The “5-6 Flip” Idea, Part 2. Predictive Power for The Ink Black Heart?

I am a scientist by training and profession, whether I am teaching behavioral neuroscience, designing treatment plans for special needs children, or collecting correlational data on reading habits and empathic tendency. I look at scientific theories, and their capacity to both explain and predict, on every day of my professional life. As I try to teach my students, “just a” is not a phrase that should ever precede “theory.” Theories are not “ideas” or “guesses.”  They are models that have been empirically shown to  both explain a variety of observed phenomena and predict future events. Well-supported theories: like germ theory, cell theory, the theory of gravity and the theory of evolution are not just intermediate guessing games in the scientific progress; they are the ultimate product of science.

Literary theories work much the same way. Two theories, brainchildren of our headmaster John Granger, clearly have great explanatory power when in comes to the writing of J.K. Rowling.  Those are, as regular readers know: ring composition and literary alchemy. For the Cormoran Strike series, another theory is equally important: the Parallel Series Idea, or the theory–I am comfortable calling it a theory now, for reasons I’ll explain later–that each book of the Cormoran Strike Series has thematic parallels to its counterpart Harry Potter series.

For the most part, these literary theories serve to explain. When Hermione yells, “Are you a wizard or what?” at Ron in Deathly Hallows, we explain it as a ring composition inversion of his “Are you a witch or what?” in Philosopher’s Stone. We see hot, dry conditions in Order of the Phoenix (and the Hunger Games!) and a rain, fog and snowstorms in Half-Blood Prince (and Catching Fire!), so we explain them as the nigredo and albedo phases of an alchemical cycle. But what makes the theories truly convincing is when they generate a testable prediction, and the prediction comes true. When a “black” character (Sirius) died in Order of the Phoenix and a “white” character (Albus) died in Half-Blood Prince, John used literary alchemy theory to predict that a red-named character would die in Deathly Hallows. This had a lot of us worrying for poor Rubeus Hagrid, and breathing sighs of relief thinking that the prediction just might have been fulfilled with the death of the entirely expendable Rufus Scrimgeour. When Fred Weasley died instead, it was still support for the theory, even if in not quite the way most expected.

Parallel Series Idea, in my opinion, graduated from idea to theory status with the publication of Lethal White. PSI had been previously used to explain why SW centered on a book, and why a bad guy had to be allowed to escape to protect an innocent in CoE. Prior to LW’s publication, Serious Strikers predicted there would be connections to Goblet of Fire, and there were so many, and so obvious–starting with the government minister murdered by the unloved son that he got out of jail– that a lot of us on Hogpro moved from “I think this might be true” to “I am confident this is definitely true.”  The idea became much more widely accepted and discussed, as seen in the Strike and Ellacott Files podcast.

There are a few dangers to using predictions to confirm theories. First, you can make so many predictions that some are liable to come true purely by chance. Second, predictions can be overly broad, and therefore fulfillable by almost anything. Third, — and this a particular danger in the interpretation of literary works, which can be pretty subjective— sometimes people simply see what they want, or expect, to see, and go too far in twisting the reality of the text to match their expectations.

The earlier, and more specific a prediction is, the better support for the theory it provides.  In 2014, after The Silkworm was published, I used the PSI to predict that Strike Four would be set during the London Olympics. When that one came true, in spades, I knew John had come up with a model generates testable, specific and accurate predictions, the hallmarks of a good theory.

With that somewhat lengthy preamble, let me now turn to my main point. My latest 5-6 flip idea—  and it’s only an idea for now, is that Troubled Blood was originally planned as the sixth Strike book.  See link for the rationale.  This idea would explain why I was able to highlight so many Troubled Blood parallels to The Silkworm and Half-Blood Prince, and why there were so many albedo elements in the book we would expect to be the nigredo. As meticulous as JKR is about planning her series, I don’t think she could simply skip an entire novel, with out omitting plotlines necessary in her overall vision. If Troubled Blood was moved to position five, I think at least some elements from the original Book 5 will have to turn up elsewhere, and a logical place for them is in The Ink Black Heart. After the jump, I will first evaluate this idea based on the limited amount we know about the upcoming Strike 6 book, then make some predictions on where IBH might go if this idea is correct.

