3 Galbraith Mistakes in Cuckoo’s Calling: Are The Wikipedia Divorce Dates a 4th?

Yesterday I pledged to write out the wildly speculative theory of the crimes Jonny Rokeby committed that moved him to agree to fake a paternity test and seem to be Cormoran Strike’s father. I explained there that the idea largely depends on the fact that the divorce dates listed in Rokeby’s wikipedia profile don’t match up with Cormoran’s conception and birth days in 1974.

I noted as an aside that this could just be a Wikipedia error. Because Wikipedia pages are not heavily vetted, mistakes creep in. This is less true of global celebrities and public figures, whose pages millions of people visit, reporters use as source material, and the subjects have a consequent interest in monitoring, but it happens.

I’m obliged to note before I offer the Heroin Dark Lord theory details that the Wikipedia entry may be mistaken because the author and editorial team just didn’t catch the detail error. Rowling approved, she says, the changes made in Goblet of Fire that made the Little Hangleton graveyard shades appear in the wrong order out of Voldemort’s wand. And there are at least three other flat out mistakes in Cuckoo’s Calling that make a date slip in the Rokeby Wikipedia page credible.

Here are the three mistakes in Cuckoo’s Calling. Do you think the Wiki divorce dates are a fourth?

(1) The Two Runners: A tenet point of John Bristow’s case to Strike that his sister was murdered is the film of two men running away from the scene of the crime soon after her fall, two men running in close proximity if not together.

Jonah Agyeman, though, tells Strike in the book’s epilogue that he “saw it happen” and “I ran. I just ran” (p 449). A more than physically fit Lieutenant takes off immediately after Lula Landry falls from her balcony. How is John Bristow, older, no athlete, and delayed at the second floor until the doorman runs by and the first and ground floors by having to check to see if the passage is clear (significant time, remember, because the Bestiguis have to go downstairs, stage their scene, and return to their flat before he descends), anywhere near Jonah Agyeman on the roads away from the flat?

With a two minute head start, Agyeman is the better part of a mile ahead of John Bristow, not “at the end of the street” (p 441) when he finally exits. And what are the odds of their following the same streets for more than a block or two away from the building? This is a non-starter and a mistake that the teevee adaptation by Rowling’s production glosses over. There are two runners but they are not close.

(2) Rochelle Onifade’s Phone: In Strike’s explosive confrontation with Carver at the Met he says with real surety that Rochelle had a phone “but you won’t find that.”

“Yeah, because it’s at the bottom of the Thames,” said Wardle.

“Course it isn’t,” said Strike. “The killer’s got it. He’ll have got it off her before he threw her into the river” (p 370).

Strike is convinced that Rochelle’s killer not only took the phone but kept it. In his search of Lady Bristow’s wardrobe (p 415), he looks first for the handbags and then for a safe, the latter in the belief that Bristow will have put Rochelle’s phone there. It is what he offers Bristow in their deadly back and forth in the Denmark Street office as the sure proof that Bristow murdered Lula and Rochelle: the phone being in his mother’s wardrobe safe (pp 441-442). Bristow freaks out and attacks at last when he realizes Strike has acvtual evidence to convict.

But why would Bristow have kept the phone? He has to be sure it isn’t on Rochelle’s dead body, certainly, because if the police found it and checked the call history, they would be able to connect the dots between her and him and Lula (and Jonah!). But for the same reason he has to be sure it isn’t on Rochelle’s body, he doesn’t want the phone to exist or to be found by the police. What possible reason does he have for holding on to it? As Strike explains, it is all but a the noose around his neck.

Strike, nonetheles, is convinced that Bristow has to have kept the phone. Other than making a nice ring connection with Easter and Charlie Bristow’s murder (the date of which is Strike’s guess for the safe combination), this whole line of thought is nonsensical. The murderer has to have destroyed the phone, not kept it. It’s the piece of physical evidence that convicts him. Bristow may be “bat shit insane” but he isn’t stupid.

Neither are the producers at Bronte studios who cut out the Carver-Strike exchange about Rochelle’s phone and the wardrobe safe from the teevee adaptation of the novel. It’s a gaffe they chose not to reproduce on the small screen.

(3) “After the Conviction:” The longest bit of information we get about the back story of Leda Strike’s death in Cuckoo is in Part 4, chapter 11, pp 376-377. It includes a description of a picture of Rokeby, Leda, and Carla Astolfi, “his father’s second wife,” which photograph could be seen as support for the idea that it is the Astolfi divorce for which Cormoran’s conception is responsible.

