Lethal White: Flints and Head Scratchers

I’m a big fan of both Robert Galbraith and J. K. Rowling but, like Aristotle’s ‘Great Souled Man,’ I’m proud enough that I don’t like to compete in any contest I am not likely to win or to make a respectable showing. Hence my decision not to watch Crimes of Grindelwald today or to participate in the feverish and global frenzy about it until I have a copy of the screenplay and have seen the film, probably next week. I’ll continue to do my “voice in the wilderness” schtick and post daily about Lethal White — and put up interesting guest posts about the new Fantastic Beasts franchise entry as they arrive by owl in the coming days.

Today’s Lethal White post is about mistakes in the story, both what Harry Potter fans used to call ‘Flints’ after the Slytherin student who played an eighth year at Quidditch because of auctorial nodding and editorial oversight, and a few head-scratchers as well, things which seem bizarre enough to be mistakes but might be clues. I’ve limited my list to seven, that magical number, and hope that you’ll share the gaffes and oddities that struck you in your reading and re-reading via the comment boxes after the post. See you after the jump!

  • Ciarra Parker?

Early on in Lethal White, Strike reviews all the women he has slept with since he left Charlotte (ch 24, p 207). On the list is a “Ciara Parker,” whom we all knew as “Ciarra Porter, super-model” back in Cuckoo’s Calling. The gaffe has already been corrected in the Google Books online copy of Lethal White so any speculation that there is a Parker out there somewhere who was the model for the super-model Porter is a sign of having too much time on your hands. Sarah Jessica Parker, anyone? We’re talking ‘Sin and the City’ with Ciarra, no?

  • Basra, Afghanistan?

“The son who went to jail for manslaughter isn’t the — or wasn’t — Chiswell’s only boy. His eldest was called Freddie and he died in Afghanistan. Yeah. Major Freddie Chiswell, Queen’s Royal Hussars. Killed in an attack on a convoy in Basra. I investigated his death in action while I was still SIB.” ch 8, p 88

Basra is one of the largest cities — in Iraq. Chiswell could, I suppose, have been shot in Basra and died in Afghanistan, but the story of his death from a sniper’s bullet we learn later on suggests very strongly this is not the case. Robin corrects the Iraq/Afghanistan error Strike makes on page 88 by page 111 when she asks,”Did Chiswell mention his son who died in Iraq?” and the mistake isn’t repeated.

But Strike’s first mention does have Freddie being killed in a country that is 1380 miles from Basra, Iraq. Not confusion that Strike would have; Iraq to Afghanistan is something like the distance of Mexico City to the city where I live (OKC) and the cultural divide is much greater than the geographical one. The mistake does not appear in Robert Glenister’s reading of Lethal White, which I assumed was recorded before the hard backs were printed. I guess that mistaken assumption only shows how much I know.

  • Revolver that is a Rifle?

Mike Garrison wrote:

A bit of a different subject, but I came across an odd mistake in Lethal White on page 585.  Its the scene where Strike and Robin are in the house with Kinvara after digging in the dell.  The text says “The door opened. Kinvara had returned, and to Robin’s consternation, she was carrying a revolver.” Strike then calls it a “Harrington & Richardson 7-shot”.  Four paragraphs later the text says “…then followed the Labrador back into the garden, Strike limping after her with the rifle.”

It seems like an odd mistake, calling it a revolver, then specifically identifying it  as a Harrington & Richardson 7-shot revolver, and then stating Strike “with the rifle…” I may be reaching too far here, but I wonder if there was initially a passing thought of linking this weapon to the rifle that Freddie used to shoot Spotty the miniature horse…? But then thought it was better to link this weapon to the one Raff would use to hold Robin hostage later so that Strike could have secretly removed the ammunition. Maybe too much of a reach, or just a simple mistake instead of failing to clean up loose ends!

I found pictures of this Harrington & Richardson pistol online. It’s a monster.

If Kinvarra had pulled the trigger, I’m pretty sure the ‘kick’ would have, well, surprised her (as in “knocked her lights out”).

The “rifle” mistake, as Mike suggests, is probably the sign of previous plot points work that shifted without a sufficient clean-up being done. But there’s a head scratcher, here, too, alongside the Flint.

I think we’re almost in The Land of Make Believe when Strike holds the weapon and immediately identifies it by name and shot number. Take a look at the number of revolvers this American gun maker produced.

It’s an antique weapon, almost certainly nothing Strike would have encountered as “military issue” when in SIB. And that Uncle Ted had one is as improbable. Pistols have essentially been illegal since 1920 in the UK.

