Troubled Blood: A Room at the Ritz?

Was the ending of Troubled Blood — Strike’s three birthday presents for Robin’s 30th — Rowling-Galbraith’s message in coded language that the hitherto Platonic friendship was about to become sexual as well?

Did champagne lead to a room upstairs at the Ritz for the birthday celebration both really want?

I think so. The clue is in this video comment by Rowling-Galbraith’ on ‘Partnerships.’

Join me after the jump for the clue and my jump from that small ledge to a bedroom at the Ritz.

The latest newsletter had four news pieces that have since appeared on the website. All were about relationships. As the newsletter reported, “Relationships are front and centre across the Strike novels, whether it’s fragile marriages, or loving couples, working relationships, or the sometimes tangled web of family dynamics.” The most significant of the news items was the ‘Partnerships’ video with Rowling-Galbraith above.

In an international conversation of Serious Strikers on Valentine’s Day about these releases, an especially attentive viewer made this observation:

I find these sections of new interview embedded within old interview material very annoying- why don’t they just post the new bits?! 

However… in the new bit, however, there is this reveal?

‘The interesting thing to me about both their previous relationships is that each chose their previous partner in their teens. And its quite revealing who you first gravitate towards when you’re just out of your first family.’

I doubt anyone in this group is in any doubt about whether Robin & Strike are getting together but I do think that ‘previous partner’ is pretty much a slip acknowledging that they will!

This was a great catch in itself, but it led me to wonder, “Have Robin and Cormoran already consummated their friendship sexually?” Not that it matters especially — we’ll know in the first pages of Strike6 if they have — but I think there are significant clues in Troubled Blood that the two are now partners “in business and the other” to paraphrase Amanda Laws’ first question to them in her forgettable interview.

Troubled Blood ends with Robin and Cormoran heading to the Ritz hotel together to celebrate her 30th birthday.

As discussed previously, this ‘Champagne at the Ritz’ gift of Strike is reminiscent of three things and culmination of another.

  • The finale birthday celebration completes the ring to the first chapter in which Dave Polworth heads home for a birthday “blowie” which is “the whole point” of marriage according to his oldest mate’s interpretation of marriage via Tolstoy, an allusion Strike repeats non-verbally as the couple head out for their hotel celebration;
  • It is, in the champagne, an echo of Robin and Cormoran’s first champagne brunch at the race course in Lethal White, in which Strike celebrates with Robin her decision to leave Matt at last and forever;
  • It is, in putting on the Ritz, specifically an echo as well of their conversation as they escape the American Bar interview with Oakden/Hermes. Robin asks in the cab sarcastically to be taken to the Ritz;
  • The whiskey and curry infused consequent drinking and talking event on Denmark Street has each lay bare their feelings to the other (“best mates”), speak about sex in the coded language of ‘having children,’ and found each thinking about the bed upstairs and sex with the other, thoughts only prevented from fruition by Barclay’s appearance.

That’s all very suggestive echoing, especially the Ring Latch with Polworth’s interpretation of Tolstoy as a marker. It’s hard not to read that passage from Anna Karenina as a borderline Machiavellian prescription for men of ambition: “Nail down a woman of quality, end the ‘Dance of Romance’ with all is claims on purse and attention, so you can get on with the business of your life.”

All of Troubled Blood’s Robin-ruminating-scenes turn ultimately on her concerns about whether she, in realizing her vocation as a detective, has forsaken the possibility of marriage and children, not to mention her love for her business partner. See especially the Old Library pub moment in Laemington Spa. Cormoran’s inner dragon that awakes after being splashed with the better part of a fifth of good whiskey has him reconsidering his previous commitments to no children and no wife.

Then the birthday arrives. With the three seemingly unrelated presents in no special order.

Consider, though, this possibility, the gifts are in a significant, meaningful sequence and are markers of the stages of a relationship between man and woman — courtship, engagement, and marriage.

The Donkey Balloon gift itself as a stand alone is great and, as noted in my previous post on Strike’s gifts in Troubled Blood, it is given and received as a marker that it is a replacement for Matt’s elephant stuffed animal. Robin throws a Tarot Card spread that screams, “Go for it, girlfriend!” I read this gift, as Strike suggested in Skegness when he first looked for a donkey stuffed animal, as the dating stage of their relationship.

Strike’s buying her perfume and her asking him to choose the one he prefers takes the stakes up significantly. Cormoran explains to her that he didn’t buy her perfume at Christmas because all the scents had names like ‘Shaggable You,’ i.e., “I wasn’t willing then to ‘go there’ but I am eager to now — but it’s your choice.” Robin laughs robustly at this joke that is not a joke and goes shopping.

She finds two perfumes that she likes and brings them to her partner for him to choose his favorite because he will have to live with it. They agree on a scent — Narciso — of “warm, musky skin with a hint of bruised flowers” (926). I read this as an accepted proposal and engagement of marriage, something akin to an exchange of rings. The name of the perfume is reminiscent of the myth of Narcissus who falls in love with his own reflection; I read that positively as their recognition of the masculine-feminine complementary and opposite nature of their wounds, needs, and love for the other.

It is not a very subtle coded language of their agreeing they can be romantic partners as well as business partners. Strike’s third gift, champagne at the Ritz, inspires Robin to kiss Strike and give him a hug, the first since her departure from the hospital in Lethal White after Jack’s surgery. The hug at her wedding is recalled three times in Troubled Blood with both Cormoran and Robin remembering it as the moment each knew they were in love.

As my correspondent pointed out, Rowling-Galbraith’s comment in the ‘Partnerships’ video via the word “previous,” a word that suggests that they are both now “currently” in romantic partnership with each other, may be only confirmation of what the Strike/Ellacott meeting in the hotel for drinks on Robin’s birthday actually meant: the real birthday gift he gave her was what they both wanted.

