Troubled Blood: Chapters 13 and 14

The last day of posting in a week of reviewing the first two Parts of Troubled Blood, chapters 1 to 14!

Today, I want to talk about the Walk from the Clerkenwell Clinic to the Three King’s Pub and then the finale of Cormoran’s first review of what he found in the Metropolitan Police cold-case file, the discovery of a secret message in code. It’s a strong finish to the introductory data dumps and foreshadowing in Rowling’s longest novel to date and it has some fun echoing of previous Strike mysteries for the die-hard fan to savor.

We’ll start with the long walk in chapter 13 from Margot Bamborough’s point of origin on 29 Clerkenwell Street to her supposed destination-never-reached, the Three King’s Pub.

Join me after the jump for the answer to that ‘Name The Chapter!’ challenge and a thought about the embedded clue to the mystery of both books hidden in the Walk!

There are a lot of connections between Cuckoo’s Calling and Troubled Blood, which the Parallel Series Idea posited pre-publication was going to be the case because of the host of parallels connecting Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with Order of the Phoenix. We were so sure that these connections between Strikes 1 and 5 would exist that Louise Freeman posted a catch-all piece here at HogwartsProfessor the week of publication so Serious Strikers could share their finds: Place Holder Post #3: Cuckoo-Blood Parallels. I think I’ve read that thread three or four times in the last two years and each reading made me shake my head and laugh; the number and quality of the parallels is a hoot.

One that isn’t on that list, though, and I think is pretty important is that in both Cuckoo’s Calling and Troubled Blood Robin and Cormoran “take a walk” to explore the scene of the crime.

In Strike 1, the detective and his temporary secretary interviewing for better jobs explore the visible exterior area of the Kentigern Gardens building from which Lula Landry supposedly jumped (Part 2, chapter 2; pages 65 to 71). Strike invites his secretary to join him only because she seems worried that the Temporary Agency is going to send someone to the office to see if Strike hasn’t hired his ‘temp’ without paying them the obligatory ‘recruitment fee.’ He finds himself showing off a bit to impress her, hurting his stump of a leg, and chastising himself for such foolishness.

In Strike 5, Cormoran has just received the Metropolitan Police’s Bamborough file, worked at mastering its essentials with respect to the day of the doctor’s disappearance (to include a trip to the British Museum to confirm ideas with their press clippings), and then scheduled a date with Robin to walk Clerkenwell as something of a tour guide (Part 2, chapter 13; pages 121-136). He even gets a little put out when she asks a question about the phone boxes: “‘You’ve read the case notes,’ he said, almost accusingly.” This is his show-and-tell as the founding partner to the salaried partner.

That’s an interesting parallel but what I think is much more interesting — and something we have to keep in mind when Cormoran and Robin walk the crime scene in the London graveyard in Ink Black Heart — is that in both books Strike makes an observation that he neglects for most of the consequent investigation but which turns out to be the critical key to unlocking Whodunnit. These walks are simultaneously excuses for dropping a boat-load of information and the perfect place in which to slide the insight-to-be-overlooked that solves the case.

In Cuckoo it is Strike’s review of what is and isn’t possible with respect to Lula’s death if she was pushed from the balcony.

‘But what if the killer was already inside?’

That’s a lot more plausible,’ said Strike, and Robin felt very pleased with herself. ‘And if a killer was already in there, we’ve got the choice between the security guard himself, one or both of the Bestiguis, or some unknown person who was hiding in the building without anyone’s knowledge. If it was either of the Bestiguis, or Wilson, there’s no getting-in-and-out problem; all they had to do was return to the places they were supposed to be. There was still the risk she could have survived, injured, to tell the tale, but a hot-blooded, unpremeditated crime makes a lot more sense if one of them did it. A row and a blind shove.’

