Lethal White: Daddy Chiswell Evidence

Joanne Gray yesterday shared the possibility that Cormoran Strike’s real biological father was not Jonny Rokeby but Jasper Chiswell. Her argument turned on the most famous photograph of Rokeby and Leda Strike, the only one of them together, which picture includes a “playboy aristocrat” and “art dealer.” Both of these men are dead (one by suicide…) so of course the “aristocrat” pictured could not be Jasper Chiswell in the flesh, but the picture points to such a person being a potential answer to the question, “If Rokeby is not Cormoran’s father, who might be?” It turns out, too, that there are several pointers to a Chiswell-Strike relation and resemblance embedded in Lethal White — and Joanne shares many of them below. Enjoy!

Here are five further items found in Lethal White that can be seen to add weight to my theory in yesterday’s post, “Bookending the Past: Cormoran Strike’s Real Father?,” that hidden inside a paragraph on page 456 of Cuckoo’s Calling (UK pb Part Four, Chapter 11) about the most famous photograph of Leda and Jonny, is a mention of a “playboy aristocrat,” the sort of person who could be the actual father of Cormoran Strike.

The following quotes below from Lethal White, are just some of the parallels that the author hints are between Cormoran and the aristocratic Jasper Chiswell. It’s not implied that these parallels are biological (although there’s no demonstrable proof either way), but rather that they point to connections that have not yet been revealed.  

There are enough of these parallels to alert the careful reader that they are more than just coincidence…

All of the following quotations are from the UK ed. 2018 of Lethal White.

 Chapter 19, page 168: “Jasper Chriswell turned to glare at her, his wiry mass of grey hair sticking out around his pink face.”

(1) Although not yet grey, Strike’s hair suffers from much the same description, i.e. “pube” equals “wiry.”

Chapter 19, P 170: “The many nicknames of the Chiswell family had been explained to Robin during her office interlude with Izzy.”

(2) Echoing the sheer number and variety of nicknames that Cormoran has been given over the years by friends and family.

Chapter 20, page 173:  “although the occupant of the sedan chair in the pub sign was a refined lady in white, not a large, curmudgeonly minister with wiry hair and a short temper.”

(3) Large, curmudgeonly, wiry hair, and short temper—all have at times been used for Cormoran—although I’d say generally Cormoran’s temper seems a bit more under control. [Unless a tosser bumps Robin and spills her orange juice…ed.]

Chapter 21, Page 189: [Reciting Catullus 16 in Latin from memory…]

(4) The quotation below is after Jasper Chiswell (who like Cormoran could  quote Latin and Catullus from memory)…used this talent for less noble purposes to attack Aamir Mallik:

Robin forced a smile, returned to her desk, her mind on Strike.

“Bit weird, that poem, wasn’t it? Raphael asked.

“What? Oh—oh, that Latin thing? Yes,” said Robin. “It was, a bit.”

“It was like he’d memorized it to use on Mallik. Nobody’s got that at their fingertips.”

Reflecting that Strike seemed to know strange bits of Latin off by heart, too, Robin said, “No, you wouldn’t think so.”


(5) Finally the last paragraph of Lethal White reads very much like a foreshadowing in a Charlotte Bronte novel of aristocratic ties about to be revealed…with Robin,

Head bowed against the rain, she had no attention left to spare for the magnificent mansion past which she was walking, its rain specked windows facing the great river, its front doors engraved with twin swans.

John Granger addendum:

Thank you, Joanne!

So what do you think, Serious Strikers? Might Chiswell, the man whose dead body is discovered at the dead center of Strike4, the “crucial” or pivotal book if it is a seven book series, be the man Strike has been looking for all his life?

When I first read this post yesterday four thoughts in support of Joanne’s thesis came to mind:

