Troubled Blood, Part Three: Top Ten Take-Aways from Chapters 15 to 30

As explained Tuesday, I will be reading and writing about one of the seven Parts of the just published Troubled Blood every day this week. For Part One’s seven chapters, go here. Part Two’s seven chapters and my Top Ten Take-Aways can be found here. Thank you in advance for not posting in the comment thread about Parts not yet discussed in this series; feel free, of course, to join in the discussion if you have read no further than Part Three, Chapter Thirty!

It’s already time for a review. In Part One’s seven chapters we have a ring that turns around Cornwall, the status of Strike Detective Agency partners a year after the conclusion of Lethal White, and the re-opening of the Margot Bamborough missing person case from 1974. Writers call this “throat clearing” and Rowling-Galbraith succeeds in simultaneously and seamlessly catching us up with old friends and turning us on to the new story being introduced. Still, it’s Prologue rather than Mind Blowing Inciting Incident (think Katniss Everdeen’s decision in District 12’s Reaping for that kind of start). The Part Seven epilogue, if you’ll forgive me for assuming Troubled Blood is a ring composition, is only two chapters long because it won’t have to ‘catch us up’ as its corresponding prologue had to but just ‘sum it all up.’

Part Two’s seven chapters, also a ring within the larger ring, are our deep dives into the Margot Bamborough case. In Strike’s interview with Dr Gupta and during the Peg-Legged PI’s walk through Clerkenwell with Robin in which he shares what he has learned from the Met file we learn at least something about almost all the players in the drama to be performed:

  • The Clerkenwell Cast features Gupta, Brenner, and Bamborough, the doctors at 29 Clerkenwell’s practice, Janice Beattie, the RN, Gloria, Irene, and Dorothy (and son) the receptionists and secretary, Wilma Bayliss the cleaning woman, and Steve Douthwaite, former patient;
  • The Day of Disappearance extras include Theo, the “gypsy-ish” last patient, Amanda White, the witness of a woman at the window, Ruby Elliot who witnesses Fiona Fleury and her mother at the Phone Box, the van driver on the scene, and Willy Lomax, our witness for a woman entering St James church
  • The Demon of Paradise Park embedded text introduces us to Dennis Creed, psychopathic murderer, Violet Cooper, his ennabling landlord, and the beginning of his nightmare victim list;
  • Margot Bamborough’s Other Life feature her best Bunny buddy, Oonaugh Kennedy, her old boyfriend, Paul Satchwell, her husband Roy Phipps, a hematologist, the nasty mother-in-law, Cynthia Phipps, the au paire third cousin become second wife to Roy, Anne, Roy and Margot’s daughter, and Dr Kim Sullivan, Anne’s wife; and
  • The Strike Agency and Metropolitan Police add the new characters of Pat the grumpy but professional receptionist in the Denmark Street office, Saul Morris, our detective replacement for Matthew Cunliffe as ‘dickhead male idiot’ in Robin’s life, and the policeman Layboun who graciously provides Strike with the hefty police file. That file includes the work of DI’s Talbot and Lawson, whose notes on the case and their contrasting personalities are a big backdrop to Strike’s revisiting Margot’s disappearance, especially Talbot’s occult focus and incipient madness. Cases the Agency are working and their principals — Tufty, Twinkletoes, Shifty, Two-Timer, and Postcards — are so much fascinating filler.

This is leaving out the cast members with whom we are already familiar and whom we have to think are not going to solve the Bamborough cold case. As important as the Cornwall players are, the Nancarrows and Polworths especially, the Strike family entourage, from Lucy, Gregg, and their three boys to his late mother Leda (ghost in the smoke!), his father Jonny Rokeby and Strike’s various half-siblings, and mad Charlotte Campbell-Ross, super-model ex, and Robin’s roommate Max, her once husband Matt (now with Sarah Shadlock), and the family in Masham, and Strike’s friends Ilsa and Nick, not to mention Shanker, they are all actors in the Strike Theater Company, not this year’s Featured Players. Except, of course, in the overarching dramas about ‘Who Killed Leda Strike?’ and ‘When Will Robin and Cormoran become Wife and Man?’ in which background play, which more often than not takes the front of the stage, they are the stars.

