Leda Strike: Mistress of the Salmon Salt

I received an email yesterday from Katya Slonenko, a Serious Striker in Holland, that was an invitation to read an article she’d written and posted on Reddit’s Cormoran Strike thread about the Blue Oyster Cult lyric that Leda Strike had tattooed above her pudenda. With her permission, I post her note to me below and my response to her, one I wrote after readingWhy did Leda have a Mistress of the Salmon Salt tattoo? Because She was the Quicklime Girl. And What’s That?at Reddit.

In brief, my conclusion from what Ms Slonenko reveals about the the song, the particular lyric, and that Rowling-Galbraith gives the tattoo such importance in Strike’s memories of Whittaker at his murder trial and in Laing’s terrorist note to Robin with the woman’s severed leg is that Whittaker almost certainly did not kill his wife. I hope you will read the Reddit piece and my thoughts on it posted after the jump and that you will offer your thoughts here about the meaning of the tattoo.

I wish to thank Ms Slonenko for writing this challenging piece on a subject neglected here at HogwartsProfessor and for inviting our comments on it (her note is addressed to the ‘The HogwartsProfessor Team’ — and that includes y’all, of course). Enjoy!

Dear Hogwartsprofessor team, 

Hi! My name is Katya Slonenko, and recently I’ve posted on Reddit a theory about Leda’s tattoo: “Why did Leda have a mistress of the salmon salt tattoo? Because she was the quicklime girl. And what’s that?

I read the lyrics of the “Mistress of the Salmon Salt” carefully and find that it might point to Leda being a serial killer. I wonder if you might consider reading it, to know your opinion would be very exciting!

The theory sparked some interesting conversation in comments, too. In particular, we discuss:

– if Leda was a serial killer, what was her motivation;
– what if Leda and Whittaker ENJOYED their career of evil together;
– whether we’re heading to the Trojan War with the story.

Please feel welcome to join the discussion if you feel like it. We are very curious what your thoughts are.
Thank you for your time,

Dear Katya Slonenko,

Thank you for sharing this fascinating look at the ‘Mistress of the Salmon Salts’ tattoo.

I have four thoughts about the tattoo and what you’ve written.

(1) This Tattoo is a Big Deal 

I have not written anything about the Blue Oyster Cult epigraphs in Career of Evil or about the Leda Strike tattoo, ‘Mistress of the Salmon Salt.’ This failing is a function of both ignorance and snobbery on my part; I know nothing about Blue Oyster Cult and wish I knew less.

You do a real service to Serious Strikers in pointing out that the tattoo, the only one Leda Strike has as far as we know, is, as you suggest, as meaningful potentially as Rowling-Galbraith’s Solve et Coagula inking — which is to say “very meaningful indeed.”

Thank you for asking me to share my thoughts on the subject and for the research and interpretation you have done in writing this Reddit post. In future, I hope you’ll share your ideas as Guest Posts at HogwartsProfessor!

(2)  The Message of ‘Mistress of the Salmon Salt’ is ‘Beware!’

The accepted interpretation of the Blue Oyster Cult lyrics according to the sources you share is that the Quick Lime Girl was a prostitute-murderer who preyed on Coast Guard sailors on shore leave, i.e., those who paid for sex with her became corpses buried under quicklime in the Salmon Salt of Long Island.

It’s hard to read that as anything other than a warning, no? As Janice Beattie tells Strike at the end of Troubled Blood, men need to learn that “Actions have consequences.”

(3) The Message is Designed for a Specific Audience    

The distinguishing characteristic of the tattoo is its placement. Pretty unusual, no, to put a tattoo where she did? It has a pretty limited audience, namely, those who see her in the nude, and, forgive me, those who might have their eyes at that level, not just looking at but with their eyes in her pudenda.

The obvious interpretation of the tattoo is that Leda was sending a coded message (‘Don’t say I didn’t warn you!’) to her lovers that sex with her, if only for pleasure or exploitation, came at a high price for, even the life of, the offender.

In the language of the hard streets, “Screw this woman and you’ll be screwed royally, fucker” seems a likely interpretation. “Don’t Fuck With Me” would be the two-edged sword bumper sticker abbreviation.

(4) So What?

The tattoo and the repetition by Whittaker of the lyric repeatedly at his trial, not to mention Donny Laing’s sharing it with Robin and Cormoran in the message he sent with the severed leg (he knows it was her tattoo only via images online) mean that Rowling-Galbraith wants us to think and think again about this lyric.

We have it’s obvious meaning and for whom it was meant. What are we supposed to make of that?

