Lethal White and Strike Speculation 101: The Trouble with JKR/Galbraith Dates Heroin Dark Lord 2.0: The IED Explosion

Joanne Gray recently and brilliantly blew up my Heroin Dark Lord 1.0 Big Back Story theory with her observation that Strike could not have been blown up by Digger Malley in retaliation for his testimony as a Red Cap against the Harringay Crime Syndicate in 2008 because Strike tells us flat out in Part 1, Chapter 7 (p 53) of Cuckoo’s Calling that his foot “had been ripped from his leg two and a half-years before.” StrikeFans’ timeline puts that thought of Strike as 30 March 2010. ‘Two years six months’ prior to that is September 2007.

I want to try and re-figure ‘Heroin Dark Lord’ before we read Lethal White, but it hasn’t been easy. The deeper you get into the Strike stories, the more frustrating it can be to make the dates line up. That Strike struggles with Charlotte’s dates concerning her pregnancy — it is the cause given for his ‘final’ break with her — makes this problem curious and perhaps meaningful, I’ll allow. Rowling likes to have her characters struggle with problems the reader is having as well.

But still, some of the date problems are just mistakes the author has made and the editor didn’t catch. [See this post for three mistakes in Cuckoo’s Calling alone if you think Rowling and Company don’t sometimes sleep at the wheel.]

My first task here, then, consequent to Joanne Gray’s find, is to answer the question, “Can we get an exact date for the Viking troop carrier blow up in Afghanistan?” My tentative answers are ‘Maybe.’ And ‘Sort of.’

In Silkworm chapter 23 (pp 178-190), Strike goes to visit Anstis at the Met officer’s home. StrikeFans tells us this is 23 November 2010. Strike notes:

Timothy was the only child Strike knew whose birthday he had a hope of remembering, not that this had ever led Strike to buy him a present. The boy had been born two days before the Viking had exploded on that dusty road in Afghanistan, taking with it Strike’s lower right leg and part of Anstis’s face (180).

We get two bits of information in this Silkworm chapter that help us fill out Strike’s history pre-Cuckoo.

The first is that Timothy Cormoran Anstis is a “three-and-a-half year old” boy (179).

The second is that his baptism was “postponed until he was eighteen months old, because his father and his godfather had to be airlifted out of Afghanistan and discharged from their respective hospitals” (p 179). [Strike had said in his drunken talk with Robin in Calling that he and Charlotte had their kairos moment when “I was in hosp’tal f’long time an’ I hadn’ seen her f’two years” (part 4, chap 5, p 304; emphasis added). Before that, on his first walk with Robin and before she knew about his leg that he’d “spent a month in a bed next to a Welsh bloke” who had survived a fall (part 2, chap 2, pp 67-68; my emphasis)]

‘Three and a half years’ back from November 2010, the time of Strike’s visit to the Anstis home,  is May-June 2007.

Which gives us a date discrepancy in the IED explosion of May to September 2007, a difference of four to five months. If we knew little Timmy’s birthday, of course, we’d have the date on the nose. As it is, we’re left with ‘Sometime in 2007.’

[I think the problem here, if we want to be charitable, is that it is an Anglo-American convention to use the word “half” when referring to years to refer to anything more than a few months over the birthday (or leg-lost day) to just before the next one, e.g., my birthday is in late October and I know as a child I was bumped in conversation to year-old “and a half” soon after New Year’s Day, a status that lasted until the end of summer when I became “almost year-plus-one.”]

The second time we’re given in that Silkworm chapter — Timmy’s christening being eighteen months after the explosion due to Strike/Anstis’ prolonged hospitalization — may be a clue that helps us narrow down the exact time of the IED explosion.

We learned in part 1, chapter 3 (p 20) of Cuckoo’s Calling that Strike’s business is approximately eighteen months old (“Strike had come to realize, over the course of an eighteen month spiral into financial ruin…”). Note this is not a “year and a half” but a specific number of months. Much better. Almost precise.

StrikeFans tells us this first day of the Cormoran-Robin Show when Strike has this thought is “Monday 29 March 2010.” Eighteen months back from the end of March 2010 is September/October 2008.

Strike has to be out of hospital and out of the Army by Fall 2008 to start his business then.

The earliest that could be, of course, is just when he was out of hospital. If we put the date of Timothy Cormoran Anstis’ christening at the same time as Strike starting his detective agency, then we can calculate the IED explosion date by subtracting another eighteen months from that point in time.

