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…]

Ink Black Heart Synopsis Pointers: Mythological and Ring Suggestions

Two days ago, the cover of Ink Black Heart and its fly-leaf synopsis were revealed — and already two of the world’s most insightful Rowling Readers have checked in here with in-depth explorations of ideas about what might be coming in Strike 6. Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, led the charge with The Ink Black Heart: Uncovering the synopsis clues and Louise Freeman, professor of psychology at Mary Baldwin University, followed up yesterday with The Social Science Guide to “Anomie” and What It Could Mean for The Ink Black Heart.

As you’d expect (and want), each addressed possibilities in those subjects in which Serious Strikers know these pundits are expert. Prof Groves gave us a fascinating exploration of the Cratylic name ‘Anomie,’ more on Highgate Cemetery with a focus on its disused Underground Station, and a prediction that Sidney’s The Arcadia will be the epigraph source in  the penultimate Strike mystery, first septology. Prof Freeman explored the social science meaning of anomie a la Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton, repercussions with respect to the 5-6 Flip Idea, what ‘lawlessness’ might tell us about Leda Strike’s supposed suicide, and wealth as the magic of the Strike series in parallel with the Wizarding World seven books.

I confess to being almost overwhelmed by these idea avalanches and left to wonder what else there is left to say about Ink Black Heart’s flyleaf copy and the new cover. After the jump, though, I will share two thoughts which, like Professors Groves and Freeman’s posts, you’d expect I would have, that is, what the synopsis suggests to me about the ring structure of the first seven books, the Parallel Series Idea, and the mythological templates of the Strike-Ellacott relationship. See you there! [Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

The “5-6 Flip” Idea, Part 2. Predictive Power for The Ink Black Heart?

I am a scientist by training and profession, whether I am teaching behavioral neuroscience, designing treatment plans for special needs children, or collecting correlational data on reading habits and empathic tendency. I look at scientific theories, and their capacity to both explain and predict, on every day of my professional life. As I try to teach my students, “just a” is not a phrase that should ever precede “theory.” Theories are not “ideas” or “guesses.”  They are models that have been empirically shown to  both explain a variety of observed phenomena and predict future events. Well-supported theories: like germ theory, cell theory, the theory of gravity and the theory of evolution are not just intermediate guessing games in the scientific progress; they are the ultimate product of science.

Literary theories work much the same way. Two theories, brainchildren of our headmaster John Granger, clearly have great explanatory power when in comes to the writing of J.K. Rowling.  Those are, as regular readers know: ring composition and literary alchemy. For the Cormoran Strike series, another theory is equally important: the Parallel Series Idea, or the theory–I am comfortable calling it a theory now, for reasons I’ll explain later–that each book of the Cormoran Strike Series has thematic parallels to its counterpart Harry Potter series.

For the most part, these literary theories serve to explain. When Hermione yells, “Are you a wizard or what?” at Ron in Deathly Hallows, we explain it as a ring composition inversion of his “Are you a witch or what?” in Philosopher’s Stone. We see hot, dry conditions in Order of the Phoenix (and the Hunger Games!) and a rain, fog and snowstorms in Half-Blood Prince (and Catching Fire!), so we explain them as the nigredo and albedo phases of an alchemical cycle. But what makes the theories truly convincing is when they generate a testable prediction, and the prediction comes true. When a “black” character (Sirius) died in Order of the Phoenix and a “white” character (Albus) died in Half-Blood Prince, John used literary alchemy theory to predict that a red-named character would die in Deathly Hallows. This had a lot of us worrying for poor Rubeus Hagrid, and breathing sighs of relief thinking that the prediction just might have been fulfilled with the death of the entirely expendable Rufus Scrimgeour. When Fred Weasley died instead, it was still support for the theory, even if in not quite the way most expected.

Parallel Series Idea, in my opinion, graduated from idea to theory status with the publication of Lethal White. PSI had been previously used to explain why SW centered on a book, and why a bad guy had to be allowed to escape to protect an innocent in CoE. Prior to LW’s publication, Serious Strikers predicted there would be connections to Goblet of Fire, and there were so many, and so obvious–starting with the government minister murdered by the unloved son that he got out of jail– that a lot of us on Hogpro moved from “I think this might be true” to “I am confident this is definitely true.”  The idea became much more widely accepted and discussed, as seen in the Strike and Ellacott Files podcast.

There are a few dangers to using predictions to confirm theories. First, you can make so many predictions that some are liable to come true purely by chance. Second, predictions can be overly broad, and therefore fulfillable by almost anything. Third, — and this a particular danger in the interpretation of literary works, which can be pretty subjective— sometimes people simply see what they want, or expect, to see, and go too far in twisting the reality of the text to match their expectations.

The earlier, and more specific a prediction is, the better support for the theory it provides.  In 2014, after The Silkworm was published, I used the PSI to predict that Strike Four would be set during the London Olympics. When that one came true, in spades, I knew John had come up with a model generates testable, specific and accurate predictions, the hallmarks of a good theory.

With that somewhat lengthy preamble, let me now turn to my main point. My latest 5-6 flip idea—  and it’s only an idea for now, is that Troubled Blood was originally planned as the sixth Strike book.  See link for the rationale.  This idea would explain why I was able to highlight so many Troubled Blood parallels to The Silkworm and Half-Blood Prince, and why there were so many albedo elements in the book we would expect to be the nigredo. As meticulous as JKR is about planning her series, I don’t think she could simply skip an entire novel, with out omitting plotlines necessary in her overall vision. If Troubled Blood was moved to position five, I think at least some elements from the original Book 5 will have to turn up elsewhere, and a logical place for them is in The Ink Black Heart. After the jump, I will first evaluate this idea based on the limited amount we know about the upcoming Strike 6 book, then make some predictions on where IBH might go if this idea is correct. [Read more…]