Strike Recap: Cormoran, Robin and the Story So Far

With Strike: Lethal White arriving this weekend on BBC One, here’s a spoiler-filled refresher on what happened in The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm and Career of Evil

Strike Robin and Cormoran Denmark Street
Photo: BBC Pictures

Warning: contains major spoilers for The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm and Career of Evil

To a childhood friend, he’s Bunsen. To his sister, he’s Stick. To the colleague whose life he saved, he’s Bob, and to his ex-fiancee, he’s Bluey. In the US, they know him as C.B. Strike, but in the UK, he’s Cormoran Strike, a Cornish PI operating out of Soho’s Denmark Street. He’s the star of four – soon to be five – detective novels by Robert Galbraith (an alias of J.K. Rowling), and he’ll soon be back on BBC One starring in his fourth miniseries Strike: Lethal White.

As it’s been two years since we last saw Cormoran and his agency partner Robin Ellacott in the Strike: Career of Evil finale, here’s a refresher on everything you need to remember from last time around.

How did Strike and Robin meet?

By chance. Robin was assigned to Strike’s Denmark Street office for a week of agency temping as his assistant, but soon found a taste and a talent for the work of a private investigator. In the first series, she successfully interviewed for a much higher-paying HR job in a bland city firm, but chose not to take them up on their offer, finding more satisfaction in Strike’s world, despite the disapproval of her accountant fiancé Matthew. 

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How did Strike become a private investigator?

After his mother’s death, he dropped out of Oxford university, where he started dating his former fiancée Charlotte Chapman, and joined the army. After losing his lower leg in an explosion in Afghanistan, he transferred to SIB (Special Investigation Branch) and worked as a military police officer, before using those skills to set up his Soho detective agency. 

Why did Robin drop out of university?

Mid-way through a degree in psychology, Robin was the victim of an assault on campus by a serial perpetrator wearing a gorilla mask. She gave evidence that led to his conviction for rape and attempted murder, and the trauma led to her dropping out of university and moving back home with her parents. 

What happened between Strike and Charlotte?

Only fragments are known in the TV series. Before the series began, Cormoran was engaged to socialite Charlotte Chapman (Natasha O’Keeffe). When he first met Robin, he was mid-argument with Charlotte, who stormed out of his office promising that, like always, he would come crawling back to her. Cormoran moved out of their place and started sleeping in his Denmark Street office, where Charlotte sent his possessions in a box marked ‘Arsehole’. 

In flashbacks, we learn that Charlotte was pregnant at one point, and that Cormoran doubted he was the father. She self-harmed, possibly a suicide attempt, and he comforted her. Later, she announced her engagement to fellow socialite Jago Ross, and posted Cormoran her wedding photos. 

Who are Cormoran Strike’s parents?

Rock star Jonny Rokeby, whom we’ve never met in the series, and model/ ‘groupie’ Leda Strike. Rokeby is a famed womaniser who fathered several children and is largely absent in their lives (‘As far as Johnny Rokeby was concerned, I was just a shuddering of loins’), giving Cormoran multiple half-siblings. Leda was a supermodel who died of a heroin overdose that Strike has always suspected was administered deliberately by her second husband, musician Jeff Whittaker (Matt King). 

How many brothers and sisters does Cormoran have?

There are seven in total in the books, but we’ve only met two on screen – Lucy on his mother’s side and Al on his father’s, but the ‘Rokeby diaspora’ as Al wryly describes them, are scattered all over. 

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How did Strike lose his leg?

Serving in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. His convoy drove into an ambush in which an IED explosion killed several of his colleagues and lost Strike the lower half of one leg. He wears a prosthetic, but the injury means he’s unable to drive and generally less able to pursue suspects on foot than Robin. 

Did Robin marry Matthew?

