Lethal White: The Missing Page Mystery

I have started the process of charting Lethal White. This involves taping together large pieces of paper, drawing a line with a ruler and dividing that line into 71 segments for the 69 chapters, prologue and epilogue, and then re-reading the book and making notes on the chart with respect to the time, place, characters, events, and noteable signs, symbols, or stray thoughts I find meaningful. The reading is done first chapter, last chapter, possible middle, and then forward and backward to spot any possible ring echoing. When I’m done, I’ll have an oversized atlas page from which to work on topics like links to Goblet of Fire and Cuckoo’s Calling, the structure of the book, and thematic elements like those touched on in yesterday’s post. Not to mention the thought that struck me on my fifth time through Robert Glennister’s audiobook recording of Lethal White, namely that Della White is a stand-in of sorts for Hillary Clinton.

Before I begin this labor of charting love, I wanted to share with you a mystery I discovered while comparing the superficial structure of Strike4 with that of the three previous books.

Cuckoo’s Calling has five parts bracketed by a prologue and epilogue. The Silkworm and Career of Evil are both straight up chapter books, no ‘Parts,’ no bracketing at beginning and end. Mark that down as another Cuckoo and Lethal White correspondence.

The mystery is in the two parts of Lethal White. ‘Part Two’ is given its own page between the end of chapter 35 and the beginning of chapter 36 (page 287 in the edition I have). I checked to see which of the two parts is longer (part two by almost sixty pages if you’re interested). I wasn’t sure if the page for ‘Part One’ was included in the pagination so flipped to the book’s beginning to see if it was before the prologue or chapter one and how it was numbered.

In my copy of Lethal White at least, there is no page set apart for ‘Part One.’ Cuckoo’s Calling does have a separate ‘Part One’ page after its prologue and its ‘Three Months Later’ page, and before its chapter one frontispiece and epigraph.

There are three credible solutions to The Mystery of the Missing Page:

(1) No Mystery? It might be a publishing convention that books with only two parts only mark the division, not both Parts 1 and 2. Please let me know the answer in the comment boxes below if you’re a publishing maven or a reader familiar with these conventions.

(2) Assume Mistake? It’s not outside the realm of possibility given the number of errors that have found their way into the Cormoran Strike novels that this was an oversight, i.e., no one noticed they’d left out the page. Maybe ‘economy’ as in ‘cost saving’ is a possibility, too?

(3) Meaningful? Rowling plans her works carefully — and parallelism and structure are no small part of that planning. The chances that this missing page was deliberate, from this view, have to be considered as at least as real possibilities as publishing convention or copy editor error.

If it is a meaningful omission, my first thought is that the ‘Part Two’ page is a reference to the division of parts in the series as a whole rather than just to those in Lethal White. Rowling has done this before, after all, and the opening of Part Two in Lethal White is something of a replay of the Cuckoo’s Calling opening.

The central chapter of Rowling’s “crucial” Goblet of Fire is ‘The Hungarian Horntail.’ That chapter has two pivotal events: Hagrid revealing the Dragons of the First Tri-Wizard Tournament Task to Harry in the Forbidden Forest and Harry’s meeting with Sirius Black at the fireplace in the Gryffindor House Common Room, a conversation broken up by Ron. The fun part of this turning point chapter is that Rowling clearly marks it as such not only with the alliterative ‘H’s in the title which are pictures of a bridge connecting two parts but also via the date and time of Harry’s meeting with Sirius: between 12 and 1 AM on November 22nd. In US dating conventions that is a neat “11/22, 12-1” but even using the UK method that switches month and day, “22/11, 12-1” is pretty heavy on the ‘1’s and ‘2’s. Rowling is laughing with the attentive reader that we’re half-way (1/2) home in a seven book series at the midpoint of book four.

Back to Lethal White, we have a similar marker, if not with times and dates, then in plot points. The big news as we enter ‘Part Two’ is that Izzy Chiswell wants to hire the Strike Agency because she doesn’t believe her father committed suicide. She is convinced that her step-mother did it, regardless of the Metropolitan Police’s careful investigation of the evidence and Kinvarra’s “cast iron” alibi. Izzy breaks down into some sincere sobbing in seeming grief. Strike at first refuses the case but gets over his reservations to take the case he desperately wants. He winds up proving that, yes, the police missed several important clues necessary to solve the murder case. Izzie was right in thinking it was not a suicide and her step-mother was guilty. She explains in the end all the information she had at the start and withheld about Freddie’s cruelty and her father’s gallows-making it took the whole bookn for Strike and Robin to figure out.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist or Nabokov scholar to see the parallels with the opening of Cuckoo’s Calling, the beginning of the series. John Bristow wants to hire Strike because he doesn’t believe his sister committed suicide. He is convinced the runner in the CCTV footage did it, regardless of the Met’s investigation and conclusion that “The cow jumped!” Bristow breaks down as he talks to Strike about Lula’s death and sobs uncontrollably. Strike at first refuses the case, but accepts it when the client presses his ‘justice button.’ Cormoran winds up proving that the police ruling of suicide was a mistake and that Bristow was right that the second runner did it. Strike explains to Bristow in the end all the information that Bristow had at the start and withheld, the details it took Robin and Strike the entire book to learn.