To the point, though, just after an explanation of Strike’s frustration with the idea that his mother committed suicide, the concluding paragraph of the brief backstory aside begins, “After the trial and conviction, Strike had packed up and left everything behind….” In 2015, after learning that Whittaker was found “not guilty” in the murder trial, I wrote Dolores Gordon-Smith in the UK, whose Jack Haldean mysteries are top flight adventures and as tightly plotted as stories can be, to ask if the word “convicted” has a different legal meaning ‘over there’ than it does in the US.

Nope. It’s just a mistake. Perhaps in an earlier version of the story Whittaker is convicted and the mistake wasn’t caught in the editing process. Whatever. The gaffe or ‘Flint’ remains.

So What?

Even Homer nodsand all that. Who cares if there are several mistakes in Robert Galbraith’s debut book?

I am obliged to note these three gaffes in Cuckoo’s Calling only because much of the Heroin Dark Lord theory rests on the Rokeby Wikipedia page divorce dates being correct and their not matching up with Cormoran’s birthday. If they are just sloppy editing work, then my argument that Rokeby is not Cormoran’s biological father is a lot less sturdy.

What do you think? Are the dates just a fourth error in Cuckoo’s Calling? Evan Willis noted yesterday that, of all things, Rowling is her weakest when it comes to “the precise calculation of dates.” Is this gaffe a telling consistency with that weakness? And what does the most famous picture of Leda and Jonny tell us, the one with Carla Astolfi, the second wife, and with two others, one by suicide, the other by AIDS (Cuckoo, p 377) tells us? In a book about a suicide that was actually a murder?


  1. Joanne Gray says

    I’m going to put my bet that the dates are not an error on JK Rowling;s part. I think your uber Strike fan son is very right (mentioned in your post yesterday) that Cormoran’s running thoughts about “the dates not adding up” in Charlotte’s story about their phantom baby is a blinking red light alerting readers to another story with questionable dates concerning a baby’s paternity–Cormoran’s own.

    The errors that you point out aren’t dating errors, although that’s no proof this isn’t, but the first one with the runners may be because she didn’t have an outsider reader to double check that there were no holes in the crime back story. The second error, I put down to human nature–since even smart people don’t act logically or think of every conceivable move necessary but since letting Bristow keep the phone allowed Cormoran to really lock down the case, (no doubt a temptation that JKR fell for), it stayed in. The third error, I agree, was probably for the reason you stated: Probably a change of plans that was overlooked in rewrite. It makes the most sense.

    Since so much does ride on having the dates chronologically correct in order to make Rokeby own story fit in personal relationships and to psychologically fit well as the over arching series main antagonist.

    I have to think JKR was extra, extra careful while mapping the Jonny/Leda/Cormoran chronology. Making sure it was absolutely air tight. I also have to wonder that since Cormoran has spent his life defending his mother against all the abusive innuendo, lewd and lascivious remarks that has been thrown her way–and in full hearing and view of him–that he has deeply suppressed the facts that his subconscious know to be true but he can’t face them. His true Achilles heel.

    This is also why, when Charlotte tried to use this particular mind game on him, it hit at a spot that he cannot handle psychologically. It became the absolute final straw. It struck too close to the most painful area in his own damaged psyche. The dates didn’t add up–he knows that his dates don’t add up either.

  2. I’ll admit this is the first time I got a bit turned around trying to keep everything straight in my head. In terms of dates not matching up, I’m quite sure what to make of it just yet.
    As for the errors in “Cuckoo’s Calling”, those were interesting details I never truly noticed before. I tend to side with Ms. Gray re: what Bristow did with the phone. It also raised another thought in my mind. Namely, that getting rid of the phone might not have helped if Lula’s brother had made any kind of over-the-phone contact with her. I can’t remember in detail now, however wouldn’t they have at least shared text messages which give everything away? What if they had at least had the opportunity to share a brief phone call together to pour everything out to each other. Granted, this would have given the family one brief moment of happiness together.

    My point is, if Lula had been in any kind of phone contact with Jonah, then just getting rid of her phone would have done Bristow no good if there was a second phone out there with incriminating info on him. Don’t forget that Agyeman is a “more than physically fit”, well-trained soldier. The only I can see Bristow besting him is by luring the Lieutenant to a well chosen spot, and then taking him out via a sniper rifle, or something like that. Physical hand to hand would have been out of the question, even the real Jack the Ripper (whoever he was) would have got more than he bargained for in that scenario. This is just a train of thought that occurred to me is all. I could be wrong there.

