Charlotte Campbell was Cormoran Strike’s long-term girlfriend, on and off for sixteen years (“mostly off”).1 According to Strike, she’s the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.2 She is described as breathtaking, with dark hair, wide green eyes, exquisite facial bone structure and a curvy body. Having Charlotte on his arm made Strike the envy of many men3, which probably was a great ego boost for him and the largest draw for him. He is fascinated by her. He also enjoys her unexpected sense of humour.
Charlotte’s birthday falls on November 21st4, which is just two days before Cormoran’s birthday, on the 23rd. She is the daughter of former 1960s “It Girl” Tula Clermont and academic and broadcaster Anthony Campbell.5 Two of her brothers are named Valentine and Sacha6, and she has a sister, Amelia.7 Her family is aristocratic and troubled. Strike observes that her family is even more dysfunctional than his own — and that’s saying a lot.
Charlotte and Strike first got together at a party during his time at Oxford University when they were nineteen.8 (She was also enrolled at Oxford, studying Catullus.)9 She was sitting at a window by herself when Strike, mustering the courage after seven pints, approached her. She publicly ditched Jago Ross, her boyfriend at the time, and took off with Strike. She later revealed to Strike that she had been waiting there intentionally wanting a man to approach her so she could get her revenge on Jago.10
Strike’s oldest friend, Dave Polworth, describes Charlotte as being “fucked to the core.” 11 She has mythomania — the pathological tendency to lie; her lies are “woven into the fabric of her being, her life.” 12 Their relationship was a tumultuous one, with Charlotte at one point standing on a roof and threatening to jump, and then later calling Strike from a psych hospital and begging him to come get her. Strike reflects on the years with Charlotte as “the torture, the madness and occasional ecstasy.” 13 He escapes the craziness of their relationship by immersing himself in his work.
When Strike left to join the army at age 20, they didn’t see each other for two years. Many years later on, when he left the army with half his leg missing, she visited him in hospital where they had their kairos moment: “The telling moment. The special moment. The supreme moment,” as Strike describes it.14
Three times previously Charlotte had been the one to call a halt to her and Strike’s relationship, but it is Cormoran who finally ends the relationship for good prior to the events in the beginning of The Cuckoo’s Calling.15 It was her constant lying that pushed Strike over the edge. He had walked across London from her flat in Holland Park Avenue16 to his office on Denmark Street through the night in freezing temperatures. She had tracked him down in the morning where she had physically attacked him, leaving him with a cut above his eye from a thrown ashtray and scratches down his face.17
Only a few weeks after their break up, Charlotte gets engaged to Jago Ross. After hearing the news, Strike goes to The Tottenham pub and gets drunk on eleven pints of Doom Bar, before Robin finds him and saves him from fighting the barman.18
In The Silkworm, Charlotte and Jago Ross get married. After the wedding, Charlotte emails Strike photos of herself in her bridal gown, looking “broken, bereft, haunted.” Her email address is Clodia2@live.com.19 Interestingly, Clodia was a historical figure — a patrician’s daughter in ancient Rome who was immortalized in the writings of the poet Catullus. Further, Clodia was constantly embroiled in scandal. An aristocrat’s daughter involved in perpetual scandal who was written about by Strike’s favourite poet? Sounds like perhaps Clodia (or Clodia 2 — Clodia the Second) could be a nickname Strike had for his beloved Charlotte.