My first guess is that Whittaker only figured out the tattoo’s meaning after Leda’s suicide put him in the Dock for murder at the Old Bailey. He believed that she committed suicide in the way she did because she knew the police and her family and friends would think he did it and lock him up for years, maybe decades. “She was the Quicklime Girl” to Whittaker meant, “Damn! Screwing with her and her kids has meant my death…”

This is significant evidence that Whittaker did not kill Leda himself but believed she did it to pre-empt and punish him for threatening to kill her or their son, Switch.

It is not evidence, however, that Leda actually did kill herself. The murder could have been staged by anyone wanting Leda dead or wanting to frame Whittaker or both. But Whittaker’s quoting of the pudenda lyric line in the Dock suggests strongly that in her death he believed Leda had turned the tables on him the way the Quicklime Girl did those Coast Guard sailors.

Thank you again for sharing your Reddit post with me and asking for my feedback. With your permission, I will post this exchange at HogwartsProfessor.

With gratitude and admiration,


Three Morning Thoughts After Writing Katya Slonenko:

(1) I did not read the comment thread on Reddit after her post, where she says Serious Strikers discuss the possibility that Leda was a serial killer like the woman in the song and that it is a reference to the Trojan War. I confess that those possibilities strike me as bizarre and unlikely but, again, I have not read the arguments made by those advancing these theories. Please let me know what I’m missing!

(2) A night’s sleep only makes me more convinced that Whittaker’s testimony at his trial was his confession that she had stolen a march on him, killing herself before he did in order to line him up for murder.

As important for readers trying to figure out who killed Leda, for Whittaker to believe that, he had to know he didn’t kill her; his alluding to the title of the song, her tattoo, and the one line in it — “She wanted to die. She was the Quicklime Girl” — as explanation for why she ‘topped herself’ was much too subtle for the jury to have understood. It even escapes Strike, who, as Ms Slonenko points out, tells Robin, the lyrics are just “crazy stuff.”

“What does it mean, ‘Mistress of the Salmon Salt’?”

“Search me. Their lyrics are insane. Science fiction. Crazy stuff.”

A voice in his head: She wanted to die. She was the quicklime girl.

He drank more beer.

(3) The parallel with this out of hand disregard for something he chooses not to think about or take seriously has its parallel in Troubled Blood in Strike’s inability to read Talbot’s ‘True Book’ tarot card readings and astrological reflections as real clues in themselves. He thinks they’re all “Bullocks,” nothing more than products of his wild thyroid induced mental illness or as gleanings of the mind of a good investigator underneath the madness (hence his study of the notes). He only recognizes begrudgingly after his has figured out the “coincidences” that haunt the case that Talbot was on to Janice Beattie but missed her guilt because he misread the Tarot card that all but names her.

Look for Strike in the next two books to return to the ‘Mistress of the Salmon Salt’ lyric-tattoo, consequently, or his realizing by other means than this strong embedded text evidence of his error in believing it was Whittaker who killed his mother. Thanks to Katya Slonenko’s close reading of the tattoo, we have got there first.

Your comments and correction are coveted, as always!


  1. Katya Slonenko says

    Your thought about the tattoo being a warning designed for a specific audience, I think, is right to the spot.

    Could it be that Leda didn’t want her men – she wanted to ruin them, to destroy them either physically, or psychologically, or financially?

    (I think you’ve already discussed the possibility that she was blackmailing Rokeby somewhere. That drug bust after which the guitarist was arrested – could it be that Leda set the cops on them?)

    And if yes, what made her do so – some twisted sense of justice? Did she think they deserved it, whatever was the “it” she did to them?

    What if Leda lived with squatters not because she liked them – but because they were easy victims? Abusive and abused, living in violence, whose deaths would likely go uninvestigated and regretted by no one?

    Where does it place Whittaker? Was he the husband she loved? Or another opportunity to get her revenge on men? Was she slowly ruining him to get to his father, maybe (adoptive or biological)? Did Leda put up with Whittaker’s abuse of her daughter for her own kind of greater good?

  2. Katya Slonenko says

    Oh, and I wrote how there might a hint to who killed Leda in Talbot’s writings, too. I would love to share it for your attention as well: https://www.reddit.com/r/cormoran_strike/comments/ltngj4/who_killed_leda_strike_a_capricorn_did_not/. Spoiler: Capricorn did it.

  3. I think Rokeby will have something to say about the men in Leda’s life. From Troubled Blood when he calls Strike on Valentine’s Day he says, “Al’s told me what you’ve been saying, and there’s a bunch of stuff you don’t know, about your mother and all her fucking men.”

    Are Rokeby and Whittaker referring to the same thing?

  4. Louise Freeman says

    There is also the remark from Strike that Eric Bloom was the “one that got away” and that even Jonny Rokeby was a poor second choice to him. Perhaps the tattoo was a message to her lovers to remind them— even the well-known musicians– of their “second fiddle” status.

