Ink Black: Has Strike Conceived a Child?

Yesterday, Louise Freeman laid out the compelling evidence that Troubled Blood was originally meant to be Strike6 and Ink Black Heart Strike5. Using Ring Theory, Literary Alchemy, and the Parallel Series Idea in addition to her own detailed timeline, she offered the cogent argument that, for whatever reason, Rowling decided to switch the two. Speculation has already begun about why she might have shifted the two.

This morning Serious Striker J. S. Malekson offered a plot possibility that would make flipping Strike novels 5 and 6 almost a necessity and bring the Rokeby drama back into clear focus: Strike’s dalliance with Madeline in Ink Black Heart has resulted in her pregnancy.

Along the lines of things that were expected to happen in Strike 6 that didn’t happen, a thought struck me that something was going to happen in Strike 6 that had never occurred to me before Strike 6: Madeline becomes pregnant with Strike’s baby.

Once this materialized in my brain, I couldn’t shake it. The following interesting items didn’t help:

  • Strike makes a comment of not liking women “coke-thin” while he’s with Robin in the first chapter; Madeline is thereafter described as “high” and thinner than Robin (he can feel her ribs).
  • Then he tells Midge, he has lipstick on his face because he “ran in to a friend of his mother.” That’s an odd, random reference for him to make to his subcontractor given his reluctance to discuss who his parents. While she isn’t a one-night stand as Leda was with Rokeby, she is a bit of a party-girl, groupie.

Then there are all of the references to unexpected, unplanned pregnancies and parents who are negligent/abusive to their children:

1) Robin and Axeman go on the ski trip because another couple unexpectedly cancels due to pregnancy;

2) Heather says her pregnancy is unplanned/unexpected;

3) the birth of Henry when Madeline is 19 years old seems to be an unexpected pregnancy;

4) Flavia is referred to as a problem child and was mistreated by her parents-especially her father;

5) the horrors that are Jago, Charlotte and Jago’s first wife;

6) Grant’s treatment of Rachel;

7) nearly forgot, the birth of William Cunliffe;

8) frequent references to Prudence who Strike describes as “the other illegitimate.”

There are probably more because by the time I finished my second run through of the audio, I felt like it was an omnipresent theme and I was convinced that Madeline included news of the pregnancy in the text that Strike deletes without reading.

If I’m correct and I suppose it’s a rather large if, will this be the event that causes Strike to better understand and resolve his issues with Rokeby? How will this effect Strike’s relationship with Robin? So many avenues for conflict, resolution, and transformation.

Is it just me, or did anyone else pick up on any of this?

It’s not just you, J. S. The theme of unwanted pregnancies and conceptions used to seal-the-deal on a relationship has been a near constant plot point in Rowling’s work since Merope Gaunt bewitched Tom Riddle, Sr., the foundation event of the entire Hogwarts Saga. It’s a driver in Casual Vacancy and, as you note, it’s everywhere in the Strike series, beginning with Leda’s seduction of the Swan that gives the world Cormoran Strike. This has biographical roots — Rowling was conceived illegitimately herself and her own off-and-on seven year relationship with a boyfriend broke off just before she fled for Portugal (cf. Gloria Conti in Troubled Blood) — which has led to speculation on the HogwartsProfessor moderator channels about The Presence’s Lake inspiration and struggle with this issue.

You are, however, the first person I know to have suggested that Rowling has decided to elevate this theme to center stage of the Strike novels by making Cormoran and Madeline conceive a child outside of marriage.

This, as you point out, really puts him in the situation of experiencing what his father did upon learning that his sexual diversion with Leda Strike had resulted in the conception of a child with a woman whom he does not love and with whom he does not desire a long term relationship. It also provides a neat explanation for the 5-6 Flip idea that Louise Freeman has all but demonstrated to be true.

Ink Black Heart from this view, because it is the book in which Strike and Mads are a couple, a relationship that cannot be wedged into the story-line of Joan’s death and the back and forth to Cornwall, has to come after the ‘Here’s Jonny!’ novel that is Troubled Blood. What evidence, beyond it fitting with Rowling’s persistent use of unwanted pregnancies and entrapment conceptions in her stories, is there for ‘Daddy Strike,’ my tentative name for J. S. Malekson’s theory?

