misery at the Tottenham in Doom Bar. Strike is making great progress in this self-medication of ills with ale when Robin arrives. She hunted him down, escorts him safely from the bar after learning he had been a boxer in the Army and the secret of Charlotte’s supposed pregnancy, feeds him a few kebobs, and leaves him at the entrance to Denmark Street. She does not wake him the next day but leaves him a reassuring note and some hangover medicine outside his door. Strike is embarrassed but very, very grateful for her kindness. As he told her many times during his inebriated but enchanted evening, she is indeed a “very nice person.”

In Career of Evil, Strike 3, Robin discovers that her fiancee cheated on her when she was recovering from sexual assault. She packs a bag, resolved to leave him, but has nowhere to stay. She has a few glasses of wine before Strike finds her, hears her bitter tale of betrayal in addition to the facts of the rape when she was a college student, and escorts her to a Bed and Breakfast. Robin is terrified that Strike will think her unequal to the job or just hopelessly damaged goods because she had shared her most intimate secrets with him. After making sure Robin is safe, Strike pursues a man who he thinks was following Robin, Donny Laing, a psychopath who had almost bitten off Strike’s ear in a boxing match years ago in the Army.

In Troubled Blood, Strike 5, Robin meets Cormoran at the American Bar where he is interviewing Carl Oakden. Both partners think Oakden wants the press to get a picture of Strike near the scene of Jonny Rokeby’s “knees-up” Deadbeats anniversary party. Strike becomes increasingly aggressive and impatient with the Hermes figure’s misogyny and prevarications. After threatening him with exposure if he continues to meddle in the Bamborough case, Strike and Robin move to leave the bar. Oakden stands with them and taunts Cormoran with the details of his conception forty years previous in a truly American bar, that one in New York City. Strike, enraged, moves to punch the punk pseudo-journo, but hits Robin in the face with his cocked elbow instead (she had reached out to prevent him from hitting Oakden). They escape in a cab, with her wounded by the blow between the eyes and he stricken by conscience and his feelings for the woman. They return to Denmark Street after buying some Indian food, have their most open talk while drinking whiskey in sufficient quantities to liberate their biggest secrets (Rokeby meetings, loan, card, and call!) most private thoughts (to conceive or not to conceive), and ultimately their hidden feelings for the other. They confess that they both think of the other as their “best mate” — and only Barclay’s arrival with Morris following soon after prevents a roll between the sheets.

In odd numbered books, we have a scene in a bar in which long concealed wounds and secrets are revealed, most often about their past lives and its relevance to the immediate present, the scab being ripped off the wound. Boxing is involved. One takes care of the other; in Blood, Strike tends to Robin’s black eyes and she in turn acts as psychologist and sympathetic ear to the tales of Strike’s encounters with Rokeby. The pair come to a new and more profound understanding and level of empathy, love in the end, for their partner.

In even numbered books, one does not find the other in a bar, neither get drunk, there’s no boxing, and neither learns a dark secret from the deepest and most heavily guarded vault of their interior Gringotts. What we are given in Silkworm and in Lethal White, Strikes 2 and 4, are tet-a-tetes over out-of-town informal meals where the two talk business in general, but especially about Robin’s ability to advance in the Agency and in her vocation as a private investigator.

The first is at McDonald’s on the way back to London in a snowstorm from an interview with a book publisher who wanted to discuss Quine and Bombyx Mori. Strike confronts Robin with how difficult the job is if there is no support from anyone at home when she makes it clear she is angry about his hesitating to use and promote her. In the second, they are at a horse race-track for an interview. While they wait for their informant, they celebrate her decision to leave her husband (and his to leave Lorilei) and, once again, Strike talks about the need for her to do all she can to stabilize herself, this time with respect to her panic attacks, so she can be a proper partner in the Agency.

The Prediction: Book 6 will have an Even Numbered Book’s ‘Informal Meal’ Scene

There are scenes that do not fit with this pattern, I know. I think immediately of the long road trip in Career of Evil during which the two have several informal meals. Their fish and chips meal in Skegness, too, in Blood is a turning point in their appreciation of the other and in the cold-case at hand. None of these, however, have much in common with the Silkworm and Lethal White scenes. Similarly, the pair eat and drink at pubs with no little frequency in the novels; I think it must happen in every book. None of those ‘drinks’ and carbs for Cormoran are the deal changers that bring out the boxer in Strike as the ones detailed above.

If this pattern is a pattern, then, Ink Black Heart should feature an out of town informal meal during which Strike lays down terms and conditions for Robin’s increased ownership and decision-making agency in their shared business. The luncheon with champagne at the Ritz is an occasion that comes to mind, of course, because it is the only one we know we can to expect to witness live or in flashback. I suspect, though, that this conversation will be Strike’s proposal of a marital partnership and his sharing his great fears that this must endanger their great friendship and working relationship. That scene must needs be near the book’s end, perhaps as a denouement in Dumbledore’s office — I mean Rokeby’s den or at his graveside. Or at the commune ruins in Norfolk. Or Leda’s guitar-shaped headstone.

The Potter Precedent: Odd and Even Book Number Pattern in the Hogwarts Saga

Gilderoy that I am, I want to think I was the first to point out (in 2002’s Hidden Key to Harry Potter or the 2004 edition of Looking for God in Harry Potter?) that the Harry Potter novels alternated between inward and outward-focused books. Or was it Brett Kendall in one of his epic Merlin Matters posts? Regardless of the origin of the idea, it was very much a live topic from Goblet to Hallows among the inter-librum era’s Potter Pundits. Harry’s adventures in Stone, Prisoner, Phoenix, and Hallows focused on mysteries of The Boy Who Lived’s personal story, the family dimension, and the nature of his relationship with the Dark Lord. These odd-numbered books included outward elements and his fame and notoriety, certainly, but nothing akin to the larger world dramas of Chamber, Goblet, Prince, and Hallows. [You noted, I’m sure, that Hallows  made both lists though it is an odd-numbered book in the septology sequence; as the finale and series latch, though, it is the conjunction of interior and exterior, the conjunction of the beginning and middle numbers, odd and even.]

So what? If Rowling is writing the Strike series in parallel with the Potter books equivalent numbers, it would make an evil structural genius kind of sense to give the detective mysteries definitive markers of an odd-then-even progression. Look for the bar scene from hell in Strike7 — a fight with Tyson Fury? — and a Robin-Cormoran honeymoon denouement over a picnic dinner out of country as well.

Your comments and corrections are coveted, as always.

Extra: There is another important Even-Numbered book pattern, the waitress on her break who gives Strike the clues necessary to break the case, that is explored in this follow-up post. Enjoy! 

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