Lethal White: Rokeby, Jagger, and Heroin

I posted yesterday about why it is more than credible that Rowling/Galbraith’s fourth Cormoran Strike mystery, Lethal White, will involve a white horse of some kind. Today and tomorrow I want to begin my explanation of why I don’t think it will necessarily involve horses of an equine kind, however much I look forward (with Robin) to reading about Cormoran’s first horse-back ride.

To cut to the quick, I think the Lethal White ‘white horse’ that Rowling has been teasing readers with is heroin from Afghanistan rather than albino American paint horses or unicorns.

My first piece of evidence in this speculative argument is Jonny Rokeby and his resemblance to Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.

Evan Willis has argued here that he doubts Jonny Rokeby, as the Zeus figure in the Leda and the Swan mythological drama underlying the Strike mysteries, will make an appearance in the novels. That is a more than credible position considering the Aeschylus and Virgil parallels Willis cites. Karen Kebarle, though, is almost certainly closer to what’s likely in Strike 4; she said in a just recorded ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ episode about Lethal White that the great failing of the Strike series when compared with Harry Potter is the absence of a villain, a Moriarity, as much more powerful and dangerous than Cormoran as Voldemort was to the Boy Who Lived. If Willis is right and Rokeby remains just a haunting presence off-stage, Strike will only be fun detective stories.

Perhaps it is just wishful thinking on my part that this won’t be the case. Rowling has invested so much in the mysterious death of Leda Strike, though, that I think we’re fairly safe in assuming that solving this case is as large a part of the continuing drama as the relationship cum romance of Robin and Cormoran.

Moving forward, then, with the idea that Rokeby is the Voldemort/Moriarity of the Strike series,  what do we know about him and what, if anything, does he have to do with white horses?

The first thing we know about Jonny Rokeby, lead singer of the Deadbeats, is that his life runs as a fairly obvious caricature of Mick Jagger’s.

Most of what we know about Rokeby comes from the hurried information dump about him in the first Strike mystery, Cuckoo’s Calling. Robin has been told by “poor Mrs. Hook” that her boss’ father is Jonny Rokeby (p 78). Robin takes the first opportunity she has to do a Wikipedia search for ‘Rokeby Strike’ (p 80).

Robin sat down at her desk again. She had already opened the morning’s post. She swung side to side on her swivel chair; then she moved to the computer and casually brought up Wikipedia. Then, with a disengaged air, as though she was unaware of what her fingers were up to, she typed in the two names: Rokeby Strike.

The entry appeared at once, headed by a black-and-white photograph of an instantly recognizable man, famous for four decades. he had a narrow Harlequin’s face and wild eyes, which were easy to caricature, the left one slightyly off-kilter due to a weak divergent squint; his mouth was wide open, sweat pouring down hi sface, hair flying as he bellowed into a microphone.

Jonathan Leonard “Jonny” Rokeby, b. August 1st 1948, is the lead singer of 70s rock band The Deadbeats, member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, multi-Grammy Award winner…

Strike looked nothing like him; the only slight resemblance was in the inequality of the eyes, which in Strike was, after all, a transient condition.

Down the entry Robin scrolled:

multi-platinum album Hold it Back in 1975. A record-breaking tour of America was interrupted by a drugs bust in LA and the arrest of new guitarist David Carr, with whom …

until she reached Personal Life:

Rokeby has been married three times: to art-school girlfriend Shirley Mullens (1969-1973), with whom he has one daughter, Maimie; to model, actress and human rights activist Carla Astolfi (1975-1979), with whom he has two daughters, television presenter Gabriella Rokeby and jewelry designer Daniella Rokeby, and (1981-present) to film producer Jenny Graham, with whom he has two sons, Edward and Al. Rokeby also has a daughter, Prudence Doneleavy, from his relationship with the actress Lindsey Fanthrope, and a son, Cormoran, with 1970s supergroupie Leda Strike.

After reading that (and noting the “harlequin” reference), go ahead and scroll down Mick Jagger’s Wikipedia page. Here is the short cut to ‘Personal Life.’

