Reading, Writing, Rowling: Lethal White!


The Reading, Writing, Rowling podcast about Robert Galbraith’s Lethal White that I sat in on last month with host Kathy McDaniel and special guests Beatrice Groves and Louise Freeman has been posted on It may not be the best of this program’s podcasts — how does one compare the quality of such things? — but it has my vote. Why?

I’m all but certain that the guests on this show are among the most serious Strike readers on the planet, I know because I was there that the conversation was fast, fun, and challenging, and the host kept us honest and the discussion rolling at a nice clip.  For Cormoran Strike fans, this is essential listening.

Check it out through the link embedded in the image above — and let me know what you think by clicking on ‘Leave a Comment’ up by the post’s headline. One good conversation should jump start another! I look forward to reading your opinions of this gang’s thoughts, predictions, and interpretations.

Science in Cormoran Strike: Narrative misdirection or plain old error? Part 2: Pharmacology.

Strike was familiar with the behavior of heroin addicts; he had met plenty at the last squat his mother had lived in. The drug rendered its slaves passive and docile; the absolute antithesis of shouting, violent alcoholics, or twitchy, paranoid coke-users. Strike had known every kind of substance-abuser, both inside the army and out. The Cuckoo’s Calling, p. 165

The principal lesson that Strike had learned during his two months of home-based education was that cannabis, even if administered spiritually, could render the taker both dull and paranoid.The Cuckoo’s Calling, p. 64

We have known from the beginning that Cormoran Strike is familiar with substance abuse, having lived it with Leda and policed it in the SIB. Thus, it is not too surprising he immediately recognizes Lady Bristow as addicted to sleeping pills (specifically, Valium) when he visits her deathbed.

“Could you please look in that drawer,” she whispered, pointing a withered finger at the bedside table, “and get me out my pills?” Strike slid it open and saw many white boxes inside, of varying types and with various labels upon them. “Which…?” “It doesn’t matter. They’re all the same,” she said. He took one out; it was clearly labeled Valium. She had enough in there to overdose ten times.

Later, he speaks to her nurse:

“Her Valium addiction’s as bad as ever, then?” he said. Unsuspicious, trusting, the nurse smiled a tolerant smile. “Yes, it is, but it can’t hurt her now. Mind you,” she said, “I’d give those doctors a piece of my mind. She’s had three of them giving her prescriptions for years, from the labels on the boxes.” “Very unprofessional,” said Strike.

It surprised me, therefore,  to see the Doom Bar Detective make a rookie error in his lengthy exposition of the crime to John Bristow. He tells the the client/perpetrator,  “Your mother hardly knows what day it is, the amount of opiates she’s got in her system.The trouble is, Valium is not an opiate. Why is this important?  I’ll tell you after the jump. [Read more…]

Science in Cormoran Strike: Narrative Misdirection or Plain Old Error? Part I: DNA and Paternity Testing

There have been numerous speculations by more than one writer on this blog that Jonny Rokeby really isn’t Cormoran Strike’s father. (See here, here, and here for some of the key posts.) I want to look a little closer at what Cormoran has been told of his past, and evaluate the ways that he, and we readers with him, may have been deceived on this matter.

Cormoran believes:

  1. that he is aging rocker Jonny Rokeby’s son;
  2. that this has been common, if not public knowledge since he was 5 years old;
  3. that it took a DNA test to make Jonny acknowledge paternity;
  4. this revelation caused the break-up of Jonny’s marriage and a hefty alimony pay-out.

In The Cuckoo’s Calling, he tells his client he is “the extramarital accident that cost Jonny a wife and several million pounds in alimony.” In The Silkworm, we hear this narration as an internal monologue:

 The occasional fascination of total strangers, which at five years old he had thought had something to do with his own uniqueness, he eventually realized was because they saw him as no more than a famous singer’s zygote, the incidental evidence of a celebrity’s unfaithful fumble. Strike had only met his biological father twice.

It had taken a DNA test to make Jonny Rokeby accept paternity.

The trouble is, this story cannot be entirely true. For why, join me after the jump.

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Allingham: The Fashion in Shrouds

I wrote just last week about Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger, the book J. K. Rowling said in the Galbraith/McDermid Interview at the 2014 Harrogate International Festival was her “favorite Christie.” She also recommended two books by Margery Allingham, The Tiger in the Smoke and The Fashion In Shrouds:

Val:  How did that love affair with crime start for you?

JK:  Probably…I know I was reading Christies when I was quite young. All of the Big Four – Marsh, Allingham, Christie and Sayers – I’ve read and loved. My very favorite of those four is Allingham and she’s the least known. It’s The Tiger in the Smoke, which I think is a phenomenal novel. I read that when I had a newborn baby and I was so tired, I’ll never forget how that book held my attention. Every night I would go to bed absolutely exhausted, but I had to read, and it’s the only book I’ve ever read literally page by page because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Because it gripped me so much. So anyone wanting an amazing atmospheric…this taut narrative….a genuinely terrifying villain …The Tiger in the Smoke.

