Career of Evil and Strike Speculation 100: Untangling the Timeline of Donald Laing

The errors associated with Donald Laing’s history have already been mentioned on this site (see John’s ‘The Trouble with JKR/Galbraith Dates’). So, how are readers to make sense of it all, especially when we are looking to Cormoran Strike’s own past as the key to the “big mystery” of the series: who killed Leda? Since Laing’s army career intersected with Strike’s twice, figuring out his history informs us on Strike’s.

For convenience, I list below 25 passages from Career of Evil that make some sort of actual or implied claim on the timeline of Laing’s life. Remember that Career is set in April-July 2011. Strike is 36, going on 37 in November. 

  1.  “I got him life…Out in ten. He’s been on the loose since 2007.”
  2. “I’m pretty sure he was at an address in Corby in 2008, but he’s moved on.”
  3. “He had not seen Brockbank for eight years, Laing for nine.
  4. “He was before I knew you. King’s Own Royal Borderers. Knew him in Cyprus.”
  5. “He’s the Scot I landed in jail for ten years.
  6. “…who had been only twenty when they had first met.
  7. “…whom he had first met eleven years previously in a boxing ring.
  8. “the younger man perhaps faster on his feet, Strike superior in technique.”
  9. His senior officer had accepted Laing’s plea of mitigating circumstances…he had entered the ring deeply distressed by news of his fiancée’s miscarriage.
  10. Three years later, Strike had arrived in Cyprus to investigate an alleged rape.”
  11. “Donald Laing had been sentenced to sixteen years’ imprisonment for what he had done to his wife.”
  12. “He came back to see his mother a few years back.”
  13. “Och, four or five years ago, that would’ve been.”
  14. “He turned up on her doorstep, forced his way into the bungalow.”
  15. “When Rhona first took up with him—she was fifteen and he was seventeen—
  16. “He wanted tae join the army. Good riddance, I thought. I hoped she’d forget him if he left. Then he came back. He got her pregnant but she lost it… she went and married him on his next leave…Off to Cyprus together.
  17. Six months she lived in fear of him turning up and then one day he did.”
  18. “She and Laing had a baby, didn’t they? The kid must be, what, ten by now?
  19. “Have you got any idea where Laing went after turning up at Rhona’s?” “Yes.  Apparently he went to Gateshead, but I don’t know whether he’s still there.”
  20. “He spent a decade inside and I doubt they managed to rehabilitate him. He’s been out over four years: plenty of time to commit murder.”
  21. “It’s only twelve miles from Corby. We could swing by and see whether the Laing who was shacked up with a woman there in 2008 is our Laing.”
  22. “How long were you together?” “Ten months.
  23. “Unsolved murder in Leeds, 2009. Prostitute, originally from Cardiff. Then, last year, a girl was killed and mutilated in Milton Keynes. Sadie Roach, her name was.
  24. “He thought about Laing, living alone in his grim Wollaston Close flat, claiming his disability benefit, overweight and infirm, looking far older than his real age of thirty-four.”
  25. “Police have charged thirty-four-year-old Donald Laing with the murders of Kelsey Platt, Heather Smart, Martina Rossi and Sadie Roach.”

It is already obvious that not all 25 time references can be accurate.

  • Laing could not be sentenced to both 16 years (11) and life (1).
  • If Laing is 34 at the time of Career (24, 25), and 20 (6) at the time of the boxing match, the match did not happen 11 years ago (7), but 14.
  • If Laing was released in 2007 after serving 10 years (1, 5, 20), he would have been jailed in 1997. This presents multiple problems:
    • It puts Strike 3-4 years off in his estimate of the age of the baby he rescued (18).
    • For the boxing match to occur three years before the arrest (10), it would have happened in 1994, when Strike was 19 (for most of the calendar year, anyway), and therefore not older than 20-year-old Laing (6, 8).
    • This would also have Strike first meeting Laing in the ring a full 17 years ago, not 11 (7). In 1994, Strike would likely not even be in the Army yet, much less promoted to Corporal and boxing in a tournament. 

So, unless Donnie is a time-traveler as well as a sociopath, or the Red Caps boxing team illegally imported some Oxford students, some of the above must be in error. The question is, is there a way to make sense of most of it, given what else we know about Strike’s history?  See my efforts on that front after the jump.