Knowing the name is credible (it’s on the barrell) but how does he know on touch that the weapon is a seven shot revolver?

To know that, Cormoran either has an encyclopedic and eidetic memory for all handguns manufactured in the 20th Century (this gun would be about 90 years old and was American made) or he popped the cylinder open and made a count as soon as he grabbed it without the reader being told.

Remember, a seven shot pistol is borderline freakish. H&R according to Wikipedia only made two seven shot models out of more than sixty they manufactured.

It is a mystery as well when the grimacing man with the non-functioning prosthetic limb during his walk of the stables was able to unload the seven shot without Kinvarra seeing what he was up to. 

We’ll have to assume Kinvarra was just that tired and drunk that she didn’t notice the weight difference in the handgun Strike took from her and the one he left.

And that Raphael didn’t check to see if the gun was loaded and a round in the chamber? Hard to believe a man alone on a barge who is plotting murder and/or suicide would overlook that…

Perhaps one “unintended consequence” of the Draconian laws against firearms possession in the UK is that crime writers (and their editors) are essentially clueless about their nomenclature and operation. 

  • Seven Half-Siblings?

Louise Freeman picked this up on her first read-through. Strike, super-hero of memory, seems to have forgotten how many brothers and sisters he has through his biological mother and father.

Chewing crisps by the handful, Strike reflected that whenever it came to a question of what ‘most people’ would think, he usually envisaged his half-sister Lucy, the only one of his seven half-siblings with whom he had shared his chaotic and peripatetic childhood. To him, Lucy represented the acme of all that was conventional and unimaginative, even though they had both grown up on intimate terms with the macabre, the dangerous and the frightening. (Ch 14, p 153)

The funny thing about this gaffe is that we thought the “eight half-siblings” mentioned in Cuckoo’s Calling (Part 2, ch 8, p 107) was a mistake because the Rokeby wikipedia page lists seven and we hadn’t yet heard of ‘Switch,’ Leda’s son with her second husband later in life. So in charity maybe we should assume one of Strike’s half-siblings has died and Galbraith has just neglected to tell us about it!

Joking aside, this may be a very big deal. Prof Freeman thinks Swich’s grandfather may have been Leda’s murderer:

CB has 8 half-siblings: the 6 other Rokeby-spawn, Lucy (aka the one with the normal name), and the much-younger Switch LeVay Whittaker, who was raised by his great-grandparents. 

This is important, as young Switch is key to my counter-proposal to the Dark Drug Lord hypothesis  regarding Leda’s death…  namely, Grandpa Whittaker Did It.  —  with his daughter mentally ill and estranged, and his grandson a wastrel, Grandpa W. was determined not to have his last potential heir raised by a couple of druggies.  

Aunt Joan and Uncle Ted were already raising Lucy; wouldn’t they have been the logical choice to take in young Switch?  Wealthy or not, is in normal for a baby—  Switch was less than two when Leda died, to be placed in the custody of great-grandparents?

  • Lost Diamond Earring the Owner Doesn’t Miss?

Robin misses quite a few clues that her husband is shacking up with Sarah again, from Ted Turvey’s pointed suggestion she turn her surveillance skills to her home situation at the House Warming party to Matt’s errant texts, but it is the found earring in the bed that makes her realize she has been cuckolded. But take a second, please, and think about that earring.

It’s valuable enough that Sarah shows them off to Robin at the ch 7 party. Forgive me for assuming that they’re post earrings with a rod through an ear lobe piercing rather than posts. I don’t care how gymnastic she may be in bed, that kind of earring won’t fall off or be tugged free without her noticing it. Which raises the questions, “Is it probable, is it possible for a woman not to notice she’s missing a diamond earring? Isn’t there a moment in her day when she takes them off and has to realize, ‘Hey, I only have one of these’?”

It’s nice for Robin that she gets this gift of solid evidence of Matt’s infidelity, but we seem to have crossed a line into the extremely unlikely. Aren’t people having affairs borderline paranoid about being caught? I have to think Sarah would have freaked out when she went to take off her earrings and realized one was missing, and, because of the events of that day, that perhaps it was still in Matt’s marital bed.

Or are we obliged to think Sarah did it on purpose as an IED of sorts to blow up the Cunliffe marriage? She doesn’t seem too happy about how things have played out at the end of Lethal White during her short phone conversation with Robin but perhaps that is because Matt really isn’t happy about Robin’s leaving — and that Robin’s discovery of one of Sarah’s earrings was the reason she knows…  Sarah could be on the outs with fiancee Mr Topsey-Turvey and with Matt.

