Sunday, May 28, 2023

Starting The Silkworm: Strike/Ellacott Read-along Book 2 (Part 1 of 4)


We are starting today with a review of The Silkworm.  At the time this it was published, John Granger called it the best book Rowling had ever written. I'm curious how many of you agreed. 

I'm going to start with the opening scene and some questions about the character we meet there: Dominic Culpepper. He is interesting to me for an number of reasons. First, he seems a bit too chummy with Strike to be just another client, even for a repeat one. Thus, I have always assumed he was an old friend of Strikes, from his pre-detective days. But, unlike Shanker, Anstis, Dave Polworth, Nick Herbert, etc. we've never been told how or when Strike made his acquaintance. 

Second, he appears to be from a wealthy, or at least upper-class family; as the Chiswells showed us, the two are not necessarily synonymous. But he his spoke of as a "public school" boy, and we know his cousin Nina has an "Honorable" title. 

This, at least to an American mind, makes his choice of profession interesting. I am not accustomed to thinking of "tabloid journalist" as being a particularly "upper-class" sort of profession. Certainly in the US, those types of papers have a definite taint of sleaziness, and the fact that News of the World would be forced out of business within a couple of years for illegal phone hacking, a topic Strike raises with Culpepper, suggests they are not entirely respectable. 

So, assuming Culpepper is, indeed, an old friend of Strike's, where might they have become acquainted?  Oxford seems the most likely possibility, but we are also told that Leda had twice enrolled Strike in expensive private schools, only to pull him out after a few terms. We know, of course, that the first time was the prep school where Strike met Charlie Bristow. Could Culpepper be an old friend from the second school?

Moving on: I love the introduction of Leonora Quine and the reversal of the opening of The Cuckoo's Calling. Before, Strike was destitute and almost without work, seeming almost dumbfounded when John Bristow shows up as an actual client. Now, he's doing well enough to ditch a well-paying client and take on a charity case. And I love the "single step" Strike takes towards the guy to run him out of the office when he calls Leonora a stupid woman. We'll see almost identical posturing when Strike runs Saul Morris out of the office in Troubled Blood

Overall, I like the way the book is fairly quick about introducing you to all the suspects, with the interviews with Christian Fisher, Liz Tassel and Kathryn Kent, then followed by the Roper Chard party where we meed everyone else. Re-reading the part about Liz's Doberman once biting Owen, knowing the dog has just eaten and thrown up part of Owen's intestines makes me feel a bit squeamish. A bit of trivia:  The Roper Chard party happened on the night the first Deathly Hallows movie premiered. 

The only significant non-case interlude is drinks with Matthew, where we learn that Strike's judgement og thre guy is right on the money.  Please also note that Robin is freely attaching kisses to texts, making her worry about that later in Troubled Blood a bit far-fetched. 

Meeting Nina Lacelles reminded me how much I liked her at the beginning; she seemed very eager to help Strike and took a big risk by copying the manuscript for him

More to come on Thursday, including poor Marguerite! 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Cuckoo's Calling Read-along: Finale (Part Four of Four)

We're almost through with the book, with only two chapters to wind up the mystery and the epilogue.   A few thoughts that occurred to me on the re-read:

  1. Do you think Strike could have inadvertently killed Bristow if Robin hadn't stopped him?  
  2. This is the first time we see Strike seriously hurt his leg. It is interesting that, even though he is not so injured that he can't wear the prothesis, he does go to the doctor. He seems a lot more resistant to it in later books, particularly in books two and four. Is it only because he had already been to the hospital for the stab wound, and was therefore more amenable to a follow-up. or does he become more resistant to medical help as his career progresses? 
  3. I really love the scene with Strike and Jonah in the pub, and how they connect as fellow soldiers. This is another Book 1-4 echo that could be picked up in Book 7 (or when the series winds up in Book 10:  someone (Joanh, Izzy) coming into a windfall of cash but being atypically unexcited about it. It is even possible that the "someone" is Strike himself, finally accepting his old child support fund from Rokeby. 
  4. As much as I love the Green Dress, I must admit being a bit put off by the extravagance of the gesture. This is a nearly three thousand pound dress; that could well be a month's salary for Robin. I can't imagine what I would ever do with a clothing item that expensive, or why I would want to own such a thing. And I know we are supposed to smile at Strike's poor gift-wrapping ability, but who stuffs a three thousand pound dress into a kit bag?  I have never purchased a clothing item anywhere close to that price, but the most expensive things I've ever bought (wedding dresses, academic regalia, mother of the bride dress) have all come in a garment bag.  A place like Vashti is going to wrap up anything it sells pretty carefully before it leaves the store. Even if it is "reasonably priced" by Vashti standards, at the very least they are going to put it in a nice box or shopping bag with tissue paper.  Strike may not understand women's clothing, but as a military guy he knows what a dress uniform is; he's going to be at least as careful with a dress that expensive. 
  5. Matthew says that it is up to Robin what she does, but we know that her low salary, much more than the dangers of the job, is what will eventually become a point of contention between them. Of course, we now know that Strike could have the financial means to pay Robin more if he would take the Rokeby child support. He wouldn't have to necessarily spend huge chunks of it, but it would be what they both say they want in Lethal White: a healthy enough bank balance to see them through the lean times. Of course, financial security would make the next few books less interesting, but I can't help but wonder what Robin, after her marriage breakdown and her willingness to live in a box room in order to keep working with Strike, thought when she found out that financial safety next was there for the asking. 
  6. Thinking back to the first time I read this book, I can remember really hoping Strike and Robin would be platonic friends, rather than romantic partners at this point.  I hadn't yet given up on Matthew. Had you?  What was the breaking point?
That wraps up The Cuckoo's Calling!  Tune in next week for the first 25 chapters of The Silkworm. I'll cover the first 13 on Monday:  the beginning through the Roper Chard party. 