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Troubled Blood and Strike Speculation 102: More Trouble with JKR/Galbraith Dates

Troubled Blood certainly filled in some of the gaps in Cormoran Strike’s history; perhaps most notably telling us, at last, about the two times he met Jonny Rokeby (at age 7 and age 18, as it turns out).  It also cleared up one difficulty with Cormoran Strike’s timeline: namely the fact that Strike believed his conception and birth broke up Rokeby’s marriage, when both happened in a year when Rokeby was unmarried. For once, my guess was right; it was Rokeby’s second marriage (to Carla Astolfi) that broke up, not when baby Corm was born, but in 1979 when the paternity test (an HLA, or blood typing test, *not* a DNA test) showed Rokeby to be his father. We should assume that Carla was dating or engaged to Rokeby at the time of the indiscretion in the New York party, and that she was not able to forgive this infidelity 5 years later. Indeed, it is entirely possible that Rokeby left his first wife, Shirley Mullens, for Carla; we also learned in Troubled Blood that it can take a while for a divorce to be final. Robin initially left Matthew for cheating with Sarah 7 years previously, before their marriage; Carla left Jonny for the same reason.  And unlike Robin, Carla had the good sense not to change her mind.

But Troubled Blood did not fix all the problems with the Strike series timeline, and may have given us a few others to ponder. I’ve spent the last week or so working on pre-series timelines for both Robin and Strike. Almost none of the basics changed from the dates listed in John’s 2018 post, Lethal White and Strike Speculation 101: The Trouble with JKR/Galbraith Dates:  

  • Strike was still born in  November 1974. 
  • Leda still died in late 1994 or, more likely, early 1995. (Most likely the latter. More on that later!). Troubled Blood clarified that this was “mid-way through”  Strike’s second year at Oxford. 
  • The IED explosion still happened mid-year of 2007, probably between May and September.

I hope to soon make both my full timelines available here on Hogpro, so that other serious Strikers can offer additions and corrections. But for now, after the jump. I’ll share some dates that don’t add up, and still are giving us headaches, post- Troubled Blood. In particular, the odds of the 2008 date of the Digger Malley investigation being correct have just fallen precipitously.

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Troubled Blood: Talbot’s Thyroid and Rowling’s Occult Artistry and Meaning

Bill Talbot was the first Detective Inspector to handle the Margot Bamborough missing person case. In the last months of 1974 and the first months of 1975, he used occult means, principally astrology and tarot cards but also invocational magic in the end, in order to find the missing general practitioner or to reveal her killer. He believed the Essex Butcher, the name given by Fleet Street to the serial killer later identified as Dennis Creed, was responsible; the point of his otherworldly charts and card spreads as well as his interrogations of suspects consequently was to discover which person in the extensive Line Up he compiled was this madman. Talbot maintained both a police file for the prosaic researches he and his team of Metropolitan police did and a separate ‘True Book’ for his independent occult investigation.

He failed. In fact, he seemed to have lost his mind. Talbot’s son Gregory explains to Strike in Troubled Blood that Mrs Talbot had him “sectioned,” that is “detained under a ‘section’ (paragraph) of the Mental Health Act 1983,” because of his claim that he had successfully invoked the Whore of Babylon and that doctors discovered he was suffering from an “overactive thyroid.” The detective was put on medication for hyperthyroidism which helped him recover his wits and his disdain for the occult but not in time to save his career. He was forcibly retired and spent the rest of his life regretting how he ‘blew’ the Bamborough case.

Here’s the thing. Hyperthyroidism as a rule doesn’t have anything to do with mental health, not to mention causing those so afflicted to enter a “psychotic state.” Why did Talbot’s excess thyroxin result in his discarding pretty much everything he knew about how to investigate a case professionally and pursue occult means instead? [Update: Not True; hyperthyroidism can cause psychosis.]

I’m pretty sure that Rowling-Galbraith, in making her astrology and tarot consumed detective suffer from an “overactive thyroid,” is playing with the occult community’s ‘received opinion’ (via Manly Hall and others) that the pineal gland is the Eye of God and the locus of human contact with the psychic realm. Join me after the jump for the connection in belief if not in endocrine fact between the thyroid, the pituitary and pineal glands, and the netherworlds. Believe it or not, I think the surface disdain for and substantial truth of the occult ‘findings’ of Bill Talbot in Troubled Blood reveal something essential in Rowling’s artistry and her meaning in this series, not to mention the trajectory of Strike’s transformation. [Read more…]

Was 2020 A Bad Year for J. K. Rowling? Nominated for 3 British Book Awards

It is a reasonable conclusion for anyone who follows the news via Twitter and the tabloids that 2020 was a horrible year for J. K. Rowling. She was effectively blacklisted by the cognoscenti for her stand against transgender activist overreach and lost hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. Harry Potter fandom did its best to demonstrate their group-mind with the Zeitgeist by uniformly condemning her as a “transphobe” and making her ‘She Who Shall Not Be Named’ (or pictured!) at The Leaky Cauldron, MuggleNet, and The Harry Potter Lexicon.

Pretty grim, no?

