Beatrice Groves – The Ink Black Heart – Uncovering the synopsis clues

This morning we finally have the cover for The Ink Black Heart, complete with a plot teaser from the publisher. A few hours earlier than expected, the details were released by Apple Books before 9:30 am BST, before the expected 2:00 pm BST reveal from the Robert Galbraith twitter account. Thank you SEFiles podcast for the tip! The wait was too much for @RGalbraith who released the cover at 11:30 am.

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of  Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has written a Hogwarts Professor Guest Post: The Ink Black Heart – Uncovering the synopsis clues. Join me after the jump for Prof. Groves’ look at what the cover and publisher’s blurb can mean for The Ink Black Heart.

Publisher Description:

The Latest instalment in the highly acclaimed, internationally bestselling Strike series finds Cormoran and Robin ensnared in another winding, wicked case.

When frantic, dishevelled Edie Ledwell appears in the office begging to speak to her, private detective Robin Ellacott doesn’t know quite what to make of the situation. The co-creator of a popular cartoon, The Ink Black Heart, Edie is being persecuted by a mysterious online figure who goes by the pseudonym of Anomie. Edie is desperate to uncover Anomie’s true identity.

Robin decides that the agency can’t help with this – and thinks nothing more of it until a few days later, when she reads the shocking news that Edie has been tasered and then murdered in Highgate Cemetery, the location of The Ink Black Heart.

Robin and her business partner, Cormoran Strike, become drawn into the quest to uncover Anomie’s true identity. But with a complex web of online aliases, business interests and family conflicts to navigate, Strike and Robin find themselves embroiled in a case that stretches their powers of deduction to the limits – and which threatens them in new and horrifying ways…

A gripping, fiendishly clever mystery, The Ink Black Heart is a true tour-de-force.

The Ink Black Heart: Uncovering the synopsis clues

The blurb for Ink Black Heart has now been released. It tells us that Edie Ledwell, cocreator of the popular cartoon The Ink Black Heart is being persecuted by someone who calls themselves Anomie. This is a fairly alarming alias – as the incomparable Oxford English Dictionary tells us, it comes from the post-classical Latin ‘anomia’ meaning ‘lawlessness, sin.’ The word ‘ἀνομία’ was used in Hellenistic Greek in theological contexts and hence the obsolete English word ‘anomy’ means ‘disregard for or violation of law, esp. divine law; (also more generally) lawlessness.’ The related, and still current, ‘anomie’ (from the French) means ‘absence of the usual social or ethical standards of belief and conduct in an individual or group; (later also) a state of alienation from mainstream society characterized by feelings of hopelessness, loss of purpose, and isolation.’ The Oxford English Dictionary gives an example quotation noting this as peculiarly twentieth century malaise:

The affliction of anomie is widespread in the twentieth century, not least among those who have been disoriented by their often involuntary exile from familiar religious and social contexts.

The blurb suggests that Anomie then murders Edie (though we might immediately suspect that this is not the case – I’m already suspicious of that ‘cocreator’ of the cartoon!) ‘in Highgate Cemetery, the location of the The Ink Black Heart.’

This synopsis tells us that we’ve already scored two significant hits – Highgate, of which more later, and the idea that this novel would feature a text-within-a-text. Both the theories that the original seven novel plan for Strike was a ring (I’m sure she’s going to continue beyond this now, but the original structure remains for the first seven novels) and that this is ring echoes that of Harry Potter,  suggested that Ink Black Heart would centre on a text. The chiastic form of Strike (which means this novel will mirror Silkworm) and its echoing of the chiastic form of Harry Potter (in which Half-Blood Prince mirrored Chamber of Secrets) meant that my most confident prediction for Ink Black Heart was that it would involve a book-within-a-book – mirroring both Riddle’s diary and the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions’ textbook in Harry Potter, and Bombyx Mori in Silkworm. Nick and I discussed this idea with our friends at the Strike and Ellacott Files podcast in March and, as Kurt Schreyer and I wrote back in December after the title reveal ‘The ‘ink’ of Ink Black Heart, of course, gives us reason to hope that we’re right in thinking this will be another text-within-the-text novel’ 