If IBH was originally planned as Book 5, it should have 1) many thematic parallels to Career of Evil 2) many parallels to Order of the Phoenix and 3) nigredo elements. It also should be missing a lot of the parallels to The Silkworm, Half-Blood Prince and albedo elements that turned up in Troubled Blood.

This puts me in an interesting position. I made a number of predictions for Strike 5 most of which were flat-out wrong. I made a bunch of predictions for Strike 6 that were envisioned before I had formulated the 5-6 Flip idea. This gives me a second shot at some of my Book 5 predictions, and an easy out if my Book 6 predictions turn out to be entirely off base. In a certain sense I’m writing myself into a “Heads-I-win, tails-you-lose” situation, or, like Strike’s despised astrologers, setting myself up to be right even when I’m wrong. On the other hand, the best scientific studies are designing to differentiate between two competing hypotheses, and therefore can make the researcher happy with more than one outcome.  So, with those disclaimers, and in a spirit of fun, let’s proceed.

We still know relatively little about Strike Six.  Confirmed facts:

  • Its title is The Ink Black Heart.
  • It is long (1024 pages, according to Amazon, a shade longer than Troubled Blood).
  • JKR has said it is very different from Troubled Blood and involves a younger demographic.
  • JKR has said it is the most complicated plot she has ever written, and the copy edit request she got made her feel like “the opposite of a child on Christmas morning.”

A few things that we know suggest IBH could have some elements of a “Book Five”

  • The “Black” in the title makes us think nigredo. Then again, Lethal White screamed albedo, which should be Book Six, yet it was perfectly placed as the Book Four turning point of the series. Maybe a color name is just a color name, when it comes to titles.
  • It’s the longest book in the series (so far), as Order of the Phoenix was (then again, so was TB when it came out!)
  • The younger demographic, assuming that refers to the victim, client or killer, is a link to Career of Evil, with its young female victims, some still in their teens. The victim, client and murderer in The Silkworm were all older.
  • Having to flip the order and re-cast the story parallels and alchemical position of two long books would be expected to complicate plotlines, that, given they were JKR plotlines, were likely not simple to start with.

There are also three Twitter header photos that might relate to the plot of IBH:

See links as to that these might mean for IBH. I’m not going to speculate too much on the possible  connections, since we don’t know for sure that they relate to IBH, and, indeed, could very will be connected to Strike 7 or some other writing project of JKR. But, one potential link did jump out at me.  Mary Emden was a talented singer who died at 19 and was the wife of famous architect Walter Emden.  This makes me think of another young musician wife/ famous architect pair we’ve met in Cormoran Strike: Alma and Francis Rattenbury. The murder of Jasper Chiswell by his much-younger wife’s younger lover was basically a retelling of the Francis Rattenbury murder, and the name of the Chiswell family terrier points to that connection.  But, this would be a connection to neither The Silkworm or Career of Evil, but Lethal White, so I’m not sure what to make of that.

What would The Ink Black Heart look like in a 5-6 Flip world?

Part 1 of this post argued that Troubled Blood, while serving the series nigredo and full of connections to Career of Evil and Order of the Phoenix, also retains the ghost of its original position as Book Six, first, with connections to The Silkworm, and Half-Blood Prince and second, with watery rain and flood elements, that, while serving as a nigredo solvents, were originally planned as albedo purifying agents.

If this is true, I would expect IBH to have similar hybrid qualities, ghosts of nigredo and connections to CoE and OotP, while also standing in the expected place of Book Six, with albedo elements and clear connections to SW and HBP.  Here are some speculations of what that could look like, though JKR /RG will almost certainly surprise us  with something very different.

1. No books after all?: I made a rather bold prediction in my “First Flip of the Tarot” post regarding Strike 6:

I think it is almost inevitable that the main mystery will, in some way, involve books. The Silkworm, Half-blood Prince and Chamber of Secrets all centered, in some way, on a mysterious book, its author, and the sinister reason it was written. I fully expect Strike 6 to complete this foursome, and all of us Hogpro writers face revocation of our Potter Pundit/Serious Striker credentials if this does not pan out.