January to September 2008 is nine months. December back to April 2007 is the remainder. Using Rowling’s two 18 month clues, we can say that the latest the Viking blew up and took Strike’s leg is April-May 2007. That matches up with our date calculated from Timothy’s 3 1/2 years of age but it is well before Strike’s own 2 1/2 years estimate at the end of March 2010, which 2010 date would have merited an “almost three years” status if these calculations are correct.

No matter how confused and disoriented Strike is at the nadir of the beginning of Cuckoo, I have a hard time imaging him getting the length of time it has been since he lost his lower leg right leg wrong by six months or more.

Another problem?

Strike tells Wardle in Career of Evil that he testified “anonymously” in 2008 (no specific month noted) against Digger Malley and the Harringay Crime Syndicate as part of a “joint ops with Vice Squad” (ch 3, p 16). We learn a bit later in Career that his loss of leg had not meant an immediate discharge; “The Army had wanted to keep him even with his lower leg gone” (ch 14, p 100, cf., Cuckoo, pt 2, ch 6, p 87, “He could have stayed [in SIB]; they had been keen to keep him…”). “Joint Ops with the Vice Squad” is not something that Strike would have been doing as a private detective “spiral[ling] into financial ruin.” It’s a refence to a joint SIB-Met collaborative effort to break up what Strike calls a “Drug ring” (Career, p 16).

Just to nail that down — here’s another note from Career, Strike to Robin after Wardle leaves the office with the leg: “… so now Wardle’s convinced the Harringay Crime Syndicate  found out who I was, but I left for Iraq shortly after testifying and I’ve never yet known an SIB officer’s cover blown because he gave evidence in court” (ch 4, p 18). Strike, then, is definitely still active duty in 2008 and not just out of hospital but working drug investigations and doing hardcore overseas duty. [Note that 2008 is the last full year of UK operations in Iraq; they begin withdraw of forces in December and are out of country by June 2009.]

So… The only thing we know for sure about the timing of the IED explosion is exactly what Joanne Gray figured out from Cormoran’s “two and a half years” comment in Cuckoo, i.e., that Heroin Dark Lord‘s premise as a theory — that Strike had not yet lost his leg when he testified against Digger and that he lost his leg (and should have died) because the Harringay Crime Syndicate and Rokeby thought he needed to be taught the ultimate lesson — can’t work. That dog won’t hunt. All the dates we have put the IED explosion in 2007 if not earlier which is before the “Joint Ops with Vice Squad” in 2008.

Here’s the best I can do for a timeline with the information given.

  • The sequence begins with Strike’s birth on 23 November 1974 (see this post for discussion of nailing down that date). His mother dies in 1994 after he has left nomadic life with her for Oxford. When her husband of the time, Jeff Whittaker, is acquitted of the murder charges brought against him, Strike leave his studies and joins the Army, age 20, in late 1994 or 1995.
  • He has an excellent career but decides to get out, less because of the IED blast than because he did not want to give all his life to the Army (see Cuckoo, p 87).
  • The IED blast during a “wrongful death” investigation (book and page citation anyone?) happens in Afghanistan, as close as we can call it, in the Spring of 2007.
  • He returns to active duty, one assumes before Anstis recovers sufficiently for a christening (?), within the year, testifies “anonymously” against Digger Malley in a joint SIB/Vice Squad operation, goes to Iraq immediately after, and then starts his business in the Fall of 2008.
  • We meet him 18 months later in March 2010 at the opening of Cuckoo on the day he drops Charlotte because the he couldn’t get “the constantly shifting dates” of her pregnancy account to “add together.” 
  • Cuckoo takes place from March to May, 2010. Silkworm is November and December of the same year. Career is April to July 2011. Rowling has said that Lethal White begins where Career leaves off, at Matt and Robin’s wedding in Masham, 2 July 2011.

But really, Rowling is not very dependable about dates.

Note, just an example outside the rat’s nest I’m trying to untangle about just when it was that the IED went off, her description of the Donny Laing fight with Strike in an Army boxing tournament.

The only date we’re given for this is “eleven years previously(Career, ch 15, p 102) as he drives in the Mini from Edinburgh to Melrose. Career takes place in 2011; StrikeFans dates the trip to Melrose as 11 April 2011. So the fight takes place in 2000, right? “Three years later” (p 104) Strike is responsible for Laing’s arrest and conviction in Cyprus, for which he hets a life sentence. He tells Robin about this in the pub the day she received the leg (4 April 2011).