Now we know what this text is – a ‘popular cartoon The Ink Black Heart.’ The mise-en-abyme theme so important to Silkworm is continuing here with the text-within-the-text sharing the title of the novel it appears in – just as it did in Silkworm (albeit translated into Latin) and, to some extent, in Half-Blood Prince. In August 2017 Rowling gave an interview about The Silkworm in which she touched on writing a book in which the plot revolves around a book: ‘there are many layers in that, and in case people haven’t read the book or watched the programme, I can’t say everything I’d like to say about the book within the book, which obviously contains clues’ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/mediapacks/silkworm/jk]. So what might be some of the clues of this ‘book within the book’ in Ink Black Heart? We know that in Silkworm this book-within-the-book was written by the murderer, just as it was in Chamber: Ginny/Owen Quine trusted this person but found that the book had in fact been written with an intent to destroy them. (It is interesting to note that in both cases Ginny and Quine became cocreators of that book with their would-be murderer – Ginny by writing in the diary, Quine by writing the original Bombyx Mori which his murderer rewrote. It’s a parallel which might have interesting repercussions for the murderous intent of the cocreator of The Ink Black Heart.) Given this strong parallel between the authors of the book-within-the-book in Silkworm and Chamber it seems reasonable to guess that there will likewise be a parallel between the authors of the cartoon The Ink Black Heart and the Potions’ textbook in Half-Blood Prince. (There is one parallel already, in that there are two ‘authors’ for each). Harry starts off trusting the author-annotator of his Potions’ textbook but then grows to mistrust him after the Sectumsempra debacle. Harry first thinks of the author of its marginalia (I so hope we’re going to get marginalia again!) as a friend, then at the end of the novel believes him to have been his worst enemy – the murderer of Dumbledore. However, of course, we find out this is not precisely the case and Snape has in fact been endangering his own life to save Harry. This complex genesis provides lots of possibilities for The Ink Black Heart – my guess is that either Anomie or the cocreator of the comic/cartoon (who may be one and the same?) will appear to be the murderer but, just like Snape, will turn out not be after all.

Back to Highgate, which Strike fans have been thinking about for a while now – Rowling having used an image of the Cemetery as her header back in May 2021 and then again just recently (from 17 June 22) – as I’ve discussed here and here. Initially I thought the lion in Highgate would be a Fantastic Beasts reference – although Strike and Ellacott files and Strikefans had this right from the start! When the second Highgate header appeared earlier this month, however, this seemed to tie the first appearance with the writing of Ink Black Heart and the second with the lead up to its release (on 30 August 2022) – and now, with the cemetery-cover and blurb release, we know this to be the case.

We now know that Highgate is going to be an important location for Ink Black Heart and the blurb appears to repeat this: ‘in Highgate Cemetery, the location of the The Ink Black Heart.’ I think this apparently clunky phrasing however is a clue – just as it was in Lethal White when the blurb’s odd phrasing ‘I seen a kid killed… He strangled it, up by the horse’ – enabled us to guess the location of this strangulation, due to the grammar hinting that the horse was a place, not an animal. Likewise, this blurb means that the location of the cartoon not simply the novel, is Highgate cemetery. Rowling is taking the mise-en-abyme of naming her novel after the text-within-the-text one step further than she did in Silkworm by making the location of her novel (the place in which its central murder takes place) the place in which the text-within-the-text is likewise set: presumably a dark comic strip, whose name puns on the parallels between the ink with which it is drawn and inky blackness of its cemetery setting.

Nick Jeffery mentioned to me, apropos of this Highgate setting, that Highgate has a disused Underground station. This observation might not seem particularly pertinent to the casual observer, although trains are, of course, crucially important to Harry Potter: from Harry’s genesis on a delayed train to the pivotal location of King’s Cross station, a portal at both the beginning and the end of Harry’s journey. (I also wonder if the original name of Lumos – a charity Rowling founded as the Children’s High Level Group in 2005 – comes from the name ‘High Level’ for platforms?) The London Underground plays no important role in Harry Potter (although King’s Cross is, incidentally, also the name of an Underground station). It does, however, turn up surprisingly often for a series set neither in London nor the Muggle world. There is the opening reference to the scar on Dumbledore’s ‘left knee which is a perfect map of the London Underground;’ Hagrid noting that ‘Gringotts is hundreds of miles under London, see. Deep under the Underground’ and then getting stuck in the Underground ticket barriers and gawped at on its trains; Mr Weasley’s excited questions about the Underground’s ‘escapators’ in Chamber – and his delight on travelling on it in Phoenix, a book which is punctuated by London Underground journeys. Strike and Robin’s trips on the Underground are likewise regularly mentioned, but at Hogwarts Professor we’ve been waiting for a disused Underground station to make an appearance in Strike since 2019, due to the identity of a book hiding on Rowling’s homepage.