    As to the question of dating and paternity, I’m approaching this from two angles. The trouble is I can’t tell if they meet up in any meaningful way or not. The first part is that I tend to agree with Prof. Gray that it might be that Strike is either unaware of certain facts that have yet to come to light, or else it’s just his Achilles Heel subconsciously blocking his judgement from putting the necessary pieces together.

    My second train has to do with a more general question. Which outcome would offer more of a dramatic turn for all the major characters? The way I see it, letting Rokeby be Strike’s dad has the advantage of making the personal stakes for the main character that much higher. This could naturally stoke the sympathies of the audience, making them more invested in the detective’s struggles. Whereas the idea of Rokeby not being related to Strike somehow robs any future confrontation between to the two of any real tension for the imagination to latch onto.

    That’s as far as I’ve got on all this. I warned that these two ideas didn’t match up or meet together. All I can do is give two cents on why Rokeby being the real Daddy Dearest makes more sense. The only other alternative is for there to be a third suspect we haven’t met yet, and this character would fill the Moriarty shoes by, perhaps, going so far as to kill Rokeby and framed Strike for it. However, that is just a theory, nothing substantial.
    The irony is there might be a way to make Rokeby a formidable opponent for his could-be son. All Rowling would have to do is have the character demonstrate that he is able to read Strike’s personality to such an extent that he knows where to stick the psychological knife in so that he can cripple Strike with a carefully phrased, off-hand remark or gesture. Make Rokeby the kind of villain who knows how to spot the hero’s weaknesses and have him constantly play of them. That is how you might give Strike a worthy adversary.

  3. Claire MacDonald says

    Is this another error: page 80 reveals that Jonnny Rokeby is father to seven children, the youngest of whom is Strike. Then page 107 refers to Sttrike’s eight half-siblings. Should this actually be seven: the six fathered by Rokeby plus Lucy (who had the same mother as Strike but a different father)?

  4. See Professor Freeman’s discussion of the troublesome question, ‘How many siblings does Cormoran Strike have through his biological mother and his supposed father?’ at these links: https://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/lethal-white-flints-and-head-scratchers/#more-17357, https://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/louises-predictons-for-future-cormoran-strike-books/#more-10244, https://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/louise-rolls-two-strikes-on-career-of-evil/.

  5. Martin Gibbons says

    On page 106 Strike is spending the weekend living in his office. It’s Saturday, and he ‘then watched the three o’clock match between Arsenal and Spurs.’ Most football, and certainly a game between those two teams, can’t be televised at that time on a Saturday, something that hasn’t been allowed since the 1960s.

  6. Martin Gibbons says

    On page 106 (Hardback) Strike is spending the weekend in his office. It’s Saturday, and he ‘then watched the three o’clock match between Arsenal and Spurs.’ Since the 1960s, football hasn’t been allowed to be shown at that time on a Saturday in this country.

  7. I ran Martin Gibbons’ find by Nick Jeffery and he confirmed it:

    Quite true:

    The Spurs v Arsenal game actually happened more than a week later, and Arsenal lost:

    Strike would have been far better off watching the Boat Race that Saturday:

    Great catch, Martin!

  8. Louise Freeman says

    One other (likely) mistake in CC: When Strike presents the Green Dress to Robin:

    The present was hidden at the bottom of his kitbag. It was very badly wrapped.
    “Here,” he said. “This is for you. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
    “Oh,” said Robin, on a strangled note, and Strike was both touched and faintly alarmed to see tears spill down her cheeks. “You didn’t have to…”
    “Open it at home,” he said, but too late; the package was literally coming apart in her hands. Something slithered, poison-green, out of the split in the paper, on to the desk in front of her.

    We are supposed to believe that Strike bought this very extravagant gift, did his usual terrible wrapping job, then stuffed it into his kit bag with his toothpaste and deodorant. But, there is no way a fancy, exclusive boutique is going to simply hand him a nearly three thousand pound designer dress to carry out of the store, as is. At the very least, it would be tenderly wrapped in tissue paper and stowed carefully in a very nice shopping bag or box. More likely, it would come on a hanger, zipped into a garment bag.Even the relatively inexpensive, off-the-rack prom, formal and mother-of -the bride dresses I have purchased were sent home with decent wrappings. How much more care would a place like Vashti give their clothes?

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