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!
Finished #TheRunningGrave and, as always, I’m blown away by @jk_rowling’s talent! Never have I felt such overwhelming terror and elation all at once. What an amazing, beautiful book! (I feel half tempted to put the heart hands emoji here but I can’t bring myself to do it!)— Lindsay (@LindsayMLand) September 26, 2023
Currently in the obsessively-going-back-to-my favorite-bits stage of the re-read. I won't say the numbers, but there are at least three chapters in this book that instantly became favorites. Of the WHOLE SERIES. What a masterpiece. #TheRunningGrave #RobertGalbraith— oggie and otter (@happyrachy) September 27, 2023