However, under the 5-6 Flip idea, the role of “mysterious book” has already been played by Bill Talbot’s leather-bound chronicle, aka his “True Book.”  In that case, we would not expect any of my previously predicted book/publishing/literary mystery elements in IBH. No reappearance of the literary figures from The Silkworm, and nothing involving Rokeby or Leda biographies.

2. Purifying heat?: Textbook alchemical properties are hot and dry = nigredo, cold and wet = albedo. As John already pointed out, the flooding waters of TB were dissolving agents more than cleansing ones, nigredo-waters instead of albedo-waters. The inverse of this would be something hot and dry  (possibly weather?) that is somehow albedo, purifying rather than putrifying. I am not entirely sure what this could be: perhaps a metal refinery? Does Strike have any gold or silver jewelry gifts from Charlotte that he could have melted down into something for Robin?  Surely he would have hocked any of that during one of his penniless periods, instead of his watch.  Would Matthew return Robin’s engagement ring to her to be repurposed? If the hot, dry element is weather, could there be imagery of something bleached white by the sun?

3. Whittaker/Brockbank rematch?  I was pretty confident that, if any CoE characters would be revisited in TB, if would be Jeff Whittaker, both as the suspect with the most personal connection to Strike, and the one that is not in jail. That didn’t happen in TB; the only mention of him was his fondness for Satanism, which allowed Strike to recognize Baphomet. But, the 5-6 flip Idea opens the door for Whittaker to reappear in IBH.  If he does, the “younger demographic” element may be filled by his son, and Strike’s much-younger and long-lost brother, Switch LeVay Bloom Whittaker  (SLBW), whom Strike has not seen in 20+ years. If they need an excuse to go north,  SLBW was raised by his grandparents in Yorkshire, conveniently near Robin’s home town.

Another possibility is that Brockbank will get out of jail and seek revenge on Strike, Robin, Alyssa and Shanker.  We know that Shanker’s affair with Alyssa in CoE became a long-term common-law marriage, with Shanker, somewhat surprisingly, acting as father-figure to her children. If Brockbank is looking to retaliate, as an echo to Laing in CoE, his targets are conveniently close together. This brings us to…

4. Norfolk, communes and Brittany Brockbank?  Think about this: The TV adaptation of CoE dropped hints that both SLBW and Brittany Brockbank might be important in future storylines. In his brief appearance, Whittaker managed to work SLBW’s birth  into his monologue berating Strike. Contrary to the book, Brittany Brockbank turned up in the flesh, when Strike sought her out to let her know of her former step-daddy’s arrest and to apologize for failing to convict him for his abuse of her.

Brittany, at least in the TV adaptation, wound up living in a commune that Strike could visit on his way to Masham, so presumably north of London. In the books, there is a commune in Norfolk, also north of London,  that was the worst experience of Strike’s childhood, and that has been mentioned, so far, in books 1, 4, and 5. There was also a recent picture of Comer Pier in Norfolk in JKR’s twitter header. I think the door is wide open for the Norfolk commune to be an important element in either IBH or Strike 7. If Brittany is somehow involved, and not just a streamlining element to introduce the idea of a commune into the simplified TV storyline, she could provide both a younger demographic and echo to CoE.

At the very least, I think there are plenty of pointers to suggest that, just as Robin and Strike spent time in the South in TB, they’ll spend time in the North in IBH. This leads us to:

5. A Dark Lady?:* A bit of trivia:  Margot Bamborough’s first name is the albedo-signal  “pearl;” her last name means “from Bamburgh” a tiny town in the far north of England.  The fact that she turned up as a London Eastender in the nigredo-book is looking curiouser and curiouser. Perhaps we should be looking for a new female character (victim or suspect) with a name meaning “black” or “dark:” Carey? Darcey? Ebony? Raven? Bonus points if she’s from North England.

(*I’ll leave it to Bea to tie this prediction back to Shakespeare’s sonnets.)

