Leda Strike’s Death: Murder by Action… or Inaction?

Multiple Hogpro regulars have been speculating on the identity of Leda Strike’s killer recently, and cases have been made for pretty much every one of Strike’s family members, close friends and lovers (except Shanker–  I don’t think he’s been pegged yet…) The focus of this post will not be so much on the who, but on the how.

So far, Leda’s death as been speculated to be

  • suicide
  • murder
  • murder faked as suicide
  • suicide faked as murder, and even
  • suicide faked as murder faked as suicide.*

I am going to propose it is none of the above, but an accident. But, an accident that Leda could have survived, except that someone deliberately declined to summon help, and let her die.

Headmaster John and Beatrice Groves have already written, at length, about the influence of P.D. James on Rowling/Galbraith’s work. Robin’s origin story, for instance, was clearly inspired by James’ creation, Cordelia Gray, who comes to work for a private detective as a secretary, and winds up as a sleuth herself. In another one of James’ novels, Devices and Desires, a character is haunted by the death of her father. The father was working in a garden when he accidentally cuts himself badly in the thigh. His two teenage children witness the accident, but, after years of abuse, including the implied sexual abuse of the daughter, the son refuses to let his sister summon help, and allows Daddy Dearest to bleed out, even though some basic first aid and rapid medical attention could have saved him. The daughter lives in fear that her brother will one day be found out as a murderer, albeit a passive rather than active one.

Could something similar have happened to Leda? We know the squat was a communal living situation, with other residents besides Leda, Whittaker, baby Switch and occasionally Shanker. Yet, conveniently there were no witnesses to see who gave Leda the fatal dose of heroin, even though it sounds like a roomful of the “raggle-taggle,” most of which would eventually testify against Whittaker at his trial, arrived shortly thereafter.

While Shanker had been negotiating a good price on a kilo of premium Bolivian cocaine in Kentish Town, Leda Strike had been slowly stiffening on a filthy mattress. The finding of the port-mortem had been that she had ceased to breathe a full six hours before any of the squat-dwellers tried to rouse her from what they thought was a profound slumber.

But suppose there was someone who witnessed the injection and discerned that Leda’s life was in imminent danger, but chose to walk away and let the drug run its course?

More on this hypothesis after the jump.

Decades of trolley problem study suggest that people have a tendency to assign less blame for adverse–even deadly–consequences of passive, rather than active responses. We may treasure the story of the Good Samaritan, but, when it comes down to handing down punishments, most would agree that the robbers who originally beat the poor guy deserved worse than the priest and the Levite who left him bleeding on the road.

This tendency could lead to a case where someone close to Strike has moral responsibility for Leda’s death, without the death being pushed to the level of premeditated murder. A planned killing, as we know, is something Strike considers the product of either an irredeemably evil or “batshit insane” mind, and would likely never be able to fully forgive. For simplicity’s sake, think of it as a three-step process.

  1. Something happens in the squat that drives Leda to seek solace in heroin for the first time ever. Maybe Whittaker finally clues into the fact that there are no rock ‘n roller millions and announces he’s leaving her, and she knows he will not be the source of lucrative child support that her other baby-daddies were. Maybe Lucy discovers Leda is still getting money from Rick Fantoni, and stops by to tell her mother that she’s told her father to cut her off. Perhaps someone–and this could be Lucy, Joan, Ted, or even Nick, Ilsa, Polworth or Shanker–confronts her about her failures as a parent, either to her now-grown children or to Switch. Or, she has finally been reported to child protective services (perhaps by the Whittaker grandparents?) and is facing losing custody of her baby. It could be anything. Whatever it is, Leda grabs one of her squat-mate’s syringes and injects herself.
  2. As a virgin user, she has no tolerance to the drug, unlike the habitual addicts who surround her. The dose is way too much for her, and she immediately begins showing recognizable signs of overdose: labored breathing, constricted pupils, vomiting (the mattress was “filthy,” remember,) and seizure, before passing out.
  3. The person who confronted her is there, watching. They could easily run to the corner phone box and call 999, or alert someone else to do so. But instead the Witness, whether because of hatred for what Leda has done as a mother, or a rationalization as to why her children would have happier lives without her, instead covers her with a blanket (conveniently preventing the other squatters from noticing that the pale, heart-shaped face has turned blue!) and walks out. Maybe rationalizing that she’ll probably be OK, they’ll be plenty of other people around to wake her up soon; or, maybe certain that this choice is sealing Leda’s death warrant. In any case, it’s six hours before anyone discovers the body. 