Nothing in-your-face, certainly, as in her saying, “I’m pregnant,” though that could be in the deleted text message (one including an apology and explanation?) Strike received at the hospital. “He deleted the text without reading it, then blocked her number” (928). There is, however, a fairly strong suggestion in Madeline’s earlier drunken attack on Strike as he struggled to get to Denmark Street, sufficiently broken physically that he is “offering bargains to a God he wasn’t at all sure he believed in” (906). She says to him there, between punches and kicks: ‘”Don’t talk about my daddy” — but you’re just fucking like him — on’y not as fucking successful — and you pretend you don’t want the fucking public — publicity — but you on’y fuck famous –‘ (911). Later she spells out her plans for revenge: ‘ — an’ I’ve got an interview w’the Mail next week — an’ I’ll tell them –.’  She levels Strike with a kick, “her stiletto heel stab[s] his thigh,” when he interrupted her explanation of what she was going to tell them (912).

“You’re just fucking like him.” There is a phrase pregnant with meaning and possible readings. “Just fucking” — using women as sexual play things; “fucking like him” — causing a pregnancy and then running away; “You’re just fucking like him” — you’re the father of an illegitimate child that is going to destroy the one relationship you value (Strike’s conception supposedly caused the end of Rokeby’s second marriage though it happened before he was married to that wife).

Robin’s first date with Murphy and Strike’s recovery in the hospital will, of course, be very, very different if they all read an article in The Daily Mail, a newspaper whose bread and butter are celebrity news and revealing photographs, in which piece Madeline, Charlotte, Lorelei, Ciarra, and even Nina (the article will be written by Dominic Culpepper, right?) all detail being used and discarded by Rokeby, Jr. Might Charlotte say he made her abort their love-child because he never wants to have children? And Madeline announce that she is pregnant and will be having the baby?

What a great context for Strike’s seeking therapy from his half-sister Prudence and his eventual reconciliation with Jonny Rokeby. Such a perfect natural obstacle to Robin and Cormoran’s supposedly inevitable union as man and wife, a block that will take, say, three long novels and cases to overcome, if ever. What an out-of-the-bluey story twist to reset reader understanding that this is not your typical Boy-Meets-Girl romance. 

love it. Please let me know what you think of ‘Daddy Strike’ in the comment boxes below. Is it credible or incredible? Why? Do we have an explanation in this theory for the 5-6 Flip? What would this promise for the coming pair of albedo novels according to ‘Strike Extended Play,’ 6A and 6B?





  1. Louise Freeman says

    I love this idea. It was the second of two that crossed my mind on my initial listen, the first being that Madeline, knowing Strike had saved Charlotte from her overdose, had sent a suicide note of her own, and Strike’s deletion and blocking her would result in her death. The reference to Durkheim and his research on anomie and suicide had pointed me in that direction (see But obviously that did not happen— has a suicide note ever been written on a get-well card and mailed to a hospital?

    The pregnancy idea is much better and very well supported, so nice work, JSM. Although, it doesn’t speak well for Madeline if she is getting drunk knowing she is pregnant. Strike seems to be the type to always be “prudent” enough to carry condoms (I’ve always thought Prudence was an ironic name for an illegitimate child!) so, if he did not use one, he likely had been assured there was no need. This would put Madeline in the club of The Orca, Sarah Shadlock and (likely) Leda Strike as women who get pregnant to trap a man into marriage or monetary support, and group her with Charlotte as a woman utterly unconcerned about her child’s welfare.

    Speaking of avoiding fetal alcohol syndrome, Ilsa not drinking the champagne instantly clued me in on her good news. She can be added to the list of women unexpectedly pregnant in IBH, albeit one for whom the condition *ought* to be a joyous, rather than unwelcome, surprise. The fact that Ilsa was so hopeless about it and chose not to tell Nick for so long bodes ill for both her mental health and suggests that their marriage has not recovered from his blaming her for the earlier miscarriage. (See: Given his eventual reaction to the news was not altogether positive, there is still a dark shadow hanging over them.

