Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic Co-sponsors Breakthrough Research in Motor Neuron Disease.

In January, neuroscientists from the University of Edinburgh announced that they had identified, and more importantly, repaired a defect in cultured motoneurons from an inheritable form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This condition is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease here in the States, and is a sub-class of a larger family of conditions known as motoneuron (or motor neurone to the Brits) disease. What’s the Harry Potter connection?

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Euan MacDonald Centre for MND Research, My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, UK Dementia Research Institute and Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic.

J.K. Rowling founded the clinic in 2013, in honor of her mother, Anne, who died of multiple sclerosis. She made another major gift in 2019. 

The neurons turned out to have defective mitochondria, the “powerhouse” of the cells, which shorted the axon, the all-important long fiber that carries electrical signals from the spinal cord to the muscle. But, when a virus was used to boost mitochondria, the axons were restored to their normal length. This opens the possibility of using drugs already available in clinical trials to treat this condition.

As a neuroscientist whose own dissertation work focused on a motor nucleus of particular interest to both motoneuron disease and sexual differentiation, I am delighted to see this research. Although JK Rowling has received criticism for her position on transgender issues, some of which is, in my opinion, well-deserved, she must be given credit for the great use she has made of her wealth. Research like this doesn’t happen without funding. ALS is currently a death sentence, with most patients dying within two years, and there are few treatments available. The benefits of this work cannot be understated.

Troubled Blood: Poisoned Chocolates

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This is the second of three Valentine’s Day posts at HogwartsProfessor. The day before yesterday I reviewed the five gifts Cormoran gives to Robin in Troubled Blood and how each is an echo of a previous gift and a metaphor for the status of their relationship. The last, a birthday trip to the Ritz Hotel for champagne, pretty much seals the deal that these two characters named for birds are now ‘love birds’ as well.

That first V-Day post had a relatively obvious romantic message, even though the only person who gives anyone a gift on the actual Valentine’s Day in Troubled Blood is the “smarmy” Saul Morris who brings flowers to Pat. Today’s post on chocolates in Strike5 and poisoned chocolates in particular is not romantic at all, except that two male characters do give Robin Ellacott salted caramel chocolates as tokens of their affection for her. I write this up, as, truth be told, I do the other two posts as well, because Valentine’s Day’s centrality and importance in Troubled Blood means that this is an apt time to highlight aspects of Rowling’s artistry and meaning in her most recent and I think best novel that almost certainly escape the casual reader.

Today, it’s chocolates, Rowling’s bon mots from the literary genre in which she works and her playful hat-tipping to the masters while turning a trope or cliche of detective fiction to her fresh ends. Join me after the jump for that Valentine’s Day discussion! [Read more…]

“Nae Problem:” How Career of Evil Should Have Ended 15 Chapters Earlier.

Robin Ellacott has certainly made some questionable decisions: sneaking off to warn Alyssa about Brockbank, letting sentiment over the Royal Wedding dupe her into resuming her engagement to the Flobberworm, trying to grab Strike’s arm when he’s throwing a punch, not dumping the Flobberworm at the wedding reception, drunk-texting Saul Morris on Boxing Day, not dumping the Flobberworm on the honeymoon, visiting Mucky Ricci without telling Strike and not dumping the Flobberworm when he ripped her gorgeous and expensive green dress. But, I would argue, her most foolish lapse of judgement came in a scene I’ve never seen discussed: Chapter 47 of Career of Evil.

The somewhat disgruntled Robin has been observing young Stephanie, believing, quite rightly, that Strike has intentionally put her on their least likely suspect to keep her out of harm’s way. Once Stephanie takes off in a van with Whittaker’s henchmen, she heads over to Wollaston Close to monitor Donald Laing’s apartment. Although neither she nor Strike ever seemed to realize it, she makes one of the most boneheaded moves of her career on this stakeout. Startled by Laing’s curtains being open, and trying to fake a phone call while searching for a better spying position, she slips on some spilled curry and falls. Guess who arrives to assist?

Somewhere in her vicinity a man burst out laughing. Cross and humiliated, she tried to get up without spreading the muck further over her clothes and shoes and did not look immediately for the source of the jeering noise.

“Sorry, hen,” said a soft Scottish voice right behind her. She looked around sharply and several volts of electricity seemed to pass through her…

“Ye’ll need a tap,” he said, grinning broadly as he pointed at her foot and the hem of her dress, “and a scrubbing brush.”

“Yes,” said Robin shakily. She bent to pick up her mobile. The screen was cracked.

