Troubled Blood: Chapters Nine and Ten

After yesterday’s jump from the end of Troubled Blood’s Part 1 to Part 2, today we’re all in to the second Part’s foundation of the character story arc for both Robin and Cormoran. In chapter 9, Robin wakes up on her 29th birthday, reads about Creed’s 29th birthday, and, after an exchange with Strike, fumes that he has forgotten her birthday again. Strike interviews Dr. Gupta, Gandhi look-alike, in chapter 10. Both chapters are brilliant set-ups for their parallels in Part 6 and the denouement celebration of Robin’s birthday in the novel’s finale. On to the tweeted challenge-questions and my thoughts below!

The events of chapter 9 in sequence are, first, Robin’s morning reflections as she wakes up on her birthday, reflections that data dump all the reader needs to know about the status of her divorce case, her worries about being forever single and married to the job, and her new apartment and flat-mate Max. She showers, opens her presents, and travels to work reading The Demon of Paradise Park to cheer herself up. She receives two texts along the way. Mom sends a gift certificate or mad money to spend at Selfridge’s. Strike invites her to his interview with Gupta, an invitation she declines. She is more than a little disappointed that her partner makes no mention of her birthday.

Rowling here establishes Robin’s baseline for all that is to follow in her Troubled Blood dissolution and re-integration, all of it “astrologically correct.”

Before we get started, as always, let’s do a little structural field work. For Troubled Blood the novel to work as a ring, Part 2 should parallel Part 6. As I noted in my first week review of Part 6 just after Strike5’s publication, those parallels are easy to spot:

Part Two is the in depth introduction to the Margot Bamborough missing person case, in which Strike speaks with Dr Gupta about all the players and their roles on the day of disappearance, Robin and Strike both read The Demon of Paradise Park about Creed the serial killer, he walks the Clerkenwell streets with Robin to share with her all he has learned from the police file Layborn has given him, and, at the close, we get the first mention of the Talbot’s True Book and his occult fixation in Pitman shorthand (149).

In Part Six, we get the last image of the True Book, Strike speaks with Dr Bijral at Broadmoor, Creed appears in the flesh and confesses to a crime alluded to in Demon, and all the questions raised in the police files, Gupta interview, and crime scene survey of Part Two are answered in the Athorn apartment and the Janice Beattie interview. Parts Two and Six are question and answer, first and last, mirror-image reflections.

We’ll discuss how Part 2 is its own ring, with Layborn’s file as its latch and axis, when we get to the backside of that ring. For now, the larger ring of the novel as a whole is the important thing; Rowling-Galbraith is setting us up for the changes that will take place in her primary characters as well as the mystery-message of the Margot murder in these two chapters.

With Robin in chapter 9, it’s about a Libra woman on her 29th birthday. The 29th birthday is highlighted in Part 2 not only by Robin reading about Creed’s 29th birthday that morning but also by the clinic’s address, revealed in the Part’s last chapter walk to the Three Kings, being 29 Clerkenwell Street. The 29th year is a big deal in astrology, as I explained in my first notes on Part 2:

Perhaps the only really interesting and important thing related to the prime number 29 is that it is the number of years it takes Saturn to complete an orbit around the sun. This is a very big deal among Western astrologers who have dubbed itSaturn Return‘ and who believe the years before and after every twenty nine years after one’s birth are decisive in one’s life (starting at twenty-seven, ending at thirty). Saturn is also the marker of death, so it has notes on its return in the natal chart of momento mori. It’s no accident that Robin is in the crisis she is passing through just now and that it comes in the series nigredo. All of that only in support of our shared conviction at HogwartsProfessor that the coming Troubled Blood parts do not promise sunny days for Robin and Cormoran; astrologer Rowling in this paranormal heavy novel is cueing just that darkness with the number 29.

One of the first big hints that Janice Beatty is the killer is that the planet Saturn on Talbot’s ‘natal’ chart of Bamborough’s death is in Cancer, the nurse’s star sign that the DI assigns as her glyph. That this is Robin’s 29th year and she “wakes up” on her birthday anxious about her condition, “moving in a different direction than the rest of us” as cousin Katie observed and Robin recalls throughout Troubled Blood, means that she is about to confront and change in significant ways her way of seeing the world over the course of Strike 5. “I think I’ve changed,” she tells Strike in Skegness, Part 6, and Strike allows this is true  in observing that she is “exceptional.”

How does chapter 9 establish the base line for this transformation?

We meet Robin here as the archetypal Libra, described this way on a sample astrological website,

Intelligent, kind, and always willing to put others before themselves, Libras value harmony in all forms. Ruled by Venus, the planet of beauty, Libra adores a life that looks good. As the master of compromise and diplomacy, Libra is adept at seeing all points of view, and excels at crafting compromises and effecting mediation between others. This sign has a rich inner life yet loves other people, and they’re always happiest with a large group of friends, family, and coworkers on whom they can count.