We meet all the new dramatis personae and are re-acquainted with all the stock players by the end of Part Two. I think Rowling-Galbraith crowds the stage intentionally right up front so the game is fair; she won’t be introducing anyone ex machina later in the story but her attentive reader is responsible for keeping a scorecard with the revelations to come for everyone involved. If you struggle with this (and, frankly, who doesn’t?) and you’re reading one Part per day rather than straight through on a binge, a good idea is to write out the suspects and side-players on a list which you can update as clues and information are dropped.

A lot of work, I know! Let’s get to Part Three, today’s Troubled Blood portion on the plate. Unlike the first two Parts, Three has more than seven chapters; it has sixteen, a relatively giant step up in content and degree of difficulty in charting. This is just a warm up, though, for the even more mammoth Part Four and its eighteen chapters (Parts Five and Six are eleven and twelve chapters, respectively). My first three points will be about whether Part Three is, as were the first two Parts, a ring within the larger ring of the novel. Having charted the chapters, I’ll take a relatively deep dive into the astrological chart and Celtic Cross Tarot card spread from Talbot’s True Book, note some correspondences and echoing with previous Rowling-Galbraith work I think may be meaningful, take a look at this Part’s fresh embedded text, and guess about what Part Five might include if it answers questions raised by or has pieces in parallel with Part Three. After the jump!

[Read more…]

Troubled Blood, Part Two: Top Ten Take-Aways from Chapters Eight to Fourteen

As explained yesterday, I will be reading and writing about one of the seven Parts of the just published Troubled Blood every day this week. For Part One’s seven chapters, go here. Thank you in advance for not posting in the comment thread about Parts not yet discussed in this series; feel free, of course, to join in the discussion if you have read no further than Part Two, Chapter Fourteen!

Top Ten Take-Aways from Troubled Blood, Part Two

29 St John’s Lane

(1) My first take-away from this exercise in relatively slow reading of a Rowling-Galbraith text is the thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if Rowling released a la Dickens her books in serial format?” I’d enjoy and appreciate the books that much more if she released several chapters or a novel section every other week or over several months. That sort of spacing would be a grace for the especially attentive reader so we could read the book as closely as this literal ‘narrative slow release’ would allow. No, I won’t hold my breath for that. (The pictures of Clerkenwell that grace this post are Google Street View screen shots collected by Nick Jeffery; thank you, Nick!)

(2) Ring Notes: Latch in chapters 8 and 14. 8 is largely set in a pub with Strike learning from Layboun the Missing Person case essentials. 14 is entirely in The Three Kings in which Robin and Cormoran review the findings in the police file Layboun has given them. That’s a pretty solid ring latch.

29 St John’s Lane

(3) Ring notes: Story Turn. For a seven part ring, chapter 11 is the natural center, the fourth of seven parts. Strike is in transition between his interview with Gupta and London, literally on a train — not in a pub, not ruminating on Bamborough case details, not a real strong echo, therefore, with the latch of Part Two. The significant connection is that Strike hears from Layboun about the Metropolitan Police file discussed in chapters 8 and 14 and that he will be delivering copies of the four boxes to Strike’s office. That will have to serve as the Part Two axis, then, if it is a ring.

Passing Alley

(4) Ring Notes: Meaning in the Middle. The central piece of a ring, in addition to linking beginning and end, should provide the take-away meaning for the whole. If that is the case, I think it is Strike’s realization after his conversation with Margot’s partner that he is beginning to think of her now as a real person rather than as a concept or flat surface reality (Robin has the same thoughts at the beginning of the last chapter). That is what Part Two does; we get three increasingly deep dives into the case and how it was investigated in chapters 8, 10, 13, and 14. Part One of Troubled Blood was prologue, i.e., the hiring, Part Two is the case details. Strike receives messages from Al Rokeby and Ilsa that are profoundly revealing, Strike’s shadow reality made exterior, namely, his suppression of all thinking about his father’s side and about his feelings for and obligations to Robin. These messages coupled with the great news about the Met file are a snapshot of both Part Two (chapters noted above) and the Strike-Ellacott drama (the Robin chapters 9 and 12, with chapter 8’s call from Charlotte). Chapter 11 is a short chapter but a brilliant center to Part Two’s ring.

