Guest Post: Lucy and Joan Killed Leda!

Last month I wrote a review of the five most likely candidates for the murderer of Leda Strike which included the criteria that makes a suspect more or less likely. ‘Who Killed Leda Strike, Suicide Victim? Leda, Rokeby, Whittaker, Ted, or Dave?’ In addition to the genre requirements of a credible means or opportunity as well as motive, I suggested the guilty party would have to be a devastating revelation to Strike, one that would turn his idea of himself and the world upside-down, which is to say “right-side up,” because this is a signature of Rowling-Galbraith big-twist, cathartic finishes. Of the Big Five — Leda herself, Jeff Whittaker, Rokeby, Ted Nancarrow, and Dave Polworth — I thought Dave Polworth the most likely murderer for genre and meta-literary reasons. I followed up that longish post with a disclaimer that the value of this speculation was not in getting it right but in the explication of what makes the author’s writing work, the keys, if you will: The Value Of Interpretive Speculation or “Why We Know Dave Didn’t Kill Leda.”

Those posts inspired comments in support of and against the Polworth possibility, mostly against, as you’d expect. The best of them, I think, was Bestiary’s argument that Joan or Lucy did it (I responded at no little length). One comment I elevated into a post of its own because it made a credible argument that Charlotte killed her lover’s mother (like the Polworth theory, its fan fiction turned on issues of incest). Yesterday, Louise Freeman introduced the idea that Nick Herbert, gastroenterologist, killed Leda when still a medical student or intern: ‘Troubled Blood — The Dark Side to Two Old Mates.’ In response to that suggestion, a Serious Striker writing as ‘Jeff’ commented that we all have totally missed the boat — Joan and Lucy topped Leda, their sister-in-law and biological mother respectively.

I have deleted that comment from Professor Freeman’s thread and post it below as an independent post for your consideration. I do this not so much because I take the theory seriously — it fails, I think, most obviously on the grounds of how the two women learned to inject heroin into someone else’s veins and how they subdued Leda or convinced her it was a good idea (there were no signs of struggle in the flat) — but because I want each of these ‘So and So Did It!’ theories to have their own home rather than hijack discussion on other posts’ threads. This makes for future ease in finding the specific theory, referencing it, and updating it in light of new information.

I post ‘Jeff’s theory of Half-Sister Lucy and dear Aunt Joan as killers after the jump with his relatively brief explanation and defense (I corrected the typos, changed the paragraphing, and liberally expanded the original for clarity and cogency; apologies in advance to ‘Jeff’ if this editorial heavy-hand was unwelcome). Let me know, Serious Strikers, if you think ‘Lucy and Joan Killed Leda’ has merit and if I have too casually dismissed ‘Jeff’s argument!

I think you’re all wrong about the murderer of Leda. I believe that it was Joan or Lucy or the two working together.

Have I made a big study on this? No, it’s just a feeling, but I’m usually right on stuff like this. 

I never considered Lucy and Joan as suspects until an earlier post mentioned the villain would have to be someone we didn’t expect

Here’s how I see this working out in Strike 6 and Strike7:

I expect that in the next book Strike will meet up with Uncle Ted on a visit the old man makes to London or to Lucy’s home. Ted will make a seemingly innocent comment about a day trip, shopping excursion, or something similar that Joan and/or Lucy made to London from Cornwall at the time of Leda’s death.

This comment will stay with Strike for a while, nagging at him in his crowded mental background, but readers will see no fruit from these almost subconscious reflections until book 7.

In book 7 Strike will be on another case and something will jolt him into remembering what Ted let slip out. This push will lead to his uncovering Leda’s killer, unsuspected members of his own family.

Why did they kill Leda?

Neither of them liked Leda very much; you could say each of them hated and resented her.

Leda was the mother of children Joan could not have but for which children Joan acted as surrogate mother; that’s ‘jealousy’ and ‘resentment’ and ‘protectiveness’ in one stroke.

Leda failed to protect Lucy from Whittaker’s perversion and to provide the young girl with a stable, safe childhood. Killing her makes super-safe and loving Joan the default mother to Cormoran and Lucy. No crazy grandmother worries…

What set them off just then when both Strike and Lucy were already out of her clutches? Who knows?

Perhaps Leda had mentioned to Joan that she was going to ask or compel Cormoran to leave Oxford?

