Flips, Pentagrams and Expanded Playlists: Why did the tone we expected in Book 5 wind up in Book 6?

We have a lot of hypotheses about why we got such a nigredo-laden book in Strike 6.  They are:

  • 5-6 flip: which supposes that Troubled Blood was originally planned as Book 6, and The Ink Black Heart as Book 5.
  • The Pentagram model: which has the first five books completing the alchemical cycle and the start of a new one in Book 6.
  • The Extended Playlist model: Proposed recently by Kathleen, it suggests Galbraith is splitting the last 2, or possibly 3,  books of the 7-part series into two parts. Under this model, The Ink Black Heart would be either part 6a or 5b.

I’m going to outline some of the evidence I see for 5-6 Flip based on one audiobook listen of IBH. As a refresher, recall that this model predicts 1) Career of Evil parallels, instead of or alongside parallels to The Silkworm 2) Order of the Phoenix parallels, instead or alongside those to Half-Blood Prince and 3) nigredo elements, instead or alongside albedo. Interestingly, though, one of the strongest pieces of evidence is none of these, but rather timeline- and calendar-based.

One thing has always puzzled me.  Lethal White ended in mid-September 2012.  Troubled Blood began in August 2013, almost a full year later. This was the second year-long time jump in the series. There were two good reasons for the year-long jump in the middle of LW:  1) Book 4 absolutely had to be set in the 2012 Olympics and 2) no one wanted to read about a full year of Robin trying to make herself love the Flobberworm, develop panic attacks and feel emotionally distant from Strike.

But why jump a full year between LW and TB? It would have been awesome to see Robin’s early days with Max (and Wolfgang! Sniff!), the curry nights with Nick and Ilsa, Robin’s friendship with them developing (and the dirt they dished on Charlotte), the start of the match-making attempts and the series of incompetent temps that culminated in the the decision to hire Pat. OK, we’d have to see the Flobberworm be a jerk for a year, but the rest would be worth that. Instead, that is all explained after the fact. Obviously, the historical floods of 2014 were important to the story, but as has been stated multiple times, you expect lots of rain in albedo, not nigredo books. Why not tell the nigredo story in that missing year and save the floods for albedo?
That may well have been the original plan. The Ink Black Heart started in October (2014) and finished in June (2015).  Roll the dates back 2 years (Oct 2012-June 2013) and you have a story that fits quite neatly into that missing year.  This, I think, is good evidence that the IBH story was originally meant to be told in that time period.
Second, I can definitely see the Ink Black Heart cartoon as a “text-within-a-text” as stated in Beatrice Grove’s excellent prediction post. But, to me, it doesn’t fit as well as Talbot’s True Book as an analog to either Bombyx Mori, or the Prince’s doctored text. First, those were all actual books. Second, our heroes didn’t wind up actually reading scripts or viewing the cartoon in search of clues to the killer; they instead had to search Twitter and chat rooms for what the fans were saying about the show. That gave it a very different feel to me, and had them examining many different people’s words and the social interactions embedded within the conversations, not the solo narrative of the text. The only person to seriously watch the cartoon was Robin, when she was studying for her moderator’s test, and she didn’t even get to take that.
So, if The Ink Black Heart fits into that missing year, and the main mystery element is a less satisfactory match to the books of The Silkworm and the Half-Blood Prince, are there the decaying skeletons of Career, Order and nigredo buried in the text?  More after the jump!

Career of Evil parallels:

A Glimpse at the Killer:  The only time we, the readers, have gotten information or perspectives that differ from Robin and Strike’s is when we got inside the killer’s head in CoE. I assumed from the get-go that the killer was amongst the game moderators; therefore, I saw the interludes into the game chatrooms as something very similar to how we saw scenes from Laing’s POV in CoE. The way they asterisked-out the creators’ names what very much like Laing’s depersonalization of “It” and “The Secretary.”

ME = BIID:  Strike has an unsympathetic reaction to an unpleasant person who uses a wheelchair, but who can walk (Tempest in CoE, Inigo in IBH). This same person runs an online support site for people that share their condition, and offers advice and support to young people in the group, even meeting them in person.  There are a lot of complaints on the support board about the condition not being understood or taken seriously by medical professionals.