    But not as dark as the shadow of Strike being named in a paternity suit would be, especially if that gets into the media. That nightmare just might give us book 5c of nigredo.

    As a half-sister, Prudence could not ethically provide therapy, but she could make a referral and would likely need to.

  2. Also, after the “launch incident”, during the dinner in the Ottoman restaurant -Madeline’s last dinner we’re allowed to witness in the book- she only drinks fizzy water. I did just a quick browse and I might be wrong, but I found no evidence of her drinking any more alcohol until (of course) the stiletto stabbing. Was she actively avoiding alcohol for the baby’s sake, with a relapse due to the stress of the situation? Or maybe she was just avoiding alcohol after the launch incident in an effort to regain Strike’s respect/to be a better partner, and I’m overthinking this fizzy water thing.
    Anyway, as a new reader and total beginner, I have to say I’m humbly grateful for the great work all the contributors do on this wonderful page, free for everyone to read. Thank you so so much.

  3. Brian Basore says

    Does the Lupin/Tonks/Teddy situation fit in this situation?
    That was an emotionally rough place in the Hogwarts books.

  4. Well argued, obviously! What also comes to mind is the bit about how Madeline and her ex co-parent Henry, living just blocks apart so he can easily spend time with both parents. As amicable as this sounds, it underscores how you’re tied to someone forever when you have a kid with them.

    I find myself asking: Would Strike ever let that happen? We know he doesn’t lack for sexual experience. We know he decidedly doesn’t want kids. We know he’s organized and methodical. And all too aware of the consequences that come with unplanned pregnancies. Plus, he’s already had one pregnancy “scare,” with Charlotte.

    Knowing all this about Strike… it’s hard to picture him leaving things to chance in this department. After all his sexual liaisons (and there’ve been a bunch), I can’t recall him ever even *worrying* that the woman could be pregnant.

    This leads me to believe he’s, um, “careful” in the bedroom. Careful enough to meet his own meticulous standards. The most straightforward possibility would be that he insists on condoms… though we’re never actually told this… and I seem to remember him just sort of falling into bed with Ciara Porter.

    And of course, sometimes “accidents happen” even to careful people. And partners aren’t always honest with each other about, say, birth control. In short… stranger things have happened.

    Not sure what I think about that unread text from Madeline. I love the *idea* of it as a suggestive loose end… but if so, I’d kind of expect the payoff to come within the same book. It seems a little too small and offhand to carry into the next book and become a vehicle for a major plot twist. But that’s just my unsupported sense of things, and could be totally wrong.

    My last thought is… what if it’s true?? I have to say, I hope it isn’t. I don’t really want to read about Strike being a dad… but I’d equally hate to think of him as the kind of man who’d ignore his kid and NOT be a dad. Ugh: narrative problems vs. meta-narrative problems…!

  5. I agree there is great merit to the Madeline is pregnant storyline. What is interesting to me is immediately following that drunken endeavor outside of the jewelry store Madeline abstains from alcohol. However, I too agree with Louise’s statement about Strike’s prudence. Given the authors attention to detail this would be something that is surely mentioned in the books. But I could just as easily imagine that she might reveal that Strike had taken care of that from ever potentially happening and tie up this avenue of inquiry in the future.

    While it may seem like a throwaway line, considering all the other conversations around children, Strike mentions to Robin that together they will be godparents to the child of Nick & Ilsa. I agree with Louise that a Strike-Madeline baby would lead to an even deeper spiral of darkness and perhaps even despair for Strike. It is well established that he does not generally like children or see in any sense a domestic future for himself. A paternity suit and the ensuing media circus would be devastating to him, his plans for the agency, and a future with Robin.