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Cuckoo's Calling: Guy, Doom Bar, Ciara, Rochelle and the Will. Part Three of Four.

The pacing of the mystery plot of The Cuckoo's Calling picks up quite a bit in Part Four, leaving a scant two chapters for Part Five. Here's a partial list of what the author packs into this section: 

  • The Guy Somè interview
  • Spanner's diagnosis of the computer
  • The second visit to Kentigern Gardens, 
  • The visit with Marlena Higson
  • Charlotte's call to Robin and her delivery of the engagement news
  • Strike's resultant bender and Robin's caretaking
  • Strike's self-cleansing and recovery from the hangover
  • The interviews with Bryony, Ciara, and Duffield
  • The one-night stand with Ciara
  • The reconnection with Robin
  • The call to view Rochelle's body 
  • The visit to Freddie Bestigui
  • Rochelle's funeral
  • The visit to Lady Yvette.  
 I'm going to focus on one element that appears in the beginning, middle and end of this sections: the "fabby" Guy Somè purses. Strike sees the oversized advertisement for the handbags at Guy's studio and he tells her he sent them to her on the day she died. Ciara later tells him about asking to be bequeathed the white one, and about the zip-in linings. Strike finds the bags in Lady Bristow's wardrobe, and his knowledge of the lining helps him find the missing will. 

The theme of "important note, handwritten on distinctive personal stationery, hidden away by a woman in a place few men would think to look" is repeated in Lethal White, with Chiswell's note that Robin finds in Flick's bathroom.  

This is a lead-up to my first official prediction for The Running Grave:  there will be another discovery of a similarly hidden note. I even have three possible candidates:
  1. The note Leda left for Ted and Joan when she abandoned her children with them the first time.  Strike "never knew" what Leda said in the note, but Strike would have been four. It is possible that Leda was in the process of establishing a paternity claim against Jonny Rokeby, using the then-cutting-edge science of HLA antigen testing. Strike was acknowledged as Rokeby's son by age 5, and, contrary to what we were told in early books, DNA tests were not available then.  However, it is possible that Joan saved the note and tucked it away someplace. and Strike will find it when going through her things. Perhaps she hid it someplace like she did the chocolate biscuits.
  2. The note Rokeby sent to Strike when he was hospitalized after the IED explosion. Strike asks Charlotte to throw it away, but what if she didn't? This could well be the "something that he wants" from her mysterious phone message at the beginning of Troubled Blood. After being part of the original message, that element was never brought up again. 
  3. This is, in my opinion, least likely possibility: the never-read note that came with the 50 roses that Robin assumed were from Matthew in Career of Evil. I could see, in theory, that Robin could have stuck it in a desk drawer and forgotten about it. But Pat's been using the desk for over a year now; she'd certainly have found it and said something if there was something unusual in the note. 
The second thing that struck me when re-reading this section is how much we learn of our heroes' personal lives .Of course, Strike spills the beans about the kairos moment during his drunken Charlotte rant, but we also see the first row between Matthew and Robin over her job, as well as Strike's remarkable insights on how much Matthew dislikes Robin working for him. 

Other thoughts and comments welcome!

Strike and Ellacott Pre-The Running Grave Read-a-long: Schedule and Ground Rules.

Fellow Super-Strikers and Eager-Ellacotters: Welcome to the Farting Sofa Faculty Lounge's Pre-TRG Strike and Ellacott Read-along. We wil...