The Donkey-Balloon was the first date, the perfume was a proposal offered and accepted, and champagne at the Ritz was a marriage ritual and the first day of their honeymoon.

As always, I covet your comment and correction.


  1. Based on Robin’s tarot cards and Strike’s aftershave in the last chapter I’m leaning towards a time of healing and peace. Even though he’s a heavy smoker, this is the only time I remember him being described as smelling of smoke which has been proposed as being the lasting presence of his mother. It’s a good sign it is mixed with the scent of lavender which is believed to have healing properties and signifies calmness and serenity.

    The barriers are definitely down, but I think Strike wants progression of the relationship to be measured and deliberate. They had a chance for a drunken romp; I don’t think they will head down the road Dave Polworth would take. In TB, Strike realizes his relationship with Robin is different, that it is worth enough to him to work for it. For him that is quite a burden, but one he is now willing to shoulder.

    You describe the time in Skegness as a first date, but I put a deeper significance on the conversations that took place there between Strike and Robin. I may have read way too much into them, but I believe they are key to changes in their relationship and how it will progress.

    I view the donkey passages as Strike’s recognition that Robin’s upbringing, which was so different from his own, is no longer perceived as a barrier between them. He and Charlotte were in the same club, or group, because they both had messed up childhoods. But from the very beginning he placed Robin in a group I shall name “other” or perhaps “normal.” I think that’s one point of the conversations on Scottish independence and social identity theory. People are put into groups and barriers are raised. In Chapter 7 Robin explained social identity theory as “we tend to sort each other and ourselves into groupings, and that usually leads to an overestimation of similarities between members of a group, and an underestimation of the similarities between insiders and outsiders.” This applies to Strike’s error in putting all nurses into the same category of good, helpful people, but also applies to Strike and his attitude towards Robin. He had put her into a different category from himself and this acted as a barrier between them.

    So back to the donkeys. When they’re in Skegness she’s looking back at an innocence that now gave “her more pain than pleasure.” And Strike senses it because he asks if she’s alright. When he thinks about getting her a stuffed donkey there are none to be found, only unicorns. I think this is making a statement that they can’t go back and recapture lost innocence. And that the world tries to sell people unicorns, but they aren’t appropriate for the two of them because he and Robin know that a perfect unicorn world doesn’t exist. They’ve experienced too much. When they’re leaving Skegness he comments there are no donkeys and Robin responds (kindly) that he would be too big. He can never have what she had, but I think the donkey balloon is a way of saying it’s okay that she did. He no longer sees their disparate childhoods as a barrier. Or perhaps it’s because he has opened up himself to this Cornish self and that has shifted how he sees himself.

    He seems to be managing his own expectations, thinking about change but not getting carried away by dreams of perfection. Unicorns were also invoked when discussing Scottish independence. He said he thought people who want change can have unrealistic expectations, rainbows and unicorns he called them. And that is also when he talked about people looking for simple solutions when they want change. I think he’s looking for a lasting relationship with Robin and I’m not sure a dash to a room at the Ritz will accomplish that. That would be more on the order of clicking on “one weird trick to lose belly fat.”

  2. Beatrice Groves says

    Rowling is a master of the slow release – in Harry Potter this was about creating new ways in each book to sidestep the inevitable Harry v. Voldemort duel which ends in one of them dying. This is where we all knew it was going – and yet each book managed not to end with the final, fatal battle until the last one. In Strike the parallel to this inevitable moment of coming together is not a duel, but a sexual relationship. The hug at the wedding in Strike Book 4 is a parallel to the Priori Incantatem duel in Book 4 of HP – the shadow version at the series centre of the place we know the series must end. Just as Harry can’t kill Voldemort until Book 7, so likewise Strike and Robin won’t be sleeping together until Book 7 either.

    That’s what I think, anyhow!

  3. Louise Freeman says

    I agree with Beatrice. I think the entire birthday event— balloon, perfume and champagne is a “first date” type of event, but in a safe type of environment: if things progress, it makes a great “first date”— if not, it can be chalked up as a combo “something nice for your birthday” and way of making up for punching her in the face.

    Also, I think fans would be outraged if the first coupling took place off-screen*, so unless she is going to do what she did in LW and pick up exactly where she left off, I think that will have to wait for a different time. If the next book begins “Robin Ellacott had been dating Cormoran Strike for almost a year, ever since a glass of champagne at the Ritz for her thirtieth had unexpectedly turned into a night of passion in Room 134,” a lot of readers will feel cheated.

    *I’m still annoyed we did not get a direct description of Hermione destroying the Horcrux.

  4. In fairness, significant couplings in Harry Potter were all treated directly, so I don’t think there will be any cheating in Strike. My personal prediction is them falling into bed at a time of particular drunkenness/happiness/excitement (maybe a turning point in an upcoming case?), followed by some awkwardness and an in depth conversation leading to Relationship.

    I would be less keen (although it’s possible) on them hooking up at a time of unsettlement or unhappiness, for example following a key discovery regarding Strike’s past, or identity, or a close family member being identified as Leda’s murderer. Such hooking up would be a presage of bad things to come in the relationship, but it all depends on what JKR is planning, so we’ll see.

  5. Strike is also described as smelling of smoke in Career of Evil when he and Robin are in Barrow, in the Land Rover…

  6. Karol Jay says

    Thanks. Probably a coincidence it was a first road trip and now a first date? Considering how much he smokes I’m surprised it hasn’t been mentioned more often, but they tend to keep their distance from each other.

  7. Narcissus falling in love with his reflecrion is also quite suiting as JK Rowling says in an interview that Robin mirrors Strike…

  8. The Augean have now been cleaned out and they can begin a relationship……..

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