    I also find it interesting that the epigraph immediately following his conversation with Madeline is

    But this place is grey,
    And much too quiet. No one here,
    Why, this is awful, this is fear!
    Nothing to see, no face.
    Nothing to hear except your heart beating in space
    As if the world was ended.
    Charlotte Mew
    Madeline in Church (page 914)

    What is interesting is that this is from the author Charlotte Mew from the Poem Madeline in Church. I did look up the poem Madeline in Church and what strikes me is this comes from the middle of the poem about Madeline a woman used and abused by the men in her orbit, wishing to connect with God, and in particular wishing to connect with his human counterpart Jesus. Interestingly the poem ends with Madeline lamenting at how hurt she was that she was someone ignored and hurt by the disinterest of God and his son, even though she passionately believed in him.

    This poem about heartbeats in the darkness comes from both a Charlotte and a Madeline. Perhaps it is yet another symbolic statement. Madeline was in love with Strike, that much is clear throughout their interactions in the book. It could be that Madeline wanted to get pregnant or at some point had gotten pregnant and was happy about this turn of events. Perhaps the reason her last appearance with Strike in the book is when she is drunk is because she lost the baby and now, not because she aborted it, and now her world is ending. That’s why perhaps Strike has that “sense of déjà vu” (911) it is reminiscent of what happened between him and Charlotte.

    I wonder if this baby is more metaphorical in that all these signs could also point back to needing to resolve the negligent relationship with his own father, his thoughts of being the abandoned and unwanted child, fostering a relationship with his sister, and perhaps the coming press onslaught from Madeline. She discusses going to press and the media circus that he so desperately wants to avoid is impossible because Strike is so similar to his father. Whatever the case may be, I do agree that any article to be written about Strike will come from Culpepper who has been dying to write something since the start of The Silkworm.

    To refer to the themes of nigredo and albedo, it would surprise me to have a book of darkness as the next in the series. In the end of IBH, the author says:

    The think he’d been trying for years not to look at, and not to name, had stepped out of the dark corner where he’d attempted to keep it, and Strike knew there was no longer any way of denying its existence.[…]And the worst of it was, he knew his predicament could have been avoided if only, in his own recently uttered words, he’d opened his f***** eyes. (1011-1012)

    This to me is a sure sign that the next book in the series will fall on the albedo side. I bring this up because children represent purity and lightness, and I do not see Strike embracing the role of father with any real enthusiasm at this time.

    What is interesting is albedo is not only used to mean light it is also used to mean the reflection of light. Could this child foreshadowing be representative of a reflection of Strike? A metaphorical child of Cormran? Perhaps the themes of fatherhood, parentage, and a Madeline induced pregnancy press storm inspire Strike to meaningfully connect/reconnect to the children in his own live. Taking a more active role in guiding his nephew. Meaningfully taking on and following through on his commitment to serve alongside Robin as the godparents to Nick & Ilsa coming child.

  6. Louise Freeman says

    Madeline, as a name, can mean either “woman from Magdala (shades of Mary Magdalene) or “high tower.” ( If she does indeed bring ruin to Strike and his business, either through speaking to the tabloids or via pregnancy, might this be a Half-Blood Prince echo to Dumbledore’s fatal plunge off the Astronomy Tower?

  7. I think Strike helping to raise a child that looks like a mix of him and Robin because he dated a women who looks Robin after he thought she didn’t want to kiss him…yeah, that would put a serious kink in the future of his and Robin’s romantic prospects. I don’t know, maybe if Rowling wants to drag out the romance for four more books. I guess it could sort of be a compromise of Robin having children if she eventually helps to raise a step child. But raising a child that looks like you not because your related but because… I don’t know.

  8. Kelly Loomis says

    I, too, was thinking along these very same lines! Don’t have much to add to the conversation but happy to know i wasn’t just imagining the “hints”or dare I say “foreshadowing”.

  9. JKR obviously could choose to nuke the entire series with a Strike/Madelyn child, but a Strike/Robin baby makes more sense to me. They’re both phobic about having children. Strike mostly hates being around them, except for Jack. So what better way to shake up and test the relationship while forcing Strike to confront his dad issues? Strike and Robin might even have a Best Years of Our Lives moment through being Godparents to Nick and Ilsa’s baby and discovering that they can no longer deny their feelings for one another. Which can’t happen too soon for me as the years-long, will-they/won’t they theme—which I loved initially—is starting to wear thin. As for Robin having a baby and still remaining part of a crime-solving team, it’s sort of been done in The Thin Man and would open a world of possibilities for future books.