Which is a big piece of the connection between Cuckoo and White, though far from all of it; stay tuned for much more on that. All I want to note here is that the ‘Part Two’ page after chapter 35 of Lethal White divides the 71 chapters (69 with two bracketing episodes) exactly in half and, if it is the fourth book of a seven book series as the Cuckoo beginning parallel and Goblet echoes suggests it is, the ‘Part Two’ page is the structural marker that it is the opening of the second half of the series as well. The absence of a ‘Part One’ page in Lethal White highlights the series marking.

Back to my chapter-to-chapter, back-to-front-to back charting of Lethal White! Please do take a moment to share your thoughts about the Mystery of the Missing Page; do you think it is convention, error, or as meaningful as I think it might be?

Comments

  1. I don’t have more thoughts about The Mystery of the Missing Page (or The Mystery of Whether a Page is Missing), but anyone who gave a talk called “The Odds are Never in Her Favor: Are Heroines Just YA Fantasy?” at the 2017 Queen City Mischief & Magic Festival in Staunton, Va., would be fascinated by your early comment here about Della White. White! White pantsuit!

    I knew there was some reason I have held off on polishing that talk for publication.

  2. I should have known that my aside about Secretary Clinton would draw first comment! I’ll write up the most obvious points of correspondence later in the week as a proper post; let’s not discuss that here…

  3. Beatrice Groves says:

    I like it John! I think we’ll have to see if the paperback comes out with the Part 1 page (I’m sure that either this is a mistake or you’re right: no-one deliberately leaves off ‘part 1’ pages) before speculating further (do you know when that paperback is due?). I noticed the (ahem) striking parallels between the Izzy hire and the Bristow hire – but not that this parallel happened in the (possibly) central chapter. If this is right then it would a) give one reason why the murder is so delayed (has anyone read a murder mystery with a later murder?) b) might mean that the near the end of the seventh book (see previous HogPro discussions for whether that will be the end of the series) another grieving relative who believes that the police have badly misjudged an apparent suicide/accidental-but-self-administered-overdose will also prove to be right. And we will find out that Leda, likewise, has been murdered – something that will take Strike and Robin the whole series to find out.

  4. Perfect, Bea! In the faked suicide plots and resolutions of Books 1 and 4 we have the pointer to the solution of the foundational Leda Strike faked suicide in the finale, a finish that would create the signature 1-4-7 Rowling ring-axis.

    [The chapter in which Izzy hires Strike is chapter 38, a few chapters in from the chapter center and ‘Part Two’ beginning and two chapters before the page center, p 323-4, the chapter in which Robin and Cormoran meet with Oliver, Vanessa’s Forensics flame. (Lots of ‘Cuckoo’ parallels in there, especially the Shanker information for access to the Met….) I think chapter 38 will mark the end of the central block of chapters, 29-38, which begins with Strike assaulting Jimmy Knight on the protest march, turns on the discovered body and ‘Part Two’ marker, and finishes with Izzy’s interview. I’m not done with my charting but I suspect it has seven blocks (surprise!) of nine to ten chapters each that work as a turtleback ring.]

    The only bad news if we are right about the Missing Page Mystery with respect to the series meaning is that it strongly suggests that Strike5 will be heavy in echoes of ‘Order of the Phoenix’ and ‘Career of Evil.’ Oh, my! Get your anti-depressant medication and violence-filters ready…

    Then again, no hurry. We probably have several years before we’ll have the next installment, even if The Presence says she already has the title for it. Between the film franchise screen writing obligations and the long-promised children’s book, it could be as long a wait as we had for ‘Lethal White’ and for ‘Phoenix.’ Another three year summer, alas.

    Time enough for us to work out how the beginning and end of ‘Lethal White’ are mirrored images of the ‘Cuckoo’ “bat shit insane” client at beginning and end with an embedded ‘Cuckoo’ mistaken suicide plot that begins half-way in.

    The murder in ‘Cuckoo’ begins three months before the action of that mystery and the death-to-be-investigated comes half-way through Book 4 in what seems to be a seven book series. Should we plan on a murder at the finale of Strike7 when the good guys learn at last who murdered Leda? Think of the 1-4-7 dragons in Harry Potter; born from an egg in ‘Stone,’ mothers protecting eggs in ‘Goblet,’ and ancient prisoner dragon freed at last in ‘Hallows.’ We’re seeing a similar progression with nephew Jack in the Strike books: birthday in ‘Cuckoo’ and ‘Resucitation’ in ‘White;’ might he be made a prisoner to be freed in Strike7? Could the placement of the present day murders ‘progress’ through the books so the first, middle, end series is repeated?

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