Val: I agree with you about Allingham. I think she’s underrated.

JK: She is underrated. She’s a bit patchy – a few other books aren’t quite up to that – but some of what she did was up there with what any others did.

V: I love Fashion in Shrouds as well.

JK: Yeah, love that one.

I read Tiger in the Smoke and it was as big a payoff on a Rowling recommendation since Austen’s Emma and Godge’s Little White Horse (scroll down to #10 on this list of ‘White Horse’ pointers from J. K. Rowling for more on that). I wrote about it here: The Origin and Meaning of ‘Voldemort:’ Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke? If you were caught off guard by the reference to Johnny Cash (his picture is on a mug in the deserted Knight house on the Chiswell property, all you need to know is that Johnny Cash was the villain of Tiger in the Smoke. It really is a Rowling favorite which shows up in her work, Potter and Strike. Two thumbs up.

So I decided to pick up Allingham’s The Fashion in Shrouds, which Rowling said she “loved” in agreement with McDermid’s shout-out for the title. The book cover includes a blurb from The New Yorker that says “One of the finest murder books ever written.” Sounds like a real winner, right?

Three quick notes and a recommendation after the jump!

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Lethal White: Most Common Pub Names

Pub scenes have always been a big part of Strike’s adventures. Meetings with Robin and Wardle happen as often as not in the pubs close to Denmark Street and New Scotland Yard. But in Lethal White this is taken up a notch with important conversations at The White Horse (twice), The Red Lion, The Two Chairmen, The Tottenham, and The Crafty Filly, which is to neglect The Swan, a pub at which Robin doesn’t drink but whose sign is an important marker on her journey. They even talk about pub names in Strike4.

After finding the cross in the Chiswell property Dell, Robin and Cormoran retreat to the village of Uffington for lunch at the local pub, which, not too surprisingly, is called ‘The White Horse.’ Strike notes that the London pub where he first spoke with Jimmy Knight was also called ‘The White Horse’ and Robin recalls reading that it “is one of the ten most popular pub names in Britain. I read it in some article.” They reminisce about their respective “locals” as they look at the menu; Strike’s is ‘The Victory’ in Cornwall, Robin’s ‘The Bay Horse’ in Massham. (ch 44, pp 374-375).

Since pubs play an outsized role in Lethal White I decided to check out Robin’s recall about the most popular pub names. It turns out her memory is very good. Daily Mail, Wikipedia, and Hotfoot all have lists of the most popular pub names and all match up with Robin’s version in her conversation with Strike in Uffington. Sort of. 

Robin cannot remember, for instance, what the most popular pub name is, whether it is ‘The Red Lion’ or ‘The Crown.’ Her problem may be that the author in ‘his’ researches found that different lists have different leaders. Most have these two names in the top, but the variance can be startling. One survey has ‘The Crown’ over ‘Red Lion,’ 704 to 668, and another has ‘The Crown’ at #8 with only 267 to Red Lion’s 759 (both surveys were made in 2007). ‘The White Horse’ usually makes the top ten of these lists but The Morning Advertiser in 2017 listed it at #13. Close enough. The Daily Mail reports that ‘White Horse’ is #1 in Suffolk.

Please note there is no ‘Squish Factor’ in this data. The names have to be exact matches to be credited. You’ll see, for example, that ‘The Old Red Lion’ has its own category apart from ‘The Red Lion,’ and ‘Queen Victoria’ is apart from ‘Victoria’ and ‘Victory.’ ‘The Swan’ often makes the top five of the lists and might score higher if ‘White Swan’ and ‘Black Swan’ were included in their tally. The variety of horses, though, if all combined — remember ‘The Crafty Filly’ at the racetrack? How many of those there might be! — might make it #1. And that wouldn’t be right.

I enjoyed this bit of history from the Hotffot article. It seems that military heroes sometimes underwrote the founding of pubs and enjoy the legacy of having their names chosen for that pub:

“Dating back to the time when many folk were illiterate, the habit was to paint a picture and display it outside any public meeting place, the pub. This way friends could say to each other, ‘meet you at the Plough later,’ or Haystack, King’s Head, Horseshoe or whatever the sign depicted. This inevitably led to country pubs reflecting the industry of the area. Just as the Lamplighters, Railway Arms or The Weaver’s Loom might have done in the towns.

“Later on it became fashionable to honour England’s great heroes by placing their name above the door along any city street which accounts for the Lord Howard (Spanish Armada) Admiral Collingwood (Battle of Trafalgar) along with the obvious Lord Nelson and Duke of Wellington. And so this all means British and especially English history is reflected in one way or another through the names of many of our favourite pubs.

“Some of the tales are obvious and some less so. For example, who would know that it was the Marquis of Granby, a hero of the Seven Years Wars with France, who helped to establish many from his old regiment as innkeepers once they had retired from battle. This is why there are so many pubs in England bearing his name. And that is what fascinates us. The way the rich history of England is remembered in such an English way — down the pub.”

More than you wanted to know about pub names. The take away? Rowling/Galbraith did the research and got it right. No surprise there.