“I live up there,” he said, nodding towards the flat she had been watching on and off for a month. “Ye can come up if y’want. Clean yerself up.”

“Oh no—that’s all right. Thanks very much, though,” said Robin breathlessly.

“Nae problem,” said Donald Laing.

Oh yeah, it is a problem. More  on why this is indicative of a sudden drop in Detective Ellacott’s IQ after the jump. 

[Read more…]

The True Taxonomy of Leda-Killer Suspects: Why Sir Randolph Whittaker is a Likely Culprit.

A few posts back, I made a case for Dr. Nick Herbert as the Leda-Slayer. My goal was not so much to convince the world that Nick Did It and to point out that a very similar case can be made for Nick as for Dave Polworth. 

The flip side of that is, the same arguments against Dave also apply to Nick— with the possible exception of Nick being more likely to know how to give an injection. 

Truthfully, I don’t really think either Nick or Dave did it. I am not by nature a betting person, but if someone forced me to put down a fiver on someone, my top suspect would be a character who has so far gotten exactly one mention by name in the series: Sir Randolph Whittaker, also known around here as Grandpa, or Old Man Whittaker.  Here is my reasoning.

Assuming Leda was, in fact murdered, the suspects for the dirty deed  fall into two broad categories.  

Bad People We Are Supposed to Suspect:  (AKA Black Hats) This list includes Jonny Rokeby, Jeff Whittaker, Charlotte Campell, Jago Ross, Shumba-the-Rastafarian-Who-Was-Nasty-Enough-to-Make-Uncle-Ted-Want-to-Punch-Him, Some-Yet-Unknown-Person-from-the-Worst-Place-Ever-Norfolk-Commune-That-Keeps-Getting-Mentioned, and all of the Whittaker Extended Family.

Good People We Are Not Supposed to Suspect (AKA White Hats): Uncle Ted, Aunt Joan, Sister Lucy, and good friends Nick Herbert, Ilsa (maiden name unknown at time of murder), Dave Polworth and Shanker. I will also include two Associate White Hats, not because Strike is particularly close to them, but because, if they were involved, it would have been for White Hat Lucy’s sake:  Her biological father Rick Fantoni and her now-husband Greg (whom she may or may not have known when she was nineteen). 

Following the jump, I’ll look closer at my classification system and explain my reasoning. 

[Read more…]

Leda Strike’s Death: Murder by Action… or Inaction?

Multiple Hogpro regulars have been speculating on the identity of Leda Strike’s killer recently, and cases have been made for pretty much every one of Strike’s family members, close friends and lovers (except Shanker–  I don’t think he’s been pegged yet…) The focus of this post will not be so much on the who, but on the how.

So far, Leda’s death as been speculated to be

  • suicide
  • murder
  • murder faked as suicide
  • suicide faked as murder, and even
  • suicide faked as murder faked as suicide.*

I am going to propose it is none of the above, but an accident. But, an accident that Leda could have survived, except that someone deliberately declined to summon help, and let her die.

Headmaster John and Beatrice Groves have already written, at length, about the influence of P.D. James on Rowling/Galbraith’s work. Robin’s origin story, for instance, was clearly inspired by James’ creation, Cordelia Gray, who comes to work for a private detective as a secretary, and winds up as a sleuth herself. In another one of James’ novels, Devices and Desires, a character is haunted by the death of her father. The father was working in a garden when he accidentally cuts himself badly in the thigh. His two teenage children witness the accident, but, after years of abuse, including the implied sexual abuse of the daughter, the son refuses to let his sister summon help, and allows Daddy Dearest to bleed out, even though some basic first aid and rapid medical attention could have saved him. The daughter lives in fear that her brother will one day be found out as a murderer, albeit a passive rather than active one.

Could something similar have happened to Leda? We know the squat was a communal living situation, with other residents besides Leda, Whittaker, baby Switch and occasionally Shanker. Yet, conveniently there were no witnesses to see who gave Leda the fatal dose of heroin, even though it sounds like a roomful of the “raggle-taggle,” most of which would eventually testify against Whittaker at his trial, arrived shortly thereafter.

While Shanker had been negotiating a good price on a kilo of premium Bolivian cocaine in Kentish Town, Leda Strike had been slowly stiffening on a filthy mattress. The finding of the port-mortem had been that she had ceased to breathe a full six hours before any of the squat-dwellers tried to rouse her from what they thought was a profound slumber.

But suppose there was someone who witnessed the injection and discerned that Leda’s life was in imminent danger, but chose to walk away and let the drug run its course?

More on this hypothesis after the jump.

[Read more…]