Opening Scene of ‘Ink Black Heart:’ Three Ritz Hotel Things I’d Love to Read

At the close of Troubled Blood, our love birds were off to the Ritz Hotel in London to celebrate Robin’s birthday and the successful resolution of the Margot Bamborough case (the place is a head nod to Robin’s suggestion on the night Strike knocked her lights out, blackening both her eyes, that they go to the Ritz, hold the sarcasm). If Ink Black Heart opens where Strike 5 closed — and why not? — I’m hopeful we’ll hear them discuss three things: the painting of Leda and the Swan on the wall, Strike’s health, and the Third Man factor, Jonny Rokeby the living ghost-presence in Cormoran’s life.

For what I think they might say over the champagne tea and buffet — and their conversations are always most interesting if they are drunk or in the Range Rover ancient-of-days — join me after the jump!

(1) Leda and the Swan

The first topic of conversation I hope to read Robin and her partner discussing is the painting of Leda and the Swan at the Ritz’ Rivoli Bar. To learn about this painting, who in Strike fandom found out about it, and its potential meaning, read Beatrice Groves’ Leda and the Swan Mural at the Ritz: A Clue to the Opening of Strike 6? Don’t neglect the comment thread on that post!

[For the deep background and new foreground, the relevant information can be had via the following links. Read about the Rivoli Bar and its decor here. Read Joanne Gray’s post about Leda and the Swan and its importance for understanding the Strike mysteries here. My thoughts about the Yeats poem ‘Leda and the Swan’ and its relevance to Serious Strikers can be read here.]

In brief, I hope Professor Groves is right and that the couple skip the champagne tea in Palm Court — dress code violation? Strike remembers he hates champagne? — and that they head to the Rivoli Bar and are seated beneath one of the pictures with this particular mythological theme. We know that Strike is as fluent in Greek mythology as Rowling is, able as he was in Troubled Blood to name the Roman equivalents of even relatively obscure Greek gods and heroes. It seems more than likely if they are seated under the picture that Robin will comment on it — a memory of Satchwell’s mythic paintings at the gallery in Laemington Spa? — and Strike will be compelled to explain the story.

Can a man who is conversant in mythology and whose mother’s name is Leda and who chose as a young man to become a boxer a la Castor the demigod son of Leda in the myth not know this story backwards and forwards? Won’t the two have a chuckle about her being an extraordinary driver, the 21st century equivalent of Pollux’ expertise with horses back in the day? Yes, those are rhetorical questions. I’m really hoping that Rowling foregrounds at last the mythological backdrop of the series, something long overdue given Strike’s repeated references to mythological topics. And how about Psyche and Cupid/Anteros? Time to touch on the subject of that Cuckoo opening scene Picadilly statue’s correct name!

This, too, could be the perfect segue to a discussion of Oakden’s revelations about Strike’s conception in public in a New York City bar. Strike’s reflections about his parents’ “meeting” and questions about whether his mother was raped or if she set Jonny up for paternity (having failed to bed Eric Bloom? Claiming to have been pregnant?) are natural follow-ups. Whether this is done straight up or in flashback recall a year or so later as was the Cunliffe wedding in Lethal White, the mythology conversation is a great jumping off point for Ink Black Heart. Again, see the Groves post and the comment thread for much of what I have said here.

(2) Strike’s Health — C’mon, the guy is turning 40 in a month from this trip to the Ritz, he’s grossly overweight, his stump’s a mess, and he smokes like a chimney. Robin is always getting Health and Comfort responsibility lectures from her partner. Isn’t it time for her intervention with Tubby’s irresponsibility with respect to his health? If Strike dies or is incapacitated by a stroke or cancer, what happens to the Agency? He cannot realistically expect her to do a Cordelia Gray number.

Now that we know per Nick Jeffery that The Presence vapes and Bea Groves has gone on record with a prediction that Strike will try the alternative to cigarettes in Strike6, why not have Robin bring up the subject at the Ritz, have him say only a poof vapes instead of smokes a proper fag (or say to her that this will undoubtedly be Dave Polworth’s response), and then give in on his birthday when she ‘presents’ him with a manly vape pen? It certainly will be a point of bonding between Strike and his husky voiced secretary, something more congenial than his resemblance to an ex-husband she despises.