St John’s Gate

If Troubled Blood is a seven part ring and its seven Parts are a turtle-back, then the questions opened up in Part Two should be answered in Part Six. Part Two is both the first lay out of the mystery of Margot Bamborough’s disappearance and the introduction of the incipient crisis in Strike’s long delayed and suppressed daddy and first true love psychological issues. Part Six, and, yes, I know this is not an especially brilliant insight given the brevity of Part Seven, will be the big reveal of ‘What Happened to Margot?’ and ‘Will Strike Successfully Come to Terms with His Feelings about Rokeby, Charlotte, and Robin?’

(5) Ring Notes: Asterisk Lines. If Part Two is a ring, the obvious relations between the fore and aft chapters is an asterisk rather than a turtle-back [about which, see (6)]. Chapters nine and twelve, the first and fifth parts of the ring, and chapters ten and thirteen, the third and sixth pieces, are undeniable parallels. The first pair are Robin chapters, in which she waits for a birthday call from Strike and then she receives it in the corresponding chapter on the diagonal. The second pair are largely deep-dives, as mentioned, into the 29 St John’s Lane office situation and day of disappearance events thirty nine years ago. 

Entrance to Albermarle

(6) Ring Notes: Turtle-Back lines. There are connections between the second and next to last chapters and the two just before and after the story-turn. Strike does mention the Gupta interview, for example, in his chapter twelve phone conversation with Robin, an interview that takes place in chapter ten. Strike and Robin talk about her reading Demon of Paradise Park in chapter 13’s long walk to The Three Kings, a reading she takes up with the exact misgivings Strike has for her in chapter nine. The strongest links between nine and thirteen, though, are all the mentions of the number 29. It is Robin’s 29th birthday in nine and she is reading about Creed’s release from prison on his 29th (and how his life takes a serious change in direction at this point). Chapter thirteen begins at 29 St John’s Lane and largely turns on the walk around and in the vicinity of this building. That’s a decent link if nothing akin to the asterisk lines joining chapters mentioned in (5).

Clerkenwell Rd Woman in window

(7) Twenty Nine. I was born on October 29th and if I have a lucky or favorite number it is 29. Perhaps the only really interesting and important thing related to this prime number is that it is the number of years it takes Saturn to complete an orbit around the sun. This is a very big deal among Western astrologers who have dubbed itSaturn Return and who believe the years before and after every twenty nine years after one’s birth are decisive in one’s life (starting at twenty-seven, ending at thirty). Saturn is also the marker of death, so it has notes on its return in the natal chart of momento mori. {Public confession, I am in my fifty-eighth year in 2020, so I am due a big change. Your prayers.} It’s no accident that Robin is in the crisis she is passing through just now and that it comes in the series nigredo. All of that only in support of our shared conviction at HogwartsProfessor that the coming Troubled Blood parts do not promise sunny days for Robin and Cormoran; astrologer Rowling in this paranormal heavy novel is cueing just that darkness with the number 29.

St John’s Priory Church

(8) Halloween: Robin’s birthday, like mine, falls in late October, which makes her a first-third Scorpio in Western astrology (my father is one as well; my mother was a last third Scorpio). [ERROR: Robin’s birthday is 7 October; she is a Libra.] This placement is supposed to mean that one is especially the qualities related to the Scorpio sun-sign, e.g., being both profoundly spiritual and martial. I mention this because Strike teases Robin in Albemare Way at St John Priory Church — after first noting and disliking her new Fracas scent — and then again at St James on the Green church on Clerkenwell Close that she is the enthusiast for the medium’s messages about Margot lying in “Holy Places.” Strike plays the metaphysical skeptic and assigns Robin the relatively spiritual or noumenal part of the investigation, one, with his ‘means before motive’ messaging, he clearly thinks is less helpful or important than material practicalities.