  • Chiswell’s “It has to be you” and “I have no deaths on my conscience” to Strike at their first meeting in White. Chiswell has no living sons of whom he can be proud, hence “It has to be you.” And “I have no deaths”? No “deaths” but one birth perhaps?
  • The contrast Strike makes between Freddie Chiswell’s birthday party and his own, i.e., that he hadn’t grown up in privilege but in want because of his father’s neglect of him (shades of Harry Potter here, too; DDore’s convinction that Harry was better served by a childhood with the Dursleys than growing up the pampered, adored child of another adoptive wizard family).
  • The comparison that Strike and Robin make in the Epilogue when Izzy talks about how rough Raff’s itinerant, unstable childhood was as the hanger-on child of a woman bouncing from lover to lover. Strike and Robin both make the parallel between Cormoran’s life with Leda, super-groupie, and the illegitimate child of Jasper Chiswell who thinks of his mother as a “high class whore.” Might not Leda have been another lover of Jasper Chiswell whose pregnancy would have been destructive to the playboy aristocrat with high political ambitions?
  • Strike’s entry to Oxford has always seemed preposterously unlikely given the erratic nature of his schooling; bouncing from school to school (I think he says seventeen different ones) all but precludes getting the test scores, grades, recommendations, and coaching for interviews that entry to Oxbridge colleges demand. Robin/Venetia’s comment to Geraint Winn that “these things should come down to ability” (ch 17, p 159) is a naive observation of what should be but practically speaking rarely is. Strike’s chances of getting into Oxford, however, sky rocket if his biological father was Jasper Chiswell, who “studied Classics at Merton College, Oxford” and who was an MP and government Minister. Chiswell’s influence behind the scenes, a finger on the scales, is more likely than the Rokeby rock-star celebrity or the boy’s own “ability” to have won Strike his admission.

So, again, the photograph of Leda and the playboy aristocrat is not documentary evidence that Jasper Chiswell is Cormoran Strike’s father. It does, however, give us a clue that such a man as Jasper Chiswell could have known both Rokeby and Leda, fathered Strike, and, as Prof Gray suggests, cut a deal to help the rock star out of a jam (and jail sentence) in exchange for taking responsibility for siring Leda’s son. (I lay out here the several pointers in Lethal White to this possibility.) Chiswell’s physical similarity to Strike, his Latin, his Oxford education, and the notes made that link Raphael and Strike as bastard children of itinerant mothers with scant social standing give ‘legs’ to the Daddy Chiswell theory.

Or so I think. Please share your thoughts, doubts, and further evidence in the comment boxes below!



  1. Joanne Gray says

    Thank you so much for posting these thoughts gathered from Lethal White and the possibility that Rokeby may not be the biological father of Cormoran Strike after all. I really like the part about Oxford that you added since I hadn’t really put that into the equation but it definitely adds more weight to the theory.

    I actually think that Jasper Chiswell may only be a relative to the man who is finally revealed as the biological father of Cormoran. This is because I really do think Cormoran’s father will turn out to be the man in famous photo with Leda–who either died from AIDS or from suicide.

    I also think he will be the ” playboy aristocrat” rather than the art dealer. And despite the fact that people would normally think that would make him a more likely candidate to be the one who died from AIDS, I actually think he is the one who committed suicide.

    Thats because Izzy tells Strike how strongly Jasper feels that suicides are cowards and inflict hardship on their families by taking the cowardly way out. This gives me the impression that maybe he has experienced that family trauma himself.

    I do think the fact that Jasper Chiswell and Cormoran’s have all these connection (as well as Jasper having a long-time friend (45 years) to art dealer Henry Drummond) is all pointing us back to the other aristocrat and art dealer who are described in the famous photo of Cormoran’s parents (Cuckoo’s Calling, Part 4, chapter 11, page 456).

    All of this leading to the possible revelation of the, as yet unnamed playboy aristocrat, who was once captured in a photo with Leda Strike, and will finally be revealed as the biological father of Cormoran.

    Hopefully we’ll know one way or the other when the real owner of the mysterious mansion at the end of book 4 is revealed in book 5.

  2. Linda Ellacott says

    Speaking about Latin: do we know why Chiswell wrote that Catullus quotation on the note he made when exploring his wife’s paths? (Odi et amo.) I don’t remember finding an answer to this in the book…

    As to the daddy Chiswell theory: I totally didn’t believe in it at the beginning, but now I am less certain. Assuming it’s true: do you think Izzy knows? Do you think Charlotte knows? Or, if not, do you think Izzy will find it out when organizing her father’s heritage?

  3. Linda Ellacott says

    Rereading the relevant part of the book, one thing is sure (or at least very likely): Strike was not in Chiswell’s will.

  4. I don’t think anyone living except Jonny Rokeby knows that Chiswell was Cormoran’s biological father. We will be as surprised to learn that fact in Bk 7 as Charlotte was at the Paralympian Ball to hear that Cormoran had arrived with the Chiswells. Jasper Chiswell took that secret to the grave — if by paying Cormoran’s fee he did leave his boy a substantial chunk of change.

