While We’re Waiting for The Ink Black Heart, Try Magpie Murders: a Book-within-Book Echo of The Silkworm

Thanks to my fellow Strikefans on Twitter, I got a good recommendation for another British whodunnit to tide me over until The Ink Black Heart comes out. Indeed, it is particularly appropriate since we are expecting a book-within-a-book (or possibly cartoon script within a book?) mystery, with connections to The Silkworm. I am about halfway through the audiobook of Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, volume one of his Susan Ryeland series.

I can already testify that there are a lot of similarities between Magpie Murders and the second Strike volume, so much so that, were they not published so close together (The Silkworm in June 2016, Magpie Murders in October 2016), I might think that Horowitz’s volume was inspired by, or written in homage to, Robert Galbraith’s.  In fact, Rowling’s name has been mentioned twice in the book, along with other well-known mystery writers such as Ian Rankin, P.D. James and, of course, Agatha Christie.

Susan Ryeland is the fiction editor of a small British publisher. The company’s star writer is Alan Conway, an egotistical author of a best-selling series of Christiesque mysteries, who has just submitted his planned final manuscript, having decided to bump off the series star, Detective Atticus Pünd, via brain tumor. When misfortune befalls the author, his editor turns detective, searching not only for the missing last chapter of the manuscript (which contains the annoyingly absent whodunnit solution) but also for answers as to what really became of its author.

Like Cormoran and Robin in The Silkworm, Ms. Ryeland recognizes real-life acquaintances of Conway in the manuscript, and begins to suspect that there is a hidden message in the book that someone didn’t want published for the world to read. Other common elements with The Silkworm include a self-important author with more enemies than friends, a sphincter-clenchingly bad, unpublishable book draft that said author thinks is his masterpiece, a country retreat in Devon, an abandoned wife and child, and a manuscript that appears to exist only on paper, in an era of computers. And if we want a connection to Cuckoo’s Calling, we have the famous person falls from a tall building, suicide or murder question. The major difference is that we readers get to read the full Atticus Pünd mystery along with the editor. Don’t worry, it’s better than Bombyx Mori. 

It’s been a thoroughly entertaining read so far, and I’m on my library’s waiting list for the sequel, Moonflower Murders. If you enjoy a book-within-a-book and British murder mysteries, this is one to put on your list. And is the magpie on the cover of The Ink Black Heart a wink to this series? We’ll have to wait and see.

Pentagram Predictions III: Troubled Blood as Alchemical Twin to Deathly Hallows

This is the last, at least for now, of my Pentagram Predictions Posts.  As I stated in the introduction to this series, this model has a serious weakness; a 5-part structure messes up the Parallel Series theory: the idea that the Cormoran Strike books are written in parallel to the 7-part Harry Potter series. My tentative solution is to propose that JKR/RG wrote Troubled Blood not just as a counterpart to Order of the Phoenix, but as a combined counterpart to the last three Potter books. In that case, we should be able to see not only echoes to Order of the Phoenix, but to Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows.

Fortunately for me, two-thirds of this post has already been covered. Hogpro regulars were expecting OotP links, and started compiling a list in a Placeholder Post as soon as Troubled Blood was published. Then, I was struck by the number of parallels for Half-Blood Prince that seemed to be in Troubled Blood, starting with the common “Blood” in the title. This is part of what let me to speculate that TB might have been originally planned as the 6th book in the series. You can find the rationale behind that idea, and the list of Half-blood Prince connections here. 

I’m not going to try to recap every OotP and HBP connection to TB here, but refer readers to the earlier posts.  (Read the comments, too, as some of the best ideas came from our readers!) I also want to stress that Troubled Blood is not the three Potter novels in sequence; there is no moment when TB ceases to echo OotP and starts being more like HBP. Rather, we see themes and echos of all three books woven throughout the text.  Lethal White had a specific storyline connection to Goblet of Fire; “Unpleasant government minister in charge of pulling off a successful major sports event is murdered by the son that he got out of jail early” could be a Cliff Notes plot summary for both books. For Troubled Blood, I see more isolated thematic and character echoes. For example:

