Scorecard for Lethal White Predictions: Bullseyes, Near Misses, and Air Balls

In the days before Lethal White’s publication, I wrote out my list of those things which had to happen in Strike4 (because they’d happened in the first three novels) and my off-the-wall guesses of what I hoped to see. I posted both lists here before I had the book in hand.

I’ve written some challenging posts here since Tuesday, the day of publication and when I read Lethal White as fast as I could with any comprehension. Today I want to look back and score my predictions from Monday night. Did I totally bomb my crystal ball test with Professor Trelawney? Or am I the obvious candidate to teach Divination at Hogwarts when there is an opening?

Follow me over the jump for a quick review of what I said would happen in Lethal White and what actually did occur —

Here we go. Original prediction in black, scoring and post Lethal White reading commentary in red letters.

The Fifteen Things that Have to Happen in Lethal White

  1. Crime-Detection-Solution: There is a murder committed and Cormoran and Robin figure it out. Duh.

Bullseye! A freebie…

2. The News Media is Shown in a Bad Light: Reporters are slimy, border-line criminal agents who hound the innocent and bend the truth to their own ends. Strike’s Denmark Street offices will be the scene in Lethal White of journalists and photographers accosting Robin and Cormoran as it has in the first three books.

Strike and Mrs Cunliffe duck the newsies who are prevented from reporting on the Chiswell murder by Della Winn’s “super injunction.” But the sliminess of everything Fourth Estate permeates the long book. Raphael Chiswell gets Robin to meet him at story’s end by pretending to be Matt — and threatening to go to the press if she doesn’t. Robin finds this threat credible and hurries to her wannabe murderer’s location. I’m scoring this a “bullseye.”

3. The Metropolitan Police Fail Again: We’re promised time with a new cop, Vanessa Ekensi, in Lethal White, a character given significant play in the teevee adaptation of Career.  I doubt very much, though, that she will prove in the end to be any more helpful than Carver, Anstis, and Wardle have been. Strike will have to find a way to prove the murderer’s guilt outside the theory accepted by the Met.

Airball. The Met to the amused astonishment of Wardle welcomes help from the C. B. Strike agency; they even get an invite to the center of the Chiswell murder investigation. Vanessa helps Robin through her worst times and gets Strike and Company the information they need.

4. Leg Issues: Strike will once again re-injure or otherwise struggle with his amputated leg.

Bullseye. He is totally incapacitated for a week after over-doing the leg work and knee pain and difficulty moving around is a constant story element.

5. Matt and Robin Will Fight: She sleeps on the couch at least one night in every book. The question in White, though, seems to be if she will leave the loser at last when she learns what he did to her phone before their wedding in Career.

Bullseye. They fight again and again until he starts sleeping with Sarah. She finds out and leaves. Marriage over.

6. Sex-Dead Body-Police: Strike is lucky with the ladies but fornication with the lovely seems to bring him some bad luck. He tends to find a dead body after such trysts and wind up being interrogated by the Met on the next day (note the English Renaissance poetic conceit of conflating sex and death, not to mention the universal joining of sinful pleasure and punishment).

I’m scoring this a ‘Near Miss.’ Strike is sleeping with Lorilei through most of the book until she tires of his sex-and-company-at-meals use of her. She spells out in striking fashion and psychological detail the abusive way Strike treats women, which is sexual pleasure without commitment or responsibility, usually to repress or avoid dealing with painful feelings he has. Strike essentially agrees with the charges against him and the relationship ends. So much for ‘free love between consenting adults’ being painless and victim-free, the Berkeley Dogma. (No, I won’t approve comments from ardent apologists and cranky catechists of that postmodern ‘orthodoxy’ which brooks no heresy. Save your breath.)

This isn’t a ‘Bullseye’ because the dead body is discovered by Robin, not Strike, the day after she fights off Matt’s attempt to sexually abuse her (rip off her green dress, force himself on to her, etc.); the formula is reversed and inverted. Instead of tawdry one night stand outside of marriage instigated by a guy, said sex followed by dead body discovery and police interrogation, we get resistance by the woman to abusive sex within marriage followed by dead body and a relatively short questioning by police. Strike, too, the night before had “done the right thing” and just said ‘No’ to Charlotte’s eagerness to re-unite with him though married and pregnant.

