Troubled Blood: Chapters Five and Six

Onward and upward in my brief exegesis of each chapter of Troubled Blood! Today, chapters five and six, Robin meets with Strike briefly at The Moor in Falmouth and they have their first meeting together with Anna Phipps and Kim Sullivan (with Cagney and Lacey) to talk about the Margot Bamborough case.

Of the more than seventy chapters in Troubled Blood, chapter five is the shortest, one that barely advances the plot, and one I have to think editors eager to demonstrate their mettle would urge cutting out entirely. It serves several functions, however, that are notable.

First, and least obvious I suppose to anyone not looking for such things, it acts as an echo to chapter 3 in Part 1’s seven part ring. That ring has its latch in chapters 1 and 7, its turn in chapter four as discussed yesterday, and its turtle-back lines in chapters 2 and 6 as well as 3 and 5. The chapters two steps away from the turn, fore and aft, 2 and 6, are meetings with Anna and Kim, first in St Mawes outside the Victory, then outside Falmouth. The chapter just before the turn has Strike discussing the Bamborough case over the phone when she is in Torquay and He in Cornwall; they set up their meeting in Falmouth. The chapter just after the turn, then, is that meeting in Falmouth where they continue to talk about the cold case. For the Part 1 ring to ‘work,’ chapter 5 has to exist.

More obvious and perhaps more important to non-Formalist readers, the meeting takes place in The Moor and Robin has her first Troubled Blood encounter with grumpy, irascible, and privately suffering Strike. Driving the Land Rover, she picks him up again in just this condition on his birthday and in London after one of his trips to St Mawes. This is the ‘black’ or nigredo Strike, whence their meeting in The Moor, a not especially subtle allusion to Shakespeare’s Othello, a brilliant and much-lauded general but a clueless man who suspects his partner of  infidelity. Strike does just that later in the book in his suspicion that Robin is in a relationship with the book’s other allusion to Othello, Saul Morris (‘Morris’ is from ‘Maurice’ which, again, comes from ‘Moor’).

[For the man-woman soul and spirit psychomachia of Othello, I recommend Martin Ling’s Sacred Art of Shakespeare, pp 56-77. It’s very helpful for grasping the allegory of Cormoran and Robin’s relationship, believe me.]

Strike does not get over his Sagittarian aversion to sharing his inner pain, not to mention physical agony like he suffers in the Moor, until the Valentine’s Day argument, the American Bar fight’s aftermath, and his surrendering to Robin about her meeting with the Riccis. Like the Redcrosse Knight in Faerie Queene’s Book 1, Strike has to be broken down repeatedly to achieve humility and appreciation of Una, the spirit guiding his soul’s journey to the battle with the dragon (and Duessa). His behaviors in The Moor coffee shop — cursing the wait staff, furious about misbehaving children and negligent parents, his inability to admit to Robin that he is great pain after falling on the ferry — are all Part 1 markers of the person he is and what must be broken down in the Black stage of his alchemical transformation.

So, yeah, don’t cut out chapter five’s three and a half pages.

I’m afraid I have much less to say about the much longer chapter six, in which Robin and Cormoran meet Anna Phipps and Kim Sullivan in their flat to talk about the Bamborough case.

The structural elements are it is the latch with Part Seven’s first chapter where the foursome meet again in the couple’s London flat, albeit with Roy and Cynthia Phipps and Oonaugh as well. Anna wears the same clothes in both scenes and the two chapters work as question and answer opening and close on the case. As noted above, chapter six matches with chapter two’s meeting of Strike with the couple outside the Victory, a conversation mentioned several times in chapter 6.

Why are Robin and Strike so eager to take on this case? Strike is on call to leave London at any moment to help the Nancarrows as Joan dies. They have a full case load and a waiting list, even if Robin has broken the Tufty Trigamist case. The Bamborough case promises to be a first class head-ache, especially as they have no surety that they will be able to get the police file and they know very well that, after almost forty years, many of the principals and suspects will be dead. Solving the case is extremely unlikely. But Strike and Robin both seem determined to take it on, waiting list customers be damned. What’s up with that? Beyond, of course, the need for the novel to progress.

I think we’re meant to reflect on how the Bamborough case resonates with Robin and Cormoran individually. Margot dies at 29, Robin’s age, and she was a woman who had worked her way from Bunny Girl to MD. She was in a bad marriage with a child, a relationship with an uncommunicative man who neglected his emotional responsibilities to his spouse. Outside of the child, this clicks many of Robin’s boxes with respect to Matt Cunliffe and Cormoran Strike. Margot haunts Robin throughout the book as if demanding she not let Strike be to her as Roy Phipps, King Phillip, was to her, Queen Elizabeth.

To Strike, the Bamborough case is more about Anna-Una and becoming the man he needs to be to slay the Creed-dragon and reveal Janice/Janus/Duessa. Mother Margot has been gone from her daughter’s life as long as he has been alive. This resonates with his Troubled Blood agonies as a son without a proper mother, whose biological mother was a mystery of care and neglect and whose adoptive mother in infertile Aunt Joan is now dying of ovarian cancer.

What Strike has to recognize intuitively is that he wants to avoid becoming what Anna and Kim are as a couple, not to mention Roy and Cynthia, These pairs are both prisoner-couples, shackled to unresolved past events about a wife and mother. Anna has married a woman who is the spot-on image of her missing mother, which is to say, a take-charge, no bullshit doctor, super protective of Anna, who is tall, blonde, and leggy — call her Brunhilda. Roy has married the woman who was acting mother to his child with Margot, a dyslexic child he can dominate effortlessly and who even has the same surname as his own mother. Strike has to transcend his inheritance, the mystery of Leda Strike and the Nancarrows, and simultaneously embrace his birth-right, his astrological and psychological gifts, in addition to being a Western Man, the archetypal outsider.

I think we get our first view of this drama in Kim and Anna’s apartment — and it is these reflections of the Strike-Ellacott challenges in the Bamborough story and Anna need for resolution that excites the detectives about taking the case. Let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!


  1. Cheryl Sabas says

    ON a re-read, Anna mentions a rabbit pajama case where she kept things just as Dodo does in the Silkworm. I don’t know if this has anything to do with anything, but the detail came up in Chapter 6.

Speak Your Mind