Beatrice Groves: Blood Relations and Troubled Blood – A Hint from Tom Burke

A Guest Post from Oxford’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter — Enjoy!

Blood Relations and Troubled Blood: A New Hint?

I was delighted when Holliday Grainger and Tom Burke turned up on my radio, while I was eating breakfast this morning.1 They were there to advertise the TV version of Lethal White (which starts on Sunday, on BBC1 in the UK) and Burke gave one piece of new information about the adaptation. He mentioned the new emotional vulnerability in Strike we see in Lethal White (in particular in the chapter when his nephew is taken to hospital). Burke notes that this episode is cut from the TV show, but he says that he tries to keep this vulnerability in his mind in his performance. (I liked the idea that he was keeping true to this scene in the way he plays his character although it is not in the show – making the novel, not the TV script, the blueprint for his character). [Read the transcript of ‘The Zoe Ball Breakfast Show’ episode with Burke and Holliday at; thanks and a hat tip to Nick Jeffery!]

But what particularly interested me was a hint he gave about Troubled Blood. Burke said: ‘I know a little bit [about Troubled Blood] because there was a particular thing – there was a particular… my grandfather was a novelist, and there was a particular thing he wrote about that comes into the novel in a particular way, so we got chatting about that.’2 Not much to go on – but enough to get me itching to know a little more. So here’s an over-view of the work of Burke’s grandfather (a novelist whom I suspect will be new to most of us) and my best guess as to what that topic might be.

The works of Burke’s grandfather – Arthur Calder-Marshall – are all highly distinct from each other. Calder-Marshall himself commented ‘I have never written two books on the same subject or with the same object.’ Like Rowling, he also wrote under at least one pseudonym: William Drummond. Calder-Marshall is also the likeliest candidate for the mysterious R. D. Mascott who wrote an authorised James Bond spin-off, aimed at the pre-teen market: The Adventures of James Bond Junior 003½ (1967). This is probably the book of Calder-Marshall’s that has the most obvious ‘detective’ slant, and, if it turns out that this work was the one Burke and Rowling discussed, then Burke has confirmed his grandfather as the author (something the Fleming estate has never agreed to do).

Two other works of that deserve mention are The Scarlet Boy (1961) – generally considered to be his finest novel. This has an extremely dark premise that would not feel out of place from what we can expect from Troubled Blood; it explores the psychological effect on those who live in a house haunted by the ghosts of two boys who have committed suicide. Another particularly interesting work (and a jump that bears out his claim to have an unusually varied output) is his biography of Vice-Admiral Alexander Riall Wadham Woods: No Earthly Command (1957). This book was about a turning point in the Vice-Admiral’s life, and it marked a turning point in the author’s life likewise:

During the battle of Jutland, while he was signals officer to the admiral of the Grand FleetWoods allegedly received an ‘interposed message’ instructing him to serve God, and he ended his life as a poor parson working with down-and-outs in the East End of London. Having initially been cynical about the commission to write Woods’s biography, which came from an American film producer, Calder-Marshall came to believe while researching it that Woods was praying for him from heaven, and the book became the emotive story of Calder-Marshall’s own conversion to Christianity. (Dictionary of National Biography)

It is an arresting story that might have caught Rowling’s attention, but I was also interested in the intertwining of the two lives of Woods and Calder-Marshall given the way that Troubled Blood looks like it will intertwine Strike’s own life with that of the cold case he is investigating. Calder-Marshall finding that his own life is mirroring that of his subject would fit with Strike finding that the subject he is investigating has uncanny links with his own life. The blurb to Troubled Blood notes that Strike will be investigating the disappearance of a woman in 1974 – the year of his birth – and presumably (given that he hears about this case in Cornwall) her disappearance also occurred in Cornwall. So this new mystery links the (probable) murder to both the year, and place, of his birth – in a way that will no doubt resonate with the novel’s interest in tarot and the occult.

In addition to his numerous works of fiction and non-fiction for adults, Calder-Marshall also wrote novels for children, one of which – The Fair To Middling (1959) – stands out for its centring on disability. Terry Potter writes of how:

it tells the story of a group of children, all of who have disabilities of one kind or another, who are given the opportunity to pay a visit to a travelling fair that has come to the village green. The fair turns out to have magic – even diabolic – qualities and all of the children are given a chance to swap their disability for ‘normality’. However, what they all discover is that the chance to change their lives is something of a ‘devil’s bargain’ – if they lose their disability what they will go on to achieve in life is also diminished.3

Terry Potter writes that this novel ‘needs to be acknowledged as a classic of its kind and a book that is one of the first to engage in a thoughtful and provocative – even modern – way with the issue of disability.’ This is interesting, given Strike’s disability, although what caught my attention in particular is the centrality of a travelling fair. For Strike’s surname is inherited from a man – Strike, Snr – whom Leda met and married when he came to town as part of a travelling fair.