Galbraith is remarkably traditional in Lethal White, almost as squeaky clean and conservative as Rowling was in Harry Potter. Those who are sexually promiscuous or perverse inside or outside of marriage, be they blue-blood aristocrats or wanna-be-plebian Marxists, have disastrous relationships and are unhappy. Those who ‘obey the rules and boundaries’ inside or outside of marriage have strong, meaningful relationships. Funny, right?

7. Robin Promotion: Whether she remains Ms Ellacott or Mrs Cunliffe in Lethal White, the fourth book will end with her elevated status in Strike’s office (yes, assuming that the firing near the end of Career only cemented her true-partner status in the firm).

Bullseye. Even with her PTSD condition, she is a true salaried partner to Strike who, though nominally senior and responsible for her “care,” treats and values her as an equal private investigator.

 8. Shanker Re-Dux: Every book has given us more of Strike’s childhood chum. Here’s hoping that Lethal White will explain the “favor” Strike “called in” in Cuckoo to get information to trade for the Lula Landry file — remember, Shanker does nothing for free, not even for Brother Strike — and why Strike felt he had to ask Shanker in Career if he’d finked on him to Digger Malley. Was Shanker somehow part of the Joint Ops between SIB and the Met Vice Squad back in the day? He’s a known drug dealer after all.

I have to give this a ‘Bullseye’ though we didn’t get any of the information I wanted. Instead we got a near exact repetition of Shanker’s role in Cuckoo’s Calling, the providing of information about a bad guy that the police will accept in exchange for parts of the files and reports on the case Robin and Cormoran are working.

9. Profanity: Robin will say “Bugger” or “Sod you.” Strike will bellow “Bollucks.”

Bullseye. I was only disappointed that Strike wasn’t present to chuckle at her Yorkshire accent when cursing (he is with Charlotte when ‘Bobbi Cunliffe’ calls).

10. Leda’s Death: The narrative slow release about the circumstances of the death of Strike’s mother will continue. Who found the body? What happened at the funeral? Her estate amounted to what exactly?

Air ball. We learn nothing about Leda Strike in Lethal White.

11. SIB Data: We will learn in Lethal White as we have in every bhook so far more of Strike’s memories about his career as an Special Investigative Branch soldier. There’s a trip to Angola, time in Bosnia, a case in Iraq, and of course the “wrongful death” investigation in Afghanistan that we know nothing about except that the last cost him half a leg. How about the medal he earned?

We get one piece of Strike’s SIB history — his investigation of Major Freddie Chiswell’s suspicious death in Basra, Afghanistan (sic, p 88) — so I’m giving this a ‘bullseye.’ Frankly, though, I was hoping for a lot more.

12. The Charlotte Virus: In every book Strike feels the stirrings of his feelings for Charlotte. He describes it as a virus which has reservoired in his body, a disease that prevents him from having real feelings for and relationships with other women. Look for an outbreak of this illness in Lethal White.

I’m going to have to score this a ‘Bullseye’ though I could understand an ‘Airball.’ Charlotte appears and Strike is cold, almost hostile to her; he definitely is not about to roll over to whatever vestigial feelings he has for her. That being said, he does sweat out the night time hours before sleep as he thinks about her before the dreams come. He’s not completely over her yet, not by a long shot. And she, I’m all but sure, has a long term plan for revenge.

13. Psychological Condition: We learn about a mundane or relatively exotic psychological condition in every Strike novel. Rochelle and Lula had their issues in Cuckoo (not to mention “bat shit insane” Bristow), Orlando is mentally challenged in Silkworm (and every writer and publisher is a narcissist), and we meet people in Career, the trans-abled, who want to cut off their own limbs. The excerpt from Lethal White published in The Guardian has already shown us ‘Billy,’ a character with a tic of sorts that Louise Freeman tells me may be “motor stereoptypy rather than a true tic.” Robin and Deebee Mack studied psychology — and we should see more fruits of that in White.

No credit for a ‘bullseye’ here (though I’ll take it!) because, as noted, we met Billy before the prediction was made. The good news is that we see Billy in the epilogue and he has obviously benefited from treatment and medication, if still in the care of his narcissist older brother.

14. Epigraphs: Before every chapter and Part of the book not written by a psychopath. We have a clue that this Strike adventure will feature Catullus; we can be almost sure, though, that there will quotation headers as there have been in the first three books, from Virgil to Jacobean Revenge Dramas to Blue Oyster Cult.