There are other variations on this story, of course. Maybe the Witness did see Whittaker administer the fatal overdose, but could not speak up at the time of the trial without revealing their own complicity. Or maybe the one who drove Leda to heroin and the one who witnessed the overdose are two different people. In any case, Strike could eventually learn that someone could have saved his mother (and, in one scenario, assure that Whittaker went down for it) but didn’t. 

If this Witness was someone that Cormoran Strike loved and trusted, would it have the same type of transformational experience as if he learned Ted, Dave, Nick or another loved one had plunged the fatal needle themselves? Or would the transformation come in an act of forgiveness, something that would be harder to extend to an active murderer? Or, would this whole plot twist be a cop-out, and a disappointing end to the seven (?) book saga?

I welcome comments!


*This is all reminding me of a soap opera I used to watch where David Canary played identical twins, one virtuous, one villainous. In addition to playing Adam and Stuart, there were multiple storylines that required him to play Adam-pretending-to-be-Stuart, Stuart-pretending-to-be-Adam, and at least once, Adam-pretending-to-be-Stuart-pretending-to-be Adam. It gets complex.


  1. I think you’re really onto something here, Louise, because Rowling has already used exactly this scenario in her much neglected and maligned book, ‘Casual Vacancy.’

    Readers of that book who have not labored to forget its details will recall that the bad guy of the piece is Howard Mollison, leader of the Padford parish council. Long story short (and overlooking how much the Ghost of Barry Fairbrother is acting through agents in the story), Howard’s wife Shirley learns through a post on the Council’s online forum that he has been having an affair for many years with his partner at the Padford Deli, Maureen. She deletes the post she discovers pre-dawn but goes to the Deli to get an epipen to murder her morbidly obese husband in his sleep. When she returns to their house, it turns out that Howard is having a heart attack on his own without her assistance.

    Shirley hides the epipen before calling 999 — and the operator misunderstands where she lives so she has to redial. Both actions suggest she is just fine with Howard’s death proceeding naturally. She calls her son Miles to tell him.

    Miles runs to the home of two doctors, the Jawandas, who live nearby to ask their help before the ambulance arrives. He meets Parminder and begs her help. She runs for her bag and then “checked” herself and refuses to come to help. Through the elder Mollison’s intervention, she has been “suspended from work” as a physician at her clinic.

    Howard survives, but just barely. Both Shirley and Parminder probably would have been just as happy if the surgeons had not been able to save him.

  2. Yup. And this brings something else home, as well.

    I mentioned elsewhere that I was surprised at the ending of Troubled Blood because I thought the multiple references to Stieg Larsson in the book (Robin is reading one of his novels at one point, as is Two-Times’s girlfriend) were a clue to Margot’s disappearance. I thought she might have run away, assisted by Oonagh, because she was fleeing domestic abuse. (If you haven’t read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, do. It’s excellent).

    So that wasn’t the case. But Stieg Larsson is also mentioned in Lethal White (this time, Aamir Mallik is reading one of his novels). So I thought, what if they’re a clue not to one specific book, but to the whole series? In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, after years of being raped by him, Harriet Vanger is being chased around a lake by her drunk father. She shoves him. He falls into the water. She uses an oar to hold him down until he drowns.

    So this may be a clue both to Old Man Nancarrow being sexually abusive towards his daughter Leda, and to Leda’s own demise.

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