  10. I agree with Rebecca N. I think the pregnant Madeline theory would be too detrimental to the Strike/Robin relationship. Madeline does drink fizzy water and is still abstaining from alcohol on her and Strike’s last Thursday-night date (two dates after the drunken launch party), but I think she’s just trying to make up for her previous behavior. If she does abstain because she thinks she’s pregnant, I think she would have screamed it at Strike during the final drunken brawl. And, even if she saved the pregnancy news for the Mail interview the following week, it would have been published a full week before Strike and Robin talk in the hospital. Strike tells Robin he and Madeline have split up a couple weeks ago. Strike and Robin’s meeting in the hospital would have been totally different if the Mail article had a pregnancy claim.

  11. I agree with Joan M. re: the reason for Madeline abstaining from alcohol. She realized when she attacked Strike after her jewelry launch event that he was fed up, not having it, and was walking out, wiping the dust off his shoes. She splatted in the street, he helped her up and got her back to her shop, and she became blubberingly remorseful. This is her bipolar way of fighting – wound someone, then regret it. She’s a mean drunk.

    She was a screaming, violent maniac until she fell, then she was a crying and remorseful, apologizing through tears. She dried out for the next while because she realized she nearly lost him. Later, she approached him drunk and aggressive, actually wounding him in Denmark Street, and again became remorseful when he fell after she kicked him. Then, she was begging to help him and saying she didn’t mean it. He told her to get lost, and she finally staggered away. She probably sobered up for a couple of weeks after that episode, and sent that huge get-well card, because she does everything in a big, uncontrolled way, and she was hoping to get him back.

    I would hate for her to be pregnant, but I don’t think she is. She’s raised one kid alone, probably got her tubes tied years ago so that it doesn’t happen again. She was married, had a chance to have more children then, but didn’t do it. She knows what causes it. I hope we have seen the last of her. I was upset with Strike when he got her phone number, even though she was obviously coked up on New Year’s Eve. Hadn’t he gotten enough of that, living with his mother?

    I want Robin and Strike to find happiness and fulfillment together. And soon.
    I’ll get really irked if Rowling stretches this out beyond the next book. I had trouble accepting the “no” outside the Ritz, but later came to see that a successful relationship with Robin is now possible, because his heart has finally been freed from Charlotte. That door has closed, and is bolted. She has no more power over him.

    Strike just can’t shake the belief that a relationship with Robin would go the way of all his previous relationships, but hasn’t stopped to look at her track record. They have had some serious fights, he has fired her, she screamed at him after the nightmare dinner, but they have made it up after all of their disagreements. Five years, and she hasn’t just moved on. Why would she change?

    But now we have Ryan Murphy, who is Strike’s height, has curly hair, but not as curly, and not as dark as Strike’s. He does the same job as Strike, though not as well. He understands the pull of an investigation, and so far seems impressed by Robin’s investigative chops. He likes Robin, asks Strike how she’s doing and to give her his best (which Strike forgets to do), even after the embarrassment asking her out. He behaves like an adult – not a pouting Matt.

    When he offers Robin a ride home after the bombing, you see there is compatibility there. She feels safe in proximity to him. Both of them are trying to solve a murder, both of them like getting the scent and following it, both of them like to tell how they figured out a case. When she gathers her nerve tells him she’s not accustomed to being asked out, he immediately says, “How is that possible?” That’s a very nice compliment to Robin. He’s a very nice guy. He’s honest about his alcoholism. He’s not a lech. Darn it! I don’t want her “shagging CID officers”, as Ilse puts it. But they are going out, and may start dating for half the next book, maybe till the last chapter. If Robin goes for him, she’ll be settling, and will still be in love with Strike. That will keep her from having true happiness with Murphy. It’s possible that Murphy will figure out she’s in love with Strike, and realize what he’s up against. Robin whiffed on a chance to find out that Strike and Madeline had broken up, just hours after it happened, because she didn’t want to ruin her good mood. It could be a completely different story if she had just asked.

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