Lethal White: Personal Assistant Drama

I am re-reading Cuckoo’s Calling in light of Lethal White and I confess to being whelmed by the number and quality of the echoes to be found of the fourth book in the first book of the series. I’m tabulating them as I go and will have to look up all the corresponding passages in Lethal White, but I think, if a Book 1 to Book 4 correspondence suggests another appearance in Book 7, the finale and end of the story axis, we have a lot of clues to sort through for the series finish. Do you remember the tomoto-red haired women in Cuckoo’s Calling? Me, neither.

One of the connections I have on my curious-but-not-obviously-important list of story echoes is that both contain references to Robin as a personal assistant or PA. Strike tells her in Cuckoo’s Calling after her week as a Temporary Solution that he’d like to hire her as a secretary but she can do much better: “If I could afford a secretary… but I expect you’ll end up pulling down a serious salary as some fat cat’s PA” (Part 2, chapter 5, p 82). Jasper Chiswell, who certainly qualifies as a ‘fat cat,’ offers her that job in Lethal White:

Robin was almost at the door when Chiswell said abruptly:

“You don’t want a PA’s job, I suppose?”


“Take over from Izzy? What does that detective pay you? I could probably match it. I need someone with brains and a bit of backbone.”

“I’m happy where I am,” said Robin. (ch 25, p 221)

When Robin reports this to Strike later, he says, “I’m always surprised that doesn’t happen more often” (ch 26, p 234).

This is a faint echoing between the books, I know, but it is audible. Events of the last week, though, are to blame for me being sufficiently sensitive to anything involving PAs and J. K. Rowling to hear it. You may not have heard about it in the media blitz around the Crimes of Grindelwald premiere but Joanne Murray, Galbraith and Rowling’s real name, sued a former PA, Amanda Donaldson, whom she claims “wrongly benefited to a value of £23,696.32 [just over $30,000] by spending on a business credit card and taking Harry Potter merchandise.” Ms Donaldson had been Rowling’s PA from 2014-2017 and was fired for “gross misconduct involving a substantial alleged breach of trust.” Amanda Donaldson is mentioned first in Rowling’s non-alphabetical list of seven assistants in the Career of Evil acknowledgements “without whose hard work I would not have any time to do my own.” She denies Murray’s charges.

Three notes:

(1) “Sounds Like Theft to Me.” If Mrs. Murray has been the victim of a crime, she has every right to sue for damages or to prosecute the thief. Just like big department stores take shop lifters of small items to court to discourage thievery, it probably makes sense for Rowling, Inc., to send the message that she will not overlook the injuries done to her, however trivial in the larger scheme of things. A friend in the UK suggests that this is a pre-emptive strike to discourage the PA from selling backstairs stories about the Murrays or from suing Rowling, Inc., for damages for an arbitary sacking.

(2) The Horrific Optics. Step back from the simple justice angle for a minute. The Rowling financial holdings are estimated by Forbes to be over $650 million. The cost of the Rowling, Inc., lawyers on retainer are well over $30,000 a year. The publicity attendant on this law suit means that Ms Donaldson will never be employed in a position of responsibility again. Why Rowling, Inc., would decide to move forward on this case the week that Crimes of Grindelwald hits the theaters, inevitably bringing up the worst part of Rowling’s reputation as a vindictive, mean-spirited litigator rather than polishing up her “Champion of the Little Guy” image, absolutely escapes me. Do you think the Harry Potter Festivals who received “Cease and Desist” letters from Warner Brothers this year won’t be sympathizing with Ms Donaldson rather than Godzilla, Inc.?

(3) Cormoran Strike Echoes. There are a bunch — and sadly they encourage when taken together a biographical reading of the text (Ms Donaldson’s sacking happened during the writing of Lethal White). There are the PA references noted above. Robin is fired at the end of Career of Evil for “gross misconduct.” Robbie Cunliffe and Flick Perdue discuss the ins and outs of what you can do if an employer fires you improperly. Jimmy Knight’s only successful law suit is against an employer who fired him improperly. Robin, in her roles of Venetia Hall and Bobbi Cunliffe, violates the trust of everyone who meets and confides in her, not to mention her breaking the law by illegally recording the conversations of others and searching their property without a warrant. The threat of Jimmy Knight’s selling unflattering stories to the press or Geraint Winn’s giving them away is the blackmail backdrop of the whole book.

The only thing we know for sure about this real world legal case is that we do not know anything about what really happened or who is in the right. Unfortunately for Ms Rowling, having $650 million in the bank and turning the herd of lawyers loose on a former employee for spending too much on Starbucks coffee over a three year period means that it will be very hard to spin this away from the 800 pound gorilla story that writes itself.

For Serious Strikers, though, the only remotely interesting part of the story is how much of the Donaldson firing may have bled into Lethal White.

More on Cuckoo’s Calling and Lethal White tomorrow!

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