One more reason to think Sarah left the earring rather than lost it is that in the parallel bracket chapters Robin “loses” a piece of jewelry, “a bangle,” deliberately to get access to Winn’s office. The “bangle” is another Cuckoo’s Calling echo — Lula returned Evan Duffield’s commitment ceremony bangle at Uzzi’s the night of her death — but the feigned loss of the valuable piece (“I wouldn’t be popular if I lost that,” Robin explains to Aamir) which Robin finds looks like an internal parallel on the story turtle-back.

Is this seeming gaffe and certain head scratcher, then, really a pointer to Sarah’s failed plan?

  • The Foreign Office Photographs of Gallows with White Horse of Uffington Engraving?

The police report version of Lethal White, the fabula we construct at the end of the story, reads that Raphael Chiswell told Felicity Purdue (‘Flick’) about the two Knight gallows that were sold to Zimbabwe and that the Foreign Office had pictures of the UK citizen swinging from one, perhaps. He has that much information from Kinvarra who learned it from Jaspar Chiswell, whom we have to guess (we’re not told) learned about the pictures only after the attempted blackmailing when he must have tried to learn all he could about the gallows (he had received payment for one but one had been hijacked). He told Strike at their first meeting there were no tell-tale marks or distinguishing features that he knew of.

Note that this requires Raff to have at least two encounters with Flick: first to tell her about the gallows to excite Jimmy into confronting Jasper for money and then, after Jasper makes enquiries and learns about the Foreign Office photographs (and tells Kinvarra who tells Raff…), to give her and Winn the information to make real blackmail work.

He tells Flick because he is sure she will tell Jimmy Knight and that he will seek payment for the gallows, and, that failing, will try to extort money out of Chiswell. Raff gives Flick the news that Jaspar needs a maid, again, because he is confident she will take the job to have access to Chiswell’s office. Raff gives Geraint Winn the story of the Zimbabwe gallows and the Home Office photographs — after Jimmy’s moves pressed Chiswell to see if there was any documentary evidence of his involvement — with even more surety that Geraint will do everything possible to make Chiswell’s life miserable in revenge for Freddie Chiswell’s role in Rhiannon’s suicide.

But, even allowing for more than one Flick-Raff meeting, this is some involved story-telling with no clear passage even after the big reveal on the barge.

Jaspar didn’t know about the Uffington Horse symbol carved on the gallows by Billy, so Kinvarra doesn’t know, either, and she cannot tell Raff. Flick knows this from Jimmy (she yells it at the Chiswell limousine the night of the Paralympians Reception) and she may have told Raff at their second meeting. The sign of the horse carved into the gallows is something Raff would have to have known to believe the Foreign Office pictures he learns about through Kinvarra would reveal the sign and begin the blackmail scheme with both Winn and Knight.

Walk through it. I think we can get there —

(1) A British student on vacation is brutally murdered in Africa by being strung up on a gallows. Jasper Chiswell investigates because he knows one of the gallows he sold went to an African country but was stolen in transit. The Minister learns in hus researches about the existence of Foreign Office photographs of the gallows used to kill Samuel Murape, presumably the lost gallows he wasn’t paid for. He tells Kinvarra as he did Strike that there are no distinguishing characteristics that tie the gallows to his estate. 

(2) Raff sees the Stubbs painting in a Chiswell House damp bedroom and decides Jasper must die for Raff to become rich after selling the painting. He begins arcane plan for Jasper’s seeming suicide and his own inheritance of the painting through his step-mother. Raff convinces Kinvarra that he loves her, wants to marry her, and that Jasper must die for this to happen. She signs on with the plan to create great stress on Jasper so his suicide might happen or be faked credibly.

(2) Raff learns about the Knight gallows making business and that two were left over at Jack Knight’s death, which Jasper sold without paying the boys the Knight family share. Kinvarra tells Raff, too, about the Foreign Office photographs Jasper learned about when Murape died. She says in the group interview she knew nothing about it until Jimmy Knight appeared asking for money but she is lying.

(3) Raff seduces Flick Perdue, Jimmy’s girlfriend, and somehow conceals who he is from her (?) while passing on the information about Jimmy Knight’s being owed money by the Chiswells. Flick dutifully tells Jimmy, who in turn asks the Chiswells for half the money that two gallows sold for. He learns they only received money for one and asks for his half of that money. Request denied.

