Guest Post: Lethal White and Strike5 — Clues to the Harringay Crime Syndicate, Digger Malley, and Securicor (Swans!)

A guest post from Serious Striker, Joanne Gray!

Did Lethal White’s Epilogue Give Hints To Book 5?

The fourth Strike book, Lethal White, starts from where Career of Evil had literally left the reader standing at the alter a moment after Robin’s wedding day “I do.” This cliffhanger gave a logical starting point for the next book, but it didn’t provide the reader with any hint on what the mystery part of Strike 4’s storyline might be.

Now that we’ve had time to read Lethal White, we know that there is no cliffhanger ending that will bridge book 4 to book 5. So it appears that we have an open field of story line possibilities when it comes to what the main mystery plot will be for the fifth book of the series.

Fortunately we do have one real place to comb for clues since Lethal White ended with an epilogue. I confess I didn’t expect to find much but it seems that there are what can be seen as several signposts planted on the last two pages of the epilogue. It will only be clear if they truly are pointing to the Strike 5 story line when the fifth book is published but until then I give for your consideration three incidences of what I believe are deliberate (albeit subjective) signposts that appear in Lethal White’s epilogue.

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Has Tom Burke Read ‘Lethal White’ Yet?

Maybe he has. Maybe he hasn’t.

When asked about Robert Galbraith’s fourth Cormoran Strike novel two months after its publication last year, Tom Burke said he simply didn’t have the time or mental space to take Lethal White on.

Burke has starred in three series of the TV drama about Cormoran Strike, the former British military policeman injured in Afghanistan who becomes a private investigator in London.

Writing as Robert Galbraith, Rowling published the fourth Strike novel two months ago. It’s called Lethal White but Burke admits he hasn’t read it and has no idea what happens.

“It’s not that I don’t want to,” he says. “But my head has been full of Friedrich Schiller (the playwright of Don Carlos) and we’ve been touring the play with a cast of 13. When you tour you even start to calculate how few pairs of socks you can get away with – so taking a big hardback book would be a problem.”

That was 8 November 2018. His next play was, as we know, Ibsen’s Rosmersholm which opened on 24 April and closed on 20 July this year. Did he take the time to read Lethal White in the three months he had between starring in Schiller’s Don Carlos and taking the lead role in Ibsen’s classic? If not, is he reading it in preparation for filming the BBC adaptation this fall? Or will he, a la Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, just read the script?

I confess to hoping that Burke did not read Lethal White until he had a memorized knowledge of Rosmersholm. That would give him a truly unique perspective on Cormoran’s adventures in White and the intertextual relationship of  the play and the novel because I doubt there are many other serious Strikers who read Rosmersholm closely until every single epigraph in Lethal White came from that play.

If Tom wants the short cut to getting this relationship, of course, he can listen to the Reading, Writing, Rowling podcast about Lethal White which includes a discussion of Rosmersholm or he could read my longish post on the subject, Lethal White: Ibsen’s Rosmersholm.’

More from Burke on Cormoran and Robin:

Filming for Lethal White is pencilled in for late 2019 and Burke looks forward to getting back to playing Strike. “Maybe this is there in many great characters but I think key to him is that deep inside he’s on the run. In some ways he can be a centred, grounded individual but then you realise he’s had an incredibly strange and darkly exotic childhood. All that ‘man’s man’ side to him may be an insulation for some very raw nerve – that’s what stirred my curiosity.”

Viewers may be hoping finally things will stir too between Strike and his former secretary – now business partner – Robin Ellacott, played by Holliday Granger.

Burke has no inside track on what may eventually happen. “I suppose it will have to develop in one direction or the other – but the author is so gifted with the slow burn of relationships without ever losing their intensity. When Holly and I have been filming we’ve found a real nuance there.

“Sometimes when you’re doing TV you’re aware there are voices behind the scenes saying these characters definitely need to share a kiss by the end of episode two. But maybe they never will. As an actor and maybe as a viewer you just want it to play out moment by moment and see where that gets you.”

Those are pretty insightful comments, frankly, about both the character and the author. He may be far too short and handsome for the part, but he certainly has the smarts.

