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Cults, crimes and coercive control: The Running Grave

  • 13 October 2023
  ‘You’ll need to be very careful, Robin. Have you ever read Robert Jay Lifton? Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism? Or Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steve Hassan?’ Robin shook her head. ‘I’ll lend you my copies… Being able to identify their techniques will help you to resist them.’ ‘Robin’s smart,’ said Strike. ‘She’s not going to buy whatever they’re selling.’ ‘Being clever’s no protection, not on its own,’ said Prudence. ‘Restricted food, enforced chanting, rigid control over your physical environment, digging into your psyche for the places they can apply most pressure, love-bombing you one minute, tearing you down the next …nobody’s invulnerable to that, clever or not.’ (J.K. Rowling, The Running Grave, 2023)   My family anticipated the release of the new Strike book as eagerly as they did a new Potter two decades ago. J.K. Rowling’s renaissance as a crime writer for adults has been a boon for those who grew up with the Harry Potter series. Indeed, it’s gained its own publishing saga: the dozen or so rejections of the Harry Potter, equivalent to Decca’s rejection of The Beatles can be compared with the kerfuffle when the first Strike book (The Cuckoo’s Calling) was published under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith, that was then betrayed by one of the author’s lawyers. Cuckoo’s Calling had sold a respectable fifteen hundred or so until the revelation, whereupon it sold in truckloads, a trend that has continued. The seventh and latest Galbraith has zoomed to the top of the UK and US lists and is trending healthily here, despite the lack of reviews in outlets other than this one.

The title, as usual for a Galbraith, is significant. It comes from a poem* by the Norfolk poet George Barker, that quotes the phrase ‘running grave’ from another poem by Dylan Thomas. That poem is revealed later as having been plagiarised shamelessly by Jonathan Wace, the smooth sociopathic cult leader whose crimes Strike and Robin must uncover. As an indication of the Chinese-puzzle nature of the plot, the title is resonant and once we know exactly what has been happening – haunting. The story is, as usual for Rowling, one that explores a current societal issue that has its roots in the primeval history of human fallibility. Our propensity for error can lead us to do wicked things from many motives, not all of them wicked in themselves, but we are all manipulable, distortable, vulnerable. Intelligence,