  5. We know Rowling admires Dickens, and Dickens does have a female character whose sole goal in life is to take revenge on all men, so … while I don’t think Leda is a serial killer, taking revenge on men can take many forms, and hers might have been to milk rich men for child support.

    Miss Havisham (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Havisham) is a very sanitized character and not wholly plausible, from what I remember of the book – if we are to believe Dickens, she was wronged by a man exactly once in her life, and apparently she was not even pregnant by the faithless fiancé, so … that does not ring true. I myself certainly have enough reason to hate men, but I do think a modern woman has to interact with brutish men much more than a rich lady in Dickens’ time. (Plus, we have internet and can read what men really think about women, which “helps”, too)

    Miss Havisham’s feelings about men ring true, but her backstory does not explain where they stem from.

    A prostitute, on the other hand … yes, a prostitute hating men enough to murder all those who pay for her “services” … that is totally plausible. She would not even have to hate all men – she could justify her actions with the fact that a decent man would never fall victim to her.

    So, back to Leda, who as a groupie certainly saw the worst of men and thus had ample motivation to take revenge. I do not remember the exact circumstances of Strike’s conception, but considering just how many children Rokeby has, his being the kind of man who always uses a condom is unlikely. Which means she didn’t manipulate the contraception and Strike wasn’t really an accident. (A child conceived despite use of contraception is an accident, a child conceived without any attempt at using contraception is a likely outcome or logical consequence. Actions have consequences.)

    So no, I don’t think Leda went for easy victims, or targeted random men at all. She was very kind to Shanker who would have been an easy victim.

    If indeed she had an agenda other than acquiring enough money for her preferred lifestyle, then it was revenge on men who think they can use and throw away women with no consequence.

    @Katya: “Where does it place Whittaker? Was he the husband she loved? Or another opportunity to get her revenge on men?”

    Considering his thoroughly unlikeable personality (and unlikeable in a typically male way) he does not seem like the man a man-hating woman would make an exception for. He does seem like the man, however, whom she would want to ruin most thoroughly.

    It seems unlikely that a woman like Leda had any long-term plans for anything whatsoever, but let’s assume for a moment she was capable of longterm-planning …

    Staying with Whittaker was an enormous risk. Being in love would have been a reason to take that risk, but our theory assumes that she hated him. Consequently, she must have an enormous grudge against him (or possibly his father). The only person in one of Rowling’s novels who ever spent lots of time with a psychopath to plot revenge, while fully conscious of the very real risk of getting murdered, was Severus Snape.

    Which would mean that Whittaker is the equivalent of none less than Voldemort himself, is so dangerous pretending to be on his side was the only possible way to get revenge, and killed at least one of Leda’s loved ones.

    It’s an interesting theory, but perhaps Leda was really just a groupie whose life was ruined by men and who occasionally wished she was a man-murderer, but never really was, and who just felt drawn to violent men, as many traumatized women do.

    As for the tattoo being a message to men who intend to “screw with her” … well. A man having sex with a groupie in a dark backstage room would not notice that there’s a tattoo just above her panties. (In fact, some things misogynist men say lead me to believe that they do not pay much attention to women’s genitals while having sex, even if the light is on .)
    Plus, what self-respecting serial killer would actually warn her victims? Many a harmless butterfly has a pattern on its wings that makes it look like the eyes of a much larger animal. The tiger has stripes so that its prey will not see it.

    The tattoo is either intended as fair warning to decent men who are invested enough in her pleasure to actually pay attention to her genitals … or it is the attempted deception of a prey animal.

  6. In the poem Mistress etc there is also another reference to swans in the last lines. This could refer not only to the Leda/Zeus/twins myth but also to Yeats’ poem (“a shudder in the loins” is quoted by Strike in CC).

    As I read Mistress etc the quicklime girl is not only connected to death and graves, but also with fertility and the cycle of life. Quicklime is also used in agriculture, in classical and in naval warfare. Or to drive enemies out of hiding places.

    If the Salmon Salts refer to a region near NYC: Leda was in the USA when she was spending the child allowance on travel and parties, not on her son. I think she was then following Eric Bloom of Blue Oyster Cult, who seems to be her great, but unobtainable love in life. Is it meant to point to a certain place? Perhaps to something as yet unrevealed that happened to her there? That maybe made her feel like a prostitute?

    I still think there is more to the birth of Strike than meets the eye at this point: even while dying aunt Joan does not answer Strike’s questions but tells him to ask Rokeby.

    There is the question of twins, of data not adding up, confusion over fathers (Zeus and a more earthly king?).

    Where was uncle Ted? Why did he join the army to run away from his father and why did Leda decide to leave Cornwall so young? Why did she so desperately want to change her name to anything, even Strike sr, who is obviously not his father (eve Dave says Cormoran is not a Strike)?

