Guest Post: Leda Strike Was a ‘Fixer’ — The Dark Side of the Quicklime Girl

Serious Striker Chris Calderon speculates from the lyrics of the Blue Oyster Cult song ‘Mistress of the Salmon Salt’ and the band’s interpretation of the song that Leda Strike was much, much more than a “super-groupie.” She may have been, if the lyrics tattooed above her pudenda mean what the Cult band members say they mean, a repeated and practiced accessory to murder or “fixer,” a possibility that explains her erratic behaviors as a mother. Enjoy!

The Misadventures of Quicklime Girl: The Curious Absences of Leda Strike

A topic of interest was brought up not too long ago in ‘Leda Strike: Mistress of the Salmon Salt,’ a recent post by John Granger on this site. It all centered around the nature and meaning of the tattoo worn by the mother of Detective Cormoran Strike. Katya Slonenko started it all with a theory that the skin engraving meant that it was pointer to Leda Nancarrow being a cold-blooded killer. That really got a bit of conversation going, and the idea proved enough to spark more than a few theories around the topic.

I had the idea to go and see if Blue Oyster Cult, the band responsible for Leda’s lyric, had anything to say that would shed light on the nature of her choice of personal statement. According to Martin Popoff’s book-length band bio, Agents of Fortune, the group’s fellow Cult members did have one or two insights to offer about their 1973 hit single, Mistress of the Salmon Salt.

Bolle figures the ‘Mistress’ lyric is about, “Love. I guess it’s a groupie song, sex.” “Super dark,” adds Buck. “We were going for a Rolling Stones kind of evil on that one.” Albert (Bouchard, sic) offers a few words on this characteristically weird tune. “Well, that was actually a song I’d written called ‘Checkout Girl’ (laughs) and it wasn’t much of a song. Sandy said ‘I re-wrote the lyrics for ‘Checkout Girl’ and he gave me this ‘Quicklime Girl’. Of course I was like, ‘Okay this we can use, but we’re going to have to make it more scary (laughs). These lyrics are really bizarre, you know, the famous story of the person that kills people, or actually I don’t think she kills people, but she performs a service. She would bury the murdered dead, and use them as fertilizer for her plants” (40-41). Join me after the jump to see if we can unpack the meaning of this statement, and what it might tell us about the curious past of Leda Strike.

The Nature of the Song

According to what the band’s various players and lyricists have to say, the nature and meaning of their Mistress song can be broken down as follows. They claim that the song is about (a) love, and that it might also (b) a groupie song about sex. In addition, (c) they claim the song is also about murder. The titular Quicklime Girl is (d) not a murderer herself, instead she is the type of person that others would turn to dispose of bodies, and/or crucial incriminating evidence.

What happens if we take all this information and apply it to Leda?

A Fixer, not a Murderer

This new bit of info about “fixers” is one of those good news/bad news type deals. The good news is that Ms. Slonenko can probably put her concerns to rest. The band’s statements might be just enough to clear Leda of the charge of murder. The bad news is her choice of self-description could very well mean Leda still knew where a lot of bodies were buried. That’s because the type of job that’s being described by the band in their song belongs more to that of a fixer, rather than a killer. Since the term is not the most likely candidate for a household name, some explanation is in order.

A fixer, in gangland terms, is the designated person or groups of persons, brought in by various criminals in order to help clean up the crime scene, and otherwise dispose of any and all incriminating evidence. This can sometimes very well include the disposal of mortal remains. I’m not that well read up in it all, though I think one popular term for this kind of deal is known as “wet work”. It all depends on how big a mess was left behind, you see.

What distinguishes a Fixer from your ordinary criminal is that they are most often connected with the work of professional crime organizations. Let’s put it this way, Al Capone was an underworld VIP type who could well afford someone to clean up most of his messes, as long as he didn’t get too carried away, like that one time on Valentine’s Day. Jack the Ripper, on the other hand, was probably not the kind of guy who could afford such services. He’s was pretty much a lone wolf, left to sink or swim on his own devices.

This means that Fixers are normally unassociated with your average serial killer, and are more like cogs in larger criminal enterprises. They’re not often called in unless lot of important deals have gone bad somewhere, and someone’s got to pick up all the pieces before the cops find out. That usually means enough was left behind for them to point the finger at someone. Then it becomes a race to see who can get there first, the Fixers or the Feds. So what does all this have to do with Strike’s Mom? Well, for starters, it could do more than just explain why she was murdered. It may explain her constant string of absences from the lives of both her children.

Assembling a Victim Profile

What happens if we take the contents of an old Blue Oyster Cult song and apply it to the tragic figure at the heart of Rowling-Galbraith’s mystery series? The picture it conjures up is that of restless woman who more than anything wanted to be a part of the classic Rock and Roll scene, and who thought using her not inconsiderable looks would help grant her access to it all. The gamble seems to have paid off at first, as she soon made her way to the top as a super groupie.