Yesterday, however, the British Book Awards — known as the ‘Nibbies’ because it used to be the ‘National Book Awards’ and, y’know, ‘nibs’ go with pens, ‘bibs’ with babes — announced their short lists of author-nominees in nine categories for 2020: Audiobooks, Children’s Fiction, Children’s Illustrated and Non-Fiction, Crime and Thriller, Adult Fiction, Fiction (Debut), Non-Fiction (Life-style), Non-Fiction (Narrative), and Pageturner. Rowling in her annus horribilis managed to take in three nominations across these categories. Troubled Blood was nominated for both the ‘Crime and Thriller‘ and the ‘Audiobook’ awards and The Ickabog for ‘Children’s Fiction.’

Rowling is no stranger to the Nibbies, as you’d expect. She was ‘Author of the Year’ in 2000, received two ‘Children’s Fiction’ awards (1998, 1999), one ‘Book of the Year’ (2006), an ‘Outstanding Achievement Award’ in 2007, and most recently a ‘Bestseller Award’ in 2017 for Cursed Child. She was even given a special award last year for Philosopher’s Stone as the Most Important Book of the Last Thirty Years.

She has, in brief, won more ‘Nibbies’ than any other author and the argument could be made that she deserved many more ‘Bestseller Awards’ than she received. I suspect that even today the Harry Potter titles in backlist are outselling even the best selling new releases not written by Rowling-Galbraith.

So how bad was 2020 for Rowling-Galbraith, really?

She lost twitter followers, certainly, and continues to shed them at a rate of a thousand a day — but she hasn’t posted since December and has retained fourteen million followers, the largest author platform and one all but forsaken for prudential reasons, marketing be damned.

Fantastic Beasts despite all the Covid 19 hullaballoo wrapped up filming last week and Cursed Child re-opened in Melbourne. No doubt other theaters will re-open soon around the world in short order.

I suppose being cast out and blacklisted by Harry Potter fandom sites for her heroic stand against the tide of political correctness and in defense of young people being all but forced into irreversible surgeries and ‘transitions’ was a downer. She has written, however, that her inbox has been flooded with e-owls of admiration and gratitude from doctors, health care providers, parents, and transgender people who have been effectively silenced by the online bullies of transgender activism. At least one major publication, too, gave her an award for bravery in writing the truth.

Rowling got her life back by turning away from Twitter, Fantastic Beasts and Cursed Child are on course, and she published two best selling books which were nominated for a record three Nibbies, all against unprecedented and hurricane force gale winds. If this was her worst possible year, a time that any other author would consider a pinnacle of success, she’s doing more than all right.

Congratulations are due to Rowling and her team of helpers for successfully navigating in 2020 the counter currents generated by and the outrage of the Professionally Offended classes. Here’s hoping she wins one or two British Book Awards this year as a rebuke to all the naysayers and nattering nabobs of negativism.

Guest Post: Leda Strike Was a ‘Fixer’ — The Dark Side of the Quicklime Girl

Serious Striker Chris Calderon speculates from the lyrics of the Blue Oyster Cult song ‘Mistress of the Salmon Salt’ and the band’s interpretation of the song that Leda Strike was much, much more than a “super-groupie.” She may have been, if the lyrics tattooed above her pudenda mean what the Cult band members say they mean, a repeated and practiced accessory to murder or “fixer,” a possibility that explains her erratic behaviors as a mother. Enjoy!

The Misadventures of Quicklime Girl: The Curious Absences of Leda Strike

A topic of interest was brought up not too long ago in ‘Leda Strike: Mistress of the Salmon Salt,’ a recent post by John Granger on this site. It all centered around the nature and meaning of the tattoo worn by the mother of Detective Cormoran Strike. Katya Slonenko started it all with a theory that the skin engraving meant that it was pointer to Leda Nancarrow being a cold-blooded killer. That really got a bit of conversation going, and the idea proved enough to spark more than a few theories around the topic.

I had the idea to go and see if Blue Oyster Cult, the band responsible for Leda’s lyric, had anything to say that would shed light on the nature of her choice of personal statement. According to Martin Popoff’s book-length band bio, Agents of Fortune, the group’s fellow Cult members did have one or two insights to offer about their 1973 hit single, Mistress of the Salmon Salt.

Bolle figures the ‘Mistress’ lyric is about, “Love. I guess it’s a groupie song, sex.” “Super dark,” adds Buck. “We were going for a Rolling Stones kind of evil on that one.” Albert (Bouchard, sic) offers a few words on this characteristically weird tune. “Well, that was actually a song I’d written called ‘Checkout Girl’ (laughs) and it wasn’t much of a song. Sandy said ‘I re-wrote the lyrics for ‘Checkout Girl’ and he gave me this ‘Quicklime Girl’. Of course I was like, ‘Okay this we can use, but we’re going to have to make it more scary (laughs). These lyrics are really bizarre, you know, the famous story of the person that kills people, or actually I don’t think she kills people, but she performs a service. She would bury the murdered dead, and use them as fertilizer for her plants” (40-41). Join me after the jump to see if we can unpack the meaning of this statement, and what it might tell us about the curious past of Leda Strike. [Read more…]