That they are visiting these places and a pub named for the Three Magi, as Robin notes, on Halloween, a night associated with revelations and appearances from the psychic realm, suggest that Rowling is pointing to Strike’s blind spot and psychological shadow as an investigator in this regard. Egad, the names! Theo, Creed, Margot (Pearl), Gloria, Irene, Dorothy, Oonaugh (Una) — all heavy with Christian allegorical content. And the places, not only the churches but Jerusalem Passage, St John’s Lane, and The Three Kings. Someone reading this book, forget the Spenser epigraphs, and not picking up the highlighting and iconographic notes should lose their Serious Reader’s license. Look for Strike’s empiricism to take a big blow in this book and for Scorpio Robin to shine. 

St John’s Priory Church Entrance

(9) Embedded Texts: I sense three, two of which jump off the page. The first is The Demon of Paradise Park, a book by an investigative reporter into the Dennis Creed case. Both Robin and Cormoran buy used copies and we get a lot of information dumped on us via their readings of this helpful book. A book inside the book about the subject matter of the book… I’m betting that the place Strike’s reading of the book is interrupted by Charlotte’s call in chapter eight will prove to be something he’ll have wished he read. The second is the Metropolitan case files on the Bamborough disappearance. It’s a huge file of four boxes — and has a double narrator, investigative officers Talbot and Lawson, one an occultist of some kind, the other Mr Professional Procedural. Cormoran is spending as much time interpreting these interpreters of the story as he is the actual case at hand. Rowling once again is writing an embedded narrative about reading and writing within her story about how best to read the narrative in hand.

The third narrative is Career of Evil. There are Silkworm touches, I know, especially that book within the book bit, but when Strike tells Robin in chapter fourteen that there are three primary suspects — “So now we turn to three men the police considered plausible suspects at the time and ask ourselves where they were at a quarter to six on the eleventh of October 1974” — we’re back to Strike3, no? The book will turn on Strike’s search for, discoveries about, and confrontations with Roy Phipps, Paul Satchwell, and Steve Douthwaite (and the dates Talbot circled by each of their names), the way Career did with Laing, Brockbank, and Whittaker (and Malley! Whittaker and Malley are likely for cameo appearances at least in Troubled Blood).

(10) The Baphomet. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when Pat translated the Pitman shorthand code for Baphomet. The nutters who have been writing me since I posted about Rowling’s solve et coagula tattoo have all been saying that she is a Satanist because the alchemical formula is on the arms of the Satanist idol-god, the Baphomet. That Talbot wrote this in shorthand suggests he was either taking dictation or wanted to keep it from idle eyes (though not an especially arcane code, right?). I wonder if we aren’t going to learn that Talbot, wait for it, was a Satanist, that Margot was chosen as a Satanic ritual sacrifice of some kind, and that Talbot’s job was to dead-end the case (and protect the hematologist-Satanist husband who is something of a vampire and cult-leader). Wilma Bayliss’ testimony about blood on the floor of the Phipp’s home on the day of disappearance will prove critical.

Hats off, regardless, to the online Assassins of Satanists who were convinced months ago that Rowling’s tattoo was a pointer to the Baphomet!

The circled dates? The Pentagrams? You tell me. Frankly, I’ll be disappointed if the killer turns out to be Roy Phipps; the husband, even if with a solid alibi at the start, being the murderer is a little too much like “the butler did it.”  I hope Oonaugh has some serious information about Margot’s loves, especially if she had lesbian or bisexual issues, to make this case and Margot less cut and dried than a jealous husband killing his wife, even if in a cult sacrifice, must be.