In the Post? What’s worse than having random body parts delivered to your office? A frigging parcel bomb, that’s what. Between this and the poisoned chocolates, I think the agency needs to add a “no thank-you gifts” clause to their client contracts. You’d also think they’d have stopped accepting coffee or tea when interviewing suspects, after Janice Beattie.

A Few Too Many:  In both books, Strike physically supports a drunken Robin and leads her out of a bar.

Motorbike courier = bad news. It was not just a random horn blast that brought  the near-kissing Strike and Robin back to reality, but the roar of a motorbike courier. I challenge any Strike fan to see a motorbike courier and not remember the delivery of the severed leg. Just as that delivery started Strike’s business on the road to ruin and eventually ruptures their professional relationship, the roar of this motorcycle courier heralded the rupture of  the developing romance— at least for now.

Fancy Arty Restaurant:  Strike and Robin dine with case-related people in expensive, art-themed restaurants in both books. (the Gallery Mess in CoE; Arts club in IBH). Robin is put off by what she considers tasteless behavior by both Tempest and Heather. In CoE, they are broke but have to foot the bill; in IBH they have money, but are treated to the expensive meal.

Online sleuthing: Robin assumes a false identity to gain information from social media (BIID boards in CoE, Twitter and Drek’s Game in IBH).  This leads to a young, frightened witness agreeing to meet her face-to-face (Jason in CoE, Rachel in IBH).

Robin in danger: Robin is in danger and Strike insists she go to a hotel to stay safe. Later, Robin is disgruntled when Strike insists she stay inside and work on what she thinks is a rather pointless computer search.

Mummy’s Boyfriend:  Strike dates a woman with a child. And she even knows the woman with the child he dated in CoE. He keeps both relationships secret from Robin until she finds out from a woman who visits the office.

On the Road Again: Strike and Robin road trip and stay in a hotel, in separate rooms. Strike skips the full English breakfast both times.

Save the Children:  Robin and Strike manage to stop a pedophile in this book, as they did in CoE, even though that was mot the main target of their investigation. And Robin’s rushing into the house to rescue Flavia, despite Strike’s orders to the contrary, echoes her determination to save Angel.

Jonny Who?  Most of my predictions for IBH under 5-6 Flip came to naught, but I will give myself half credit for this one. I thought Charlotte and Rokeby might be out of the action, as they were in CoE. Charlotte wasn’t, but Rokeby certainly was, which no doubt suits Strike fine.

Machete-wielding Lunatic:  At the final confrontation, the killer is wielding a machete and Strike gets stabbed with it. This time, it is Robin, instead of Shanker, who jumps the guy from behind.

Order of the Phoenix Parallels:

Fallen Heroes:  There’s no online community in the wizarding world, of course, but the way fans turned against the IBH creators is similar to how the formerly adored Harry and Dumbledore are targeted by the media and turned into villains, thanks to the spread of untrue rumors.

Umbridge=Anomie: Sadistic, control freak, power-hungry, likes to cut people. Enough said.

Losing Everything:  Harry feels like he is losing the best things in his life: Quidditch, visits to Hagrid, letters from Sirius, while at the same time putting up with the stressors caused by Umbridge, impending OWLs, and Occlumency lessons. Strike could certainly relate, with the threats to his mobility, his business, and his relationship with Robin coming all at the same time.

Modern Day Death Eaters:  The Halvening is certainly the closest group we have seen to Death Eaters, with their pureblood-based beliefs. A number of them are rounded up and jailed at the end.

Nigredo Elements:

The biggest nigredo element is the overall tone of the text, which John described to me on the moderator’s channel as “god-awful dark and depressing.” Little wonder that the cover of the book is so dark. And, exploration of the “Dark Web” is key to the storyline.

Strike is certainly broken down physically more than we’ve ever seen him, being told to stay off the prothesis for 4-6 weeks (rather than his usual few days) and facing smoker’s cough and muscle spasms at the same time.

The office is literally blown up by parcel bomb. That’s pretty hot, fiery destruction.

The final confrontation occurs in a pitch-black house. Robin slips and slides in the “dark puddle” of the murdered father’s blood, then is threatened with rape, then is forced to enter the dank, cave -like room to retrieve a filthy hoodie to staunch Strike’s bleeding.  Not exactly a “purifying” finish.