6. Charlotte and Rokeby go dormant…for now? Troubled Blood had Charlotte Campbell make her exit with the intriguing text statement, ” I don’t think I’ve ever felt so envious in my life as I am of that girl Robin.” What does that mean for her future in the series?  It depends on whether the text was an expression of resignation, or a threat. Knowing Charlotte, I’d bet on the latter. Matthew may have walked away from Robin for good (pleaseohpleaseohplease), but I doubt Charlotte is ready to let go of her Bluey.

Under 5-6 Flip, it is less likely the truth of Charlotte’s alleged pregnancy with Strike will be revealed, as I had originally predicted. Charlotte got married, and sent  texts and photos, hoping to entice Strike back to her, in The Silkworm. In Career of Evil, she practically vanished, with her name mentioned only 13 times, and no communication at all with Strike. She came back in the flesh (and carrying twins!) in Lethal White, intent on getting her carthorse-blooded hunk of man back, and made every effort, again via phone, photo and text, to achieve that in Troubled Blood. Since her TB communications were a reflection of her actions in SW, I think they were originally planned for Book 6. We have an intriguing hint as to what happened between Strike and Charlotte in the year’s jump between LW and TB.

There’d been two previous tipsy phone calls to Strike like this one in the past year, both made late at night. He’d ended the first one mere seconds in, because Robin was trying to reach him. Charlotte had hung up abruptly a few minutes into the second.

This seems oddly specific information to provide about a skipped year of which we know little else, which makes me wonder if this is a summary of her actions in the original Book 5. If, in IBH,  Ms. Campbell tracks down Bluey’s new number (which shouldn’t be hard for her) and two conversations like this happen, we’ll know I’m right. In any case, I am predicting Charlotte will go quiet again in IBH, as she did in CoE. If she appears, it will be like Voldemort at the end of OotP, with weapons aimed squarely at Robin.

Similarly, Jonny Rokeby, after being talked about quite a bit in both CC and SW, also disappeared from CoE, with a scant three mentions.  As such, it seemed odd for him to be so prominent a part of TB. But, under 5-6 flip, this makes sense, his press for a reconciliation, or perhaps just the direct phone call and cancer revelation, could have been originally slotted for book 6. It is possible Strike will get his wish and the Deadbeat Dad will back off for a time.

7. Buzzards circling Shanker, or possibly Vanessa? If life insurance was available for fictional characters, a lot of us would have taken out policies on Shanker prior to TB. Since he is such a good Sirius-echo, as a reckless jailbird with a heart of gold, many thought he was a goner in Strike 5. Though we shed some tears over the death of Joan Nancarrow, there were also some sighs of relief that Strike lost his elderly “godmother” through natural causes, rather that his knife-wielding pal through some dreadful violent act.

Shanker’s reprieve may have only been temporary. Under the 5-6 Flip model, Joan’s death was not a counterpart to Sirius’s, but to Dumbledore’s and the elaborate funerals held for both, in contrast to Sirius,  makes this a distinct possibility. If so, a Sirius Black-type character is doomed to snuff it in IBH, and I’m afraid Scar-face still tops the list. A strong second is Vanessa Ekwensi, who, as John has argued, is an allusion to Nabokov’s black Vanessa atalanta butterfly; we know what happens to people named “black” in nigredo texts. If she dies, I hope she runs a footrace, or does some other act connecting her to the Atalanta of myth, before her demise.  The possibility that either Shanker or Vanessa gives their life in to protect our protagonists, or dies because of a serious error in judgement on the part of either Strike or Robin, remains.

8. Richard Anstis?: This character featured prominently in only one book, The Silkworm, so far. As such, ring structure predicts we will turn up in Book Six. Since there was no sign of him in Troubled Blood, I think he will still be a part of IBH. Whether he will be the Met contact on a current case, or appear in flashback as we learn more about Strike’s army career, the IED explosion or even the circumstances of his medal, remains to be seem.