    The revelation of this story will come only after the mysteries of Leda Strike’s death and Rokeby’s crime, probably drug related (see ‘Heroin drug Lord’), are solved. There was a three year ‘summer’ between HP4 and HP5; let’s hope we get Strike5 before 2021!

  5. Prof Gray has asked me to clarify an important point:

    Please note that Prof Gray and I disagree about ‘Daddy Chiswell.’ She holds that the Chiswell similarities she noticed point to the playboy aristocrat, unnamed and dead, in the Strike1 photograph as Cormoran’s biological father, not Jasper Chiswell. I think the photograph points to Chiswell as the biological father and the dead playboy aristocrat is all but irrelevant.

  6. Wow, really interesting theory! As much as I enjoy the romance in the stories, I found it disappointing to think that maybe they’re the big story arc in the probable seven book series. My objection to Rokeby not being Strike’s father was that Rowling/Galbraith would never just introduce someone in book 7 as Strike’s father. There didn’t seem to be anyone we’d be introduced to that was old enough and likely to be Strike’s father. Having it be Chiswell or a character like Chiswell that we’ve gotten to know pretty well makes more sense for how Rowling writes or operates. I think it has to be a “Cormoran, I am your father” moment. (Although that’s tough now that Chiswell is dead.) Another parallel between Chiswell and Cormoran is that people often pronounce their names wrong.
    If it isn’t Chiswell, is Sir Alec Bristow from The Cuckoo’s Calling a possibility? He’s the father of the all adopted Bristow family containing Lula, Charlie, and John. Maybe it was Lady Bristow who was infertile but Sir Alec was not? He is had already passed away by the events of The Cuckoo’s Calling, though.
    I’m sure there are a dozen more reasons why the white swans in Lethal White are important, but I took the simplest interpretation to foreshadow Robin’s relationship status. At the very beginning of the book, the wedding photographer is waiting for the wily second swan in the background to swim into the shot. Robin marches away just as it finally does. I think this represents her wanted to walk out of the marriage on her wedding day, but also ultimately staying in the marriage for a year. Then after she and Matthew move house, the live by a pub that Robin walks by, The White Swan, with a single swan on the sign. Robin leaves Matt and moves out around a month later. So I took the twin swans on the doors of the mansion, as Robin is planning to meet Cormoran after work with friends later, as a good sign for their future.

  7. Thank you, Rebecca, for this thoughtful note!

    Three things:

    (1) I’m afraid my version of the Daddy Chiswell theory and perhaps Joanne Gray’s, too, has taken a real hit from a discovery made on my first re-reading since posting these possibilities. Chiswell’s hair is repeatedly described as like wires; not wiry as in curly or coiled, though, but as straight wires you might see in a brush, i.e., nothing like Cormoran’s ‘pube’ hair. That’s a blow to the theory because it means the two really don’t look alike. Doggone…

    (2) I’m right with you in scratching the head about who Cormoran’s father could be if he isn’t Jonny Rokeby or a character revealed in the first or fourth book (I’m taking it as accepted that the reveal will be in Strike7). If not Jasper Chiswell, who made a great connection I thought with Rokeby, Lethal White Heroin, etc., I’m at a loss about who it could be. Sir Alec is out, I think, for the infertility issue you mention; it would be unfair to claim in the finale that it was really his wife who had the problem. Evan Willis and others have argued that Rokeby is the Zeus of this drama, the rightful father, and will only appear in the finish to smooth out the broken places and persons. As resistant as I am to that theory — Rokeby as the real behind-the-scenes villain in Leda Strike’s death has a real hold on my imagination — it’s clear that Strike4 and Rokeby’s no show gives it more weight.

    (3) The swans! From unfixed tokens to images in stone… Because of the Leda and the Swan mythic context of the story as described by Joanne Gray and Evan Willis, we’re more than half-obliged to take this as a sign of Zeus arranging the match of Robin and Cormoran. They’re apart and oblivious to their feelings and role at the beginning, they float alone through the book, and the deal is sealed by the ‘in stone’ finish as they walk away from each other smiling that they will be together again soon. The appearance of Charlotte bearing twins at the story center is the clear image of Leda that is as good as a swan for the marker that Robin and Cormoran are at last together and a match; they arrive together at the Paralympian Reception with the Prince, and, though they leave separately, they’re on the same course: to meet the next morning at the Chiswell murder scene.

    More anon! Thanks again for the great comment.

  8. Michael Schramme says

    Didn’t Rokeby only recognize Strike after a DNA test proved him to be the father???

  9. Sons in the war.

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