Strike smoked his cigarette and continued to scrutinise the front of the building, in particular the gap between the windows on the first floor and those on the third. He was thinking primarily about Freddie Bestigui, the film producer. According to what Robin had found on the internet, Bestigui had been in bed asleep when Lula Landry toppled over the balcony two floors above. The fact that it was Bestigui’s own wife who had sounded the alarm, and insisted that the killer was still upstairs while her husband stood beside her, implied that she, at least, did not think him guilty. Nevertheless, Freddie Bestigui had been the man in closest proximity to the dead girl at the time of her death. Laymen, in Strike’s experience, were obsessed with motive: opportunity topped of the professional’s list. (69)

That’s the first time Strike shares his “means before motive” mantra, but, much more important, is that the killer is revealed as “an unknown person hiding in the building without anyone’s knowledge” and that the critical clue as to who that person is will be found on the second floor porch of the Bestiguis. If all we had about the crime was Strike’s most “plausible” guess about the murderer, he or she would have to be an “unknown Person” “hiding in the building” whose DNA is already in the room. Once you eliminate the building staff and Lula’s friends by checking alibis, that pretty much leaves John Bristow as your killer; the task then is breaking his claim to have been with his sick mother, which Strike does easily in the end.

In Troubled Blood, Robin and Strike both figure out that they are obliged to check to see if there are any residents who have lived along Margot’s route to the Three Kings Pub for the last four decades:

“We can find out how many of these buildings are occupied by the same people they were thirty-nine years ago,” said Robin, “but we’ve still got the problem of how they’ve kept her body hidden for nearly four decades. You wouldn’t dare move, would you?”

“That’s a problem, all right,” admitted Strike. “As Gupta said, it’s not like disposing of a table of equivalent weight. Blood, decomposition, infestation… plenty have tried keeping bodies on the premises. Crippen. Christie. Fred and Rose West. It’s generally considered a mistake.”…

Strike gave the houses a last, sweeping look, then invited Robin to walk on, saying,

“You’re right, I can’t see it. Freezers get opened, gas men visit and notice a smell, neighbors notice blocked drains. But in the interests of thoroughness, we should check who was living here at the time.” (132-133)

But they don’t do that. Only Irene Hickson’s story of the “Applethorpe” madman accosting Dorothy and claiming he had killed Margot Bamborough moves Strike to do the painstaking detective leg work to find the long term residents of Clerkenwell. Wait! Robin tries this approach, but Strike is led by ghosts or astrological influences to have breakfast in Clerkenwell and to call Irene the same rainy morning that Samhairn Athorn walks by to get some chocolate penguins and other grocery staples. Cormoran finds the people “living here at the time” and, eventually, figures out that Margot is there still, too.

Pay close attention when Robin and Cormoran go for a walk in Highgate Cemetery, especially if Strike is in tour guide mode. The answer to the mystery is hidden in the expository data dump.

There’s another tip-off in The Three Kings Pub about Whodunnit. Strike has already told Robin about the three major suspects, all men a la Career of Evil, and talked about Janice the nurse. He is about to close his review of his first reading of the Met file with his discoveries of two secret notes when his lecture is interrupted.

A group of drinkers in Hallowe’en costumes now entered the pub, giggling and clearly already full of alcohol. Robin noticed Strike casting an automatic eye over a young blonde in a rubber nurse’s uniform. (151).

I think this outfit has to qualify as a paraphilia kink not unlike those afflicting Shifty’s Boss and Dr Brenner, but, accurate diagnosis or not, it’s definitely a pointer to Janice Beatty as anything but a woman of Florence Nightingale virtue.

Fun as that embedded clue is, I’m much more interested in the secret messages Strike has found in the mess of the Met file. Rowling-Galbraith is writing as often as not about writing and the experience of reading in her stories which makes her embedded texts especially meaningful. How her characters read the books and messages she has them struggle to understand are either positive or negative models about how we are supposed to be reading the mystery in hand. At the end of chapter 14, Rowling drops a message in a mysterious notation whose deciphered meaning is incomprehensible but which mentions a “true book,” the essential second text within Troubled Blood (The Demon of Paradise Park is a vehicle for information drops rather than a model for interpretation).

“Hang on, Pat, I want Cormoran to hear this,” said Robin, and she changed to speakerphone. “Ready?” came Pat’s rasping voice. “Yes,” said Robin. Strike pulled out a pen and flipped over his roll of paper so that he could write on the blank side.