Striking, isn’t it? Though Jagger has officially only been married once (to Bianca; the Bali marriage ceremony to Jerry Hall was ruled invalid years after the fact), the Rokeby-Jagger correspondences that all but leap off the page include:

If you prefer other sources to Wikipedia, here a random few about Jagger I found after a follow-up search:

My favorite Rokeby-Jagger link, though, is Ciarra Porter’s saying about Rokeby, “He dyes his hair… it’s like, purple close up… I used to call him the rocking prune” (Cuckoo, p 351). Forgive me, but Jagger’s hair color is not that of a 75 year old man and his complexion certainly is that of a pruneface. (Forgive me the age-ism of noting a celebrity’s obvious and borderline pathetic attempts to disguise his growing old. Once you start down that road, I know, you could wind up discussing the probable cosmetic surgery, botox, and serial hair coloring of the ever-younger Robert Galbraith — and the neo-Marxist PC fandom police would have you up on charges. Silencio!)

Having established the Rokeby-Jagger connection at least tentatively (I’ll let the zealots argue that Rokeby is more akin to Tom Jones, the Welsh singer [with illigitimate son and paternity case turning on DNA testing] mentioned by Dominic Culpepper in The Silkworm as comparable to the Deadbeats’ lead singer), back to that seeming throw-away detail in the Rokeby Wikipedia entry, the one about drugs:

multi-platinum album Hold it Back in 1975. A record-breaking tour of America was interrupted by a drugs bust in LA and the arrest of new guitarist David Carr, with whom …

The StrikeFans.com entry on Rokeby tells us:

Rokeby is known for having a bad temper. He once broke a saxophone player’s tooth when he slapped the end of the instrument in anger, and on another occasion tried to strangle a bass player. According to Leda, “Jonny was never good on speed.”

Besides his father being more than six feet tall, Strike looks nothing like Rokeby. At the time his parents were “dating,” Rokeby is described as being “androgynous and wild: hair nearly as long as Leda’s.” He has a “weak divergent squint that added an attractive strangeness to Rokeby’s handsome face.”

Assuming that the drug bust in LA was not for amphetamines and that the Rolling Stones and Deadbeats histories are meant to be read in parallel, what are the facts about the Stones being arrested while on tour for drugs?

There is a page devoted just to the subject of the Rolling Stones’ arrest history, believe it or not, at UltimateClassicRock.com. It merits its own page because it is extensive. Much of it is about the Stones guitarist Keith Richards and his trouble with heroin. The most famous? The 1977 bust on their record-setting 1977 tour of North America. From UltimateClassicRock.com:

Feb. 27, 1977

It’s the arrest that could have ended the Rolling Stones. Richards was detained in Canada In February 1977 after police found heroin in his hotel room. He was charged with “possession of heroin for the purpose of trafficking,” which, in Canada, can come with a prison sentence of seven years to life. His passport was confiscated and he was held in the country until April of the same year, when he was allowed to re-enter the United States on a medical visa for treatment for heroin addiction. Luckily for Richards, the charges were later dropped to the much simpler charge of possession. The judge showed leniency thanks to a blind woman who told him of how Richards made arrangements to look after her safety at Stones concerts. He pleaded guilty and was granted a suspended sentence and ordered to play a benefit for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

And here’s Keith, years later about the arrest for heroin abuse:

This wasn’t the first time the Stones had been brought up on drug charges involving heroin:

On February 12, 1967, a small army of eighteen policemen descended on Redlands, Keith Richards’s recently purchased home in Sussex. The raid came just as Richards and several others were coming down from an LSD trip. The contraband recovered was modest: there were a couple of roaches around the house; Jagger had a few amphetamines purchased from a druggist in Italy; and a friend, Robert Fraser, had heroin. But it was enough to get them hauled off to jail, and the tabloid News of the World made a meal of the bust, reporting with particular gusto that Marianne Faithfull, fresh out of the shower, had greeted the police clad only in a fur rug. Though the men were released on bail, it immediately became apparent that the government was serious about bringing a case for jail time against Jagger and Richards.

Great pictures of that debacle (“They got off!”) can be found here. There was another bust in 1969 at Mick Jagger’s home, an arrest Jagger claimed was based on heroin and marijuana being planted in his house.

“But that was Fraser and Richards on heroin in 1967, not Jagger,” I hear you thinking. “Jagger just had a ‘few amphetamines.’ Okay, a little speed, which makes a Rokeby-Jagger connection. But not heroin.”