Bullseye on the epigraphs — all from Ibsen’s Rosmersholm — and on the Catullus. Just as glad we didn’t get a Catullus 16 translation in an epigraph…

15. Childhood Chum: Strike, if Lethal White is like the first three books, will feature a meeting or conversation with a friend Strike made in Cornwall or London as a boy. Me? I’m rooting for his best mate, Dave Polworth, to make an appearance in Strike 4, especially if Charlotte returns (Dave understands she is bad news…).

Nick and Ilsa make a brief appearance, Shanker gets a phone conversation, and Spanner and Polworth are mentioned. I expected a bigger role, something akin to the family cab and Polworth scuba diving in Silkworm, but I’ll take the bullseye.

Extra Throw Away Predictions:  (A) There’s more, of course, and I hope you’ll add your ‘Have to Happen’ nominees in the comment boxes below before reading Lethal White. How about Galbraith showing us the murderer in the central chapter of every book so far? (be sure to count the chapters and mark the middle before you begin reading Lethal White early tomorrow morning).

There are 69 chapters in Lethal White which are bracketed by a prologue and epilogue. I cannot say with surety what the central part of the book is (I’d guess before I do the heavy lifting that there are seven sections of around ten chapters each and the fourth part will be between chapters 30-40) but chapter 35 is the one with 34 chapters before and after it — and the last one before Galbraith begins Part 2. Do Kinvara and Raphael appear in it?

Chapter 35 is Robin and Cormoran waiting for the police with only the dead body of Chiswell there to keep them company. They read Kinvara’s farewell letter to Jasper and Robin mentions only one other person in their conversation (she thinks about Charlotte). 

“Raff says he was behaving strangely,” said Robin, “but I don’t think he ever dreamed…” (284)

That’s a bullseye. Granted, a personal appearance even in disguise would have been preferable, but their exclusive mention in conversation is in conformity with Galbraith formula of the revelation of the ending at the story center.

(B) And a birthday, funeral, wedding ‘formal family event’?

We get the Ellacott-Cunliffe wedding reception and Uncle Cormoran’s time with Jack in hospital. Again, not what I expected but enough to credit a bullseye.

Final Score: 14 out of 17 bullseyes with Airballs on problems with the Met and Leda’s back story and a Near Miss on Sex-Body-Police. Not bad but for predictions from story formula that had to happen, a bullseye rate of 82% isn’t especially impressive

On to the SWAGs!

Ten Fun Predictions Pre-Publication for The Serious Student of Cormoran Strike

1 — Echoes of Cuckoo’s CallingIf the Strike novels are a seven part ring composition that is somehow running in parallel commentary with the Harry Potter novels, the fourth book, Lethal White, should echo the first book in the series and point to the finale, 1-4-7. (Listen to this podcast for more on that.) Calling opens with Robin’s engagement with Matt and Strike’s break up with Charlotte Campbell. I’m guessing that White, in reverse echo, will feature the break-up of the Cunliffe marriage and the reunion of sorts between Cormoran and his crazy ex-fiancee, now Mrs Jago Ross. Might Strike fail in his resolve not to see Charlotte because of his frustration about Robin’s marriage to such a loser? I think the pairs work in some kind of reverse parallel until the finale.

Bullseye on the Cuckoo echoes. Read about them here (and share the ones you spotted!).

2 — Cuckoo Characters Redux: On the same theme, I am hopeful that we’ll see two characters from the series opener that had cameo roles not all about the Lula Landry case: Spanner, the tech guru, and Melanie Telford, the journalist who writes the column which introduced Rochelle Onifade. Spanner is somehow related to Nick and Ilsa, I’m guessing Nick’s brother, and I hope we’ll learn in White why he calls Strike ‘Federico.’

Bullseye on a Spanner mention, the first since Cuckoo, and on his being Nick’s brother but an Airball on Melanie Telford. Look for her in the finale? Score this SWAG a Near Miss.

3 — Jonny Rokeby in the Flesh: Yes, I think Strike’s supposed biological father is the Big Bad Guy of the series and that he arranged the death of Leda Strike (see Heroin Dark Lord 2.0 for all that). Again, if Lethal White is a corresponding chapter akin to Goblet of Fire, Rokeby should appear at the end of the book in the flesh. It’d be nice, too, if we learned about Strike’s first two meetings with him, events that clearly did not foster any kind of bond between them other than enmity and suspicion.

Airball, squared.