Charlotte’s presence continues to make itself known in Lethal White, when we learn that Izzy Chiswell (daughter of Strike’s newest client, Jasper Chiswell) was an old school mate of Charlotte’s. Strike tells Robin that he knew Izzy years back although “only slightly” when he met her a few times during his relationship with Charlotte.20 Izzy describes Charlotte to Robin as “gorgeous but trouble.” 21
Strike’s immersion into the world of the Chiswell’s and the upper class, as well as his current relationship with Lorelei, lead Strike to reflect on memories of Charlotte. Thinking of her “insatiable need for conflict”22 Strike realizes that the memory no longer hurts, comparing himself to an alcoholic who “for the first time, catches a whiff of beer without breaking into a sweat or having to grapple with his desperate craving.”23
To both of their surprises (and to ours) Strike comes face to face with a “heavily pregnant” Charlotte when they are both attending a Paralympian reception. Strike, attending due to the Chiswell case, and Charlotte because her and Jago’s niece is a Paralympian. While unable to get away, Strike reluctantly makes conversation with Charlotte, avoiding anything relating to their history as he had “no desire to touch upon old jokes or shared memories.” Charlotte explains that she’s pregnant with twins and Strike noted that Charlotte did not “as he had seen other women do, touch her belly as she talked about the babies.” Although Robin is also at the reception, she and Charlotte do not meet, but Strike is unsurprised that Charlotte recognizes her from afar and remembers her name. “He had known Charlotte would keep tabs on him.”24 Robin, having seen the former couple together but not privy to their conversation “experienced a nasty sensation in her stomach, akin to the drop of an elevator.” 25
In another unwelcome surprise, Charlotte also appears at Drummond’s Gallery where Strike has just completed an interview with the owner, Henry Drummond.26 Charlotte is seemingly unwell and asks for Strike to help her to the restaurant where she’s supposed to be meeting her sister. Believing that this second meeting was not a coincidence, Strike unwillingly sees her safely to the restaurant where he impatiently waits for her sister and he and Charlotte have a long and heated argument about their relationship and breakup. An argument that finally ends when Charlotte admits to wanting him back and Strike responding, “But I don’t want you.”27
This will not be the last Strike has seen of the beautiful yet unhinged Charlotte Campbell Ross. Strike feels pursued by her “as though Charlotte had projected after him a succubus that would tail him until they met again.”28In Troubled Blood, Strike receives many unwanted phone calls and text messages from Charlotte that become increasingly troublesome as her behavior escalates throughout the novel. Not only does this cause a lot of stress for Strike but, for some reason, Robin is also rather preoccupied with Charlotte — often wondering if Strike returns her phone calls or, more importantly, how he feels about her.
In The Ink Black Heart, Charlotte turns up at the office to introduce more trouble into Strike’s life. She’s there to hire Strike to investigate Jago Ross, who is using him in the divorce settlement case, which Strike needs to get himself out of or it would ruin his reputation and business. On leaving the office, Charlotte tells Robin that she looks like Strike’s girlfriend Madeline, who Robin didn’t know about.
After this visit from Charlotte in The Ink Black Heart, Strike is forced to put the agency on getting any information on Ross which can be used against him. Because of this, the agency is stretched to its limit and Strike has to rehire Stewart Nutley, who he sacked at the beginning of Lethal White.
Charlotte’s subplot in The Ink Black Heart concludes with Strike confronting her and Jago. After gaining evidence against Ross; he uses this to make sure he isn’t mentioned in their divorce settlement.
1: The Silkworm, Chapter 30
2: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 4 Chapter 5
3: The Silkworm, Chapter 23
4: The Silkworm, Chapter 16
5: The Silkworm, Chapter 24
6: Lethal White, Chapter 62
7: Lethal White, Chapter 33
8: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 3 Chapter 7
9: Lethal White, Chapter 52
10: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 3 Chapter 7
11: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 1 Chapter 5
12: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 1 Chapter 7
13: The Silkworm, Chapter 24
14: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 4 Chapter 5
15, 16: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 1 Chapter 5
17: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 1 Chapter 2
18: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 4 Chapter 5
19: The Silkworm, Chapter 42
20: Lethal White, Chapter 8
21: Lethal White, Chapter 13
22, 23: Lethal White, Chapter 9
24: Lethal White, Chapter 33
25: Lethal White, Chapter 34
26: Lethal White, Chapter 49
27, 28: Lethal White, Chapter 50