Particularly arresting is the emphasis on the diabolical in the fair in The Fair To Middling. For the most striking aspect of Calder-Marshall’s biography, given what we know about Troubled Blood, is his connection with Aleister Crowley. Calder-Marshall’s fragmentary autobiography – The Magic of my Youth (1951) – is focussed on ‘the then infamous occultist Aleister Crowley, whom he records as a thoroughly seedy and disillusioning character’ (Dictionary of National Biography). Indeed, in what seems to have been one of the most infamous episodes in Calder-Marshall’s life, (and one which, surely, his grandson would have grown up on stories about) centres on Crowley:

As secretary of the Oxford University Poetry Society, he invited Crowley to come and speak in 1930. He was fascinated by the idea of anyone so reassuringly evil ‘in a world where blacks and whites were breaking up so fast into various shades of grey’ (Calder-MarshallThe Magic of my Youth, 177). This became the scandalous ‘banned lecture’ on Gilles de Rais, which was not allowed to take place and was instead printed as a notoriously boring pamphlet. (Dictionary of National Biography)

Gilles de Rais was a truly horrific serial killer, although given Rowling’s interest in folktales – and the presence of a serial killer in Troubled Blood – it seems worth discussing him further, as he has been suggested as the inspiration for Bluebeard. (I think folktales will reappear in Troubled Blood given that Cormoran is named from a Cornish folktale – for more on this, see my Bathilda’s Notebook blogs  coming out on 9 & 10 Sept). Gilles de Rais was a fifteenth century soldier who ‘was accused of dabbling in the occult. After 1432, Rais was accused of engaging in a series of child murders… He was condemned to death and hanged at Nantes on 26 October 1440.’ 

On the radio Burke told of how ‘my grandfather was a novelist, and there was a particular thing he wrote about that comes into the novel in a particular way, so we got chatting about that.’ The novel in question here is Troubled Blood rather than one of Calder-Marshall’s novels, so Crowley – even perhaps this infamous banned lecture on Gilles de Rais would fit the bill as the ‘particular thing’ Burke’s grandfather ‘wrote about.’ For although it was not a topic in one of his novels, her wrote about it in his biography The Magic of my Youth (a title with a faux naïve pun on ‘magic’).

We have good evidence that Crowley will be turning up in Troubled Blood. Firstly, because – if the Hogwarts Professor is right that Strike will mirror Harry Potter’s chiastic structure (and I think he is!)  – Troubled Blood will be paired with Career of Evil in the Strike series. Aleister Crowley is mentioned in Career of Evil (Whittaker is a fan) so in terms of Strike’s structure it wouldn’t be surprise to see Crowley (and indeed Whittaker) again in Troubled Blood. And Rowling’s Twitter has given two hints that we might. Firstly, on Jan 25 2020 (as Nick Jeffery noted) she changed her Twitter header to Crowley’s natal chart.

 Secondly on April 12 2020 (Easter day, as it happens) she liked all five of the tweets this thread by @DameDeniseMina.

Easter 1901: Aleister Crowley is 3 months into 6 months of isolation in Boleskin House, Loch Ness. The purpose is preparation for the Abramelin Ritual which will allow him to summon Satan, lucifer and the 12 Dukes of Hell. Success will make him able 1/5

To bend them to his will. He will have all that power. The spell requires a north facing room, fronted by a terrace upon which he must lay river sand to a specified depth. This is so that the footsteps of visiting demons are visible. At the end of the terrace 2/5

He must build a wooden hut for the summoned demons to abide in while he harnesses their wills. He must use sacred oil, pray and incantate, remain celibate, fast, use Kabbalah signs to petition for powers like invisibility, flying, walking underwater, finding buried treasure 3/5

After three months he breaks off this quest for ultimate power: why remains a mystery. He goes to Paris for a power struggle with W.B. Yeats for control of the Golden Dawn. In the ‘70s Jimmy Page bought Boleskin house, believing Crowley left after opening a portal to hell 4/5

Why Crowley broke off the quest for ultimate Kabbalistic power has always been a mystery. Did he lose faith? Did he meet the devil? Was Mathers mistranslation fatal to the ritual? Well I know now. I’m so bored of staying in I’d jump at the chance to slap fight WBYeats rn. 5/5

There is also one possible piece of evidence that Rowling knows something about Crowley in Harry Potter. Rowling chooses significant dates throughout the series.

Sometimes these are personal – Harry sharing her birthday, for example, or her tellingly specific choice to make the date Lavender Brown is dreading ‘Friday the sixteenth of October’ (Azkaban, Chapter 6). This is not only the date of Rowling’s wedding to her ex-husband but also the correct day of the week. For Rowling was married in 1992 (when the 16th October fell on a Friday) although in the ‘world’ of Harry Potter Azkaban takes place in 1993 (so in the world of the novel it is a date that ought to fall on a Saturday).

