Troubled Blood: Chapters 11 and 12

Home stretch for Troubled Blood, Part 2, chapters 8 to 14! Today we take a closer look at the very brief chapter 11, in which Strike is hit with a combination punch via text messages, and the more substantial chapter 12, Robin’s birthday reflections and trip to Selfridge’s to shop for a new signature scent.

In the discussion of chapter 9 yesterday I shared the question-and-answer relationship of Parts 2 and 6 in Troubled Blood. The short course is that the second Part spells out all the questions that have to be answered and introduces all the critical characters that must be interviewed for the story resolution in the sixth Part to be satisfactory. I mentioned briefly, too, in the super-challenging chapter 8 review, that Part 2 is a seven piece ring that has chapter 11 as its turn. Which it is! Join me for that and a little more after the jump.

Only chapter 3 at three and a half pages is shorter than the four page chapter 11. But it serves an important structural function. From my first reading of Part 2 the week of Strike 5’s publication:

For a seven part ring, chapter 11 is the natural center, the fourth of seven parts. Strike is in transition between his interview with Gupta and London, literally on a train — not in a pub, not ruminating on Bamborough case details, not a real strong echo, therefore, with the latch of Part Two. The significant connection is that Strike hears from Layborn about the Metropolitan Police file discussed in chapters 8 and 14 and that he will be delivering copies of the four boxes to Strike’s office. That will have to serve as the Part Two axis, then, if it is a ring.

The central piece of a ring, in addition to linking beginning and end, should provide the take-away meaning for the whole. If that is the case, I think it is Strike’s realization after his conversation with Margot’s partner that he is beginning to think of her now as a real person rather than as a concept or flat surface reality (Robin has the same thoughts at the beginning of the last chapter).

That is what Part Two does; we get three increasingly deep dives into the case and how it was investigated in chapters 8, 10, 13, and 14. Part One of Troubled Blood was prologue, i.e., the hiring; Part Two is the case details.

Strike receives messages from Al Rokeby and from Ilsa that are profoundly revealing, Strike’s shadow reality made exterior, namely, his suppression of all thinking about his father’s side and about his feelings for and obligations to Robin. These messages coupled with the great news about the Met file are a snapshot of both Part Two (chapters noted above) and the Strike-Ellacott drama (the Robin chapters 9 and 12, with chapter 8’s call from Charlotte). Chapter 11 is a short chapter but a brilliant center to Part Two’s ring.

Rowling-Galbraith’s short chapters, it seems, are often the most meaningful and easily over-looked. Reading them through a structural-focused lens, however, reveals chapter 11 as the ‘joint’ of Part 2, whose “meaning is in its middle.”

Chapter 12 is all in the perspective of unhappy Robin on her 29th birthday. She meets with the Weatherman and his wife, who present the new postcard that Robin uses eventually to break the case, receives a thoughtless birthday present and unwelcome kiss from Saul Morris as well as cards and a purse from Barclay and Pat, talks with Strike about Gupta, Layborn, and her birthday, and shops Selfridge’s for a new perfume with the gift certificate from her parents. Robin is grumpy and uncomfortable throughout the chapter, a continuation of her mood from her wake-up in chapter 9 that she is 29, not getting any younger, and her partner is an ox and moron when it comes to birthdays and personal relationships, insightful and thoughtful as he may be otherwise.

I have discussed the mythological content and meaning Rowling-Galbraith invests in the two Robin perfumes that Strike likes, namely, Philosychos and Narciso, in Troubled Blood: Robin’s Two Perfumes The Meaning of Philosychos and Narciso. If I say so myself, the ideas in that post are perhaps as important as understanding the author’s use of flower-names in Harry Potter. What I wrote there, though, makes no mention of the “classic” fragrance — yes, the perfume counter sales people call all their wares “classics” — she chooses on her birthday, ‘Fracas,’ a tuberose heavy scent that is soon given up. It gives her head-aches and Strike associates the smell with a perfume worn by Lorelei, an old girlfriend who confronted him with his abusive behaviors (in brief, he treated her as a combination restaurant-brothel).

I won’t beat this to death, but the name and the scent are suggestive of Robin’s state of mind at the story’s start, her birthday, which the Serious Striker wants to know well because the closing chapter is her 30th birthday, on which she also purchases perfume with someone else’s money. What do ‘Fracas’ and tuberose tell us about Robin at the beginning of Troubled Blood?

The American Heritage Dictionary reports that ‘Fracas’ means:

  1. A noisy, disorderly fight or quarrel. synonymbrawl.
  2. A disorderly noise or uproar; a brawl or noisy quarrel; a disturbance.
  3. An uproar; a noisy quarrel; a disturbance; a brawl.

Not to belabor the obvious here, but Robin’s choice of a perfume with this name says simultaneously that she is in a fighting mood and she will either get the attention she deserves or make a scene. Both these ideas are about as big a departure from the ‘get along’ doormat archetype of a Libra as you can get. Robin is tired of being overlooked and taken for granted by Strike and we see her coming out on this point throughout Troubled Blood, most notably in the street fracas on Valentine’s Day, immediately after the punch thrown in the American Bar, and in her reading Strike the riot act after visiting with Luca Ricci at St Peter’s. She may only wear Fracas for a short spell, but she is in the mood for Fracas throughout Strike 5 — and succeeds in making the point to Strike about his neglect of her much better than Lorelei could.

The tuberose scent itself is interesting, too. My mother rarely wore perfume and my wife and daughters never do so I confess to being absolutely clueless on the subject of fragrances in general and tuberose specifically. A quick Duck Duck Go search, though, reveals that tuberose is not associated with brawling. Just the opposite.


The natural properties of tuberose flowers and their absolutes would be antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory. Various chemical compounds produce a pleasant smell that relaxes the nerves, muscles, and brain.

Tuberose perfume can help calm the soul and reduce tension, anxiety, stress, anger, and depression. The pleasant fragrance is also beneficial for developing intuition and solving problems.

The tuberose flower is toxic in its nature and inedible like the flower lily. Two varieties of tuberose are majorly used – “Usual tuberose” is used as notes in perfumery for its powerful organoleptic properties. Another variety, known as Pearl tuberose“, is used to compose floral decorations.

In Latin America, pearl tuberose is an essential part of bridal bouquets and is placed at the entrance of the house to welcome guests with its magical fragrance.

The salesperson in chapter 12 sells this to Robin as “Sexy but grown-up, you know? It’s a real classic.”

And in that moment, Robin, breathing in heady, luscious, oily tuberose, had been seduced by the idea of becoming, in her thirtieth year, a sophisticated woman utterly different from the kind of fool who was too stupid to realize that what her husband told her he loved, and what he liked taking into his bed, bore about as much resemblance as a fig to a hand grenade. 

That last observation comes from Philosychos meaning ‘love of figs,’ something not mentioned in text, and Sarah Shadlock’s perfume coming in a bottle shaped like a hand-grenade. The scorned and neglected Robin clearly is in the mood for a fracas and in need of tuberose’s “antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory” properties. The “heady, luscious, oily” version, though, proves too much for her. She’ll have to wait until she has thrown off her maternal and comforting Libra mantle sufficiently to put on Narciso, a smell and person that Strike embraces in the end after the trials of Troubled Blood

Tomorrow we take the long walk through Clerkenwell and have a good chat about the Metropolitan Police file on the Bamborough case in The Three Kings. See you then!

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