Rattenbury–The Sequel: Puns Surrounding the Lethal White Killers.

J.K Rowling’s novels employ multiple types of humor. One of the more subtle is her fondness for puns. For example, Vernon Dursley, drill-maker, is described as wearing his most “boring” tie. The use of the word “serious” in the text upticks significantly in Prisoner of Azkaban, compared to earlier books, pointing to the importance of Sirius Black. The Cormoran Strike series also includes such word-play. For example, in Lethal White, the Norfolk commune is described as “still, for Strike’s money, the worst place that Leda had ever taken them.” As we learn later, this is one of several places that Leda frittered away Rokeby’s child support payments, meaning, she was literally giving them Strike’s money.

After several listens through the Ink Black Heart audiobook, I have begun working back through the rest of the series, in reverse order. I am currently finishing up Lethal White. During my last listen, I spied some puns relating to Raff, Kinvara and the Rattenbury murder, for whom the noisy young Chiswell terrior is named. If you are unaware of this connection, please read my first post on the topic, then come back here to continue after the jump.

Kinvara and Raff, of course, play the roles of Francis Rattenbury’s second, much-younger wife, Alma, and Alma’s much-younger chauffeur, handyman and lover, George Stoner. Note the first mention of Raff in the series.  Robin says:

Didn’t his son get sent to jail for manslaughter not that long ago? That was Chiswell, wasn’t it? His son was stoned and driving and he killed a young mother?

And later, during the interview in Chiswell House, Rattenbury makes one of his frequent interruptions, as if trying to alert the detectives to the clue in his name.  No wonder Kinvara wants him to shut up–

The Norfolk terrier that had been shut out of the house suddenly popped up at one of the long windows and began barking at them again.

“Bloody dog,” said Torquil.

“He misses Jasper,’ said Kinvara. ‘He was Jasper’s d-dog—’

She stood up abruptly and walked away to snatch some tissues from a box sitting on top of the gardening books. Everybody looked uncomfortable. The terrier barked on and on…One of the tow-headed children reappeared on the lawn, shouting for the Norfolk terrier to come and play ball. It bounded off again.

“Good boy, Pringle!’”shouted Torquil.

In the absence of barking, Kinvara’s small gulps and the sounds of the Labrador flopping down to sleep again filled the room. Izzy, Fizzy and Torquil exchanged awkward glances, while Raphael stared rather stonily ahead.

Raff makes one final stone-pun in his last encounter with Robin:

After I’ve shot you, your boss’ll be busy answering the press’s questions about how your body ended up in a canal, won’t he? I think that’s called killing two birds with one stone.

The two birds are, of course, Cormorant Shrike and Robin, and Raff himself aspires to be their “stoner.”

Kinvara gets her turn, too.  Her girlish voice is frequently described as “high-pitched” and Alma, of course, was a singer. In the second Chiswell house visit she “sat down, too, her expression stony.”  If that wasn’t enough, when concocting their necklace cover story, Knivara and Raff both refer to the heirloom as having “stones” far more frequently than diamonds.

“Important stones.”

“She had him prise out the really valuable stones

“Ornella’s been having a jolly good laugh every time I’ve been photographed in the necklace, thinking I’m wearing a hundred thousand pounds’ worth of stones

“He’d maybe manage to persuade his mother to give the stones back”

“And are you still trying to recover the missing stones?”

“Unless someone checks the stones, we’re still in the clear.”

Raff also verbally connects himself to servant and chauffeur Stoner when he describes himself as “still treated like a second-class citizen, like a fucking courier, driving all the old paintings up to Drummond in London”  He also links himself punnily to the tell-tale pooch during the Chiswell house interview:

“—waited,’ continued Raphael doggedly, ‘until Kinvara went out one day, called in the vet without telling her and had the horse put down.”

While not every one of these word choices may be an intentional pun, I’d be willing to bet some of them are. Has anyone picked up on other instances of word-play in the Strike series?


  1. Brian Basore says

    A way to overdose on Private Investigators and puns is the Gerry Anderson DVD series “Dick Spanner, P. I.”. The episodes are mercifully short. Sometimes the puns over-run the episode. It was a British show. Maybe JKR knows of it.

Speak Your Mind