Two more quick notes for your interest and possible investigation before we move on to the much longer Part Three:

(*) Strike mentions real life serial killers Peter Tobin and Harold Shipman in Part Two. If Creed has a parallel here, it is probably Shipman, whose final death count remained something of a mystery. Tobin is fascinating because of his possibly being the Bible John murderer; Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue, which has significant parallels with Career of Evil, is largely about DI John Rebus’ fascination with Bible John. If there is an embedded ‘model muderer’ in Troubled Blood akin to Rattenbury the Wonder Dog, look for him first in the murderers named by Strike.

(**) If Rowling has read Louise Freeman’s HogwartsProfessor posts about DNA testing and realized she’d written herself into a corner, she writes her escape, brilliantly I might add, by having Strike think to himself that his mother Leda was “the woman with whom [poor Jonny Rokeby] had carelessly fathered a child in the semi-public corner of a New York party.” This opens the possibility that Cormoran was conceived while others watched or knew it was happening and that his birth nine months later was sufficient evidence of paternity to Rokeby and his entourage that he was the daddy, even without testing to prove paternity conclusively. That it happened in New York and 1974 re-opens the possibility that Strike is Eric Bloom’s son, Bloom being the lead singer of Blue Oyster Cult and Leda’s obsession. They were a Long Island, NY, group with a few hits in 1974 that might have been the opening act for the touring Deadbeats.

There’s more — Margot as WEA worker like the Murray matron of the dedication, the Guptas, partition, and mother-son relationships a la Gandhi’s Truth (you might want to check that out; Rowling as Louise Freeman has revealed seems to have a thing for Indian psychology/psychologists, no? Review the importance of Dr V. S. Ramachandran to Career of Evil if that doesn’t make sense to you) — but that’s all I have time to write up today.

On to Part Three, the first of the seven book Parts that is more than seven chapters! Wish me luck — and please share your thoughts on Part Two in the comment boxes below if and only if you have not read Part Three and beyond. Cheers!

 

Troubled Blood Day Of Publication! HogwartsProfessor Posts for Week One!

At last, 15 September has arrived! We should all have our copies of Troubled Blood in hand today or tonight for our first hurried reading of the 944 page delight that it will surely prove to be. I couldn’t be happier or more excited about the discussion to come here in the following weeks!

We have a plan for the very first week of HogwartsProfessor conversation that I hope will make your reading experience and appreciation of Rowling-Galbraith’s artistry and meaning that much richer. Every one of the HogwartsProfessor faculty is signed on for specific tasks specific to their skill set and our concerns here.

I will, for example, be charting each of the novel’s seven parts and sharing my thoughts day by day this first week. Today I will only have to offer a link to the thoughts about Part One that I posted last week; tomorrow I will put up thoughts about Part Two, Thursday, Three, Friday Four, Saturday Five, Sunday Six, and on Monday Part Seven. As time allows, I will try to untie clues as I go along to see if a relatively slow careful reading in keeping with Rowling-Galbraith’s characteristic narrative delayed release and misdirection allows the reader to figure out the hidden story before or as soon as Strike does. I’ll definitely post my predictions about the mystery’s resolution after charting Part Four on Friday; in the first four books, the villain has been revealed in the story center. Wish me luck — and, please, do not email me spoilers until next Monday night. Thank you in advance for that!

Elizabeth Baird-Hardy, author of Milton, Spenser, and the Chronicles of Narnia: Literary Sources for the C. S. Lewis Novels, will be continuing as a series her first post about the Spenser epigraphs that head each Part and chapter of Troubled Blood, a series in parallel with my Part-by-Part, day-by-day reading. Is Robin a second Britomart? Deputy Headmistress Baird-Hardy, Spenser scholar in residence, will give us a running record of the most in-your-face of Rowling’s literary allusions.