Maybe she was going to try to get Strike’s Rokeby child-support cash to help take care of her child with Jeff Whitaker, Switch LaVey Bloom Whittaker?

Whatever the reason, Joan and/or Lucy have finally had enough and kill Leda to save Strike and end the nightmare mental and emotional burden she is to her brother Ted and her two Cornwall-raised children.

That seems the most likely explanation to me. I can see other killers and reasons, of course.

I think, for example, it could have been an as yet unknown agent — Peter Gillespie? — who messed up his assigned mission to get Leda stoned on heroin so she’d be arrested.

Louise Freeman’s theory, too, that the killer was Whittaker’s grand-parents and they did what they had to do to save their great-grandson from Leda’s influence makes sense.

I’m not offering ‘Lucy and Joan Killed Leda,’ in other words, as a sure thing but as a theory at least as credible as those arguing that Dave Polworth, Charlotte Campbell-Ross, or Nick Herbert did it.

Thank you, ‘Jeff,’ for sharing this theory! I wrote earlier this month at some length about why Lucy Fantoni and Joan Nancarrow are non-starters as Leda’s killers in response to Bestiary’s offering them as suspects as a comment on my Polworth post. I’ll re-post those thoughts in the comment section below (original can be read here).

If nothing else, though, Jeff, your theory is something to think about while we wait for Professor Freeman’s exegesis of the idea that Nick Herbert did it.


  1. My 2 January exploration of the possibility that Joan and Lucy killed Leda

    I have ruled out Lucy Fantoni as a suspect for four reasons:

    (1) As a minor and Nancarrow family member, her disappearance for a trip into London or for any reason for any period longer than a few hours would have been noted and hard to explain (and we’re talking about a job that would have taken quite some time to pull off, unless we are imaging a scene where she drops in on Mum finds her asleep, a full syring of White Horse at hand, and decides to do the deed and be done with her…). Again, opportunity is the chief hurdle to clear for any of the Cornwall suspects — and Dave at age 20 fits the bill most easily.

    (2) Lucy has been public with her anger at Leda, especially in ‘Troubled Blood,’ so for meta-reasons she is an unlikely suspect. The character shouting out, “Look at me! I have a motive for having killed the victim!” pretty much can be ruled out as the actual murderer, unless you want to believe Rowling-Galbraith is being especially clever in having a not especially clever character pull off a ‘hiding in plain sight’ number.

    (3) Even with the reminder in ‘Blood’ that Lucy can be quite the determined and focused person in a crisis, imagining 18 year old Lucy, PTSD as she clearly must have been (her whole life, as Strike has noted many times, being an effort to recover from her nomadic, unstable childhood), traveling into London solo and murdering her mother, traveling back to Cornwall and grieving convincingly before a Red Cap veteran and an Oxford student both of whom are quite keen observers and with excellent memories… I just don’t see it.

    (4) If Lucy did it — and I understand that partisans will have arguments contra all the above — how does this cause a cathartic transformation in how Strike sees himself and the world? He knows Lucy hated and still hates Leda. Proving she killed her own mother does what to Strike, besides bringing some resolution to a mystery that has haunted him? Frankly, next to nothing. The revelation of the murderer of Leda Strike, like Harry finding out that the despised Snape loved Lily and dedicated to his life to protecting her son, has to rock Cormoran’s world and everything that makes up his identity, such as it is.

    Rowling-Galbraith is after our defamiliarization, our transformed vision, something achieved in the alembic of cathartic revelation of our mistaken thinking. ‘Lucy Fantoni, Murderer’ does not do any of that.

    Now, Joan Nancarrow, that’s a little different. Her motive is crystal clear and multi-dimensional. On means and opportunity, though, again, I just don’t see it, unless Joan and Ted or Joan and Dave pull off some kind of joint operation.

    It’s possible — imagine Ted gone for a lifesavers exercise, so she has a week in which to travel back and forth to London and all the stars aligning (see above, Leda asleep, syringe on table, etc.) she kills the evil sister-in-law with no one spotting or hearing the Cornwall lady in that environment — but it’s a much greater stretch than Ted and Dave doing the deed together or solo.

    Which unlikelihood I understand is actually an argument in favor of making Joan a suspect; domesticated, simple, childless Joan learns about heroin in volunteer work at the hospital and, enraged by what she learns from Lucy about Whittaker’s sexual behaviors and Leda’s complicity, decides to top the one and set the other up for murder. That’s a ‘wow’ finish, certainly, and one, as you say, we’ve been set up for with RN Janice.