Do you think the actor has read the fourth book yet? Why or why not? Does it matter? Do you think he’s been given some kind of heads up beyond the books in print about Strike’s “strange and darkly exotic childhood”? Let me know what you think in the comment boxes below.


What to Read While Waiting for Strike5: John Fairfax’ Benson and DeVere Novels

I have been reading Agatha Christie novels of late in search of Rowling notes (I found an Arabella yesterday who is a cat owned by a woman with fourteen cats — and a secret…). That is a lot of fun, frankly, perhaps because it is not especially challenging reading if you’re not — and I definitely am not — trying to figure out the inevitable grand twist at the finale before getting there. Christie’s messages and meaning are not very subtle or covert and the prose is workmanlike; her artistry is in the plotting and her power the stunning defamiliarization consequent to her big reveal of what really happened.

I have also been reading the Father Anselm novels of William Brodrick, an Augustinian monk become barrister become novelist. If P. D. James wrote Brother Cadfael mysteries as historical thrillers, you’d have the sort of book Brodrick writes. The language and questions explored are relatively magisterial compared to Christie and Rowling — and the plotting and slow release are comparable to those two, which is to say, “very, very good.” I have read four of the six Anselm novels and am looking forward to reading the fifth, The Discourtesy of Death.

I discovered this morning that Brodrick has written two more novels, Summary Justice and Blind Defense, which I have ordered. I have done so because it occurs to me that these novels have a lot in common with the Cormoran Strike mysteries, enough in common that reading and discussing them here at HogwartsProfessor might be a healthy exercise while we wait for Strike5, a novel I fear may be several years away (Rowling’s retreat from the public sphere since January may be a sign of her getting down to work on her screenplay and novel commitments, or, just as likely, it may mean she is taking time off to work on personal issues rather than writing).

The five points of correspondence?

  • Brodrick had written six novels with a character, Father Anselm, and in a genre-melange largely of his invention. These novels had won him an international audience and all the awards the industry bestows. He adopts a transparent pseudonym, ‘John Fairfax,’ to take up a new character, William Benson, in a different if related genre.
  • Each of the Benson novels are satisfying stand-alone court room dramas told against the back-drop of the lead character’s mysterious personal history, to which story the attentive reader is given clues in each book.
  • While Benson is the star of the show and his mystery is the over-arching mystery, he has an assistant, Tess de Vere, who is a more than capable barrister herself, has her own personal enigmas the reader has to work out, and their relationship is strictly professional with hints that it will become ‘more than that.’
  • Benson is damaged goods, though. He is a lawyer licensed to plea in the Old Bailey, yes, but he is also a convicted murderer who pleaded guilty, did hard time, and is still very much in recovery from that experience. De Vere and Benson, according to the author, are on parallel and separate journeys of redemption that may intersect at times.
  • The man’s name is ‘Benson,’ right? Can you hear Shanker’s nickname for Strike there? ‘Bunsen’?

I’ll allow that the last point is a little weak.

The good news is that, unlike Rowling/Galbraith and Strike5, Brodrick/Fairfax has already announced the third Benson and De Vere novel title and publication date: Forced Confessions will be available on 5 March 2020.

No, this reading and speculation will not be as much fun as ‘talking Strike.’ I’m confident even before reading the first Benson and de Vere novel that it and the next book won’t include a hidden commentary on or a truckload of correspondences with the Father Anselm historical thrillers. I’d bet, too, that Brodrick is not a ring writer, either, whose series take a definite structural and symbolic turn a la Rowling. We won’t be able to make intelligent guesses, consequently, about what Benson’s next case may involve as we can with Strike via Potter and the previous Strike mysteries.

But there is that embedded romance along with the twined redemption stories of two intelligent professionals who may or may not fall in love… in books written by a master story teller. That’s pretty doggone inviting.

So, here’s my challenge. I am going to start discussing the first Benson and De Vere novel, Summary Justice, on 1 October. You have all of September to buy and read the book. I will restrict conversation here to the first book for two weeks; after 14 October I will begin posting on Blind Defence with speculation about Forced Confessions. I hope, of course, that you will join me on this adventure so I am not talking to myself. And you can be sure HogwartsProfessor will continue to be the home of the best discussion of all things Rowling and Galbraith, especially with respect to Strike5.