Other choices for years within Harry Potter have a wider resonance – most obviously the parallel between the date of the end of World War II and Dumbledore’s defeat of Grindelwald in 1945. Sometimes these significant dates appear to link with the history of magic in the Muggle world – for example, does Rowling choose 1612 as the year for the Goblin Rebellion because this was the year of the Pendle Witch trials (probably the most famous British witch trials)?

Likewise, I wonder if Rowling chose 1875 as the date of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery because it was a year with occult associations – and one of these associations is that 1875 was the year Aleister Crowley was born.

What we know about Troubled Blood already carries more than a whiff of the occult and the recently released blurb mentions both ‘tarot cards’ and ‘a psychopathic serial killer’ (the latter another link with Career of Evil, the only other true serial killer in Strike). In addition to the hints about Crowley on Rowling’s Twitter, she also changed her Twitter header to three tarot cards on Strike’s birthday last year . The cards on her twitter header are from the Thoth tarot deckthe deck painted by Lady Frieda Harris under instruction from Crowley. (The deck is on display in the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft and Magic – will Strike and Robin pay them a visit to learn about the ‘tarot cards’ that haunt their Cornish mystery?) 

There are many tempting options among Arthur Calder-Marshall’s work for the overlap with Troubled Blood but I think that Crowley – and in particular Crowley’s abortive appearance in Oxford and his scandalous ‘banned lecture’ on Gilles de Rais – seems the likeliest fit.

We’ll find out on September 15th.



  1. Nick Jeffery says

    Wonderful Bea! And a connection to Crowley, lots to look for.

  2. Joanne Gray says

    Thank you Professor Groves for writing this post. I listened to the Grainger/Burke interview and as soon as I heard Tom Burke mention knowing a bit about book five (which was a bit of a surprise) and then mentioning the conversation he had about his grandfather’s books (an even bigger surprise), I instantly hoped someone would write a post that would fill in some of these interesting blanks that had just opened up. And you have helped to fill them in very well indeed.

    I will be looking for these possible story/character echoes while reading Troubled Blood and I hope that when JK Rowling is interviewed about Troubled Blood that the one asking the questions has done their homework concerning this very interesting connection between film Strike’s grandfather and the Strike book author (who is also one step removed by her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith). I’m curious to hear which of Arthur Calder-Marshall’s books she read and then echoed in her own Strike series of books.

    Can’t wait to read your Bathilda’s Notebook blog posts on September 9th and 10th and as a final minor connecting note—I couldn’t help noticing that the photo you posted of Arthur Calder-Marshall (Tom Burke’s grandfather on his mother’s side) bears a very striking resemblance to the Strike actor.

  3. Louise Freeman says

    Beattrice, this is all amazing! Are you sure you are not working undercover in the Rowling/Galbraithe/Murray estate and peeking over her shoulder as she types?

    I can’t wait to hear more of this!

  4. Beatrice Groves says

    Thank you Nick, Joanne and Louise! I really enjoyed researching this unexpected glimpse of Book 5.
    I agree with you about how similar Burke looks to his grandfather in that picture, Joanne !
    There is also another pleasing fact about Burke from that interview, which is that his father (David Burke) played Watson in Granada Television’s 1980s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (opposite Jeremy Brett as Holmes). Its nice to think that his father played the ‘sidekick’ while his son has been promoted to playing the ‘detective’!

  5. Kelly Loomis says

    Thank you for this research! As an iPhone owner, I was able to read the first seven chapters today on Apple Books as a “sample”. It is available on in the US. Not sure why it’s available only in the US or only on Apple Books vs kindle.

    We’re in for a treat!! We get information on Strike‘s childhood in Cornwall and aunt and uncle starting on page one!! I won’t give any spoilers but I think we’d going to learn a lot plus us be treated to another great mystery.

  6. Prof. Groves,

    It wouldn’t surprise me to hear mention of Crowley again if Jeff Whitaker were to make another appearance in this book.

    More than this however, you’ve article has sort of fueled my own thinking in a certain way. There’s a passage in “Silkworm where Strike sees a photo of Rokeby in the Albion restaurant. “As he sat down he noticed, sandwiched between pictures of Duke Ellington and Robert Plant, his own long-haired father, sweaty post-performance, apparently sharing a joke with the bass player whom he had once, according to Strike’s mother, tried to strangle. “Jonny never was good on speed,” Leda had confided to her uncomprehending nine-year-old son (303)”.