In 2019 John did a series of posts investigating the hidden clues on Rowling’s website, and Nick brilliantly identified the corner of a book poking out from beneath a pile as J.E. Connor’s London’s Disused Underground Stations (2001).

This pile of books clearly relates to Strike, given that it is topped by a guide to Melrose – a clear signposting of a location central to Career of Evil and the hometown of its killer (who even has the heraldic symbol of Melrose tattooed on his arm). The other pamphlet in the pile is a ‘Captivating Scents’ brochure from the Chelsea Physic Garden, a location that has also appeared in Strike – so it would seem plausible that some disused Underground Stations should likewise be turning up sometime.

Connor’s London’s Disused Underground Stations has, sadly, no entry for Highgate, but it does have a number of fun stories about these locked stations, and I wonder if one of them may have caught Rowling’s eye. For example, The Tale of Mr Brackett – a humourous poem of 1933 of a commuter so engrossed in his paper that he unthinkingly alighted at the obsolete South Kentish Town station (open from 1907-24). At first, on finding himself on a dark platform, Mr Brackett thought he had gone blind but on realising his predicament, he resourcefully created a bonfire out of the peeling old station-platform posters and succeed in catching the attention of trains passing by. This story caught the imagination of the poet laurate John Betjeman who wrote a radio story based on it (‘South Kentish Town’, broadcast in 1951). Likewise, a TV programme retold the story in 1997 – and there is, perhaps, a kernel of truth to it, as the original poem claims to have been based on the fact of a passenger once alighted on the disused platform after it had been shut in 1924.[1]

The evocative nature of disused stations has not been overlooked by TV producers in general and, as Connor notes:

Occasionally the premises have been used in television programmes, when a suitably ‘creepy’ old station was required. Of these, one of the most memorable was an episode of the late 1960s thriller series ‘Department S’… entitled ‘Last Train to Redbridge,’ and had Wood Lane masquerading as a disused station called Post Office, which has been taken over by a sinister group of political subversives. Presumably somebody working on the story had seen the unfamiliar name ‘Post Office’ on an old Underground map, and not realising it was the former name of St Pauls, made the assumption that it had closed.[2]

Connor takes tube stations seriously and I enjoyed his disapproving write-up of surely the best closed-station story – that of ‘British Museum’ (open from 1900-33):

Before closure there was a farcical suggestion that British Museum station was haunted by the ghost of an Ancient Egyptian, and a national newspaper offered a financial reward to anyone who was willing to remain on the premises overnight.

Stories such as this no doubt inspired the 1935 comedy thriller Bulldog Jack… much of the action took place on a fictitious disused tube station named ‘Bloomsbury’, which had a secret passageway leading to a sarcophagus in the British Museum.[3]

The name ‘Bloomsbury’ is a natural fictional double for the real station name of ‘British Museum’ but, pleasingly, Bloomsbury was a name that was considered, and eventually discarded, for the real station.[4] (Bloomsbury, of course, is a name close to Harry Potter fans’ hearts.) Doing my research thoroughly, I have watched Bulldog Jack and thoroughly enjoyed it although, sadly, there were no obvious parallels to Strike (the film can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOtF7op64Ek). If I were Rowling, however, I’d definitely have Strike and Robin telling each other about the Eygptian ghost story and maybe, in an echo of the 1935 film, Ink Black Heart will find criminal activity occurring in Highgate Station.

Back in the real world the station tunnels of ‘British Museum,’ along with those of other disused stations, were used as public air-raid shelters during the second world war. Brompton Road (open from 1906-34), for example, was fought over by the War Office and the V&A museum – but the War Office won, and it was used as the control room for the 1st Anti-Aircraft Division, rather than as safe storage for Raphael cartoons or the Great Bed of Ware. The relatively unpopular station Aldwych (opened as Strand 1907, renamed Aldwych 1915, temporarily closed 1940-46, finally closed 1994) was transformed into a public air-raid shelter for almost the entirety of the war while British Museum treasures, including the Elgin Marbles, were stored in its tunnels.[5] Connor prints an amazing photo of a concert in Aldwych station during the Blitz of 1940 – accordion players and singers performing on the platform while the audience is packed into the ‘pit,’ in this case the disused tracks. 

