Cormoran Strike: Troubled Blood

This is a tentative listing by category of the posts at HogwartsProfessor about Troubled Blood. It will be updated continually as the Pillar Post for the book. Please add the posts I have missed in the comment box and forgive the several posts-in-progress that are listed without links. There’s much more work to do on this wonderful work!

1. Chiastic Structure

Rowling’s fixation on planning in general and with structural patterns specifically in all of her work continues in Troubled Blood. From the first reading, it became apparent that in Strike5 Rowling-Galbraith had taken her game to a new level of sophistication. She continued, as she had in her four previous Strike mysteries, to write a story in parallel with the Harry Potter septology; there are many echoes of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth and equivalent number in the Hogwarts Saga, in Troubled Blood. Just as Phoenix was in important ways a re-telling of Philosopher’s Stone, so Troubled Blood also echoes Cuckoo’s Calling — with a few Stone notes thrown in as well. The new heights of Rowling’s structural artistry, though, extend beyond her patented intratextuality; they are in each of Strike5’s first six parts being ring compositions themselves, the astrological chart embedded in the story chapters, and the six part and two chapters correspondence in structure between Troubled Blood and Spenser’s Faerie Queen.

2. Literary Alchemy

Per Nabokov, literary artistry and accomplishment are known and experienced through a work’s “structure and style.” Rowling’s signature structures are evident in Troubled Blood (see above) and her characteristic hermetic artistry, literary alchemy, is as well. Strike5 is the series nigredo and Strike and Robin experience great losses and their reduction to their respective and shared prima materia in the dissolving rain and flood waters of the story.

3. Psychology/Mythology

Rowling told Val McDermid that if she had not succeeded as a writer than she would have studied to become a psychologist:

V: If it hadn’t worked out the way it has. If you’d sat there and written the book in the café and nobody ever published it, what would you have done with your life, what would you have liked to have been?

JK: There are two answers. If I could have done anything, I would have been really interested in doing, I would have been a psychologist. Because that’s the only thing that’s ever really pulled me in any way from all this. But at the time I was teaching, and I was very broke, and I had a daughter and I think I would have kept teaching until we were stable enough that we were stable enough that I could change. 

Because of her lifelong study and pre-occupation with mythology, it is fitting that in Strike5 readers are confronted with a host of references to psychologist Carl Jung and to a specific Greek myth which Jungian psychologists consider essential in understanding feminine psychology. All of which leads in the end to the Strike series’ equivalent of the Hogwarts Saga’s soul triptych exteriorization in Harry, Hermione and Ron as Body, Mind, and Spirit, with Robin and Strike as Handless Maiden and Fisher King, the mythological images of anima and animus neglected and working towards integration.

4. Valentine’s Day

The story turn of Troubled Blood takes place on Valentine’s Day and the actions, events, and repercussions of this holiday of Cupid and Heart-shaped candies, not to mention chocolates, shape the Robin and Strike relationship drama irrevocably. Chocolates play an outsized portion of that work symbolically, believe it or not; the word ‘chocolate’ occurs 34 times in the first four Strike novels combined but 82 times in Troubled Blood. I explore the importance of this confection in two posts before beginning to explain the importance and appropriateness of Valentine’s Day being the heart of the story, one that is in large part a re-telling of the Cupid and Psyche myth.

5. Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen

Troubled Blood features several embedded texts, the most important of which is never mentioned in the book: Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen. Serious Strikers enjoyed the luxury of not one but two scholars of Edmund Spenser who checked in on the relevance and meaning of Rowling’s choice of the greatest English epic poem for her epigraphs, not to mention the host of correspondences between Strike 5 and Queen. Elizabeth Baird-Hardy did a part by part exegesis of the Troubled Blood-Faerie Queen conjunctions and Beatrice Groves shared her first thoughts on the connections as well. Just as Lethal White’s meaning and artistry is relatively unappreciated without a close reading of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, so with Strike 5 and Faerie Queen.

Elizabeth Baird-Hardy

Beatrice Groves

John Granger:

6. The Ghosts

Rowling’s core belief is in the immortality of the soul and her favorite writer of the 20th Century is Vladimir Nabokov, whose work is subtly permeated by the otherworldly. No surprise, then, that Troubled Blood is haunted by a host of ghosts, most importantly the shade of Margot Bamborough but to include the women murdered by Dennis Creed and Nicolo Ricci. Their influence is so obvious and so important that it has spurred discussion of the spectres that haunt the first four Strike novels whose presence had not been discussed prior to the revelations of Strike 5. 