It’s not too much of a stretch to infer that Leda mustn’t have been as a good a judge of character as she hoped, as it is just possible that one day, all of a sudden, she found herself as an accessory to murder. The worst part might not have been just the death, but also the way in which she was either coerced or convinced to help dispose of all the evidence. Then again, the real horror could have been discovering that she had a talent for it.

Incidents like that have a knack for making their way through the criminal grapevine. Sooner or later word may have got out on the shadier side of the street about how Leda helped take care of a music scene fixture who was also a powerful influence in the mob world. That sort of talent doesn’t go overlooked in such places, especially not if you want to make sure there are no loose ends you have to worry about later on. Better to keep someone like her under the thumb, and at any beck and call as needed. If it turns out she can do that kind of service more than once, so much the better. If she tries to cut and run, then no matter. These things are often dealt with quietly enough.

Bear in mind, this is all just a theory suggested by the simple reading of a rock song, that’s referenced as having a close connection with the main murder victim of an ongoing fictional case. The curious thing is just how many gaps it might help close up in the major arc of Galbraith’s books.

The idea of Leda as an accidental fixer kept on a leash by various mobsters provides an interesting perspective on Strike’s own observations of his mother’s behavior. He sees her as an inconstant, much loved presence, someone at the mercy of her own addictive personality, and unable to get herself under control. That may still be part of the equation, but what if her life-long absences, which often seem erratic, and tend to come out of the blue, has another explanation?

What if the reason she was always leaving Strike and Lucy at Ted and Joan’s doorstep was because she kept receiving “offers she couldn’t refuse”? Rather, let’s say she could choose to walk away from her life as a mob fixer all she liked. They’d still find ways of making her sleep with the fishes, or worse, they could use Leda’s son and daughter as a means of violent leverage over her? Heck, what if Strike’s later CID explosion really was about trying to sew up loose ends? The point is that Leda’s inconsistency as a mother begins to make a grim kind of sense if she is in a position where she must drop everything, children included, in order to get someone’s finger prints on a candlestick in a conservatory somewhere.

It’s the kind of unwinnable situation that no sane person ever cares to find themselves caught in. How much more of a nightmare do you suppose this kind of scenario would be to a woman who is also a parent? Well, why not tell all to Ted and Joan, you may ask? It is just possible to see how some readers could arrive at that question. The trouble with it is that Troubled Blood shows they both seem pretty clueless about Leda being caught up in gangland shenanigans.

The best Joan can offer is that she wonders if Rokeby might know a lot about Leda’s past, and she’s probably more on the money than she realizes. However, that appears to be all they know. Besides, Strike always looks at life with his Uncle and Aunt as times of relative stability. How much of that would be true if Leda had told them the truth? If Leda had told her brother and sister-in-law, I can see how that would cast a further cloud over Strike’s time with them, one that he would be quick to notice.

Some cautious conclusions

The basic idea here is that Rowling has taken the content and figure at the heart of Blue Oyster Cult’s Quicklime Girl, and then filled in and elaborated on it in a literary context. In the process of doing this, she might have performed her familiar trick of turning an old concept on its head in the process of placing it on the page. The final question to ask is where could all of this surmise lead? If there’s any truth to this theory of Leda as Quicklime Mob Fixer, then perhaps the one bright spot in it all is that if she has helped dispose on more than one body, pretty much on demand, no other choices offered, then it at least it makes sense enough that she knew a lot more than just where all the bodies are buried.

She also knew maybe at least enough of the faces who put them there in the first place. It’s not too out of imaginary bounds to believe that a mob fixer who wanted out of the “business” would compile enough evidence to put lot of important people away for good, some or many of whom might be affiliated with the music business, and that her removal would ensure enough clues were left for her children to find, so that she could both bring the guilty to justice, make amends for all the times she helped others get away with murder, as well as comfort and apologize to those who mattered to her the most. Dead men can bite if they leave enough behind to tell tales, after all.

If the Blue Oyster Cult lyric is a pointer to Leda’s former gangland position as the main reason for her murder, then perhaps it makes enough sense to look for Strike to find out a lot more about his mother’s mob ties in the next remaining books, and what role Rokeby and Whitaker might have played in it. For what it’s worth, I hope this means my Treasure Island Horcrux Hypothesis still has some life left in it.

What do all you Serious Strikers think? Does this theory have any semblance of wings, or am I just chasing down the wrong clues? Share what you think in the comments below, and remember the game is always afoot.

Comments

  1. I think your reading of the quicklime reference is brilliant, and I am absolutely convinced that JKR deliberately chose that title for Leda because the character is a keeper of secrets. I do suspect we will find that the bodies she buried were metaphorical, but we shall see, hopefully sooner than later!

  2. Kathleen,

    Thanks for the kind word. If the bodies are metaphorical, then it remains to be seen how that’s the case. That the lyric means she was a good at keeping secrets, well that kind of goes without saying.

    Still, bear in mind, it’s really just guesswork on my part. If I’m wrong, neither harm nor fowl.

  3. Don’t Scare the Dog says

    Salmon salt is caviar.

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