A piece of social history linked with these stations of which Strike might particularly approve, comes from the station alternately called ‘Lord’s’ (1868-39) and St John’s Wood (1925-39). This was always an anomalous station, underused most of the year but so busy in the cricket season that an auxiliary booking office had to be built. And in a perfect example of the last century in which cricket truly was a summer sport, and football a winter one, this portable booking office was transferred to Drayton Park in the autumn to assist with the similar rush on tickets for Strike’s team Arsenal.[6]

Disused Underground Stations – vast empty caverns locked beneath busy streets or rushed past by trains that never stop – are an immediately evocative location. We would also expect them to be locations with a strong appeal for Rowling, a writer whose denouements so often take her hero underground. A disused station feels like a satisfying real-world equivalent to Harry’s journey’s deep underground at the end of Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. So, I predict that the finale of Ink Black Heart will find Strike in the disused Highgate Underground station and – if we’re going to have an echo of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth (which plays its part in the underground locations of both Stone and Chamber) – perhaps Strike will be rescuing Robin from that disused station? (It would certainly be a pleasing Chamber parallel to have an underground rescue of his future beloved.)

Finally, the trailing ivy over the grill at Highgate Station looks temptingly close to the parting greenery which was central to the book-reveal teaser – and which can be found framing the cover likewise. Obviously, this plant is not ivy, but I don’t think it is an accurate depiction any other real, native English plant either. It could be a garden creeper I’m not familiar with (I’m only good with native plants!) but I don’t think it is weeping beech (wrong shaped leaves) or birch (the edges of the leaves are not serrated as they should be) which would be the most likely guesses. I suspect the illustrator is simply trying to convey a generic trailing vine and, as such, the ivy cascading over the locked entrance to the Highgate Station forms an evocative parallel. 

                                                                                                                                               

I look forward to hearing any thoughts the synopsis and cover suggested to you. In particular any suggestions for the epigraphs? The epigraphs for Silkworm echoed the baroque violence of Bombyx Mori in their emphasis on revenge tragedies. They were not, however, precisely the same genre as the book-within-the-book itself. Might this mean we’ll get epigraphs from graphic novels for Ink Black Heart? Texts about cemeteries? Or something based on visual artforms?

We’ll know the answer on August 30th.

[1] See: J.E. Connor, London’s Disused Underground Stations (2001), 23-24.

[2] Connor, London’s Disused Underground Stations, 88.

[3] Connor, London’s Disused Underground Stations, 42.

[4] Connor, London’s Disused Underground Stations, 43.

[5] Connor, London’s Disused Underground Stations, 98.

[6] Connor, London’s Disused Underground Stations, 66.

 

Comments

  1. Louise Freeman says

    Over on Twitter, @badly_wired suggested bindweed (a terrible invasive) as a candidate, though apparently the reddish color is wrong. Interestingly, the December 2019 newsletter (https://highgatecemetery.org/uploads/2019-12_Newsletter_web.pdf) mentions an effort to clear invasives, including bindweed, off of military graves in Highgate.

    In 1991 Nora and a friend took responsibility for the maintenance of the three hundred or so graves of servicemen and women who are buried on both sides of Highgate Cemetery. The plots had to be located before being freed from their thickets of brambles, horsetail and bindweed. Her work continues today with a group of volunteers who give their time and skills to ensuring that these Commonwealth War Graves are visible and well-maintained.

    This could certainly connect to our favorite Redcap, if one of his comrades-in-arms (Gary Topley?) is buried there, or if he decides to take Jack to visit.

  2. Great find Louise! I love that @badly_wired’s suggestion of bindweed has a link with service personnel in the location! (Bindweed is still not a perfect fit for this plant – but in terms of accepting it as an artist’s impression, rather than a fully accurate depiction, I think it is the closest we’ll get.) Wondering if the heart-shaped leaf is what drew the artist to it…

  3. Kelly loomis says

    Here are two more entries from “badly_wired” about the bindweed: Let the speculation begin about it being a part of Rowling’s story.

    https://twitter.com/badly_wired/status/1542448802103267334?s=21&t=QJiy7lO0e4NU79yub9rNLw

    https://twitter.com/badly_wired/status/1542443808817831936?s=21&t=QJiy7lO0e4NU79yub9rNLw

  4. Sue Lewis @suekmoorhen says

    I think the plant is Japanese knotweed – it has very destructive properties and can grow through concrete – it will find a weak spot and exploit it which can have double meanings for this book. It is listed as one of the worlds top 100 worst invasive species. It has no natural enemies to prevent its growth again we can read more meanings into that

  5. Disconnected thoughts that come to mind.

    1) Didn’t someone say that Lethal White had a “Part two” heading in the middle but no “Part one” at the beginning? Well, since “Part two” things have been getting decidedly Gothic and look like continuing that way.

    2) Edie Ledwell makes me think of Edie Sedgwick. Clearly too in your face to be plausible, but maybe this co-creator will be an Andy Warhol figure.