    The scene itself always lept out at me, as it struck me that the author couldn’t just leave mention of one of the major characters in Strike’s life in a way that drew attention to him in contrast with two other artists. Looking into both Ellington and Plant uncovered a connection to the following artists: Blake, Shakespeare, and Christopher Marlowe. It’s the last playwright who seems to tie it all together. Ellington once collaborated with Orson Welles on a modern adaptation of the Faust myth called “Time Runs”. The Duke was responsible for writing the score to Welles’s play. Thought that isn’t his only connection to Renaissance literature. He also produced a complete jazz album devoted to Shakespeare.

    However, it is hinted connections to Marlowe that stick out the most. The point is that by connecting Rokeby to Marlowe through a lineage of real artists, I’m still convinced that Rowling means readers to intuit that “The Rocking Prune” is meant to be looked at as an untrustworthy person. He’s meant to be both a sellout and an overreacher like his Elizabethan counterpart.

    Thanks to your article, I’ve done some further digging and have discovered that Crowley serves as yet another connection to the Marlowe play. According to Gary Lachman’s biography of Crowley, the scandalous character served as an actual “occult advisor (289)” for Peter Brook’s production of “Dr. Faustus”. This ties together both Plant and Ellington with Page, as both Zeppelin band members were familiar with the shady old character. The relevant passage from Lachman’s bio can be found here:

    The upshot is that I’m convinced you might have uncovered another clue as to the character of Rokeby. I don’t know how that sounds, yet there it is, for what it’s worth. In that sense, I think I owe you some thanks for this article.

  7. Beatrice Groves says

    Thank you for this ChrisC. You have uncovered a very interesting network of connections – and, certainly, given what is going on with musicians in the Strike series, the Page/Crowley link jumped out at me too. I don’t feel quite as negatively about Marlowe as you do, though! He was a great playwright and an important influence on Shakespeare – it is true that he was a spy for the government, but this was pretty common (in some sense) for any continental traveller abroad when England was in such an uncertain position (Spain continued to launch invasion attempts throughout this period, for example), and I don’t think this or his early death mark him precisely as an ‘overreacher’ -as his protagonists are often described. Nonetheless, I agree entirely that he is a counter-cultural figure and I think the link with Dr Faustus that you propose would fit very well with occult metier of Troubled Blood (as well as linking into the early modern play epigraphs of Silkworm). Brilliant find that Crowley advised on Peter Brook’s Faustus!

  8. Prof. Groves,

    Thank you ever so much for this kind reply. I never wrote that comment thinking of Marlowe in a negative light. I was more focused on the the tone or atmosphere is his writing. There seems to be a lot more of the Gothic in him, even more than the Bard. Therefore it just made sense (to me, at least) that a more critical voice was the proper way of speaking about works like “Faustus”.

    Still, a great deal of thanks for the kind reply.

  9. Wayne Stauffer says

    Your mention of Calder-Marshall’s The Fair to Middling reminds me of a short Ray Bradbury work, Something Wicked This Way Comes. It, too, involves a traveling carnival. Certain townspeople are offered a heart’s desire in exchange for their souls/servitude rather than a healing from a physical disability. Jonathan Pryce played the Circus Master in the film.

  10. Beatrice Groves says

    Dear ChrisC – thanks for your reply and yes, definitely more gothic than the Bard – I agree! Looking forward to looking out for Faustus in Troubled Blood. And thanks for your comment too Wayne – and, of course, that title (Something Wicked This Way Comes) comes from Macbeth – Shakespeare’s witchiest play, and one Rowling has both drawn on in detail before, and named as one of her favourites. That play would also be a natural fit with what we know of the mood of Troubled Blood – and also its first known performance was in Hampton Court (in 1606) – the place we see on the novel’s cover…. !

  11. Joanne Gray says

    Prof. Groves,
    There was another interview with Strike actor Tom Burke today–Virgin Radio on August 28
    where he mentions specifically that the conversation (between him and JK Rowling) centered around Rowling going into details about the Cormoran/Charlotte relationship. Which does confirm for me that Charlotte will play a big part in Book 5. Can’t wait!!

  12. Prof. Groves,

    I got to admire the way you keep enriching the possible thematic threads of the next novel. That “Scottish Play” connection is one that totally escaped my attention. The perfect irony is that it also suggests a link to the scene in the Albion from “Silkworm”. I discovered that Duke Ellington collaborated on Orson Welles in “Faustus” adaptation. The great director also produced a very surreal version of Macbeth!

    For what it is also worth, Citizen Kane can also been seen hawking the Elixer of Life in a film called “Black Magic”. It’s based off Alexandre Dumas’s “Cagliostro”, and it left me wondering if that text was another inspiration for the unfortunate Mr. Riddle. Either way, it’s a nice bit of trivia to pass along.

  13. Beatrice Groves says

    Thanks both v. much for your comments and, Joanne, for the link to yesterday’s radio show – I’m interested to see what happens with Charlotte too! I think though, that the conversation about Charlotte and the conversation about his grandfather may have been different conversations – I don’t think Charlotte precludes Crowley. We shall see!

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