9. Royal Family events? The wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton was an important historical backdrop event in CoE; without it, Robin might not have taken the Flobberworm back. While the royals got a few mentions in TB, in Janice’s newspaper clippings, questions from curious funeral-goers and Polworth joking about Strike working for the Queen, no real-time events were mentioned. IBH will presumably be set largely in 2015. Key events of that year include the birth of Princess Charlotte (Strike won’t be too chuffed about their name choice), Prince Harry leaving the Army, Prince William working as a helicopter rescuer and the Queen setting the record for longest-reigning British monarch.  If the book continues into 2016, we could see the start of the Harry-Megan Markle romance. Mention of any of those would echo the royal wedding appearance in CoE. Bonus points if there is sone connection to a current agency case, just as, in SW, Pippa Middleton’s name prompted Strike to recall the Pippa2011 blog name.

10. Child pornography, prostitution or sex trafficking? TB had a lot to say about sex work and sex abuse, largely in the words of Strike’s drunken outburst at the Dinner Party from Hell. When we see Betty Fuller growing old in a squalid box room while snuff film producer Mucky Ricci basks in a luxurious and costly retirement home, I think it’s clear what the author wants us to think of sex work and its beneficiaries; hint: they aren’t women. We also learned that Strike had busted child porn and sex trafficking rings during his army career. I think the stage may be set for the agency to take on some sort of case like this in IBH. This would give IBH the same air of depravity and violence that CoE had, and be another way of echoing the evils of serial child molester Noel Brockbank, and pimp/batterer Jeff Whittaker, and the grief caused by the difficulties, and sometimes impossibility, of stopping this type of crime.

11. Memories and flashbacks:  As stated in Part 1, extensive memory-collecting was a HBP-echo prediction that I originally made for Book 6 that, under 5-6 flip, was largely satisfied in TB. I will stand by my prediction that the  SW’s “silver minnow,” poison skeleton ,”he shagged it and it died” lost memory will resurface in IBH; the silver and fish imagery is very albedo, and there was nothing like that in TB. We also may find out how and why Uncle Ted tracked the kids to Brixton when Strike was 9-ish, and rescued them from Shumba.

12. An Oxford professor returns? While the  “coward who re-writes his past” aspects of Horace Slughorn were echoed nicely by Steven Douthwaite, the other feature of Horace Slughorn, the good-old-boy professor who capitalizes on networking with well-connected ex-students, hasn’t turned up. At some point, it will be important to learn what Strike studied at Oxford, and why he seems to be so well versed in Latin, classical mythology, and the Bible. What if one such professor, now impressed with their drop-out’s fame, initiates contact? The only book so far that has mentioned an Oxford professor was The Silkworm, where Strike recalled “one of his most scathing tutors at Oxford, who used this two-word question (“How so?”) like a giant needle to puncture ill-founded theorizing.”

And, on that note, I’ll close this bit of ill-founded theorizing, and invite comments, criticism and overt questioning of my sanity.


  1. Thank you for your well-thouhgt posts, Louise!

    This last predictiont got me thinking: what if the person who contacts the agency is that Oxford tutor, and they have to investigate something related to university students? They would be a younger demographic than in TB for sure…

  2. Wrt point 7 and the fact that we aren’t off the hook as regards Shanker’s potential death: in the flip model, if his death is going to be recast as Dumbledore’s rather than Sirius’s, then it stands to reason that it will unlock information for Strike which will enable the resolution of the big mystery of the series. Specifically of course it seems likely that Shanker played a part in the demise of Leda, whether knowingly or unknowingly (remember his distress after coming back from the drug deal he was supposedly carrying out). Just as Harry was only able to understand fully what happened with Dumbledore and the Horcruxes after Dumbledore died, it seems likely that if Shanker does die it will be as part of putting Strike on the road to solving the mystery of his mother’s death.

    Which brings me back to that deathbed conversation between Joan and Ted, and the fact I am more sure than ever now that it was important. If Joan was originally meant to be Dumbledore, there may have been provision in the plot for her to disclose important secrets to Strike on her deathbed. Now that her death was brought forward one book, that disclosure is only hinted at. What did she know, what did she witness? What was going through her mind when she uttered those words “good man – helping people”? I dare say we’ll find out.

Speak Your Mind