Harry, Krystal, and Kara Did It: Rowling’s Clues to Why Leda Strike Killed Herself

Much of our energies in interpreting Rowling-Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike mysteries this past month has been spent speculating about the enigma of Leda Strike’s death. It was ruled a suicide by heroin overdose by the police who were unable to gather sufficient evidence at the time to convict Jeff Whittaker of having staged the death of his wife as a suicide. For posts about the various suspects besides Whittaker, see Heroin Dark Lord 2.0, Uncle Ted Did It, Dave Polworth, Lucy and Joan Did It, Sir Randolph Whittaker, Nick Herbert, Peter Gillespie, and Charlotte Campbell-Ross. There’s a post, too, about why we can be confident all these best-guesses are wrong.

The only one of these posts in which Leda’s suicide is seriously considered as a suicide is in the argument that Dave Polworth did the dirty deed. My conclusion there is that, unless Leda learned that her husband had sexually molested her daughter, it was hard to imagine her actually committing suicide, at least not in sacrificial love for her older children. I’ve since wondered, because of Louise Freeman’s intriguing post about Old Man Whittaker as possible killer, if she might have killed herself in despair because Whittaker had convinced her that she had killed or forever removed her from baby Switch LaVey Bloom Whittaker.

Then it occurred to me: Rowling has restricted her catalog of work, her oeuvre, to fourteen books, that is, the seven Harry Potter novels, Casual Vacancy, the five Cormoran Strike mysteries, and The Ickabog. Suicide or at least deliberate and sacrificial deaths are almost a rule in all these books except for the Strike novels.

  • The inciting incident of the Hogwarts Saga is the voluntary death of Lily to save her baby son from the Dark Lord; Harry Potter commits suicide in a way, too, by letting Lord Voldemort kill him without making any resistance; Dumbledore in similar fashion dies at Severus Snape’s hand, a death of his own volition and planning.
  • Krystal Weedon, the long-suffering and pathetic heroine of Casual Vacancy, commits suicide by heroin overdose in despair over her part in the accidental death of Robbie, her little brother.
  • There is Rhiannon Winn, whose death by suicide is the Rosmerholm Beata Rosmer equivalent inciting incident of  Lethal White. Not to mention Ellie Fancourt’s ‘topping herself’ in The Silkworm, again, the first death in the deep back-story that drives the subsequent action as the plot’s genesis point…
  • The Ickabog bornding process is a willing self-death to birth Ickaboggles their children — and the Ickabog of the fairy tale Rowling writes has the most deliberate and consequential bornding-death-to-self imaginable.

You’d think that Rowling has a thing about death-to-self being almost a spiritual process, a means of transformation and ego transcendence, something akin to the alchemical solve et coagula maxim tattooed on her writing wrist.

If Leda committed suicide, though, it almost certainly wasn’t the sacrificial death that births a new and better person, here or hereafter, that we see in Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hallows, and The Ickabog. The obvious parallel is with Krystal Weedon in Casual Vacancy, whose suicide is by heroin overdose exactly as Leda’s supposedly was. Krystal’s despair and self-slaughter is understandable, born as it was in remorse for her neglect of her brother, albeit in pursuit of a mean for him to escape with her their shared nightmare existence.

Is Krystal’s suicide suggestive that Leda killed herself for much the same reason? Rowling said that the moral of Harry Potter and the deaths in Deathly Hallows specifically “all came down to conscience” and remorse, guilt, is the most self-effacing form conscience takes (hence Harry’s asking the Dark Lord to “feel some remorse” as his only hope of recovering from his Horcrux madness). I think we have more reason to wonder what happened to Switch before Leda’s death that might have caused her to despair in remorse for his death or her inability to protect him.

If there is a pointer to Leda’s suicide being murder in the most recent Strike novel, Troubled Blood, the gang-rape and murder of Kara Wolfson by the Ricci mob may be it. Betty Fuller tells Strike that Kara, a prostitute, had been raped by Ricci or one of his gang members and she attempted to have what revenge she could by working for the police to gather evidence against her ’employers.’ She is brutally raped and knifed to death, a murder Nicco Ricci films as a warning to ’employees’ who in the future might be thinking of turning state’s evidence. Betty Fuller’s account and Brian Tucker’s description of Kara allow Robin and Cormoran to solve the mystery of who killed her but her body is never recovered and her murderers will remain unpunished.

If Rowling-Galbraith is as self-referencing in her work as we have demonstrated she is in the Strike novels’ many parallels with her Harry Potter books corresponding numbers, I think we have to consider seriously the possibilities that Leda’s suicide will be revealed in the end to be:

  • heroic and self-sacrificing in some respect, as were Harry’s and Dumbledore’s willingness to die;
  • a function of despair and remorse, perhaps even a consequence of rape, as was Krystal Weedon’s death by heroin overdose;
  • something akin to the Ickabog’s bornding and its Ickaboggles, one born murderous because of its fear and one who is kind because of Daisy’s love; and, perhaps,
  • a death traceable to rape or a desire for revenge and justice gone horribly wrong as was Kara Wolfson’s. 

Do you think it credible that Rowling is re-writing the much-neglected and maligned Casual Vacancy so readers will once again experience the death from despair and remorse of a woman without options in the world? Just as Krystal tried to become pregnant by having sex with Fats to escape the prison of life in The Fields, did Leda succeed tragically in that same effort with Jonny Rokeby and as Sarah Shadlock has with Matt Cunliffe? Did Leda lie to Jeff Whittaker about Rokeby’s child support payments because she realized her young and lazy husband had married her with the same hope?

What clues do you think Rowling-Galbraith has given in her previous work to the mystery of Leda Strike’s seeming suicide? Am I way off-base in thinking suicide, be it sacrificial death or dissolution in remorse, is a theme running through the fourteen works she claims as her own?

Let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!


  1. When did the medical profession begin discouraging smoking by pregnant women? Could Leda have disregarded medical advice and then blamed herself if Switch was premature and had some medical problems because of it? How would she have responded? Would it be with remorse?

    I thought Strike’s memory of Leda asking him for a fag followed by his musing that he couldn’t hate her was rather cryptic (in Troubled Blood). Why would that memory engender a warm feeling? You’ve made the connection between Strike’s smoking and Leda’s presence. Is smoking a memory of her love or representative of the scars of his childhood? Or both? Anyway, it would be a bit of cruel fate if the smoking that is one of the few things of Leda’s that Strike has embraced was a catalyst for her death.

  2. Louise Freeman says

    Although there had been earlier reports*, the dangers of both smoking and drinking during pregnancy became apparent to modern science in the early 1970’s: so right around the time of Little Cormoran Blue’s birth. However, I doubt that Leda, with her rejection of all things establishment, paid much attention to peer reviewed science.

    There are episodes of old sitcoms (Bewitched, M*A*S*H) that are left out of syndication packages because they show pregnant women smoking and drinking.

    *Aristotle wrote in Problemata: “foolish, drunken, or haire-brain women most often bring forth children like unto themselves, morose and languid.”

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