Jerry Hall, the Texas born super-model to whom Jagger was sort-of married and definitely had four children, tells us different. Jagger had a “disgusting heroin habit” when they met. They met when? In 1977, the year of the Keith Richards arrest for heroin in Toronto.

While Keith Richards’ heroin addiction is well-documented, Sir Mick’s reminiscences about the band’s wild past have omitted mention of taking the class A drug himself. In her new autobiography, Hall recalls the beginning of her affair with the star in 1977. She writes: “Mick had told me he took LSD every day for a year in the Sixties. He also admitted he was smoking heroin. I was disgusted.

“I told him I couldn’t see him if he took drugs, saying, ‘Go away and don’t come back until you’re straight’. He succeeded – he had amazing willpower.”

Bianca Jagger on White Horse

At the time, Hall was engaged to Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry and Jagger was married to his first wife, Bianca. Hall said: “I knew he had a reputation as a womaniser and he was still married, even if he hadn’t lived with Bianca for a year, but I was hopeful. I had got him to quit heroin – I could get him to give up girls as well.”

The couple went on to have four children and ‘married’ in a ceremony in Bali in 1990, although Jagger later claimed the ceremony was not legal.

Hall’s claims could throw fresh light on the infamous 1969 drugs bust at Sir Mick’s Chelsea home. Scotland Yard officers claimed they found heroin and cannabis in the Cheyne Walk house.

If there is a real life model for Jonny Rokeby, it is all but certainly Mick Jagger, “the rocking prune.”

Mick Jagger had a “heroin habit” at the time of Stones guitarist Keith Richards’ arrest for heroin possession in Toronto on a North American tour. The Deadbeats guitarist, David Carr, was caught in a drug bust in Los Angeles in 1975, drugs unspecified.

So what?

A commonplace euphemism for heroin is “white horse,” as in the 80’s hit songDon’t Ride the White Horse.”

There is a particularly lethal white horse, heroin hydrochloride, that was popular both in Leda’s day and when Strike returned from Afghanistan (see Joanne Gray’s discussion here and a 2009 article on the re-emergence of this ‘lethal white horse.’) ‘Lethal white,’ in fact, like most of the world’s heroin, comes from Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, center of UK military operations in that country.

I think the Rokeby-Jagger transparency and that Jagger had a heroin habit at the time of his meeting Jerry Hall, super-model, means we have to consider the possibility that Rokeby had a secret heroin habit when he met Leda Strike, super-groupie.

Leda Strike died twenty some years later of a heroin overdose in mysterious circumstances, most notably her known aversion to the drug.

I think there is a speculative connect-the-dots case that Rokeby was not Cormoran Strike’s father but accepted paternity to keep Leda quiet about his connection with heroin (and the heroin trade out of Helmand Province?). When his child-support agreement ended with Strike’s departure for Oxford or he had other reason to fear she or her crazy husband was about to sell the story to News of the World, Rokeby contracted her death. On the off-chance that she had told her son his secret (or SIB Strike was getting too close to the truth in Afghanistan?), he contracted a hit on Strike’s troop carrier.

Before, though, we jump both feet into that off the wall theory — why the ‘white horse’ images Rowling-Galbraith has been burying us with are red herrings —  I want to revisit the Rokeby Wikipedia entry. The dates in it do not “match up,” as Strike has said at least once a book in re Charlotte Campbell’s claim about being pregnant with his child. See you tomorrow for that second look at Cormoran’s conception and what it may tell us about Leda and Rokeby’s relationship.


  1. Mr. Granger,

    I have to say I find Karen Kebarle’s remarks about no discernable Moriarty figure for Strike (in the way Harry had Voldemort) to be the most interesting part of this whole essay. I think the reason why is because it encourages enterprising readers to ask just what kind of Archenemy does Strike deserve?

    I’m sure others will have ideas of their own. For me, I’m just trying to frame an answer to that question in terms of the genre of the whole series. I’m asking what kind of villain is fitting for a Noir series like this one. Since there are no overt supernatural elements, the villain can’t be like Voldemort in any way, shape, or form. Logical elimination seems to leave us without much in the way of candidates. Aside from Moriarty, the names that get mentioned are those of famous fictional stalkers and/or psychos: Norman Bates, Frederick Clegg (John Fowles’ “Collector”), Mark Lewis (“Peeping Tom”), Max Cady (“Cape Fear”). The closest to a contemporary criminal master-mind would have to be Walter White, from the TV series “Breaking Bad”.