Louise Freeman has taken on the yeoman task of putting up and monitoring four different posts on the comment threads of which we hope readers will share the links and echoes they discover between Troubled Blood and previous works of Rowling-Galbraith. It is a public hypothesis and treasured theory of HogwartsProfessor that the author is writing a series that is not only a seven part turtle-back ring composition itself but one in parallel with the Harry Potter equivalent numbers (see ‘Three Things Every Harry Potter fan should know about Cormoran Strike‘ for more on that). The four posts will be on Troubled Blood and (1) Career of Evil, (2) the other Strike novels but especially Cuckoo’s Calling, (3) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and (4) the other Harry Potter novels but especially Philosopher’s Stone. You are all invited, begged really, to share the links you find on these four threads as you read Troubled Blood and then as you re-read it.

Professor Freeman, too, as our resident psychology professor, licensed behavior analyst, and expert on the psychological qualities and content of imaginative literature, will be writing a review of the reviews of the book with respect to the inevitable controversy about Rowling’s depiction of any character outside heteronormative boundaries. I confess I’m really looking forward to reading that next week when I’ve finished the book and my seven Part-by-Part posts! No one gets the writer or this issue more profoundly than Louise Freeman, and, though I suspect I’ll disagree with her (that’s just the nature of our relationship!), I know she will disabuse me of several delusions I have on the subject and I will learn quite a bit along the way.

Evan Willis has written the most challenging ideas about Rowling-Galbraith’s hermetic understanding and use of mythology. See his ‘The Mythic Context and Hermetic Meaning of Cormoran Strike‘ for an introduction to that perspective on Rowling’s work. He returns to share his thoughts about Troubled Blood and whether Strike 5 upsets or confirms his take on Rokeby, for example, as the principal Hermes figure in the series.

You are invited to join me and Professor Baird-Hardy in our One-Part-per-Day reading and reflection if you think you can hold off on the straight-through reading binge. The more the merrier! Thank you, though, in advance. if you wish to join us, for not posting about Parts we have not yet read or posted on. Spoilers rather ruin the test of whether Rowling-Galbraith’s internal structure and external story-echoes are sufficient to solve the mystery alongside Strike and Ellacott.

That’s a lot, I know, but we’ve waited a long time for today! Here are the first entries in the series that Elizabeth Baird-Hardy and I will be writing and links to the four Parallel Discovery Posts by Louise Freeman — Enjoy!

Day One, Part One: Charting the First Seven Chapters of Troubled Blood

Day One, Part One: The Spenserian Epigraphs of the Pre-Released Troubled Blood Chapters

Parallels Between Troubled Blood and Career of Evil

Parallels Between Troubled Blood and Other Strike Novels, Especially Cuckoo’s Calling

Parallels Between Troubled Blood and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Parallels Between Troubled Blood and Other Potter Novels, Especially Philosopher’s Stone

Troubled Blood Predictions: The SWAGs

What We Think May Happen and Why: Mild and Wild SWAGs

Rowling admitted that she has embedded clues to the upcoming series entries in the books already published and that she is writing books like this because that’s what writers she likes do (no, I cannot think of any who do anything on the order of puzzle writing in a book series akin to what Rowling does). Read that 16 February 2018 BBC.co.uk  Interview with J.K. Rowling here. The relevant passage is at the tail end:

You say that you’re often obsessed with your characters’ pasts. You must have gathered quite a lot of information about Strike by the time you got to Career Of Evil. Did you think about how much you should put in there?

Through the whole of the first three books I have seeded future plots. I already know where he’s going to go and I’ve already mentioned things I need to mention. I’ve mentioned people I need to have mentioned, because you will meet them in further books.

It’s a question of really knowing who they are and using that. I enjoy reading books of any kind, not just detective fiction. Where I feel the author really knows, I feel like I’m in safe hands. They know everything – I don’t need to worry, they’ve got it all worked out. I like that feeling when I read a book. That’s the kind of book I want to write.