“Donald Laing, King’s Own Royal Borderers.” He remembered again eyes like a ferrets, concentrated hatred, the rose tatoo. “I got him life.”

“But, then –“

“Out in ten,” said Strike. “He’s been on the loose since 2007.” (ch 4, p 21)

If he was “out in ten” in 2007, of course, that means he went “in” (down?) in 1997. The fight, though, three years before his arrest, was supposed to be in 2000, “eleven years previously” from 2011. So he was arrested not three years after the fight but three years before. Ergo, Strike and Laing are interdimensional time travelers?

Sorry to be snarky. This is just poor editing rather than brilliantly creative cross-genre plotting on Rowling/Galbraith’s part. We’re not in a SciFi murder mystery with Doctor Who.

Which means, I’m afraid, that any back story theory dependent on the accuracy of the years reported in the Cormoran Strike mysteries is on very weak ground.

As curious as the possibilities are about the dates in Rokeby’s Wikipedia article when contrasted with Strike’s understanding of his being responsible for the end of one of his biological father’s marriages and as much as I’d like to force the pieces on the Digger Malley drug story to make the Harringay Crime Syndicate in conjunction with Rokeby responsible for Strike’s near death in Afghanistan, the dates do not support even a post hoc propter hoc argument.

Heroin Dark Lord 2.0 will have to correct for this, which I think is possible. Here’s my best shot the day before publication of Lethal White:

If Strike’s investigations in Afghanistan in 2007 were heroin related (more than plausible given the trade out of Helmand Province and Strike’s SIB experience with drug deals), if that research was done as part of the SIB “joint ops with Vice Squad” tracking the Afghan-UK pipeline for heroin, which investigation ended in a 2008 trial and conviction (still plausible, if a stretch [we’re told that the investigation is about “wrongful death”?]), then a hit on Strike to shut down the investigation is credible. It also may explain why Strike grabbed Anstis from the Viking front seat rather than the younger Red Cap driver; Anstis may know something about the drug ring, knowledge that Strike felt had to survive the IED blast which ‘Mystic Bob’ somehow knew was coming.

Rokeby’s involvment? This part of the Heroin Dark Lord 1.0 theory remains intact. Leda knew something and made a deal with Rokeby; he accepts paternity and pays child support in exchange for her silence about his drug crimes to include murder (she wouldn’t fink on Cormoran’s father and forever dishonor him…).

Let me add this wrinkle someone may reveal to the Peg-Legged PI in White. Strike gets into Oxford less on merit — his itinerant childhood and teen years make his ability to pass the exams and interviews for such a position extremely unlikely, however gifted — than because of his supposed relationship with Rokeby (a probability Strike seems blissfully unaware of). Either the rock star pulled strings or the DNA established connection was sufficient to tip the balances in young Strike’s favor. Remember, Rowling was the Head Girl at her Comprehensive but was passed over for Oxbridge.

Back to revision of Heroin Dark Lord 1.0.

When Whittaker begins to press Rokeby for more support or more in hush money payoff, Rokeby sends a message via Digger’s killers and a heroin overdose which shuts up Leda forever and Whittaker indefinitely. Rokeby keeps a close watch on Strike because he has to suspect Leda told him the secret; when he learns about the joint ops investigation concerning Harringay and heroin and Afghanistan (and potentially the rock star’s violent, lucrative history with all three), Rokeby and Malley decide to kill him in 2007 as they had killed his mother in 1994, albeit with a bomb rather than a drug overdose. Strike survives, however, to testify against Digger “anonymously” — and he is only alive today because the protective seal on his identity at that trial was not broken.

So, three things in this one post:

(1) The dates on the IED blast in Afghanistan we can derive from information in text are contradictory but all put the explosion before the 2008 trial and conviction of “digger” Malley.

(2) This requires a re-writing of my Heroin Dark Lord 1.0 theory so that it is Strike’s investigation in Afghanistan that causes Rokeby and Malley to order up a hit on him rather than his 2008 testimony.

(3) Rowling deserves a better continuity editor and fact checker on her Galbraith novels. 