Let me know in the comment boxes below if you’re ready to sign up for this side trip into Benson and De Vere!

Christie’s ‘Murder at the Vicarage’ Bellatrix Lestrange’s Debut in Fiction?

In the interview Rowling did with Val McDermid, the interviewer asked ‘Robert Galbraith’ what his favorite Agatha Christie novel was. S/he said it was Christie’s The Moving Finger (1942), which I read and wrote about here. McDermid, though, offered up a different title, Murder at the Vicarage (1930), and Galbraith said he thought that was great as well:

V:  It’s hard to pick a favorite of Christie. I cleave to the one that made me fall in love with her and ultimately with the crime genre, The Murder at the Vicarage.

JK: Oh, God, that’s so good.

V:  What I love about The Murder at the Vicarage is the humor.

JK: Yeah, she is. She’s very funny.

V: There’s a wonderful bit right at the beginning when she’s introducing the four spinster women of the parish, and she says, “Miss Harknell, who was much feared by the poor.” You just know exactly what kind of woman this person was…

JK: … instantly…

V: …  And I think Christie is never really given credit for her humor…

JK:  …that’s so right…

V: …I think we pick up on that and we understand that you can use humor inside the crime format.

So I bought a copy of Murder at the Vicarage, read it, and, y’know, it really is very good. And funny. 

More important, I think Rowling really has read it. For the links of it with the works of Rowling and Galbraith, make the jump!

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Christie’s ‘Appointment With Death:’ Reading Beyond the Ginny-Ginevra Find

I’m on something of an Agatha Christie binge this week (see my posted thoughts on the Queen of Mystery’s The Pale Horse [1961] for the ‘why’) and took up Appointment with Death (1938) yesterday to see if there was more to it than the red-haired youngest daughter named Ginevra but called Ginny. I think there are a few reasons for a Rowling/Galbraith reader to pick it up beyond the fun of touching imaginatively the point of origin for Ginny Weasley.

First, there is Hercule Poirot, the detective on the spot in this novel. It is set-up largely as was Murder on the Orient Express (1934) to which several allusions are made; Poirot is on vacation, stumbles upon a murder, is asked by the presiding gendarmes to solve the crime, and is confronted with a host of suspects all of whom have ample motive to do the deed, even to work together to kill the much-despised victim. The twists on the Orient Express model are masterful and worth the price of admission — and suggest lines of reflection for the Cormoran Strike reader who is aware that Galbraith is largely echoing and writing commentary of sorts on Rowling’s Hogwarts Saga in ‘his’ parallel novel numbers.

Then there are the references to Shakespeare’s Hamlet throughout the novel. If you read Christie’s earlier mysteries — and I’ve just finished Murder at the Vicarage (1930), her eleventh novel and first Miss Marple story — you find that they don’t feature the intertextual depth or number of literary allusions that the  so-called ‘mature’ works written after the war do. There are biblical passages quoted at length in Appointment and Shakespeare references playful and subtle, but we’re seeing the transformation of Christie from one kind of writer to another. By no means is this yet a story-about-stories as we get them in Rowling-Galbraith, if the jokes made about detective fiction merit more than a knowing smile from the reader. 

And, last, beyond Ginny-Ginevra and the wicked Mrs Boynton’s resemblance to Dolores Umbridge, both excellent catches made by Dolores Gordon-Smith (she read Appointment because she saw it on Rowling’s bookshelf in a Goblet of Fire publicity shot!), there no great Potter or Strike echoes to be found in this novel. Unless you think the description of a character as having “basilisk’s eyes” in the key scene of confrontation with Mrs Boynton merits a mention; that is, after all, the fantastic beast Harry must defeat to rescue Ginny-not-yet-known-as-Ginevra in Chamber of Secrets

The Pale Horse and Appointment with Death are not great Agatha Christie pieces, alas. Both seem liked hurried pieces to meet publisher deadlines, albeit always with wry observations, a rewarding twist, and an implicit and challenging moral. I recommend them to the serious student of all things Rowling and Galbraith, however, because they are I think undeniably in the author’s famous “compost heap” of everything she has read from which her imaginative works have grown. Please do let me know what you think about Appointment with Death if you’ve read it or decide to read it!