    3) “Dishevelled” Edie Ledwell storming into the office and telling Robin (not Strike) something that she dismisses as unimportant, but later turns out to be anything but, reminds me strongly of Billy Knight.

    Very excited now.

  6. Louise Freeman says

    While Strike rescuing Robin from an Underground Station would be a great parallel to CoS, personally, I would rather see something more like the DD/Harry trip to the sea cave at the end of HBP, with them embarking together, with Strike at first firmly in the lead, resolving to protect Robin at all costs. But, in the end, she has to be the one who supports him on the way back, just as she first did in The Silkworm’s “use me like a stick.” Strike expressing the equivalent of “I’m not worried, I am with you” would be a beautiful thing, and show that they are truly equal partners.
    Only without Strike getting killed as soon as they return.
    The Underground Station would work for that, too, right?

  7. Great thoughts all!
    Sue – I agree the shape is right for Japanese Knotweed, but that grows up upright rather than as a vine. Do you know if it turns orange?
    Elisa – I had exactly the same thought about Billy Knight! and it will link with the 6/4 parallels we’d expect to see. Edie Sedgwick certainly seems a good fit from the youth profile, with some Leda links? If we are meant to be reminded of her it reminds me of the ‘a la Sylvia Plath’ of Silkworm – in terms of recalling a famously tragic story.
    Louise – yes! The sea-cave is the ‘underground’ parallel for CofS in HP – and would be a perfect link for a disused Underground Station (both equally unsuitable for a school trip). As you say there are some great possible parallels here – though I hope we won’t see Robin feeding Strike poison, maybe she will do something that pains him in the short term but which he wants her to do for him?
    Some other thoughts:
    Also another clear Silkworm link is in the emphasis on ‘on-line aliases’.
    One of the people they had to track down from her online presence in Silkworm was Pippa. Pippa being trans had a clear parallel with the theme of gender fluidity in Bombyx Mori – with a central character who has a full set of male and female sex characteristics. There is also the signposting of this theme with the name Orlando – the most famous novel with a gender-fluid protagonist. So assuming that this idea is likewise going to turn up in some way in Ink Black Heart (I’m suddenly drawn to the fluidity of ‘ink’ here – both in the title of the novel and the comic!) – maybe it will be relevant that the blurb gives just gives us the name ‘Edie’ without giving Edie any pronouns?
    And, in this vein, – and because I’m always hopefully for an early modern epigraph text (which would, of course, link with the early modern epigraphs of Silkworm!) – I’ll just mention that most gender-fluid early modern text I know is The Arcadia. Sidney’s Arcadia is fat enough for Rowling to take all her epigraphs from one text (having started doing this – a truly tour-de-force achievement – I don’t think she’s going to stop!) – and it has a truly astonishingly gender-fluid character for an early modern text. Unlike in any of Shakespeare’s cross-dressing plays (though these, of course, would be another potential source), the gender switching is from a man to a woman, and when Pyrocles decides to dress as a woman (so he’ll be allowed near the woman he loves) he not only takes her name – she is called Philoclea and he calls himself Cleophila – but (and no other early modern text does this) the narrative voice starts using feminine pronouns for Cleophila once Pyrocles transforms into her.
    This also enables the most complex love-triangle in any early modern text as the King falls in love with Cleophila (as a woman); the Queen sees through the disguise and falls in love with Cleophila (as a man) and Philoclea does not penetrate the disguise but falls in love with Cleophila anyhow.

  8. Galbraith’s website has now been updated with a shortened synopsis which gives Edie a female pronoun – changing the ‘with this’ of the original synopsis to ‘her’
    https://robert-galbraith.com/stories/
    It does draw attention to the way in which Edie was not explicitly gendered in the original… hint or chance oversight?

  9. Now *that* is interesting. Until now, murder victims in the books have been of alternate sex – starting with Lula Landry and Rochelle Onifade, then Owen Quine, then the women murdered by the Shacklewell Ripper, then Jasper Chiswell, then Margot Bamborough. I thought it would be a man’s turn. Maybe this pattern is not significant. I’ll wait to see if Edie is trans or non binary or anything else like that to see if it is!

  10. Louise Freeman says

    We have also alternated between multiple and single victims; with the books with woman victims all having at least two, while the men were solo victims. Perhaps Edie will be the sole victim, rather than one of a serial killer like in books 1, 3 and 5.

    And, although we don’t know it until the very end, both Bristow and Janice killed men as well as women.

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