  • Anna’s leading = Trelawny’s prophecy:  Both OotP and TB were set into motion when a medium went into a trance and made a prediction to a skeptical listener.
  • Talbot’s “True Book” = The Prince’s Potions text: Both are old volumes, covered with handwritten notes suggesting atypically approaches to problem-solving. Harry and friends spend most of the book wondering who the Prince was; Robin and Strike have to figure out what Talbot was actually thinking, and who the mysterious “Schmidt” was.
  • Witness interviews = Pensieve memories. In both HBP and TB, the protagonists are depending on decades-old memories to answer the current questions, and review a series of them over the novel.  Hence the long, narrative monologues by characters like Gloria Conti and the Bayliss sisters, rather than the typical Q and A of an interview.
  • Charlotte’s texts = Harry’s mental link to Voldy: Unwanted communications in both TB and OotP let our hero know what their nemesis is thinking. At one point, the connection alerts the hero that someone is near death, and he saves their life. The connection is cut at the end.
  • Steve Douthwaite = Horace Slughorn: the cowardly figure who tried to rewrite his past to hide a guilty secret and had to be strong-armed into revealing it.
  • Disaster at Madame Puddifoots = Dinner Party from Hell:  Valentine’s Day just never quite works out right, does it?

Interestingly, some characters do double-duty, pointing us to both OotP and HBP.  For example:

  • Saul Morris = Delores Umbridge and Cormac McLaggen.  I think JKR was misdirecting us a bit by introducing a grouchy older lady as the new agency secretary; my knee-jerk reaction was “aha—  Umbridge counterpart.” But Delores, our least-favorite toad-faced DADA teacher turned out to have her homolog in the handsome new sub-contractor Morris; notice how the names rhyme? Saul Morris arrives at the agency with a similar level of arrogance that Umbridge brought to Hogwarts: undercutting Robin’s authority in the same way Umbridge undercut Dumbledore’s, while sucking up to Strike in the same way Delores did to Fudge. Just as Harry would not tell Dumbledore about Umbridge’s hand-cutting quill because DD was away a lot, concerned with more important matters, Robin did not tell Strike about Morris’s inappropriate texts, because she did not want to add to his worries in St. Mawes. Just like Umbridge was foolish enough to insult the centaurs, Morris was foolish enough to “joke” with the woman who fought off the Shacklewell Ripper by grabbing her from behind. Both found themselves physically trounced, then run out of the “castle”–and not a soul was sorry. Morris also reminds us, more directly, of the vain and womanizing Cormac McLaggen of HBP; even playing a similar role as the target of a little fake holiday “dating” our brainy heroine does to save face after being dumped, and which prompts some jealousy in her actual love interest.
  • Joan Nancarrow = Sirius Black and Dumbledore. Joan, like Sirius, was a surrogate parent to Strike, and he certainly felt guilt, not for causing her death but for not being as attentive to and appreciative of her as he should have been. As Dumbledore was weakened by Voldemort’s potion, Joan was weakened by chemotherapy. Like Dumbledore, Joan had an elaborate funeral, a non-traditional burial and a beautiful white container for her earthly remains.

But what of Deathly Hallows? Can we find echoes of that book in Troubled Blood? Find out after the jump.

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Pentagram Predictions II: Silkworm-Lethal White Links.

The Pentagram model predicts five pairs of cross-connected  texts in the first five Cormoran Strike books. Previous posts have already documented thematic links between

  1. Career of Evil and Troubled Blood
  2. The Silkworm and Troubled Blood
  3. Cuckoo’s Calling and Lethal White
  4. Cuckoo’s Calling and Career of Evil

This leaves one more pair of books that would be expected to have parallels:  The Silkworm and Lethal White. Can we find thematic connections?  You bet!

Our heroes find the body: In both SW and LW, the detectives are initially hired by the family for a reason unrelated to murder. The victim is unexpectedly discovered by one of our detectives (Strike in SW, Robin in LW) in a second home that the victim owned. The bodies were left in position by the killer, and described as looking grotesque, using comparisons to food. Quine was described as looking like a joint of meat or a trussed turkey, Chiswell with a turnip-like head. Our heroes photograph the body before calling the authorities and review the photo spread later in the case. And, as John has previously pointed out, Strike had sex the night before he found his body, Robin refused sex the night before she found hers.

Overly complex, planned murder of a male blackmailer: These are the only two books where there is a single victim, and in both cases, the victim was a blackmailer; Quine was blackmailing Liz Tassel, Chiswell was seeking information to counter-blackmail the Winns. The murders were elaborately planned, to a level of absurdity, over a lengthy period.

Strike enlists illegal help from a woman: In SW, Strike asks Nina Lascelles to steal a copy of the Bombyx Mori manuscript for him, even though being caught could have gotten her into trouble. In LW, Strike asks Robin to bug Winn’s office.

New hires: Robin is upset and threatened by the hypothetical new ex-police or ex-Army hire Strike wants to make in SW. In LW, ex-police (Andy) and ex-army (Sam) contractors have been hired and Robin is happy with them.