4 — A White Horse: Sheesh, if there’s no white horse in this book, Rowling has gone to a lot of wasted effort with her clues. See my review of the hints and pictures here and Beatrice Groves’ fun guess here. Yesterday Rowling told the New York Times there was an Olympic backdrop in White, which brings us full circle back to our original guesses about the meaning of the fourth book’s title.

Bullseye. There are so many white horses in Lethal White that characters laugh about it. I’ll post about the many seen and unseen white horse sightings we’re given, Did you notice that the epigraph for chapter 35, the story pivot, is Ibsen about a white horse?

5 — Birthdays: I’m hopeful that Strike or Robin finally does the math on his conception to figure out that he couldn’t be responsible for one of Jonny Rokeby’s divorces. Which should raise questions about the reality of Rokeby’s paternity and Leda Strike’s death…

Airball, again! Nada on this and not even a cake with candles for anybody.

6 — Speaking of Confused Dates: Strike tells us in every book that the dates Charlotte gave him for the conception of their child “did not add up” and that his pressing for clarification caused their split. When Ms Campbell-Ross returns (Godiva-like? On a white horse?), I have to hope she gives us at least a clue about this problem — and if she was the one to send the Strike office the huge bouquet of red roses in Career.

Near miss. Charlotte does bring up the dates of her baby with Strike’s conception and Strike’s difficulty with what little she told him. But we’re not given any new information, just a ‘Live and In Person’ marker.

7 — The Radford and Khan Cases: Strike mentions two cases he loses in Career due to the arrival of a leg in his offices and the attendant publicity. We’re given an office power-relations diagram for what seems to be the Radford case. I suspect this will take off in Strike 5 in parallel with Career where the idea is introduced, but, besides this desire for a neat ring, we’ve been told the core mystery of White will be on a country estate or manor house.

Though I was back pedaling hard away from this prediction even while making it, it’s an airball. I’ll take extra credit, though, for it being right in Strike 5.

8 — P. D. James Echo: Rowling is really a big P. D. James fan, so much so that she rarely mentions her preferred source for great names, Pettigrew to Peverell, and story plots lest we grasp how great an influence she was. I’ve read the complete James this year, believe it or not, and I can tell you almost every one centers on a house or building that was built in the days of Britain’s glory and which has been reconfigured to postmodern uses, almost always a change acting as social and political metaphor in James’ more-than-capable hands. Look for this in White.

I think this is a bullseye and will explore it at greater length in a devoted post. The Chiswell Estate in the shadow of the Uffington Horse and Dragon Hillis a snapshot of the great decline in British aristocracy since the fall of the Empire in the post war decades. The house is falling to pieces with only remnants of its former greatness; the family inhabiting it have the pretense and some of the money of their ancestors but next to none of their nobility.

The Stubbs painting part of the story? I first heard of Stubbs in my James reading and I’m pretty sure this is a straight lift from a Dagleish mystery. I’ll track that down — there are 17 of those novels! — and get back to you.

9 — The SIB/Vice Squad Joint Ops against the Digger Malley ‘Drug Ring:’ It’s only mentioned in an aside in Career but it flips Wardle out and potentially at least it could be the event that leads us to why Strike’s Viking was blown up in Afghanistan. I’m hopeful something Anstis says to him triggers Strike’s repressed memory about the fateful day he lost a leg.

Nothing but air here. I think I mentioned in my original Heroin Drug Lord post that this would almost surely be revealed in Strike 5 in correspondence with the Prophecy’s appearance in Phoenix, but, still, not a mention or reference to anything like this in Lethal White.

10 — Rokeby Family News:love reading whatever is offered about Strike’s relationship with Rokeby. Career was something of a disappointment in this regard. Where was brother Al, the AmerAnglican? I’m hoping that Strike’s Aunt and Uncle will tell him, too, about how Leda’s child support money from Rokeby was “tied up” so she and her various boyfriends couldn’t waste it. Which leads to an investigation or just grounds for suspicion (we know already that Cormoran doesn’t trust Al) of the tabs Rokeby has kept on his love-child.

Another airball, alas.

Final SWAGs Score: Three Bullseyes, Two Near Misses, and Five Airballs.

40% for wild guesses is probably a better score than 82% on sure things, especially as four of the airballs and one near miss may crop up in Strike 5! Lemmeno in the comment boxes if you would have been more or less generous in the scoring. Stay tuned, too, for more Lethal White discussion tomorrow — exciting times, no, for Serious Strikers and Rowling Readers?

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