    Also, it may help readers find their way to point out that you can’t read a Sherlock Holmes story and expect the same reaction you would get from a work like LOTR. Tolkien’s work is more designed with the traditional kind of action adventure aesthetic in mind. Works of Gothic fiction, on the other hand, tend to go in more for the slow-burn build of tension. This is something Ms. Rowling achieves with the opening scene of “The Cuckoo’s Calling”. Through the slow layering of one detail on another, and the brief explosive outburst exchange between Carver and Wardle, she creates an underlying sense tension and expectation. This tension is given a proper narrative release by novel’s end. However, what needs to be noticed is that this narrative suspense is not the kind you find in an adventure story. This form of literary excitement is notable by its genuine, yet muted tone. It is more subdued in its approach to drawing the reader in. It asks for patience and an alert mind for detail. This is a far cry from the suspense generated by the Gates of Mordor. In some ways, this change of tone draws its strength from its ability to introduce a sense of danger and menace, and then sit on these elements, allowing their expected irruption to have a potency that otherwise would get lost in a novel of fantasy. Stephen King achieves just such an effect in novels like “The Shining” or “Misery”. This tone of subdued menace will also play a big part in how Ms. Rowling chooses to reveal her main villain. Expect it to play a huge role in how this character ultimately performs on the printed page.

    Whoever Rokeby turns out to be, one element for the Main Antagonist is that he must be able to generate enough of an amount of both excitement, suspense, and narrative tension to keep the reader hooked and wanting to come back for more. When bringing Prof. Moriarty into this equation, what’s remarkable is how Conan Doyle was able to accomplish a lot with so little. The Professor appears in just two canonical Holmes stories, and yet those two curtain calls have left a more than lasting impact on both readers and fans long since the Victorian Era ended. What’s even more remarkable, to me at least, is how successful later writers were able to develop this character in ways that manage to be also be true to the personality first outlined by Doyle.

    The irony, however, is that Rowling may have already revealed what kind of villain she has in mind. We can discover this when we go back to another book discussed before. Her favorite mystery story (as opposed to favorite book of all time) is Margery Alingham’s “Tiger in the Smoke”. You pointed out once before that Voldemort’s name and motivations ultimately derive from the villain of that novel: Johnny “Jack Havoc” Cash (the fictional character, not the real-life guy who sang at Fulsome Prison). Perhaps a good question to ask is whether Ms. Rowling is still drawing from the same well? What if Rokeby, or whoever turns out to be the ultimate villain of the Strikes books, will take inspiration from the same mystery author who helped inspire Voldemort? It’s at least one possibility, anyway.

    One final thought. A good way to grasp the tone of a Strike novel would be to pair it up with the musical style that best fits it. In this case, I’d suggest fans take their John Williams soundtracks out of the player, and instead put in something like “My Foolish Heart” by Bill Evans, or Miles Davis’s “Birth of the Cool” or even Jerry Goldsmith’s composition for “Chinatown”. Classic Jazz is a very subdued form of music, and it is this very quality that made it a staple for Film Noir. For first-timers, however, much like the Strike series itself, Jazz will be a genre that they might have to take their time getting used to. The effort will be worth it for those who succeed. In addition to gaining a new taste, and with it a new potential perspective on the world, Jazz is still the perfect background sound to have for the foggy, rain-swept avenues of Denmark Street.

  2. Joanne Gray says

    Mr. Granger and Chris C.,

    Just when I think I know a bit about this series–I read postings on this wonderful blog and realize I need to do a much better job of it with Lethal White!

    Just want to mention the last paragraph on Chris C.’s comments–which also contains a great deal of wonderful insights. You mentioned the tone of the books and the musical style that best fits. I understand and agree about the noir quality of the story–but it’s also a love story at the heart of it. Since I think of jazz as more American (although I understand it has transcended its roots), I feel that something that is more native to the UK and comes from the roots of England’s own musical renaissance of the ’60’s and 70’s and beyond, would better serve the myriad of the book’s moods. A present day soundtrack composer could use the inspiration of that era’s jazz spirit that infused American rock/blues into their own living, breathing work to make them uniquely British creations.

