Ink Black: Headless Hunt in Highgate?

I wrote in my pre-publication ‘Nine Guides to Ink Black Heart that serious readers should be on the look out for ghosts haunting the sixth Strike novel. Fans of the Hogwarts Saga are used to crowds of departed souls appearing here and there, even enjoying some cranial polo on special occasions, but those who re-read the Strike series know the dead are ever present in these books as well:

You don’t hear so much about the ghosts of Cormoran Strike, though, right? Which is a shame. Ghosts are a big deal in these mysteries and are all but certain to play a role just out of sight in Ink Black Heart. In addition to The Ghosts Haunting Troubled Blood, see Louise Freeman’s posts on the Ghost of Charlie Bristow in Cuckoo’s Calling and the Ghost of Freddie Chiswell in Lethal White. I have to think the cartoonist that is murdered in a cemetery will be haunting the investigation of her death — and inspiring the detectives with a nudge here and there. Given the meaning of Vanessa Ekwenzi’s first name vis a vis Nabokov (the “black Vanessa” butterfly), I’ll be especially attentive to her inputs if any on this case.

The text within the text, after all, is set in a graveyard, and an especially spooky one at that. Of course there will be ghosts…

Well, it was nothing like Troubled Blood with its persistent references to Margot Bamborough’s thoughts and the perceptions of the Creed victims pictured on the cover of The Demon of Paradise Park. And Vanessa and the Nabokovia butterflies were absent, full stop. I expect she and Oliver wed during the months of Ink Black Heart and will re-appear in Strike7 or 8 with a child or two — which, with Ilsa and Nick’s baby (and Strike and Madeline’s?), will ramp up the Murphy-Ellacott possibilities, naturally.

But ghosts? I found this one tease that makes believe there are many more I missed on my first reading. The first thing said at the gathering in the Artists Club of the Strike Agency partners and Maverick Films’ Richard Elgar, Grant and Heather Ledwell, and the agent, Allan Yeoman, is Yeoman’s belief that “I know Edie would be glad we’re meeting” (157). That may seem to be a throw-away for tossers to break the ice, but has been a commonplace in the previous Strike novels for invoking or noting the presence, wishes, and even activity of the dead; review Greg Talbot’s repeated references to his father’s hopes and influence on events in the revived investigation of Bamborough’s disappearance.

The subject for discussion, then, is what signs have you seen (or heard) in your experiences of Ink Black Heart of supernatural influence? What wild and wacky coincidences that favor the revelation of the guilty parties happen are there in Strike6 which may suggest ghosts on the move, manipulating the ether and the thoughts of the living to act out their revenge?


  1. Louise Freeman says

    It wouldn’t be a Strike novel without a few unbelievable coincidences, but here’s the one that jumped out at me first, and which may be evidence of Edie’s spirit lending a hand

    Think about these coincidences:
    1. Midge’s ex just happened to have had a gaming account she was willing to barter to the team for the price of a mirror Midge had kept out of spite.
    2. When gaming (amongst 100’s of online players) months or years ago, Ex (“Buffypaws”) had formed an unusually close online friendship with Worm28, who may or may not have been a moderator then. Worm28 had poured out all her troubles to Buffypaws, so much so that Worm worried she had run Buff off.
    3. When Buffypaws reappears in the guise of Robin, Worm28 is right there, ready to resume the conversation. Robin is able to glean enough correct info from Midge, and guess the rest, so as to convince both Worm and Anomie she’s the original Buffypaws.
    4. Zoe just happens to show up at the pub when Strike and Barclay are there watching the foursome, and Strike somehow instantly knows she is important enough to the case to tail and photograph her.
    5. Zoe also happens to be at work and hanging out in the communal kitchen at Robin’s first art class. They both wind sitting in the same room, talking to each other on a busy online game, with neither being the wiser until Robin sees Zoe sign off her phone at the same time. Like Strike, she decides she needs to walk the girl home rather than pursue the male suspect she had originally come for.
    6. During the walk, Zoe instantly spills her guts to the stranger and provides just the right information for Robin to confirm she is both Worm28 *and* one of the dozens to hundreds of twitter handles (Zozo28) that Robin has perused thus far. The stage is set for Zoe to reach out to “Jessica” later in the game and help bring the case to a close.