7. The Names

The Cryptonyms or Cratylic Names of Troubled Blood are as rich and meaningful, even funny, as those found in Lethal WhiteFrom Paul Satchwell’s “little package” to Roy Phipps as the Spanish King Phillip, from the nigredo black elements of Bill Talbot and Saul Morris to the Spenserian echoes of Oonaugh Kennedy and Janice Beattie, and the Rokeby-Oakden coincidences, Strike5 is full of name play. Did I mention that the detectives solve the mystery largely through their exploration of names? Douthwaite and Oakden only pop-up after Strike has revelations consequent to serious reflection on their names and pseudonyms. Rowling-Galbraith really wants her real-world readers to be reflecting on the Dickensian names of all her characters.

  • The Cratylic Names of Troubled Blood: A Top Twenty Round Up

8. The Flints and Gaffes

Rowling commented in one of her interview tableaus for Troubled Blood that she had worked extra hard to get the dates right in this most complicated of novels and that her proof reader and continuity editor found a big mistake. Serious Strikers, though, were left crying “Alas!” and laughing aloud at the number of bone-headed gaffes in The Presence’s longest work to date. It remains her best as well as her longest book to date, but, really, get the woman the help she needs to comb the book for errors pre-publication. Can you say, “Isla”?

9. The Astrology

The principal embedded text in Troubled Blood, the one Robin and Cormoran read repeatedly, create keys for, and discuss throughout the book, is Bill Talbot’s ‘True Book.’ It features an astrological chart for the exact time and place of Margot Bamborough’s disappearance in 1974, which map Talbot used to try and solve the case. Strike is profoundly disgusted by this approach but spends, as does Robin, much of his time trying to figure out the chart or at least what Talbot made of it. Troubled Blood, consequently, turns into something of an exploration of astrology and its relevance to understanding ourselves and the world. Unpacking what Rowling means by it, not to mention what the natal charts of Robin and Cormoran tell us about these charactes, their relationship, and Rowling-Galbraith’s intentionally hermetic artistry, is a large part of the exegetical work to be done on Troubled Blood.

10. The Tarot Card Spreads

We know that Rowling has significant skills when it comes to astrology. What is less well appreciated is that almost from childhood she has played with tarot card reading which knowledge has informed her work. This is comic in Trelawney, say, but comes to the fore in Troubled Blood‘s card spreads: the Celtic Cross in Talbot’s ‘True Book,’ his embedded three card spreads in the illustrations of that tome, and Robin’s two readings, one in Laemington Spa and the other in her flat at story’s end.

  • Part Three, Note Six
  • Part Four, Note Five
  • Part Five, Note Five
  • Part Six, Notes Five, Six, Eight
  • Bill Talbot’s Tarot: The Embedded Occult Heart of Troubled Blood
  • Robin Ellacott’s Tarot: The Missed Meanings of Her Twin Three Card Spreads in Troubled Blood

11. Who Killed Leda Strike?

To Rowling-Galbraith’s credit, credible arguments in dedicated posts have been made that every person in the list below was the one who murdered Leda Strike. Who do you think did it?

12. Embedded Texts

All of Rowling’s novels feature books and texts, written work as well as metanarratives, with which her characters struggle to figure out in reflective parallel to what her readers are trying to do with the novel in hand. Troubled Blood is exceptionally laden with these embedded texts. Beyond Talbot’s True Book and Spenser’s Faerie Queen noted above, we are treated to selections from The Demon of Paradise Park, Whatever Happened to Margot Bamborough?, Astrology 14, and The Magus.

13. The Murderers: Creed and Beattie

A demon-possessed psychopath and the brain-damaged lonely woman… Each is described as “a genius of misdirection” and being without remorse or empathy. The actual murderers in Troubled Blood are distinct, certainly, but paired as well, as one of the many mirrored pairs in this story.

14. Feminism

Troubled Blood, Rowling has said, is a commentary of sorts on changes in the history of feminism. It is an unvarnished, even brutal exploration of the heroic age of the feminist movement, its front and back, largely through the personalities, circumstances, choices, and experiences of two pairs of women, Margot Bamborough and her plucky Irish side-kick Oonaugh Kennedy and the paired through time couple of Irene Bull-Hickson and Janice Beattie.

15. Rokeby 3.0

Jonny Rokeby makes his first appearance, albeit only by phone call, in Troubled Blood and yet it has reset thinking about Strike and his biological father considerably. Kurt Schreyer thinks the head Deadbeat is more Snape than Voldemort — and, if this is the case, we need to re-read the series to see how much Strike’s emotional injuries from childhood neglect have misshaped his understanding of his dad so he lives in upside-down land.


  1. Inch by Inch says

    Wow! I am so grateful for this post. You have sent my mind spinning in multiple different directions and I anticipate many happy hours reading and considering all this serious Strike content. Thanks!

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