Strike-Potter PSI: Career and Prisoner

The Parallel Series Idea or PSI is the theory that Rowling-Galbraith is writing her Cormoran Strike novels as intentional echoes of her Harry Potter septology, with each new murder mystery having plot points, characters, setting, and dialogue reflecting the ones in their apposite number in the Hogwarts Saga. I have written up posts on the parallels between each of the series entries thus far except for one pair and Louise Freeman has discussed at length what we might expect in Ink Black Heart as an image of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, PSI detective work you can read via these links:

I haven’t collected and edited the reader notes for Blood-Phoenix but the real hole in the collection is the absence of a post about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’s echoes in Strike3, Career of Evil. After the jump, then, notes from Patricia Baker, a ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ podcast, and my own thoughts in a Parallel Series Idea review of the third books in Rowling’s two series. See you there!

Patricia Baker: Trish is simply the best at PSI, bar none. If you doubt that, check out her notes for Chamber of Secrets and Silkworm or listen to me on an old MNet podcast (~51:00) read her list of correspondences between the second books in each series. I wrote to her for her thoughts on the resonance of Career of Evil and Prisoner of Azkaban. She graciously responded with these observations:

Briefly (It’s been a long time since I read Career)  l think the pedophile [character named Brockbank corresponds with] Lupin because he had a characteristic that made people wary of him.

The eventual culprit – Donny Laing – was like Peter Pettigrew. He “hid out” with his wife even though he despised her and was eventually found out because of discrepancy in a photo like Wormtail was by Black when in Azkaban.

One of the other suspects is Strike’s “step-father” Whittaker, who is something of a “father” presence in Strike’s life even though that influence was negative, so I think he is a match with James Potter. …

Robin replays the Lakeside scene of Prisoner’s finale where Harry is attacked by a Dementor and the Harry he sees across the water because of the time turner fights him off. The killer in Career attacks Robin and tries to overcome her but she draws on the strength she learned after overcoming her attack in college and fights him off.

Strike enters Laing’s apartment which was an echo of the three friends going into the Shrieking Shack. It seems that often where the three friends go underground in the Harry Potter novels , JK has them go up high in the Strike novels. For example, Strike lives at the top of the stairs in his office, Harry lives beneath them. The killer lives on an upper floor in the Strike novels but the three friends encounter Wormtail underground in the Harry Potter books. I see that pattern in the other Strike novels too.

2014 Podcast Notes and Current Reflections: I sat down with Louise Freeman, Karen Kabarle, and Katy McDaniel before the publication of Lethal White to talk about the relevance of Harry Potter in pursuing a grasp of the artistry and meaning of Rowling-Galbraith’s detective fiction. We talked about PSI after fifty minutes of compare-and-contrast in the series. The seven notes below reflect the conversation there and my current reflections.

(1) “A Notorious Escaped Criminal Stalks the Protagonist”

The story-line of Prisoner is pretty much, as Louise Freeman put it, “there’s an escape convict out there trying to kill Harry.” Career? “There’s a killer out there trying to kill Robin.” The Hogwarts faculty and Ministry of Magic do everything they can to protect him, but, doggone it, he does what he wants and winds up in a face to face confrontation with Sirius Black. Strike and the Metropolitan Police do all they can to convince Robin to stay out of harm’s way, but, sure enough, more than once she wound up in harms way, with near fatal results.

(2) The Great Departure or ‘Thumb on the Hand’

In 2001, a friend who followed writer-wanna-be conversation ‘bulletin boards’ on the internet told me there was something like a consensus after the publication of Prisoner of Azkaban that Rowling had folded under the pressure of the success of her first two outings — and outsourced the plotting and writing of her third book in the series. Their logic? Prisoner was just that different from Stone and Chamber, that much more complex, engaging, and mature in tone and delivery. They just could not believe a writer could make the soprt of quiantum leap that Rowling had in such a short time.

Career is that different from the first two Strike novels, certainly, and from the next two as well. If the five books we have are fingers on your hand, Career is the thumb. Unlike Prisoner, it’s not that Career is so much more involved and challenging; quite the opposite. Cuckoo and Silkworm, especially Strike2, compare favorably with anything P. D. James wrote for intensity, intertextuality, and metafiction, not to mention psychology. Career is, in contrast, a second edition of Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue, with all its violence, rock and roll references, and noir touches. There’s a reason that Career is the book even Strike fans do not like to revisit, namely, Rowling having lost her struggle not to cross the line into “violence porn.”

(3) Loss of Home Due to Inciting Incident

The inciting incident that gets the plot ball rolling in Prisoner is Harry’s loss of control at the dinner table with Aunt Marge, both Margaret Thatcher and Jo’s frightening relative in Little Women. He blows her up like the self-inflated person she is, shades of Dudders’ tail in Stone, and has to leave Privet Drive post haste. The Knight Bus appears out of nowhere and we’re off on Harry’s strangest adventure to that point.

The delivery of a human leg to Strike’s office in a package addressed to Robin starts the show in Career and, sure enough, Strike has to abandon his home above the office for quite some time at Nick and Ilsa’s home. The reporters of Fleet Street are not quite Dementors but Strike does all he can to avoid them.