Yes. In the final moments of Career of Evil, Robin said ‘I do’ to her long-time boyfriend Matthew, despite having learned that he’d cheated on her with a colleague – Sarah – years earlier when she was suffering from the aftermath of her university attack. After firing Robin for endangering the case by pursuing a lead solo, Strike raced to her Yorkshire wedding and made it just before the couple exchanged vows. Seeing Strike at the back of the church, Robin smiled and married Matthew.

Who murdered Lula Landry in The Cuckoo’s Calling?

Her adoptive brother Johnny Bristow (Leo Bill). Johnny hired Strike to investigate Lula’s apparent suicide in an attempt to frame Lula’s biological half-brother Jonah, whom she’d recently tracked down and to whom she’d planned to leave all her money. Johnny pushed Lula to her death and then tried to have Jonah arrested for the murder to make him ineligible to inherit, making Lula’s share of the family estate after their mother’s death come to Johnny. He also murdered Lula’s friend Rochelle, who was blackmailing him over the secret of Lula’s changed will, and as a child, Johnny also killed another of his adopted siblings – a childhood friend of Strike’s named Charlie – by pushing him into a quarry. 

Who killed novelist Owen Quine in The Silkworm?

His agent Liz Tassel (Lia Williams). Decades earlier, Liz was in love with fellow writer Andrew Fancourt (Peter Sullivan) and wrote a hurtful parody, which was published anonymously, of his wife’s novel. She spread rumours that Fancourt had written the parody himself, and his wife killed herself over it. Liz’s client Owen learned that she was behind the parody, and blackmailed her about it for years, forcing her to keep him on as a client over the much more successful and celebrated Andrew Fancourt. When Owen submitted a manuscript to Liz that was intended to spill the dirty secrets of the publishing world under a fantasy allegory (including her humiliating attempt to seduce Fancourt), she edited the manuscript to keep her secrets and sent it out to everybody it was based on. She told Owen to stage a public fight with her about it, then hide out in an old house to generate publicity for the sale of the book. In hiding, she murdered him in the same manner that the hero dies in his manuscript, stopping the blackmail once and for all.

Who killed teenager Kelsey Platt in Career of Evil?

Donald Laing (Neil Maskell), who bore a deadly grudge against Strike after he put him away years ago for the murder of his wifeAfter serving his sentence, Laing stole from and killed a neighbour, then stole the identity of Ray Williams, an ex-firefighter who’d emigrated, and ingratiated himself into the family of teenager Kelsey Platt, who harboured a crush on Cormoran Strike. To get revenge on Strike, Laing lured Kelsey to a London location where he killed and dismembered her, posing as a new client to make Strike visit the same location and frame him for the murder. Laing posted one of Kelsey’s legs to Robin at Strike’s office, along with lyrics from Strike’s mother’s favourite song by Blue Oyster Cult, in order to goad him. Strike realised that Ray Williams and Donald Laing – who pretended to suffer from debilitating arthritis, and was therefore ruled out as a suspect in Kelsey’s murder – were one and the same, under a wig, false beard and coloured contact lenses. 

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What else have Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger been in?

Tom Burke has appeared in a long list of television series and films over the past twenty years, with key TV roles in The Musketeers, War & Peace, Utopia, The Hour and recently, Responsible Child. Film-wise, he won acclaim for the part of Anthony in Joanna Hogg’s 2019 film The Souvenir and appeared opposite Ryan Gosling in Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2013 film Only God Forgives.

Holliday Grainger has been acting since the age of six, and appeared in a range of children’s television as a child. Her film career has included period roles in Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Anna Karenina and Cinderella, as well as modern parts in The Riot Club and Bel Ami. TV-wise, she’s recently appeared in BBC thriller The Capture and Sky hit Patrick Melrose after making a name in The Borgias.

When is the next Strike book coming out?

It’s called Troubled Blood and is published by Sphere on the 15th of September 2020. Here’s the official synopsis (which contains a spoiler for Lethal White so beware):

Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough – who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974.

Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one forty years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on; adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. And Robin herself is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike.

As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . .

Strike: Lethal White starts on BBC One on Sunday the 30th of August at 9pm.