When we first meet Robin in The Cuckoo’s Calling, Matthew John Cunliffe is her fiancé1 and is described, in Cormoran’s words, as a “tit”,2 “tosser”3 and a “wanker”.4 He is very conventionally handsome, with a square jaw and a tall, athletic physique.5
Matthew and Robin met at and have been dating ever since secondary school. They both grew up in Masham, the Yorkshire town where both their parents continue to live.6 He attended University of Bath7 and played rugby.8 Now an accountant9 living in the capital city, Matthew is desperate to leave behind his identity as a Yorkshireman and appear as though he is first and foremost a Londoner. This desire was engrained in him from a young age: His father is from Yorkshire and his mother from Surrey, and she ensured that Matthew and his sister, Kimberley, grew up to speak with a neutral accent — and a bit of disdain for their northern homeland.10
Matthew’s friends include a group of rugby players, Sarah Shadlock and Tom Turvey, the former two he knows from university.
It’s mentioned in the first novel that Matthew has a newborn niece (whose name he often has trouble remembering).11
In The Cuckoo’s Calling
Matthew and Robin’s relationship is characterized by quite a bit of quarreling that intensifies as the series continues. In The Cuckoo’s Calling, within the first week of Robin working for Strike, Matthew had already started to complain about her job.12
In The Silkworm
By The Silkworm, he’s complaining that the job has changed her, made her more independent and less willing to capitulate first during their arguments.13
Cormoran Strike first meets Matthew in The Silkworm when they have dinner at a pub called The Kings Arms.14 The dinner doesn’t go great. Strike turns up late dressed in scruffs after an undercover job; Matthew only wants to talk about himself, and the conversation runs more smoothly when he does; and Strike goes to make a phone call half way through, and to have a cigarette, which he smokes down to the butt to delay returning to the table.
In Career of Evil
Career of Evil brings more difficulties for Robin and Matthew when their relationship becomes even more unpleasant. Arguing more frequently, a jealous Matthew accuses her of paying her boss too much attention. “You can’t stop bloody talking about him, can you?”15
Matthew is also very unhappy that Robin continues to work with Strike, especially since the Shacklewell Ripper has made it known he has Robin in his sight.16
Things go from bad to worse when a very distraught (and drunk) Robin confides to Strike that her engagement to Matthew ended after she found out he had been unfaithful while still at uni with Sarah Shadlock.17 Ultimately, Matthew is able to make it up to Robin and the two are married at the end of the book.18
In Lethal White
Matthew and Robin’s wedding reception is held at Swinton Park. Lethal White opens with them having wedding photos taken by the lake.
The couple end up arguing in the bridal suite, and Robin walks out half way through the first dance (song: ‘Wherever You Will Go by The Calling) to go and catch up with Strike who has just walked out.
Robin and Matthew’s marriage isn’t doing well in Lethal White. Matthew still dislikes his wife working with Strike, and Robin says he “leaves big sulky silences and challenges me on the smallest things.”19
Eventually, Robin discovers that Matthew has resumed his affair with Sarah and she leaves him for good, telling him that she realized she hasn’t loved him for a long time.
“You stayed because I was safe? Fuck off. You loved me.”
“I thought I did,” said Robin, “but not anymore. Get out of the way. I’m leaving.”20
In Troubled Blood
In a surprise to no one, Matthew continues to make life difficult for Robin in Troubled Blood by dragging out their divorce and refusing to be reasonable. He blames Robin for the end of their marriage and is determined to make her pay emotionally and financially.21
“She’d spent nearly half her life with Matthew, and not until a hard, bright diamond ear stud had appeared in their bed had she realized that he was living a life apart, and was not, and perhaps never had been, the man she thought she knew.”22
When they finally meet at mediation, Robin realizes that Matthew and Sarah are not only going to be married but are also having a baby. Robin seems to choose to let go of some of the anger and resentment, telling him that she’ll never forget how he was there for her after her attack.
“For a fraction of a second, his face worked slightly, like a small boy’s. Then he walked back to her, bent down, and before she knew what was happening, he’d hugged her quickly, then let go as though she was red hot.
‘G’luck, Robs,’ he said thickly, and walked away for good.”23
In The Ink Black Heart
We are spared an appearance from Matthew in The Ink Black Heart. Robin thinks and talks about their defunct marriage, but the only new information we find out about his life since his divorce is that he and Sarah are now married. The new Mr and Mrs Cunliffe take their baby son, William, to Masham for Christmas, and when Robin hears about this from her cousin Katie, she’s glad she worked over Christmas rather than visited her family.24
In the TV adaptation, Matthew Cunliffe is portrayed by actor Kerr Logan.
1: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 1 Chapter 1
2: Lethal White, Chapter 7
3: The Silkworm, Chapter 10
4: Career of Evil, Chapter 27
5, 6: The Silkworm, Chapter 10
7: Career of Evil, Chapter 20
8: The Silkworm, Chapter 10
9: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 2 Chapter 1
10: Career of Evil, Chapter 26
11: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 4 Chapter 11
12: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 2 Chapter 3
13: The Silkworm, Chapter 18
14: The Silkworm, Chapter 10
15: Career of Evil, Chapter 2
16: Career of Evil, Chapter 4
17: Career of Evil, Chapter 20
18: Career of Evil, Chapter 62
19: Lethal White, Chapter 3
20: Lethal White, Chapter 55
21: Troubled Blood, Chapter 3
22: Troubled Blood, Chapter 21
23: Troubled Blood, Chapter 55
24: The Ink Black Heart, Chapter 4