(4) Appearance of Long Imprisoned Criminal as Old Friend

Brockbank was alluded to in Cuckoo’s Calling, I think, a la Black in Stone but it is Shanker, whom Strike calls in Cuckoo but does not name, who plays Sirius’ part in Career. Strike’s step-brother of sorts, his psychological shadow, terrifies Robin one day by appearing unannounced in the Agency office when Cormoran was out. His name is a reference to his facility with an ad hoc knife fashioned by prisoners and Black in Prisoner tears up Ron’s bed with a blade in murderous pursuit of Wormtail. Just as Black, when revealed by Harry to be his god-father in Prisoner, becomes almost instantly his best mate cross generations, so Robin, once she is over her PTSD on facing him alone in Career, turns to him for help in her secret plan to rescue Alysa’s children from Noel Brockbank. The finish of Strike3, in which Shanker helps Strike subdue Laing, get a car, and drive to Massham for the wedding, is also reminiscent of Harry and Sirius’ adventures and Near Death Experiences at the end of Prisoner.

(5) Over Arching Mystery Data Dump and Dimension Expansion

The biggest point of correspondence in the two books besides the parallel story lines of point #1 is the ‘information drops’ about the larger story-line we get in both of the ‘Book Threes.’ In Prisoner, the Terrible Trio overhear the Minister of Magic telling an audience of adults the story of Black’s betrayal of the Potters and his murder of poor Peter Pettigrew in front of many witnesses. That big reveal, of course, is both corrected and supplemented by the principals themselves in the Shrieking Shack confrontation of Pettigrew/Wormtaul/Scabbers by his old mates Moony and Padfoot. Readers are thrust into the over-arching story of Harry’s point of origin in Voldemort’s killing of his parents and failed attempt to murder him.

Career, likewise, features Strike reflecting as if in a Pensieve on his mother’s death. He tours the neighborhood and stops at the building where she died while recalling their nightmare existence with Jeff Whittaker, her second husband. Whittaker himself appears to Strike ex machina out of the back of a van and to undercover Robin when she was speaking with his de facto sex-slave. The mystery of Leda Strike’s supposed suicide for extended periods threatens to whelm the novel-in-hand’s puzzle for the reader’s attention.

These data dumps expand the story-scale by adding real depth to the over-arching mystery-dimension of the series. Rowling had denied up to Career that she was writing a seven book series, even that she was writing a series as such. After Strike3, she had to give up that latter posture as a ridiculous sham, which she did with a wave of her hand. I wonder if we can expect the same treatment of her “more than seven book” pledges if Strike and Robin die in Strike7 the way Castor and Pollux do at the end of their myth…

(6) Long Knife

Sirius Black slashes his way past the Fat Lady painting at the entrance to the Gryffindor Common Room, threatens Ron Weasley with his blade, and then cuts up the boy’s pillow, sheets, and bed hangings in search of Scabbers. Why he doesn’t just steal one of the boys’ wands and give it a good, “Accio, Wormtail!” we’ll never know. Black’s murderous madness takes a significant part of its intensity from his use of a long knife.

Shanker as noted is good with a blade; he whips it out in his attempt to subdue Brockbank when Robin calls for his help (the rugby player just runs right over the smaller man to make his escape). The real sadist with a blade, though, in Career is of course Donny Laing, who literally butchers his victims and even tortured his first wife with a knife so brutally that she is unable to have children. Unlike Black, Laing is a convicted criminal who spent a long period in jail for mad-house behaviors he really did commit, in mirror-image reversal of the Prisoner plot. This inversion, as Louise Freeman pointed out, is the inside-out parallel correspondence that works as well as a point-to-point match.

(7) Real Bad Guy Escapes

I’ll close this list of seven with another Freeman point from the 2014 podcast. In Prisoner, Harry and Hermione on their time-turner rescue mission to set Sirius free from the tower using Buckbeak, they have to choose not to pursue Wormtail as he escapes when Lupin goes lupine. They understand intuitively that without Pettigrew there will be no way to prove Black’s innocence. They do the right thing and accomplish their derring-do mission on the Hippogriff’s back. “Truly, Harry, you are your father’s son.”

Robin, in something of a fun-house mirror reflective parallel, goes to Brockbank’s house to tell Alysa that her lover is a pedophile and a real danger to her daughters. She has no plan or chance to capture Brockbank, except for Shanker’s intervention with a knife, it seems unlikely she would have escaped the apartment without a serious beat-down. As it is, Brockbank scampers a la Wormtail, the children are saved Taxi Driver style, and Robin earns her boss’ enmity the way Harry’s rescue of Black sends Snape around the twist.

Please add the parallels you picked up on your re-reads of Prisoner and Career — and hats off to you for re-reading Career, the outlier novel of the series thus far! Feel free, too, to share your thoughts on the Parallel Series Idea now that we’re all caught up with the book-by-book looks. I am working on an essay that will explain why Rowling has done this playful bit of parallelism and I am confident it will blow your mind. More on that in the coming weeks!


  1. Nice Information !!!

  2. Louise Freeman says

    Another similarity: Hagrid, preparing to depart for London for Buckbeak’s hearing, has a heart-to-heart with Harry and Ron about their estrangement from Hermione and urges them to make up with her. Linda, preparing to leave London to return to Masham, has a heart-to-heart with Robin about her estrangement from Matthew and urges her to make up her mind, one way or the other, about their marriage.

    Both reconciliations happen shortly thereafter and are prompted by tears. Ron and Harry make up with Hermione when she is crying over Buckbeak’s death sentence and after reading Hagrid’s tear-stained letter. Robin takes Matthew back after he cries over the royal wedding.

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