Irritating and intrusive Sarah: Sarah Shadlock attends a family event in Masham (Mrs. Cunliffe’s funeral in SW, wedding in LW). Robin does not feel she can complain about Sarah at the funeral, given how close she came to missing it because she drove Strike to Devon. She also felt she had to let Matthew invite Sarah to the wedding because she had invited Strike. Sarah being Sarah, she is overly friendly to Matthew at the funeral, and to Strike at the wedding.

Popping hamstring: In both books, the hamstring of Strike’s stump gives out when he is over-exerting himself on a case, and he collapses on the street, unable to walk and has to get help from a woman (Robin in SW, Lorelei in LW). Strike’s leg hurting is common to all books, but only in SW and LW is it so swollen that he has to stop wearing the prosthesis and resort to crutches.

Dining in the gentlemen’s club: Strike takes Jerry Waldegrave to a former gentlemen’s club turned restaurant for lunch in SW, complete with a clock on the wall that supposedly stopped when they admitted the first woman. Chiswell takes Strike to lunch in an actual gentlemen’s club that still does not admit women in LW. Strike eats roast beef and potatoes in both places.

Road-trips, biscuits, breakdowns and burgers. In SW, our heroes take their first road trip to interview Chard. Strike doesn’t eat breakfast, but is surprised and delighted that Robin brings biscuits and eats them all.  After being treated rudely by Chard, Robin breaks down in the Burger King. Strike responds rather harshly (“don’t blame me if you don’t like what you’re about to hear!”), saying that it would be hard for her to meet the demands of being a partner, given Matthew’s attitude. He tells her not to cry and to “cheer the f*ck up and eat your burger.” Their partnership is established.

On the road trip to visit the Chiswell family, Strike eats breakfast, but then is surprised and disappointed that Robin didn’t bring biscuits. On the road trip to interview Tegan, after being treated rudely by Winn, Robin breaks down on the verge. Strike responds calmly and tenderly, comforting her as she cries on the road and later saying, “bear in mind that we want exactly the same thing while I’m saying the next bit.” He tells her that nothing in her past prevents her from doing the job, as long as she addresses the mental health issues. They enjoy venison burgers at the racetrack. Their friendship, which had been broken after Robin’s marriage, is re-established.

Call waiting: In both books, Strike is talking on his cell to a male colleague with a heavy regional accent* (Polworth in SW, Barclay in LW) when his phone beeps to tell him he has another call. He ignores it. When he finally checks, the caller turns out to be a woman in an emergency situation that needs his immediate attention (Leonora telling him of her arrest, Lucy telling him of Jack’s hospitalization).

* and nationalist tendencies, though we don’t know that until later.

Strike uses woman to meet his own emotional needs: In SW, Strike sleeps with Nina not just to help with the case, but as a source for free meals and physical comfort when he was distressed over Charlotte marrying Jago. In LW, he sleeps with Coco when he was distressed over Robin marrying Matthew.  Later, he uses Lorelei as, in her words, a “restaurant and brothel.” Both Nina and Lorelei call him out on his exploitive behavior at the end of the relationship.

Say no to the dress: Robin reflects at the start of SW that she had never dared wear the Green Dress, given Matthew’s response to it. At the housewarming in LW, she considers wearing it, but dons a grey one instead, to please the Flobberworm. When she finally does wear it to the Paralympic Ball, Matthew rips it when trying to coerce her into sex.

A kiss is just a kiss: Strike kisses Robin’s hand for the first time in SW; he kisses her mouth (albeit accidentally) for the first time in LW.

Business advice from Greg:  Strike is annoyed by his brother-in-law trying to advise him on his business in both books.

Danger in a loaner vehicle:  In both books, Robin is put into a life-threatening situation inside a borrowed vehicle: Nick’s dad’s cab in SW, Raff’s girlfriend’s boat in LW. Strike rushes to rescue her, but is unable to prevent her face from being injured.

Herbert’s boarding house:  Strike is staying with Nick and Ilsa for the first time at the end of SW. Robin is staying with Nick and Ilsa for the first time at the end of LW.

These lists are getting long!  Please suggest more!


Pentagram Predictions I: Cuckoo-Career of Evil Links

Under the Pentagram model, the stars that Talbot scrawled frantically on his notes are a clue not just for Strike and Robin but for the readers, providing a map to the structure of the series. This model predicts that particular pairs of books will have parallel themes. One such pair is The Cuckoo’s Calling and Career of Evil. I am going to list some of the connections I see and ask our readers to list more in the comments.