    Why does JK/RG make a point of telling the birthdates of Cormoran and Charlotte are only two days apart? Why does Charlotte use the name Clodia with its classical references to unnatural love relations? Why “of Croy” which sounds very much like Troy if you start thinking mythical?

    Was Leda made a prostitute (the Duke’s joint where coast guard crews still take their leave) by an incestuous father?

    But I digress, these topics have been discussed here before. I only want to say that the line from the Mistress song could indeed be a pointer, once again, to Leda, Strike’s birth and his real father. And possibly to Leda’s killer, when the whole truth and nothing but the truth will finally be revealed. But I will be keeping a close eye on the classics.

  7. For whatever it’s worth, here is what the band members of Blue Oyster Cult themselves have to say about the nature of the song, and the fictional Quicklime Girl who is at the heart of it. The following is taken from “Agents of Fortune: The Blue Oyster Cult Story”, by Martin Popoff:

    “Bolle figures the “Mistress” lyric is about, “Love. I guess it’s a groupie song, sex.” “Super dark,” adds Buck. We were going for a Rolling Stones kind of evil on that one.” Albert offer a few words on this characteristically weird tune. “Well, that was actually a song I’d written called ‘Checkout Girl’ (laughs) and it wasn’t much of a song. Sandy said ‘I re-wrote the lyrics for ‘Checkout Girl’ and he gave me this ‘Quicklime Girl’. Of course I was like, ‘Okay this we can use, but we’re going to have to make it more scary (laughs). These lyrics are really bizarre, you know, the famous story of the person that kills people, or actually I don’t think she kills people, but she performs a service. She would bury the murdered dead, and use them as fertilizer for her plants (40-41)”.

    So there we have the song as it was originally envisioned by the band that made it. Let’s boil down the basic facts, then. They claim that the song is about (a) love, and that it might also (b) a groupie song about sex. In addition, (c) they claim the song is also about murder. The titular Quicklime Girl is (d) not a murderer herself, instead she is the type of person that others would turn to to dispose of bodies, and/or crucial incriminating evidence.

    What happens if we take all this information and apply it to Leda? We get a groupie who tried to use sex to get into the music world, and somehow wound up as an accessory to murder, and was then counted on as someone who would dispose of evidence for the crimes of others. You gotta admit, that does make for one heck of a dramatic character arc. If we decide to go with this narrative logic for Leda’s backstory, where else does it lead us?

    The vibe I get the whole suggestion is that sooner or later, when it began to sink in just how deep and dark things had gotten, when she realized that she was no longer just a groupie out for fun, but also mixed up in a very dangerous situation, and that her children might be on someone’s future hit list, Leda decided to bail the hell out of there as quick as she could. At the same time, this might explain a part (if not all) of her drug addiction problems, at leas if you approach it from a certain tangled logic, anyway. She’s participated in the death’s of so many others, that it’s good to take something to forget. You can’t remember the faces of people who might have been innocents if you’re doped up. Also it keeps the anger at yourself and others at bay, especially if it keeps you from taking it all out on your children.

    Speaking of kids, this scenario also paints an interesting take on her death and what it might mean for Strike and Lucy. If Leda was an accessory not just to one, but multiple murder coverups, then it makes sense she would have kept tons of evidence on maybe a lot of important people stashed away somewhere, and that she would leave behind clues for her kids to find out about it, if anything should happen to her. Leda’s logic in this case would go something as follows: “You may kill me, but you’ll never lay a hand on my kids. If I’m put away, the jig is up, everything is in place. It’ll all come out sooner or later, etc”.

    All of which is to say she has stashed enough evidence of various crimes to put away not just whoever killed her (my money is still on Rokeby, for whatever that’s worth) but also a tons of other folk, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a lot, if not all of them came from the music industry. This would go some way to providing a clue for her tattoo. It’s makes sense if it’s a warning to the men who’ve used her. “I know who you all are, what you did, and I’ll make sure you all pay, even if I go down with you! There’s always a price to be paid once you cross certain lines, etc”. It might also convey at least one other message to both of her children. “Cormy, Lu, I am so, so sorry. Mummy loves you. Never forget that darlings”. It is just possible therefor that biggest moment in her life discovering what happens when you learn what it means to care for someone who isn’t yourself. For some, that can be the greatest shock of all.

    At least that’s the best theory I’ve got based on what I’ve read. If anything, I’m hoping this means my “Agents of Fortune” album cover and record clue/horcrux hunt theory still has some life left in it. Other than that, I do admit what I like about Albert Bouchard’s description of his song is that the image of bodies in the garden does carry the faintest hint of the sort of picture that Agatha Christie liked to paint with words. I’m not saying that bit of literary allusion was intentional, it’s just maybe a neat coincidence, or something.

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