    (*Having said all that, I am currently listening to a cover of the song “Lovely” by two American singers, songwriters by GnuS Cello for cello and piano and I have to say that the music (sans words) is exactly what I think of as a emotional background for the current Cormoran and Robin situation. So it looks like when not in the abstract, I lean more moody romantic.)

    In reading this blog post I became aware of how many bits and pieces I missed that could be markers pointing to Jonny as a potential antagonist, especially about his temper and connection to the drug trade.

    I did think about the Mick Jagger connection (although, I was unaware of all of his heroin connections) but I haven’t read about any of the real life connections to Leda Strike. I have to say that when I read about Leda’s past with Cormoran, I actually think of the real life connections to Christine Assange and her son Julian Assange.

    I have no idea if JK Rowling has read anything about Julian Assange’s gypsy life growing up with his mother and her various boyfriends and husbands, but I find more than a few connections between the two women and their oldest children/sons. One of the first connections being Christine Assange brief first marriage (father to Julian) but he received his last name from his mother’s second husband. Leda was married very briefly to her first husband–the one thing she kept was his name. Years later when Cormoran was born to the unmarried Leda, he received her last name–the name of Leda’s long gone first husband. So not a perfect fit—but using the same pieces.

    Probably the closest fit between the two women and their sons is that both lived extremely nomadic lives with their sons in tow. Both Christine and Leda’s untethered existences, constantly moving (“no direction home”) daily reality of the two boys during their formative years. An existential disconnect that had to be reconciled to others, this very much shaped who and what their sons became. It will also be interesting to see how this is brought out in the future books.

  3. Prof. Gray,

    I’ll admit it, sometimes even I find modern examples of the kind of music you mention that fits the series well enough. One sample was Peter Gabriel’s “Burn You Up, Burn you Down”. It just seemed like a good fit for the themes of the story. In particular, it highlights how the narrative circumstances separate the characters from all the dross they can care grasp after. In particular, the growing rogues gallery of the books definitely fit the song’s theme of Karma and Justice.

    Another one actually belongs to another series. I’m speaking Al Jarreau’s theme song for the TV show “Moonlighting”. That song definitely fits the romantic angle to an extent. I also find the song’s thematic contrast between Night and Day seems to be a neat fit for the two main characters of Strike and Robin very well.

    Despite that, there’s still something about the classic Jazz sound that helps me understand the series as whole. I suppose it’s all a question of where one’s natural emphasis falls. Mine is more of a concern with how the series fits into the Noir genre, and its related history, as a whole. Your emphasis, on the other hand, seems to be a focus on the character dynamics.

    As it turns out, there is a semi-contemporary song, sung by Bob Dylan, that might help one understand both the Romantic and familial aspects of the series. It’s Dylan’s cover of “The Night We called it a Day”. What makes it a help in understanding the character relationships for me is the music video that came as a tie-in. Whether I’m right in this viewpoint is something that will have to be decided by future books. However, I’ve found that the video helps me gain as close of an understanding of the characters of Rokeby and Charlotte as I’m likely to get at this stage of Rowling’s series.

    In particular, it is Dylan’s interactions with the Femme Fatale in the music video that makes wonder if something similar can be for the outcomes of both Rokeby and Charlotte’s narrative arcs (and if Charlotte isn’t meant to be seen as a Femme Fatale foil to Strike, then I truly don’t know who she is). As well as being an interesting way of getting a read on the characters, it also helps by suggesting the idea that the two characters are maybe a part of the traditions of Noir fiction. In other words, the song helps me with at least a potential understanding of Ms. Rowling’s relation to what T.S. Eliot called “Tradition and the Individual Talent”. At least it’s a song and vid worth tracking down if you think it will help.

  4. Beatrice Groves says

    Thanks so much for sharing this! Personally, I find it very persuasive. There is also an additional reason, I think, to the ones you have provided. Which is that *so much* time was given to all the phone conversations and failed meeting with Rokeby in Troubled Blood. It was very clear that Rokeby has real information – not just self-justifying information – to give Strike, which Strike is too angry to hear. A Rokeby/Strike/Leda triangle in book 5 of the series echoing the Snape/Harry/James triangle of HP book 5.

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