“It says: ‘And that is the last of them, comma, the twelfth, comma, and the circle will be closed upon finding the tenth, comma’—and then there’s a word I can’t read, I don’t think it’s proper Pitman—and after that another word, which phonetically says Ba—fom—et, full stop. Then a new sentence, ‘Transcribe in the true book.’”

“Baphomet,” repeated Strike.

“Yeah,” said Pat.

“That’s a name,” said Strike. “Baphomet is an occult deity.”

“OK, well, that’s what it says,” said Pat, matter-of-factly.

Robin thanked her and rang off.

“‘And that is the last of them, the twelfth, and the circle will be closed upon finding the tenth—unknown word—Baphomet. Transcribe in the true book,’” Strike read back.

“How d’you know about Baphomet?” asked Robin.

“Whittaker was interested in all that shit.” (153).

Part 2 and chapter 14 close with Strike realizing that the stars in Talbot’s notes are pentagrams and that he is obliged to find the “true book” and come to terms with its occult meaning.

Three quick notes on this.

(1) The Part 2 ring is defined by the Metropolitan Police file on the Bamborough case. It opens in Chapter 8 with Strike discussing the file with a policeman at The Feathers, another throwback to Cuckoo’s Calling and Strike’s meeting in that bar to get access to the Landry case file. Chapter 11, the turn, has the file delivered to the Agency office. It closes with Strike regaling Robin on their walk and over their pints in The Three Kings with all he has learned on his first trip through Talbot’s and Lawson’s notes. Again, like Part 2 as a whole, this is mostly introductory exposition and information dropping on the reader.

(2) The take-away, though, is the “true book,” a text introduced in a language the detectives cannot read and in a message that, once it is translated, is incomprehensible. We never do get an explanation of what Talbot meant byAnd that is the last of them, the twelfth, and the circle will be closed upon finding the tenth—unknown word—Baphomet.” The “unknown word” turns out to be the symbol for Capricorn, the star sign for the person Talbot believed murdered Margot Bamborough, whence, “Baphomet.”

At what point does Talbot find “the last of them, the twelfth” and what does he mean by “the circle will be closed on finding the tenth”? 

The only clue to this, I think, is in the astrological chart Talbot draws for the time and place of Margot’s disappearance (241). The chart only has only ten houses drawn in but if you count houses from the ascendant, the twelfth is Aries and the tenth is Cancer. Talbot’s notes on the twelfth house read, “divinely unscrupulous, sublimely careless” but Aries “true subject certainly not” Capricorn. On Cancer, though, he writes, having circled the constellation sign and Saturn, the planet in this house, “Baphomet’s ruler in” Cancer, “Holy, holy, holy One hundred and fifty six times holy  be OUR LADY  that rideth upon THE BEAST! CROWLEY.” Cancer “knows something, possibly subconscious, has had prior contact with [Capricorn]?”

Strike and Robin only interpret this note about Janice as an explanation of why Talbot kept interviewing her Janice, our Cancer suspect, and asked her to keep a dream diary and consider hypnosis. They never read it in light of the Pitman shorthand note perhaps being Talbot’s conclusion about the case, which is to say that Janice was “OUR LADY that rideth upon THE BEAST,” the demon figure drawn on the last page of the True Book, Saturn being the planet of death marking her as Margot’s murderer.

As important is Rowling’s embedded meaning in her having the first detective name Capricorn as Margot’s killer, a meaning that escapes Talbot, Strike, and Ellacott but which the reader is supposed to grasp as surely as the murderer does in the course of Troubled Blood. It was Roy Phipps who killed Margot Bamborough as surely as Janice Beatty did. If he had been talking with his wife rather than punishing her with a passive-aggressive campaign of silence, the two of them would have had the chocolates analyzed or alerted the police about what happened to Joanna, the wife Beatty killed to gain Douthewaite’s attention. As he admits to Strike, Robin, and his wife and daughter, he killed her by being a ridiculous pouting pig, indifferent to the stresses his wife was experiencing. Talbot’s choosing the Capricorn sign for the murderer signals all that to the attentive reader, albeit in symbol and between the lines, as if it was written in a different language and in code.