There are two other alchemical predictions for which I will give myself credit. First, I thought there would be a woman character with a name meaning “dark” or “black”  (as a counterpart to Margot “Pearl” Bamborough, an albedo name); I suggested “Darcy” as one choice.  She was a minor character, but we got Darcy Barrett, would-be befriender and imaginary girlfriend of Gus, and the reason he was able to get the picture of Nicole Crystal that allowed him to create and impersonate Paperwhite. She was mentioned the first time we see Gus, when his mom asked “Have you heard from Darcy, dear?

Second, if TB was a “wet nigredo” it stands to reason that there would be a much-harder-to-pull-off “dry albedo in IBH. I suggested we might see something bleached white by the sun. The Marine Hotel had a display of “corrugated white coral” in their dining room. Coral turns white as a result of “bleaching,” or loss of its symbiotic algae. The two most common reasons are 1) rising ocean water temperature and 2) excessive sunlight. Granted, coral is not quite as omnipresent in IBH as rain is in TB, but it’s there.

Another good thing about 5-6 flip: It helps us understand why we didn’t see the same level of character growth in this book as the last, and may have even seen some regression. The thoughtful Strike of TB was back to using women as a distraction from his feelings for Robin; it’s Lorelei all over again. And the whole “clarification of his feelings” at the end? He was pretty clear on that back in TB, when he suspected she was dating Morris.

But I don’t want you to be with anyone else. I don’t want some other bastard to persuade you into a second marriage. I like knowing the possibility’s there, for us to, maybe…

I also didn’t like the line, “If he was absolutely honest with himself, this was the first time he’d seen her as a true partner, an equal.” C’mon, Corm. She’s cracked cases on her own before, she’s followed her own lines of inquiry before, and, in TB, he left her in charge of the agency on his lengthy visits to Cornwall.  I think the whole reconciliation over Mucky Ricci was based on the fact that she was his full partner, and he was not her boss.

They seemed to forget that entire conversation from TB, when they explicitly agreed that Robin should take the same physical risks as Strike. Would the post-Mucky-Ricci Robin have agreed to stay holed up in the hotel, based on a threatening phone call (which may not have even been meant for her–it was diverted from the office phone) while Strike and the rest of the team hung out at said office, which had already been bombed once?  With Strike having the added disadvantage of not being able to walk? If IBH was originally planned first, it becomes easier to see why Strike and Robin sometimes seem less in tune with each other than they were in TB.

So, we have a book that would fit into the time interval between LW and TB, and is chock full of nigredo elements and parallels to CoE and OotP.  I think that is textual evidence that The Ink Black Heart was originally intended as Book 5. Why the flip?  No idea, but as Strike says, means before motive.


  1. This makes so much sense.

  2. Well, Louise, you got Kathleen’s vote, so it seems the Strike EP and 5-6 Flip Idea theorists are on the same page.

    First things first, though. This is remarkable, even unprecedented literary detective work, both with respect to its quality and its speed, something I’m not sure new readers here can appreciate on their first run-through.

    Professor Freeman, after only listening to the audio-book once (!), has established an undeniable case that the series as originally conceived and perhaps significantly written had Ink Black Heart immediately after Lethal White and Troubled Blood as the sixth book in the series. Using the ring structure of the novels and the Parallel Series Idea as well as the fundamentals of literary alchemy and her own carefully constructed timeline, she has done the work that academic readers of other authors, if those authors are so blessed as to survive and endure that close reading, discover long after the writers’ deaths. Louise has done this within the first week of this thousand page work’s publication.

    Strike would blush and say, “Robin, you’re a bloody genius.” I doff my hat and cry, “Three cheers!”

    Now that Professor Freeman has provided the baseline reference for the 5-6 Flip idea and set up the question of why she did it, we can now return to the two leading explanations, Kathleen’s Strike EP theory and Louise’s Double Pentagram model for the books. Strike EP preserves the idea of a seven part series-ring, only positing that the extra three books are doublings of the fifth, sixth, and seven entries. Troubled Blood and Ink Black Heart on this model are books 5A and 5B, both nigredos after their fashion, with significant albedo markers for transition in the latter. Beyond the white corral and silver haired Jago, we have the drinking of alcohol in quantity beginning to end, liquid revelation and cathartic purification on tap and in cocktails (see Dumbledore’s pouring drinkis for the Dursleys in Half-Blood Prince for the PSI equivalents).

