Ink Black Heart: The Coda Latch

I am beginning to write up the notes I jotted down in Utah earlier this month about the structure of Ink Black Heart. My premise for this work, as you’d expect, is that the sixth Strike novel is a ring composition; the first task in this sort of research, because it is the easiest of the four qualities of a ring to identify, is to see if the opening and closing chapters act as a ‘latch’ for the work as a whole. Heart’s open and close are neatly separated from the rest of the novel’s parts by being names other than ‘Parts;’ the first four chapters are its ‘Prologue’ and its last chapter or epilogue, which follows Part 5, is called the ‘Coda.’

Before I begin the structural exegesis, though, something that will eventually include — in addition to the latch — explorations of the story turn in Part 3, parallels between Parts 1 and 2 with 4 and five, and each Part being a ring unto itself, I want to note something peculiar about Rowling’s structural choices in Strike6. She chooses to call the last piece, as noted, a ‘Coda,’ rather than, say, an ‘Epilogue,’ a first for this series or any of her novels and screenplays. I think there are at least three decent explanations for this change, which I’ll share after the jump.

Let’s note how Rowling-Galbraith structures each of  the first five Strike novels with special attention on her endings.

Cuckoo’s Calling, very much like Ink Black Heart, begins with a Prologue, has five Parts, and closes with a single chapter ‘Epilogue’ with the heading ‘Ten Days Later.’ The chapters in Cuckoo begin their numbering again at the beginning of each Part, so that the Prologue does not have a number or even the number ‘1’ is not a mystery.

The Silkworm is 50 chapters long and no Parts are given in the text. The last chapter, however, in addition to the number 50 has the heading, ‘One Week Later.’ The way I charted the book’s structure, chapters 1 and 50 are the prologue-epilogue latch, and the other chapters divide neatly into seven other parts for a total of nine and a story turn in the fourth part, specifically when Cormoran and Robin cross a bridge.

Career of Evil has 62 chapters, no part divisions, and no notes above the final chapter to distinguish it from the rest of the text. It proceeds straight from the previous chapter’s battle with Laing, as Strike rushes from London with Shanker as chauffeur to get to Masham for the Ellacott-Cunliffe nuptials. I’ve charted this as a seven part novel, whose first and seventh chapter sets, unmarked as such, act as the latch.

Lethal White has the most curious structure markings of the six books published thus far. It has only one note about how to understand the organization of its chapters, namely, the chapters starting with 36 are ‘Part Two.’ As discussed here at some length as ‘The Missing Page Mystery,’ there is no page marker for ‘Part One,’ which suggests it is a series marker rather than one exclusively for Strike4, i.e., that the second part of the books when read as a set begins with the discovery of Jasper Chiswell’s body. White‘s first chapter, is headed ‘Prologue,’ chapter enumeration begins with a 1 after a page announcing ‘One Year Later,’ and the last chapter follows a ‘One Month Later’ page and is headed ‘Epilogue.’ I’ve charted this book as having five parts.

Troubled Blood has seven Parts, the first six of which are rings unto themselves, with Parts One and Seven working as the latch and the turn being in Part Four. The last Part is only two chapters long which hints that it is not listed as an epilogue though it works that way (as the first Part does as a prologue) because Rowling is hat-tipping the structure of Faerie Queene, the epic poem from which all but one of the novel’s epigraphs are taken which has six books and two brief pieces, “the fragment Mutabilitite.”

Ink Black Heart has a Prologue of four chapters, all numbered, five Parts of various lengths (from ten to twenty-seven chapters long), and a Coda, a one chapter finale that is given a chapter number in sequence with the others. As noted, the only other book with a Prologue and five Parts, Cuckoo’s Calling, has an Epilogue rather than a Coda. Lethal White, too, has a Prologue and an Epilogue.

Why the Coda here where an ‘Epilogue’ would have been expected?

I have three guesses and invite you to share your ideas.

(1) The Epigraphs: Rowling-Galbraith structured — and labeled the Parts of — Troubled Blood to highlight its story-template, Spenser’s Faerie Queene. It seems most likely that the author is once again pointing to her epigraphs, heart passages from Gray’s Anatomy and heart lyrics and poem verses from Victorian women poets, in her structural frame and the use of ‘Coda’ specifically.

The word ‘Coda’ is a musical term used for the end of a piece, one used especially in Classical music composition. The intention for using this word rather than the relatively mundane ‘Epilogue’ from this view would be to invite a relatively poetic reading of the work rather than prosaic or plot-focused. The opposition of these two views is included in the physical heart epigraphs from Gray’s Anatomy before the Prologue, each Part, and the Coda existing within the Estecean or spiritual heart of the poetry; the relatively immaterial view predominates, winning that interior debate, which suggests that this is the author’s preferred reading, whence ‘Coda.’ More on this in the ‘symbolism’ notes below.

(2) The Alchemy: I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the word ‘Coda’ derives from the Latin word for ‘tail,’ Cauda, one familiar to students of literary alchemy because of the stage in the Great Work called cauda pavonis, ‘the tail of the peacock.’ This is sufficiently important that the only academic literary journal devoted to the subject of alchemical story was called Cauda Pavonis. Note its use in the passage about the symbolism of Swans in Lyndy Abraham’s Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery:

