Ink Black Heart: Does Rowling Tip Her Hand About the Killer with a Hermes Reference and ‘Prince’ Parallels?

Evan Willis is a HogwartsProfessor faculty member with a special expertise in Rowling’s hermetic artistry. He was in communication with me throughout his first-reading of Ink Black Heart so I can testify that the journey he describes below is not something he made up after the fact. His long-awaited write-up of his thoughts on Strike6 exceeds even my very high expectations and it establishes I think his theory that Mercury markers are keys to Identifying Rowling murder mystery killers; enjoy! — John

Hours after it came out, I started on Ink Black Heart. I wanted to read it slowly so that I had adequate opportunity to test, theorize, and predict, and so only got to the end of it early this week. I sent off a couple comments and e-mails as I read indicating where my line of reasoning had gone so that I might document my testing, while trying my best to avoid spoilers (this site, along with Twitter, became very dangerous to go anywhere near).

My conclusions? That our parallel series idea still has deep predictive and explanatory power (Half-Blood Prince parallels are extraordinarily strong here), that the important Half-Blood Prince references are where it connected back to Philosopher’s Stone (pointing to a 1-6 connectivity in both series), and that Rowling has subtly indicated the identity of the killer in each of these novels very early on by inclusion of a passing reference to a mythological character with direct ties to the figure of Hermes in the near vicinity of their first appearance.

Join me after the jump for discussion of how I arrived at all three of these conclusions — and how I just missed identifying the killer before Strike and Robin did.

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The Ink Black Heart: Parallels to The Cuckoo’s Calling.

As John has pointed out, there are expected Book 1- Book 5 parallels in the Harry Potter series. As such, we went looking for connections between The Cuckoo’s Calling and Troubled Blood. But, with 5-6 flip, we ought to expect some connections between CC and The Ink Black Heart as well as between IBH and CoE,  Do we find them?

A few I can think of:

  1. The murder victim is a female former foster child who earned a large amount of money at a young age (Lula through her modeling career, Edie through the cartoon). Both were on the verge of signing a lucrative new contract when they died.
  2. Both murder victims had money-grubbing uncles who wanted little to do with their niece until the niece got rich.
  3. Both murder victims had druggie boyfriends with whom they had recently broken up (Evan Duffield, Josh Blay).
  4. The murderer had responsibilities for a seriously ill parent.
  5. A child-related conflict destroys Strike’s love for Charlotte (anger over the lies about her alleged pregnancy (or abortion or miscarriage?) in CC; unwillingness to protect the twins from Jago in IBH.)
  6. A victim’s missing cell phone is an important clue to the case.

What others can our readers come up with?

‘Harry Potter and the Ink Black Prince:’ Beatrice Groves on a Parallel Series Idea

Image courtesy of ‘The Rowling Library’

The feature story in this month’s Rowling Library pdf is ‘The Ink Black Prince: Connections between The Ink Black Heart and Harry Potter‘ by Beatrice Groves. You can download the issue here or read it online using this link. Scroll to page 14 for the discussion of Ink Black Heart‘s echoes and parallels with it’s apposite number in the Hogwarts Saga, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The article has all the signature virtues of Prof Groves’ writing: a magisterial command of Rowling canon and interview material, discoveries consequent to her research into the meaning of words and names, and a tone and spirit that is simultaneously welcoming and challenging. Prepare yourself for a treat; only Prof Groves could have written such an insightful review so quickly after reading this epic-length novel (compare it to anything available from professional book-mavens in print and online for an even better appreciation of her accomplishment).

If the Parallel Series Idea, the theory that Rowling is writing the Cormoran Strike novels with heavy shading in each from her first seven book series, and Ring Composition in Harry Potter and the Strike novels, which structural points inform much of Prof Groves’ discussion, see the following pages here at [Read more…]

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!