Lemmeno what you think — especially if my ‘maths’ are off with the dates or if you have a book and page reference for the “wrongful death” SIB investigation in Afghanistan! This time tomorrow we’ll have Strike 4 — woot!


  1. Louise Freeman says

    I think what this tells us is that JKR does not have the hordes of Strike fans scouring the books and pointing out inconsistencies, like she did for Harry Potter (e.g. noting that the spirits of James and Lily emerged from the wand in the wrong order in GoF).

    I should probably know better than to doubt you, John, given how you nailed the killer of Silkworm, but here goes.

    Timelines aside, I think the Heroin Dark Lord hypothesis is unlikely for some practical reasons.

    1) Being a drug kingpin is risky business. Most are not users themselves, but in it for the mega-bucks that organized crime brings in. If you are a Jagger-esque rock star, already rolling in dough, international drug trade is a pretty risky side job to have.

    2) The lack of privacy associated with Papa Jonny’s supposed level of fame would make being a drug lord near impossible. How do you meet with your shadowy henchman when the paparazzi are tailing you 24/7? How do you arrange for hitmen when the press is hacking your phone and emails to find out who you are sleeping with?

    3) If you are going to put out a hit on someone, I would think doing so while your victim is in an armored vehicle, surrounded by comrades-in-arms, in the middle of a war zone, would be the worst possible time.

    4) If you are worried enough that your faux son is going to spill the beans on you to the press, or exhort more money from you, to the extent that you order the guy killed, why would you then have your accountant press him on repayment of a loan that is probably pocket change to someone like Rokeby?

    I could believe parts of it… we may learn more about Digger Mallory’s involvement in the IED explosion, there may be more to Strike’s paternity than meets the eye, Leda’s murder is almost a given. But I have a hard time believing Rokeby Himself is the criminal mastermind.

    Personally, I wonder if Lucy’s dad, or the Whittiker grandparents have abilis for the day of the fateful overdose.

  2. The good news, Louise, is that you seem to have accepted everything I wrote in this longish post — the day before we could read Lethal White — about the dates and how to overcome the difficulty Joanne Gray presented to Heroin Dark Lord, 1.0, namely, that the Harringay Syndicate couldn’t have arranged the IED blast in retaliation for Strike’s testimony against them because the blast happened before the trial. I assume you accept my explanation of how the dates can work still because you pass over it all without comment. For which silence equated as assent, I say “Hurrah!”

    To your objections to Heroin Dark Lord 2.0:

    Rokeby is not the Heroin Dark Lord but a man beholden to the Crime Syndicate, perhaps now an investor in their heroin trafficking. He is in their debt/hold because of a crime he committed, probably in LA, probably while strung out on speed or heroin. Leda Strike knew this secret, too, hence his agreement to play the part of Strike’s biological father though it meant the end of his marriage.

    Your first two objections are that he is too busy and too much in the public eye to be a Drug Lord. He is not a drug lord but a partner/hostage of the Drug Lords.

    About the relative merits of killing someone in Afghanistan, I think you are missing the obvious. There is no better place to kill a man — if you want to escape detection or even attention — than in a war zone where men are killing other men every day. If, as the Dark Lord theory contends, Rokeby wanted Strike watched because he feared that Leda had told him about the crime he committed and his subsequent business relationships with heroin traffickers, Strike’s travel to Helmand Province, the capitol of the world heroin trade, must have been a cue to have him killed before he found the evidence he’d need to convict him of his part in the drug trafficking. The Drug Syndicate would be able to find out about his itinerary from their contacts in the British Army and arrange an IED explosion to take him out.

    Your fourth objection, that it doesn’t make sense for Rokeby to be pressuring Strike about the loan in Strike1 if he wants him dead, is better read as a question: why, if the points in Heroin Dark Lord 2.0 are true, would Rokeby’s accountant be putting the squeeze on Strike for peanuts, relatively speaking?

    Rokeby wants Strike to stay quiet about the secret he heard about the rock star’s criminal past the detective learned from his mum. The loan money is the only leverage he has — and I don’t think he means to collect. He wants to bring Strike back to the table for their third meeting and this time Rokeby would bring the insolvent and desperate Strike to heel. We don’t know the substance of their previous two meetings but I think we can guess one was to negotiate the loan or sign the paperwork and the other had something to do with the paternity dispute, either a meeting in the court room or at Leda Strike’s funeral.