    The Repeated Pentagram model that Louise proposed pre-publication contrary to the seven book series model certainly has new legs now that Rowling has all but locked this series down to ten books. I’m very much looking forward to Louise’s update of that idea post-publication.

    Today, though, Louise, take a bow, pour yourself a tall, stiff drink with which to hear this toast: “For her outstanding, insightful revelation of the 5-6 Flip idea, ladies and gentlemen of the Serious Striker community, I salute Louise Freeman!”

  3. “Flobberworm.” 😂

    If that’s supposed to paint Matthew as uninteresting, unappealing, and not especially well-developed… well, I agree!

    I haven’t read enough of this site to know if this is a common view, but Matthew has always been a weak spot in this series for me. Rowling/Galbraith makes a respectable effort to tell us why Robin was with him—past trauma, sticking with the guy who’s “safe”—but for me, it’s not enough. Trauma or no trauma, I don’t buy a woman as intelligent and spirited as Robin marrying a guy with no redeeming qualities outside his good looks and paycheck.

    TBH, it seems like authorial laziness. With a little more subtlety, Rowling/Galbraith could’ve given us scenes of Matthew being truly warm/charming/clever/sweet—so we get what Robin sees in him—while still working in the red flags that tell us he’s wrong for her. As it is, well… he’s a flobberworm.

    So, about that skipped year: I too am fine without a day-by-day account of Matthew’s unpleasantness. But at the same time, I feel we got rid of him a little too cheaply. We put up with three books’ worth of Matthew being a drag… only to have Robin marry him anyway… and then jettison him almost immediately (narratively speaking)? I’m glad to be mostly rid of him, but I can’t say it was a satisfying journey.

  4. I really like the idea of a missing story between LW and TB, which could have been IBH.

    One more evidence, supporting the 5-6 Flip theory. There is Max with his heart condition. Now, it looks like his character could be created with the recurring heart theme of IBH in mind. Obviously, Robin needed a flatmate at the end of LW, so Max had to be introduced in the next book.

  5. Louise Freeman says

    Some more bits of evidence for the “5-6 Flip” model:
    The Silkworm had Liz Tassel, the “blacktip shark” killer that no one suspected and who was apparently completely blameless up until the time she finally struck out at Owen Quine.
    Career of Evil had Donald Laing, career criminal with a long history of violence who stalked and plotted the ruin of his victims long before finally attacking.
    I had said before (https://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/the-social-science-guide-to-anomie-and-what-it-could-mean-for-the-ink-black-heart/) that one indicator would be whether our killer turned out to be a sociopath or a shark. TB, of course, had both, sociopath Creed and “blameless spinster” Janice.
    I think Gus was definitely the sociopath. He may have hidden behind anonymous internet handles but he absolutely threatened and harassed many, including Edie, right up to the murder. And, we now know he had at least one attempted sexual assault of “dark lady: Darcy. Who knows what else might have been sealed in his juvenile record. I think we can put him in the Laing sociopath category, which is another pointer to CoE.

    Next, as the brilliant “Daddy Strike” idea reminds us, we had both unread messages and blocked numbers in IBH: Strike’s unread text from Madeline, him blocking her from future contact and the get-well card whose lengthy message Robin didn’t read (and possibily Strike didn’t either?) In CoE we had the unread card that came with the 50 roses, the apology voicemail Robin never heard and the Flobberworm blocking Strike’s number.

  6. Might be a bit of a stretch but when strike and robin are talking to josh in hospital he says: ‘Passcode’s double six, double seven, five, two.’.

    As in 2 book 6s, 2 book 7s, and book 5, part 2??

  7. I think this comment belongs beneath the Strike Extended Play post, but, yes, I think that is a hilarious possibility. Great catch!

    I look to friends in the UK, after they recover from the shock of todays events, to share what if any other meaning there could be ‘over there’ for 6-6-7-7-5-2.

  8. A Very Weird Experience for Me – The Day Before

    I was thinking fondly of all the Tom Hanks movies I’ve seen and couldn’t think of the name of the one were the guys pretend to be musicians and chop through an old lady’s basement wall to rob the casino’s take.