In vino veritas in the Tottenham. This is perhaps the clearest parallel in the series, as obvious as “are you a witch/wizard or what?” in Harry Potter.  In CC, Strike learns Charlotte is engaged to Jago Ross, a scant two weeks after their break-up and her alleged miscarriage. He concludes, probably correctly, that Charlotte had cheated on him with Ross. He goes to the Tottenham and gets plastered on his favorite drink, Doom Bar. To his surprise, Robin, who was worried about him, tracks him down and, after a lot of drunken secret-spilling, gets him safely home.  In CoE, Robin learns that Matthew cheated on her with Sarah Shadlock. She goes to the Tottenham and gets plastered on her favorite drink, red wine. To her surprise, Strike, who was worried about her, tracks her down, and, after a lot of drunken secret-spilling, gets her safely to a hotel.

This time, it’s personal. In both books, the killer has a personal history with Strike. John Bristow knew Strike as a childhood friend of his adopted brother and first victim; Donald Laing knew Strike from the army.

Near-bankruptcy. Strike starts CC broke and with a single client, not knowing how he will keep the business afloat. He is reduced to the same state in CoE, eventually hocking his watch for cash. While financial challenges are never far from the heroes’ minds, in SW they are going well enough that Strike talks of taking on other employees, and by LW and after, they have a full time staff.

Time of year. Both Robin and John Bristow arrive at Strike’s office on March 29th, 2010, which starts the case for our heroes. CoE starts almost exactly one year later, on April 4, 2011.

Jack’s birthday party. In CC, Strike reluctantly attends his nephew Jack’s birthday party; a year later, in CoE, he avoids taking Lucy’s calls because he knows she will pester him about coming to the party again.

Blondes are more fun. Strike’s sexual partners in CC and CoE are both tall, beautiful, blue-eyed blondes in the entertainment industry: supermodel Ciara Porter and BBC presenter Elin Toft.

Good cop, bad cop. Eric Wardle and and Roy Carver are the friendly and unfriendly Met cops respectively, in both books. These are the only two books where Carver appears. Wardle also turns up at the end of Lethal White, but is not actively consulted during the case and appears relatively little; his name is mentioned only 40 times in LW, compared to 100-200 times in CC and CoE, both much shorter books than LW.

Brotherly love (not!): Though both killers have more than one female victim, the killing that initially gets Strike’s attention is a siblicide. Lula Landry was killed by her adoptive brother; Kelsey Platt by her brother-in-law, whom she told others (e.g. Jason) was her brother.

Cuts like a knife: Strike winds up in hand-to-hand combat with the killer at the end of both cases. The killer is armed with a bladed weapon and injures Strike on the arm or hand. Strike, for his part, breaks the killer’s jaw.

Reunited, and it feels so good: As the end of the book approaches, it appears Robin and Strike’s professional and personal relationship is over, in CC because she is leaving for an HR job, in CoE because she’s been fired. In both books, there is a last minute changing of minds. In CC, Robin decides she wants to stay, for the meager salary that Strike can pay; in CoE, after failing to reach Robin by phone, Strike rushes off to her wedding to ask her to return.

I’ll stop there.  I’m sure people will think of others.

The Pentagram Idea: What if Cormoran Strike was Originally Intended as a Five-Book Series?

Several days ago I floated a new idea on this side:  5-6 Flip, the possibility that Troubled Blood was originally intended as the sixth book in the series, which would explain why, in addition to the expected connections to Career of Evil and Order of the Phoenix, we also see a lot of parallels with The Silkworm and Half-blood Prince. This is illustrated most clearly if Bill Talbot’s old notebook is considered the analog to both the Bombyx Mori manuscript and the Prince’s doctored potions text.

John’s post on Sunday about the asterisk model of ring composition (which, I will freely admit, I’ve always had a hard time getting my head around; hence my tendency to search for turtle-back structures) made me think of something different. At the time the Cormoran Strike series would have been first conceptualized, and the plan to publish under a pseudonym hatched, JKR’s other major project would have been the Fantastic Beast screenplays. That franchise was initially announced as a film trilogy, but quickly grew to a five-parter (though disappointing proceeds may yet knock it back to three). We have no idea how long JKR intended to stay incognito, or how the series would have sold if the Robert Galbraith disguise had lasted longer, but there was no guarantee the book series was going to endure for seven volumes. What if, instead of a planned seven-novel arc, JKR originally planned for a 5-parter, like Fantastic Beasts?  Connecting the dots for a 5-part cycle gives neither a turtle-back or an asterisk, but a pentagram.  You know, exactly what was scribbled all over Bill Talbot’s police notes in Troubled Blood. 

Aha!  Another model that generates testable predictions!  Let’s see what some of the predictions, and pitfalls, of this model are, after the jump. [Read more…]