Swan: a symbol of the white stage known as the albedo, and of the white elixir or stone which can transmute base metal to silver. Ruland wrote: ‘When the Stone… has arrived at the perfect White Stage… or Swan, than all the philosophers say that this is a time of joy’ (Lexicon, 379). The swan is one of a series of hermetic birds which represent the different phases and colours of the the matter in the alembic during the opus. The crow or raven of the black nigredo is followed by the many colours of the peacock or peacock’s tail [cauda pavonis], which is then transformed into the swan or dove of the albedo and finally into the phoenix of the red rubedo. In Jonson’s The Alchemist, Face informs Mammon that he has put the matter through the ‘several colours,’ ‘the crow/ the peacock’s tail, the plumed swan’ (2.2.26-7). The swan is sometimes depicted as swimming in a silver sea and spouting the silver arcanum or elixir. It can also signify the magical mercurial arcanum with which the king (the male principle) is fed when he unites with the queen (the female principle) to become one body in the chemical wedding (sixth key, Valentine, in HM, 1:3336). Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery (CUP), 196-197

Swans are a big deal in Cormoran Strike; if you’ve missed our discussion of this through the years, from Greek mythology to Yeats and alchemy, please do a search of the site’s archives on the subject, accessible through this link. From this view, the ‘Coda’ ending of Ink Black Heart is Rowling’s acknowledgment that we have left the nigredo stage of the second ‘half’ of the series post Lethal White and will be entering the albedo, because cauda pavonis exists between those two stages.

(3) The Symbolism:  A musical coda or finish is what follows a “recapitulation,” an ending with a twist. From Wikipedia:

Codas were commonly used in both sonata form and variation movements during the Classical era. In a sonata form movement, the recapitulation section will, in general, follow the exposition in its thematic content, while adhering to the home key. The recapitulation often ends with a passage that sounds like a termination, paralleling the music that ended the exposition; thus, any music coming after this termination will be perceived as extra material, i.e., as a coda. In works in variation form, the coda occurs following the last variation and will be very noticeable as the first music not based on the theme.

I’m going to let a Serious Striker well versed in musical composition to explain that in terms of Ink Black Heart’s seven pieces, but I think the obvious take-away is that the novel’s Coda acts as a kind of “recapitulation,” a denouement and tying up of loose ends. Not just an epilogue or latch, though; it includes a telling “twist,” Strike’s epiphany that it has been his eyes that needed to be opened, that he has been oblivious to his love for his business partner, been manipulated by Venus and Valentine Longcaster/Cupid, and has perhaps lost his chance at a rewarding and uplifting love relationship with the best woman in his life.

Best of all? The symbol for a musical coda in notation for musicians’ sheet music is a “crosshairs,” perhaps the most telling representation of ring composition I have ever seen. I begin my structural exegesis, then, with the possibility that Rowling-Galbraith chose the word ‘Coda’ for her Strike6 epilogue because she wanted at least in part to invite a structural and poetic, even musical reading of her longest novel.

Let me know what you think of that possibility — and please share your own coda ideas in the comment boxes below!



  1. I am not well-versed in musical composition, but enough to know the same section of music might be repeated several times. I’m thinking of the hymns I grew up with, but it applies to popular music, too. In these sections the words are different, but the tune is the same. Then after the tune or verses are repeated the correct number of times, the coda takes you to a different section and you stop repeating the same tune.

    The prologue of IBH is a repeat of the wedding and its aftermath. The behavior of Cormoran and Robin is basically a repeat of what they did in LW. They had a moment, their hug, at the wedding reception. Robin spends her honeymoon walking the beach wondering about her feelings for Cormoran. Cormoran goes to a party, meets Lorelei, and decides she would make a good distraction from his feelings for Robin. The barriers between them come up.

    In IBH, they have a moment at the Ritz, the almost kiss. The barriers come up. Robin goes on vacation and spends her time wondering about her feelings for Cormoran. She actually asks herself if she’s going to spend all of her holidays doing that. Cormoran meets Madeline at a party and decides she’s a good distraction from his feelings for Robin. The only thing he learned from his time with Lorelie is that he needs to tell himself he’s giving the relationship a chance.

    The coda of IBH has them moving into a different section of the song. Robin wants to start a new phase in her life. She also tells Cormoran the truth about her date with Ryan rather than keep it from him. Cormoran apparently wants a different ending to the questions he has about the disastrous almost kiss. Hopefully it’s their time to stop repeating the same behaviors and making the same presumptions that have been a recurrent theme in their inner dialogues up to now.

  2. ^ I would have said about the same thing. The coda is not just an ending in music, but more so a shift that has finality. One of my favorite examples of this is “The End” by the Beatles. It repeats the same musical phrase for 2 minutes before abruptly shifting into an altogether new pattern to close not just the song, but the entire Abbey Road record.

    In this case, I DEFINITELY read the coda differently than I had any of the other epilogues. When I saw “Coda” there, I was cued in to expect something different – with finality. My prediction is that Robin has decided after her soul-searching that she is no longer going to pursue these thoughts of “love” towards Strike. Ironically, Strike seemed to come to the opposite conclusion in the same moment. So I think we’re going to see this fleshed out further in Strike8. Robin’s relationship with Murphy might last a bit longer than Strike – and most readers – hopes, and I think it’s going to be up to Strike himself to take initiate and declare his true feelings to Robin. But would Strike do that when he sees Robin happily in a relationship? I think not… Just like the first chapter of IBH, JK Rowling can drastically shift their romantic narrative in just a few pages. She’s brilliant at this, and it infuriates me. But I sense the “Coda” being so titled specifically in regards to their relationship, and I think we’re in for a few more loops in the roller-coaster before we get to the end of the ride.

  3. Thanks for this John! I really enjoyed it and agree that ‘Coda’ suggests something new to follow – I like the musical, alchemical and poetic metaphors it inspires, and agree it suggests that Strike 7 will break out into new romantic ground. This is the book in which Robin and Strike were finally emotionally honest with themselves. I think in the next book they will be so towards each other.

  4. Percy Lish says

    I found the CODA not so… satisfying. I have thought that more details would be reveal there lol. So, perhaps, book 6 and book 7 would be directly linked.
    Also, the most obvious latch is probably ‘Strike and Ellacott Detective Agency’

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