Our review: The Running Grave

Warning! Minor spoilers for The Running Grave.

The Running Grave may be the longest Strike book yet, but it’s a thrilling and compulsive read. Starting around eight months after the end of The Ink Black Heart, the seventh Strike novel is set in another distinct world, that of a cult. The agency’s client is Sir Colin Edensor whose son, Will, has cut all ties with his family and disappeared into the Universal Humanitarian Church.  He hires Strike and Robin to do what they can to get Will out of the cult.  

Fittingly for a book with epigraphs from the Book of Changes, we can immediately see differences in Strike.  Not only has he finally lost a significant amount of weight and given up smoking, but he also seems determined to be more honest and open with Robin, telling her she ‘always looks great’ and introducing her to his newly-met sister Prudence.  He is also unusually proactive in his relationship with his sister Lucy, visiting her to warn her that details from their childhood may end up in the press, a conversation which results in an uncharacteristic heart-to-heart.  Although these changes are positive, Strike does indeed make some ‘lousy emotional choices’ when it comes to women and relationships, just as J.K. Rowling warned us he might – choices that have consequences for both Strike and the Agency.

Her ongoing relationship with DCI Ryan Murphy notwithstanding, Robin volunteers to infiltrate the cult, and her time spent undercover in Norfolk is gruelling to read about, with a pervading atmosphere of fear and dread.  The description of the methods the cult leaders use to control their members, to brainwash them and instil fear and compliance, is very convincing; it is totally believable that even Robin, who knows what she’s getting into, comes close to being sucked in at times.

As in previous books, the cast of characters is large and diverse. The cult leader Mazu Wace is a particularly vivid and loathsome woman, but she is not the only compelling and deeply sinister person that Rowling has created in this book. We also loved the interview Strike conducted in Cromer with the Heatons, who so jumped off the page that we knew instantly exactly what kind of people they were. Strike’s carefully hidden exasperation with them was a much-needed interlude of comic relief. 

We missed hearing from some of the recurring characters in The Ink Black Heart, so we were glad to see Shanker in The Running Grave, whose contacts once again come in useful for the Agency’s investigation.  Strike’s younger half-brother Switch is mentioned for the first time since Career of Evil – perhaps he’ll be featured in the next book? – and we learn some new and surprising things about Pat, whom we love more and more.

We already feel as though The Running Grave may be our favourite of the series. At times it reads like a thriller: some chapters left our hearts hammering and our mouths hanging open, the suspense so great we had to stop ourselves skimming over paragraphs in our desperation to find out what happens next.  It also has some of the funniest laugh-out-loud one-liners of any of the books so far, not to mention one or two major bombshells that we did not see coming.

The cliffhanger has us yearning for Book 8 more than we would have thought possible.  Jo has been working on it since at least May, so fingers crossed we’ll once again have only around a year to wait.  But in the meantime we’ll be re-reading The Running Grave straight away, and the StrikeFans team will soon be bringing you pictures of the real-life locations from the book, character pages and news of the upcoming filming of The Ink Black Heart as we receive it, so stand by!

One thought on “Our review: The Running Grave

  1. The book is terrific, by far my favorite. I only wish that JKR had an editor who would call out obvious mistakes and implausibilities.

    Women in cults are there for sex and service and this one forbids birth control. What could go wrong? The notion that Robin (or any private investigator) would enter a cult that is known for, or strongly suspected of, mind control, rape, physical/sexual abuse and murder with no more than a pen and paper for weekly contact with the outside world is absurd. Why not a phone in that plastic rock, which—with FaceTime calls—would help her remain oriented to reality and also be part of her emergency escape plan? No phone signal? A simple voice recorder would simplify her weekly reporting and allow Strike to better evaluate her mental state.

    Robin’s avoidance of spirit-bonding over 16 weeks is also unrealistic and her escape from would-be rapists—as when Jonathan Wace molests her—are pure jump-the-shark melodrama. The farm is a baby mill and predators like Jonathan and Taio Wace don’t “wait” for attractive new recruits to come to them.

    That Robin would willingly expose herself to forced pregnancy strains credulity—or speaks to an almost narcissistic belief that risks don’t apply to her or—worse—dangerous levels of low self-esteem. A shot of Depo Provera, or birth control pills secreted in the rock, would have offered some protection if the worst happened. Strike, knowing the extreme risks that the love of his life is recklessly walking into, offers only token cautions and seems more interested in keeping Robin and Ryan apart.

    There are many more now-wait-a-minute moments, but despite them, I was mesmerized and found the book an absolute page-turner.

Comments are closed.