(3) Beyond introducing the occult text to come and its importance to Troubled Blood‘s plot line and mystery, the poisoner and the real murderer, then, the Pitman shorthand message informs the Serious Striker that Rowling the artist and amateur astrologer is writing another text well beneath the surface that the detectives, skeptics and nominalists that they are, will never bother to interpret. That’s left for the determined reader to discover and decode.

  • Robin and Cormoran don’t look for what Talbot meant in his secret message written in code, placed in the police file.
  • They don’t interpret the astrological chart in light of the later drawings in the True Book, especially the Whore of Babalon end piece.
  • They never ask a tarot card reader to interpret the Celtic Cross tarot card spread (249) Talbot did.
  • Or the other tarot card spreads, to include Robin’s own.

Most important here, Robin recognizes that the True Book drawings have embedded three card spreads in them:

On the point of replacing the deck in its box, Robin suddenly sat down on the bed and began to shuffle it instead. She was too tired to attempt the fifteen-card layout advocated in the little booklet that accompanied the tarot, but she knew from her exhaustive examination of his notes that Talbot had sometimes tried to see his way through the investigation by laying out just three cards: the first representing “the nature of the problem,” the second, “the cause,” and the third, “the solution.”

She not only doesn’t interpret them herself, she tells Strike pointedly to ignore the pictures and focus on the minutia about the Part of Fortune:

Ignore all the weird tarot drawings,” said Robin. “Look there, though. That sentence between the skeleton’s legs. The little symbol, the circle with the cross in it, stands for the Part of Fortune…”

The Pitman short hand fragment I believe was supposed written by Talbot to be understood by whoever found it and interpreted it correctly, that is, used its message to find the murderer in the True Book, as a key to the occult drawings and his notes.

As written by Rowling-Galbraith, though, true author of the Pitman note and illustrator and annotation writer of the True Book, the message for the reader wanting to get at the depth of the story is to read the tarot card spreads, especially the ones embedded in the incredible drawings.

Has any author ever attempted this kind of iconographic artistry to convey covert meaning well below the threshold text? I cannot think of any. And I really lament that our interpretation of Troubled Blood has not done this work yet, work that will soon be put off in the avalanche of Ink Black Heart notes.

Which brings me to the conclusion of my Parts 1 and 2 chapter commentaries! Only one reader has written a comment about my annotations so I think I can safely stop here, as much as I have enjoyed writing these notes, and focus on trying to do some of the expository work on Strike 5 that we have neglected thus far, namely, interpreting the astrological and tarot card inspired artistry of Rowling’s illustrations, her most ambitiouis and challenging embedded text to date.

Share your thoughts below if you like! More tomorrow…


  1. Hello, John.

    I also have been thinking about the tarot cards since R-G shared the 3 card spread as a Twitter header. What do you mean when you say “Has any author ever attempted this kind of iconographic artistry to convey covert meaning well below the threshold text? I cannot think of any. And I really lament that our interpretation of Troubled Blood has not done this work yet”?

    I enjoy interpreting tarot cards and, even though my interpretations may not be as profound as some of the analysis shared in this blog, I would be willing to give it a try if you told me what is it that you would like to interpret 🙂

  2. The only attempt I know of in published form to identify the embedded tarot card spreads in the illustrations or to interpret the cards was my labored first reading of ‘Troubled Blood’ soon after publication. I hadn’t finished the book, though, so I was guessing blindly and from a very limited knowledge of tarot symbolism (my pile of books on the subject).

    What I will do in the weeks before we have ‘Ink Black Heart’ is write an overview of the True Book pages we were given in Strike 5 and then close-up looks at each page. My emphasis will be on Rowling’s deliberate choices of cards in light of her carefully planned novel rather than on reading the cards as would someone doing a reading his or herself.

    Your reading of the cards, of course, is more than welcome as we move from page to page!

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