(4) Raff tells Winn about the gallows and the Foreign Office photographs; Raff is aware through his Drummond Art Gallery girlfriend, that Freddie Chiswell was largely responsible for Rhiannon Winn’s suicide.

(5) Flick has learned from Jimmy that Jack Knight always made Billy carve the horse into the gallows. Raff learns this on subsequent visits to Flick’s. Raff shares this “distinguishing characteristics” knowledge with Geraint Winn, which super-charges his determination to get the Foreign Office photographs.

(6) Winn tells Chiswell he knows about the gallows and presses Aamir Mallik to get the photographs with the evidence that they are Chiswell gallows which were used to kill Murape and many others. Knight changes his plan from a simple request for money he is due as a Knight heir (he’s unable to sue in court for it because of the litigation ban he’s under, not to mention the bad optics for a leftist) to the threat of exposure to the press, from whom he would get money for the story.

We’re left to asume that this information is something Jimmy Knight shared with Geraint as they forged their uneasy alliance — and how did that conjunction come about? — but, again, the genesis of the plan requires that Raff know both about the gallows and the Foreign Office photographs. That’s credible. The plan really doesn’t have any punch, though, until he learns from Flick or Jimmy that the gallows had a horse carved into them. The pictures themselves, as Chiswell knows, don’t pose a very great threat to him. Only the White Horse of Uffington carved signatures on the gallows revealed in those pictures would be sufficient evidence to hurt him politically.

So, not a gaffe, just a very, very weak link in the fabula beneath the syuzhet. It’s hard to believe that Raff would have started the plan rolling without knowledge of the signature carving being on the Foreign Office photographs.

  • Murderer Mystery Writer Madness?

John Bristow in Cuckoo’s Calling is told by Strike he is “bat shit insane” for hiring him to investigate a murder he committed. Goblet of Fire turns on a Voldemort plan that requires Harry to touch the TriWizard Tournament Cup which has been made a Portkey, when, as a friend wrote me recently, Faux-Moody could have invited into his office for tea the first week and made the cup a Portkey. “Why so complicated?”

And both of these stories, texts that the murderer writes and everyone has to solve, mysteries that are risibly convoluted and over-involved certainly is the case in Lethal White. Raphael writes a compelling distractor story for everyone to puzzle over, stories with different angles for Flick, Kinvarra, Izzy, and the Police. But, again, why so complicated, right?

My thought was that he simply should have substituted his mother’s piebald horse painting for the Stubb’s (as he had) in the bedroom and waited for a year. His father would have sold that for the 5,000 pounds and the stolen painting could have been taken to the US (or Arab Emirates?) and been auctioned anonymously to the global Masters market. 

Still criminal, but no batshit insane convoluted murder that involves his having to move in with Kinvarra, et cetera, and several years waiting regardless.

But then again, we wouldn’t have the fun of the Robin-Cormoran back story as they “read” and solve the Raphael-written mystery. If this is a head-scratcher, I’ll live with it.

What do you think! Any more gaffes or head scratchers in Lethal White? What do you make of the ones above? Let me know in the comment boxes below!


  1. Dolores Gordon-Smith says

    Yes, yes, yes – there’s some brilliant spots there. I did find the who,e gallows plot a bit of a stretch but I imagine it’s one of those real life news stories that seem too bizarre to be true that stuck with JKR.
    About Harry and the triwazard cup being the Portkey though – yes, Barty Crouch Jr could have transported Harry to the Dark Lord at any time but that wouldn’t fit in with Voldemort’s personality. He does like grandeur! The same reason goes for him wanting to fight a duel when he could’ve easily bumped Harry off when he was tied up.
    There’s some real loop holes in Lethal White but I imagine an insane work load accounts for that. It’s an enjoyable book though

  2. I would say that J.K. Rowling had the journalist ‘Ian Parker’ on her mind when she made the Freudian slip of replacing his surname with that of Strike’s one-night-stand Ciara Porter. After all, didn’t Parker do his non-complimentary New Yorker magazine interview in 2012, the same year as Lethal White is set around the London Olympics? https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/10/01/mugglemarch

  3. Re-reading that Ian Parker article again in the New Yorker, Ian Rankin is quoted by the journalist;
    ‘Rowling has talked to him (Rankin) of her admiration for British crime writing of the nineteen-twenties and thirties. “She loves Margery Allingham and Dorothy L. Sayers,” he said, adding that the Pagford setting had relieved him of his greatest fear: that Rowling had been working on a crime novel set in Edinburgh.’