    Might Rokeby assume that Strike got the message in the IED blast about the danger of investigating anything to do with Anwar heroin making its way to the UK? I think the harrassment in Strike1 is to remind the detective that, yes, he has some explosive information about Rokeby he could sell to the papers, but, no, it wouldn’t be a good idea if he doesn’t want to have another ‘accident.’

    I love the ideas of Lucy’s dad or Whittaker’s grandparents being the murderers. I see and admire Evan Willis’ point about Rokeby being the hermetic figure of the stories, a man that will be off-stage if still a presence until the finale.

    But Rokeby’s past, the problem with the dates for his paternity, Leda’s mysterious suicide, the Harringay Crime Syndicate and Digger Malley being the subject of investigation when Strike went to Afghanistan, the avalanche of white horse symbolism of Lethal White that never mentions heroin (!), all of that makes me think that Heroin Dark lord 2.0 is still a real possibility.

    I’ll post soon, I hope, about Sam Barclay and why his back story is a pointer to why Strike was in Afghanistan in the first place. Until then, thank you again for not objecting to my reconfiguration of the Heroin Dark Lord theory to work around Joanne Gray’s date objection. I’ll take that as at least one thumbs up!

  3. Joanne Gray says

    If we can’t have Jonny Rokeby finally make an appearance in Strike Book 5, then I hope we can at least get some answers when the younger Al Rokeby makes a return visit. We know we can expect Al to once again ask Cormoran if he plans to meet with “Daddy” Jonny Rokeby. We also know Cormoran doesn’t want to meet with Jonny—but what we aren’t sure of–is there something more behind Strike constantly avoiding a meeting with him? Is it only because he believes old Jonny just wants a public reconciliation to garner good publicity, since his bastard son is now a bit of a celebrity in his own right?

    I personally doubt that Leda told Cormoran about any drug syndicate connection that Jonny may have had (or still has). Jonny was mostly MIA during Cormoran’s childhood and I don’t see Jonny as really being with Leda very much during that time either. The fact that Cormoran did manage to forge a bit of a brotherly relationship with Al Rokeby, however, implies that there must have been some opportunities for interaction between the Strikes and Rokebys. So while it’s possible that Jonny did/does have drug syndicate connections, I think if Cormoran knew about a connection, he would have looked into it by now in regard to Leda’s heroin death. [Not that Leda was very discrete in sharing information.]

    Looking through the series at the scattered mentions of the cases Strike investigated while active in the SIB—it’s clear that a fair amount of them were drug investigations. I agree with your observation of the oddity of having legions of white horse mentions throughout Lethal White and the obvious street slang connection of white horse for heroin (not to mention the title Lethal White)—it seems more than curious that heroin didn’t figure anywhere in the book.

    Since there’s little doubt that heroin will figure into the story line at some point, kudos to JKR for the giant white horse feint in Lethal White. Given how Leda Strike died and the back-story connections of both Cormoran and Shanker to the Harringay Crime Syndicate (one on the side of law and the other on the side of the criminals), it seems a safe bet that we would also be visiting Terence “Digger” Malley. Given the proximity of Harringay to Clerkenwell, it’s interesting that there is a Wikipedia entry on a Clerkenwell Crime Syndicate:

    This also brings to mind JK Rowling changing her Twitter header last Fall to an old print of St. John’s Gate in Clerkenwell. We were speculating about it possibly hinting to revisiting the Harringay Crime Syndicate. The Wikipedia Clerkenwell Crime Syndicate entry also offers an interesting echo in the leader’s name: Terence “Terry” George Adams. Adams formed the syndicate with his brothers (no mention in Career of Evil on how Terence “Digger” Malley formed his Harringay Syndicate).

    The fact that Leda and Whittaker’s son was mentioned and named in Career of Evil—makes me think that there could actually be a sighting of grown up Switch in Book 5. It would certainly be interesting to see how he turned out, given his grandparents were determined to get an acceptable heir with this second chance. They actually seem to make the best suspects for Leda’s murder—much better than Lucy’s father or even long-gone Jonny.

    Even though there’s no mention of Leda trying to exert parental custody over Switch LaVey Whittaker (I really doubt they kept that name for him). Murder is sometimes committed out of fear of what might happen—and if they wanted to remove any chance of Leda ruining their second chance to get the heir they always wanted for the Whittaker legacy, then it is possible they had Leda killed.

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