Speculation on Troubled Blood, consequently, turns on a close reading of the previous Strike novels, 1-4, an understanding of the parallelism in Rowling works internally in the series and externally with Potter, and a sense of what constitutes a clue in the Rowling writing domain. I started the prediction making with respect to Phoenix parallels in an October 2018 post about the probable end of the Strike agency in Troubled Blood. (Be sure to read the comment thread on that post!)

We’ve come a long way since then. I’ve already posted my prediction sure-things, events and literary twists that have to happen because they have happened in every other Strike novel. Here are seven SWAGs for contrast, most ‘scientific’ or at least closely reasoned and a few at the end that explore the ‘wild’ side. Enjoy! [Read more…]

Liminal Women: Mermaids and Swan Maidens in Galbraith’s Strike Novels

Oxford’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, returns to HogwartsProfessor today — her third post here in a week! — to offer thoughts in the run-up to publication of Troubled Blood on the Mermaids and Swan Maidens in the Cormoran Strike novels. Enjoy!

In Lethal White there is moment when Britain’s sea-faring history briefly surfaces. Robin enters the rose garden of St Nicholas Church, Deptford and notes that its gateposts are ‘topped with the strangest finials she had ever seen. A pair of gigantic, crumbling stone skulls sat on top of carved bones.’ Robin thinks to herself that they would look at home ‘garnishing the front of a pirate’s mansion in some fantasy film’ (48). But, there is a persistent local legend that the indebtedness is the other way around: not that these finials recall the Jolly Roger, but that the Jolly Roger recalls them. The church’s website notes:

The famous flag of piracy sent shivers down the spine of unfortunate mariners whenever they came across it. But where did the flag originate? Legend has it that the flag was based on the skulls which still stand on the gate posts of St Nicholas’ church.

For centuries an economic and maritime war existed over the domination of the trade routes between Europe and the Americas, Africa and the Indian sub-continent. This battle of supremacy was mostly contested by Britain, France, Spain and Holland. Much of the conflict was acted out by privateers – ships in private ownership and outside the Royal Navy – whose activities were not fully investigated by the national authorities.

The British privateers did not necessarily want to broadcast their nationality when approaching say, a Spanish galleon returning from the Caribbean, particularly if they intended to loot her. So they invented a new flag, one intended to strike fear into the hearts of their victims and also to disguise their true nationality.

These ships were pirates, and many of them would have set off from Deptford – so hence it is thought that they borrowed the skull and crossed bones image from their local church.

This is, sadly, probably just a local tale, based on the link between the widespread, and ancient, Christian use of skulls as memento mori and the Jolly Roger (Though I do wonder if these memento mori skulls might have been in Rowling’s mind when she put up the Twitter header of Harmen Steenwyck’s ‘Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life’ as her Twitter header in Dec 2016, noting (when asked about it): ‘It’s hard to find a header that sums up everything I’m working on at the moment, but this painting comes close! It’s by Harmen Steenwyck’ (Jan 5, 2017)

Rowling would have been writing Lethal White at the time, and perhaps the memento mori skull in Steenwyck’s painting alludes to those church gates in Deptford, and the eye-catching local legend that they inspired the Jolly Roger itself.)

For Troubled Blood Strike will (at least briefly) be relocating to the coast, and given Rowling’s deep interest in folk legends and tales, I expect some Cornish sea-faring legends to appear. The most commonly noted Cornish link throughout the series has been Strike’s drink of choice – Doom Bar – and if this location merits a mention once Strike is back in Cornwall (as it surely might) Rowling may allude to ‘The Doom-Bar’ by Alice E. Gillington. We know from the blurb that Robin will be ‘juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike’ in this novel – and I wonder if Gillington’s Victorian poem about a doomed romance may have caught Rowling’s eye. ‘The Doom-Bar’ relates the story of a woman who gives her lover a keepsake as he sails away across the Doom Bar sands. She remains faithfully waiting for him until one year, when the tide is unusually low, she walks out on the Doom Bar and finds her ring nestling inside a scallop shell. This find brings with it the realisation that her sweetheart was faithless, and he tossed her ring out to sea the very day she gave it to him. [Read more…]