    Louise assumed in an earlier blog that Rattenbury, the Chiswell’s barking mad wonder dog was a subtle clue and a throw-back to the famous Francis Rattenbury murder in 1935. A carbon copy of the Lethal White plot it seems. So are we to expect Robert Galbraith is currently scouring the old 1920s and 1930s newspaper clippings for more real murder mysteries to cunningly weave into the Strike Five, Six & Seven books? I rather think that she is. Fascinating!!!

  4. Linda Ellacott says

    In Chapter 50 Strike tells Charlotte that it was Robin who bought him his walking stick whereas she didn’t… (In The Silkworm Strike himself buys it in a Boots.)

    I find it strange that neither Robin nor Strike knows the other’s mobile number by heart. (Strike because he has such a prodigious memory of numbers that at the end of the book he just looks at some phone numbers for a moment and later he is able to identify one of them and Robin because she basically worked for Strike as a secretary for many month, if not years.)

    It is also strange that they have a basic landline phone in the office not capable of showing the caller’s number whereas they use all kind of fancy gadgets in their daily work. I would really expect a detective agency to use a phone with number display and where recording is possible.

    And somehow this Uffington horse thing. Is Strike (and Robin) not supposed to know it? I thought it was famous in Britain. (But maybe it’s not…)

  5. Linda Ellacott says

    …and one more , which I forgot about last time: in chapter 44 Strike tells Robin that he hasn’t been in Cornwall since he started his agency, whereas at the end of The Silkworm he says he’ll spend the Christmas there.

  6. Louise Freeman says

    One more, for the sake of keeping a list in the same place. On the beach (Summer 2011) while debating her marriage and pondering her lack of experience with men, Robin says she is approaching her 28th birthday (presumably coming up in October 2011). Yet, at the start of Cuckoo’s Calling (Spring 2010) she is supposedly 25, and at the start of Career of Evil (April 2011– the month of the Royal Wedding– Robin married roughly two months later) she is said to be 26. She jumped a year in age, prematurely!

    Technically, I guess, she was approaching her 28th birthday, just as she is approaching he 35th, her 50th, her 70th… etc. But it isn’t the next one up… she was 26 when she married and therefore approaching her 27th.

    All of which matters, of course, given Ms. Rowling’s tweet that she is writing Robin’s 29th birthday in Strike 5. Is this a month from the close of Lethal White, or a year?

  7. Thanks for this catalogue. I just finished reading Lethal White, and my head-scratcher is, why didn’t Jimmy explain to the grown-up Billy what happened at the horse that night, instead of telling him that no strangling ever happened, “you’re mental,” etc.?

    Through his proximity to the Chiswells, wouldn’t the teenaged Jimmy have understood that the child was Raff, and wouldn’t he (sooner or later) have realized that Raff survived? Why not just tell Billy as much, if only to stop him yammering on about it obsessively over the years?

  8. Bonni Crawford says

    My main head scratcher in Lethal White is about Raphael’s driving ban mentioned in the last chapter (on the canal boat) and then recalled by Robin in the epilogue.
    My head scratching is because there are multiple mentions of Raphael driving during the book! Including within a week of being released from prison, when he ‘got in his car and drove’ to Chiswell House cos his father had summoned him. Then again, he loads the paintings into a car and drives them to and from London. Also on the morning that Jasper is killed, he drives to Chiswell House to be with Kinvarra. And then the police turn up, and Raphael is there and his car in the drive. If he was banned, you’d think he wouldn’t be so stupid as to drive to the location where he knows that the police are highly likely to turn up!
    So what’s this ban mentioned at the end?!?
    Has anyone got any ideas? Or is this an error that somehow got missed during the editing process?

  9. Nick Jeffery says

    Hi Bonni,

    The most like offence is “Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs”

    What is the penalty for causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs?
    *Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both
    *A mandatory disqualification for a minimum of two years
    *A compulsory extended retest

    We know the sentence was considered unusually light, so say he was given 6 years and a two year ban. We also know he only served barely a third of his sentence. It is just possible that when he was released his driving ban had expired. However there is a compulsory retest before he can regain his license. If the police at Chiswell House were quick enough to check his licence, or if later CID realise then he is guilty of driving without a license.

    What is the penalty for driving whilst unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured?
    If you are found guilty of driving whilst unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured, the penalty is:

    *Up to two years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both
    *A mandatory disqualification for a minimum of one year
    *A discretionary retest

    At this point a further ban would be imposed, which would account for his waiting for a licence at the end of the book. A far more likely outcome would be a recall to prison.

    This does seem a bit Flinty.

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