    This seems to be the best alignment of stars since Strike looked up from the cafe and spied Samhain Athorn in the rain.

    In life, Edie had been an inspiration to and source of comfort to Zoe, by through creating the cartoon that brought her comfort and saved her from suicide, by sharing her similar life story publicly and sending a Twitter condolence message to her fan at the death of her mother

    Zoe was one of the few disciples who remained loyal to Edie and genuinely grieved her death. Is it hard to imagine Edie reaching out, after death, to the lonely young orphan who had literally etched Edie’s creations into her skin, and helping to assure she is in the right place at the right time to connect to our detectives?

  2. Brilliant work here, Professor Freeman.

    The name ‘Zoe’ makes your brief here that much more credible. It derives from the Greek word for ‘life,’ which, as opposed to ‘bios’ is the ife of the soul transcending the human person’s mortal, physical existence. As C. S. Lewis explained in Mere Christianity:

    In reality, the difference between Biological life and Spiritual life is so important that I am going to give them two distinct names. The Biological sort which come to us through Nature, and which (like everything else in Nature) is always tending to run down and decay so that it can only be kept up by incessant subsidies from Nature in the form of air, water, food, etc. is Bios. The Spiritual life which is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe is Zoe. Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe: but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man. And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going around that some of us are some day going to come to life (p. 159).

    Christ, of course, says He is this ‘Zoe’ when He describes Himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” John 14:6. Note also the difference between soul-life ‘psyche’ and eternal-spiritual life or Zoe: The man who loves his life [ψυχή / Psyche] will lose it, while the man who hates his life [ψυχή / Psyche] in this world will keep it for eternal life [ζωή / Zoe]. John 12:25 NIV.

    That Rowling makes Zoe the character who is the vehicle of spiritual influence via Edie, the unjustly martyred woman-creator of the story, points on just whose side God is on in this business. Gus’ name, from ‘Augustus’ and redolent both of patriarchal power in being the name of the first Roman emperor and of religious prejudice against women via St Augustine who lays all of human evil and sin at Eve’s disobedience in Eden, marks him as the murderer, the anti-Zoe.

    Strike and Robin’s seeking out Zoe, seemingly for no reason other than a hunch, may be a sign of their affinity with the Zoe as it is of Edie’s influence, which possibility I hope to write up in an IBH Christian content post.

    Again, great spotting, Louise!

  3. ‘Zoe just happens to show up at the pub when Strike and Barclay are there watching the foursome, and Strike somehow instantly knows she is important enough to the case to tail and photograph her.’ – This was the frankly Dickensian level of coincidence that leapt out at me above all the others – how often does the clue to your murder case simply wander by? As Louise says, Strike has previous here – after Samhain Athorn he must feel that sitting in pubs and trailing random passers-by is the way the crack cases. But, in Galbraith’s defence, I felt she was making a point about spots of time/specific tiny chunks of London which remain distinct despite the metropolis that surrounds them. Margot’s case was all about a few evocative streets in London and this case too – with North Grove lying so close to the cemetery – also tried to create a bounded (quasi sacred) space, within which suspects might indeed just be found wandering by…

  4. Is the bit about Zoe SUCH a coincidence, though? She didn’t show up randomly; she showed up frantically trying to catch her boyfriend (who’s avoiding her on account of her being underaged but not underaged enough for his taste; ick). And her tattoos and apparent connection to the group that just met would be a strong clue that she was worth checking into. Spotting her is definitely luck, but not quite Samhaim Athorn territory, IMO.

  5. You’ve connected Leda’s ghost with Cormoran’s smoking – “the wraith of Leda seemed to drift on his cigarette smoke around him.” In this book he is finally working to break himself of the habit, so if Leda has been haunting him, perhaps he’s truly in a healing stage. And taking after Pat!

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