    But does the late Joan Nancarrow turning out to be a murderer turn Cormoran’s self-understanding inside out? Until ‘Blood,’ the reason Strike hasn’t gone back to Cornwall had been that Joan’s guilt-trips and clingy behavior sickened him. He was delighted to learn from dying Joan that she was proud of him and he’ll always think of her when he is seaside, but he just wasn’t that close to her, right? He’d be surprised, even shocked, to figure out his Aunt killed his mother, but it wouldn’t be anything like discovering his oldest mate or “real father,” true ‘Western Men,’ did it.

    Great ideas, though! Thank you for sharing these suspects!

  2. Louise Freeman says

    Not that we can always trust JKR’s dates/relative ages– TB, for instance, suddenly had Cormoran as 4 1/2 and Lucy as a “newborn,” rather than the two year edge difference we had seen before. But Cuckoo’s Calling had Lucy as 19 years old when her mother died; her age was stated at the scene in Joan’s kitchen, where Lucy was described as sobbing on her aunt’s shoulder, Ted as “shattered and silent” and Joan as red-eyed and angry. Lucy, therefore, would presumably have been a first-year university student, and therefore likely no longer living with Ted and Joan. Depending on where she went to college, she could have been within reach of the London squat, and Ted and Joan would not necessarily have been keeping tabs on her whereabouts.

  3. I think Lucy did it, and did it alone–but not on purpose. I think she meant to kill Jeff Whittaker and stage it as an overdose but accidentally injected her mother instead. She’d have ample reason to want Whittaker dead: he had tormented her, and he had enthralled and misguided her mother. She might have been aware that he was after money that Leda didn’t have. As a naive teenager, she might have thought that setting up Whittaker’s suicide would induce her wayward mother to retreat to St. Mawes with baby Switch, saving them both from Whittaker’s clutches.

    In response to some of John’s objections, I think it’s quite possible that Lucy was an unwilling witness to the purchase, preparation and injection of heroin by fellow occupants of the squat, so she’d have the requisite knowledge. I also think she could have given Ted and Joan any number of reasons for her absence, whether a shopping trip to London or (better) visiting a friend in some altogether different location. I also don’t think it’s necessary for Strike’s self-understanding to hinge upon the truth about Leda’s death. I agree that something mind-blowingly big is coming up, and I agree that Strike and readers both need an answer about Leda’s murder, but I don’t think it’s necessary that they be one and the same. I think it would be just as likely for the self-understanding to come from a big reveal involving Strike’s other parent.

    To Louise’s presumptions about Lucy, I didn’t see anything in the books that would make her a college student. I think it more likely that she had already met Greg and was eager to have a chastened, widowed mother at her wedding, rather than have her be accompanied by the living, outrageous and detested Whittaker–but it all went wrong.

    The objections I see to this scenario are objections that would exist regardless of who killed Leda. First and foremost, I think it must be very difficult for anyone, regardless of experience or skill set, to contrive a legitimate-looking heroin overdose unless the victim (and any other people sprawled around the squat) had been subdued beyond merely being asleep. From what I’ve seen in movies, the heroin has to be “cooked” and a vein has to be coaxed into prominence by tying off the arm and vigorously pumping the fist. I’ve heard of addicts using less visible injection sites, but accessing one of those would make things even harder for the killer, no? Wouldn’t the would-be victim wake up at some point during the preparations? Or if subdued, then how? As a minor second point, it’s always nagged at me how Lucy and Greg came to live on the outskirts of London. If they met in Cornwall, wouldn’t they have been content to remain there? I can’t think of anything about Lucy that would induce her to leave Ted and Joan and return to London, which has only bad memories for her. So I don’t think she just up and moved there and happened to meet Greg along the way. I don’t recall that we’re given any of their backstory, and I suppose none of it would much matter, unless Lucy really is the killer.

  4. Louise Freeman says

    In Cuckoo’s Calling, it states that Lucy was 19 years old at the time of Leda’s death, and in Career of Evil it states that she went off to college afterwards. Given the typical age of University entry, I assumed Lucy had started school already. but perhaps her schooling suffered more from the disruptions than Cormoran’s and she needed an extra year to do her A-levels. I always assumed she met Greg at university or afterwards

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