If she brings up his smoking and he refuses to consider it, a later meeting with Rokeby, especially if Papa Jonny is ravaged by the prostate cancer that has metastatized throughout his lymph system and viscera, might make him reconsider. Between Aunt Joan’s death and his conversation with the old prostitute on oxygen in Troubled Blood, he might give vaping more thought seeing his father on life support, however effeminate or effected he might think e-smoking to be.

(3) Jonny Rokeby — How does he come up in conversation at the Ritz? This is supposed to be a combination birthday party, victory celebration, and ‘Best Mate’ acknowledgment affair; why would Debby Downer bring the Bad Dad into the discussion, the one subject proven to send the Doom Bar Detective around the twist or out the door?

There are quite a few ways, actually.

  • It could be a natural progression from the mythology discussion. See point one above for that.
  • Robin could bring up their escape from the American Bar and the conversation that was the occasion of her Ritz suggestion, and mention as part of his health check-up that he pledged to download his feelings every once and while about his biological father.
  • It could come up when they talk business and their imminent loss of lease and ejection from Denmark Street tops their agenda, a subject neglected throughout Blood. Who else is going to give them the money to buy a nice office space in hyper-expensive London? Talgarth Road! The Rokeby money Strike has never collected…

However the subject of Jonny Rokeby comes up, I’m hopeful that Robin tells him it’s time to exorcize this demon per Aunt Joan’s deathbed advice (it was in her kitchen really, I know, but she was terminal). I’d like to hear the junior partner suggest he’s overdue to learn what Rokeby wants to spill about their not very well shared past. “Schedule a meeting with the rock star,” she might say, “and I’ll come along to hold your hand and prevent you from coming unglued unnecessarily.” Sound about right?

And that is the impetus to meet with Jonny at last — and for Rokeby to give his son the case he always wanted to investigate. Think Dumbledore in Half-Blood Prince asking Harry to hunt Horcruxes. The Leda Strike suicide cold case! “Whodunnit, Cormoran?” It turns out Daddy wants to know as much as you do. He makes a pitch for the boy to find out before he dies (or writes this in his ghost written autobiography that Strike reads post mortem):

“Here’s all the things you thought you knew were true that weren’t and here’s what we don’t know and need to find out about Whittaker, the Norfolk commune, Uncle Ted’s trip to the Falklands, and those roses sent to your office. Did Charlotte send them? You have no idea how crazy that woman really is, son, and the word on the street about your dead child…”

I can imagine the actual opening of the book being Strike and Robin working this case from their new offices on Talgarth Road. “Yes, Robin, Quine was strung up right over where your desk is now. It smells a lot better in here, though.”

Let me know what you think of these topics and the ones you hope to overhear at the Strike-Ellacott tete-a-tete at the Ritz! If you liked this discussion, say so in the comments and I’ll try to match it with posts about subjects I hope Strike (and Robin?) discuss with Dave Polworth, sister Lucy, and Uncle Ted on their trips to London. Cheers!


  1. Anna Bindoff says

    I think the Rokeby Venus is going to be as key as the Leda legend. The Rokeby name also has very old associations with …knights. Have a look at Sir Thomas de Rokeby (a nice Yorkshire connection for Robin too).

  2. Funny you should mention the roses sent to Robin at the office, as I’ve *just* been rereading the relevant scenes in CoE. Here’s my question: are we *sure* the roses are relevant? I’ve been wondering if the roses are from Laing, and if the card that Robin explicitly mentions neglecting to read is the envelope that she finds later, containing the severed toe.

    Here’s how the scenes go in the book: Robin gets the flowers from an ordinary courier. She leaves them behind on the desk, explicitly mentioning the fact that there was a card and she hasn’t read it. The roses later get moved to the floor by the desk, with no mention of a card. Subsequently, the roses are mentioned as being on the desk again (an error?), still in their plastic wrapping, and now wilted. Robin picks them up and puts them in the bin. Again, no mention of the card. She then deposits a bunch of post on the desk and starts going through it. She gets to the very last envelope and there’s the toe. Couldn’t that envelope be the card that was with the roses all along?

  3. Surely a move to Talgarth Road is a impossibility because it would be a spoiler for Book 2? Like all mystery writers, Rowling takes care to ensure that readers can read the books in any order and not be spoiled about the rhythm of the central mystery.

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