Robin, frankly, in her being “always willing to put others before” herself, is something of a doormat for clueless and self-absorbed Sagittarian types. Her signature fragrance at the story start is Philosychos, literally ‘lover of figs’ but assonant with ‘philo-psychos,’ the loving soul.’ As she explains in a rage to the confounded Strike in the street when he tells her to forget about smoothing over the disaster he left behind at the Valentine’s Day Dinner Debacle, “It’s. What. I. Do!” As explained in Troubled Blood: Robin’s Two Perfumes The Meaning of Philosychos and Narciso, Robin’s transformative arc in Strike 5 is in parallel with the challenges Venus gives to Psyche in the myth of Eros and Psyche. In brief, she must transcend her Libran, maternal birthright, become less feminine, even relatively narcissistic (whence ‘Narciso’), to overcome her Veneral foe, Charlotte.

And, painful as that is for her, it is her determined course post Valentine’s Day and Strike’s next day apology, one he makes after a contact with Charlotte. Robin plots to make the Creed interview happen without Strike’s knowledge. She goes to St. Peter’s to talk with Mucci Ricci and meets Luca instead, infuriating Strike but eventually getting him to admit he was wrong. Robin takes a beating at the American Bar, first from the insufferable misogynist Hermes figure catalyst Oakden and then by Strike, but wins the match that night by clocking Saul Morris, Sol Niger, and winning from Sagittarian Strike both the admission she is his “best mate” and the whole Rokeby and Campbell back story package. The parallel in Part 6 is Robin’s sure hand in the Athorn’s apartment, equal parts feminine cajoler and sympathizer with hard edged manipulator to clear the way to the opening of the Ottoman.

That change from Libran doormat to a woman for whom Narciso perfume is a match isn’t nearly as impressive without the picture we get in chapter 9 of Robin as a get-along Libra, unhappy about her boss-partner’s neglect, worried about the conveyor belt she’s riding, all but oblivious to her need for a Saturn Return world-inside-out transformation. Rowling-Galbraith gives us all those astrologically correct touchstones in this chapter.

Strike is clueless heading into his interview with Dr Gupta with respect to the mistake he has made in not remembering Robin’s birthday as well as the Bamborough case as a whole. He doesn’t have the Metropolitan Police file on the case, hasn’t spoken to anyone beside Layborn about it, and heads into this conversation only having read online and in print histories of Margot’s disappearance. Dr Gupta, who describes himself as Bamborough’s “partner” in the Clerkenwell practice, then, is Strike’s and the reader’s introduction to the clinic’s staff and the events of the day she disappeared.

Rowling-Galbraith plants the critical pieces of her effort to be sure we do not suspect Janice Beatty in this conversation. Gupta has nothing but praise for the nurse, the finest with whom he ever worked, a woman who got along with Margot if they had their differences, an admirable single mother, the woman who discovered Brenner’s addiction, a person who raised herself up from an under-privileged background, et cetera. It is critical that we accept all this praise of Beatty lest we examine Janice critically as a potential suspect and Rowling-Galbraith goes all out to get us to accept everything the good doctor says.

He starts out by making the link between himself and Mohandas K. Gandhi, frequently ‘Mahatma.’ Strike allows that there is an undeniable resemblance. Anyone out there think that Gandhi is a bad guy, a sage that you cannot trust?

On that foundation we learn about his family’s suffering during the Partition of India and Pakistan, one of the neglected nightmares of 20th Century history, a horrific blood bath. More sympathy points there, especially because of his observations about Bamborough’s sentimental ideas about revolutions. This is a man of perspective greater than most people’s.

He is a traditional man but no prisoner of typical patriarchal prejudices. He claims he does not lament not having a son and to be proud of his four daughter’s accomplishments. He comments on Bamborough’s feminism with aplomb amounting almost to admiration and condemns Brenner as a man who disliked women especially but was  a misandrist, too, someone who just didn’t like people in general.

We really trust his testimony, though, because he tells Strike that what he recalls of the day-of-disappearance’s events is what he remembers of his police statement. Cormoran thinks this is the mark of an especially thoughtful and prescient witness – and we on board that what Gupta says is to be taken on almost uncritically. “Trust this guy” is communicated covertly and powerfully.

We only learn in Janice’s tell-all conversation at the end of Part 6 that Gupta was a coward she had duped and manipulated with ease. With Strike, we are embarrassed that we never thought of the nurse as a credible suspect and we forget why this is the case. It is because we were primed to trust Gupta and accept at face value all he said about Janice (and he said a lot about her, all positive). Robin calls Creed a “genius of misdirection” and Strike says the same about Janice; it’s the author, though, who has created these characters and hid the true killer who is the real master of narrative sleight-of-hand.

I’ll close these observations with a note that on Robin’s 30th birthday, an occasion Strike goes all out to observe in the novel’s final chapter, he mentions the Part 6 meeting with an Asian doctor at Broadmoor, the meeting in obvious and explicitly noted parallel with the chapter 10 Gupta conversation. Robin is astonished at Strike’s thoughtfulness and says so. His response is that “People can change. Or so a psychiatrist in Broadmoor told me” (925). His story-arc, from bull-headed Sagittarian with an archer’s restricted focus on a target to thoughtful partner, is capped by his recognition of the need for him to deliberately change his birth right behaviors, to be a better man than the cowardly, clueless Dr Gupta whose father went to his grave lamenting he had not defended his family during Partition.

Your comments are welcome, of course! Tomorrow, on to chapters eleven and twelve, in which Strike learns about the Deadbeat’s party and Robin goes shopping at Selfridge’s.

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