    Imagine my surprise when I picked up IBH for my reading session and there it was! The Lady Killers! I can’t even think if any other films have been mentioned in the book. I didn’t do so, but I should have been convincedd that Gus was the killer then and there. I can’t stop thinking about this coincidence.

  9. Do you really have a moderator’s channel? I kind of thought John might be joking. This was a super creepy book to read genuinely going, “I can’t wait to talk my online friends about this!” But at least the staff at Hogwarts Pro is not anonymous.

    That is a lot of parallels to Career of Evil! The Ink Black Heart  reminded me of my original feelings about the Order of the Phoenix in that especially the beginning seems to drag on and did indeed feel very dark. I feel differently about Order of the Phoenix now, though. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel on re-readings. I didn’t think Ink Black Heart was necessarily too long, but it took me until about half-way, page 500, to be like, I’m really into this, I must finish now!

    It pains me to say this, but I agree that Inigo and Kea’s CFS/ME did remind me of the BIID characters in Career. I found Strike’s attitude normal but Robin’s attitude and consequently Rowling’s a little cold on the subject. But I’m curious how my perspective will probably somewhat shift on future re-readings. It’ll be interesting to see how the general theme of disability plays out knowing who Anomie is and who the killer is.

    (And chronic illness/disability chat boards on the real internet can get somewhat strange. I can imagine Rowling reading those and not being super impressed.)

  10. Do you really have a moderator’s channel? I kind of thought John might be joking.

    The adjunct and full-time faculty at HogwartsProfessor with several friends at sister-sites are in almost daily communication.

    When I suggested that we call these e-conversations our “moderator channels,” I was reminded that the absence of murderers, pedophiles, and terrorists in Our Gang makes the connection with Ink Black Heart a real stretch.

    All admitted, though, to thinking of our discussions while reading Strike6. hence my joking reference to them.

  11. Bonni Crawford says

    “I look to friends in the UK, after they recover from the shock of todays events, to share what if any other meaning there could be ‘over there’ for 6-6-7-7-5-2.”

    I can’t think of any! The Battle of Hastings took place in 1066, and pretty much every British person knows that date for that reason, but the beginning of this number is just 66, not 1066, and the rest of doesn’t work anyway.

    Given how, in Order of the Phoenix, the number 66442 would spell magic on an old-fashioned phone with predictive text turned on, I’ve been trying 667752 with the emulator at https://www.sainsmograf.com/labs/t9-emulator/ but I haven’t got anywhere. The options are norsk2, moss52 or mosska. There is the possibility of a sort of hybrid, where it’s mo p752. As in, modus operandi on page 752. But really none of this is satisfactory in the way that 66442 = magic was.

  12. Louise Freeman says

    “ the absence of murderers, pedophiles, and terrorists in Our Gang makes the connection with Ink Black Heart a real stretch.”

    As far as you know…

  13. Bonni Crawford says

    Sorry, that should have been 62442 = magic

  14. John and Louise,

    Haha, I see. I have no idea how Dr. Freeman was able to track and connect all of that information with one listen through of The Ink Black Heart. I did start taking notes myself while reading the book is hopes that I’d be able to “solve it.” I wasn’t. But I am fairly certain that the pedophile wasn’t one of the moderators. So, one less thing to worry about!

  15. Louise Freeman says

    Another link to book three: Stressed out woman is given a glass of medicinal port. (Strike gets one for Rona Laing’s mother in CoE, Robin gets one for Pat in IBH.)

    Also, I had listed under “gaffes” Strike’s regressed knowledge of social media (asking if Youtube requires a subscription, not understanding what Twitter is). But, Robin’s need to explain to him why people tweet matches her need to explain to him why people blog in CoE.

  16. Louise Freeman says

    On my latest re-listen to IBH. a couple of other connections struct me.

    First, on the hospital visit, Flavia is described as looking “thoroughly miserable.” This is almost the exact wording used to describe Neville, “thoroughly depressed” in St. Mungos. Both Neville and Flavia get browbeaten by with female caregiver during the visit.

    And, if we are looking for book 4-book 6 parallels, Katya’s “Shut up, Flavia!” reminded me of Kinvara’s “Shut up, Rattenbury!” Anyone who paid attention to Rattenbury’s name would have known Kinvara was conspiring with a young lover to kill her husband. I think this is a pointer to the fact that we (and Strike) should be paying more attention to what Flavia said.

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