Troubled Blood Chapters Seven & Eight

Today’s chapter pairings include the end of Troubled Blood Part 1 and the beginning of Part 2. Each is something of an information dump, with chapter 7 catching us up on the slate of cases the Strike Agency is working as well as new hires like Pat and Saul and chapter 8 featuring a meeting with Layborn at the Feathers to talk about getting the Bamborough cold-case file and a reading from The Demon of Paradise Park. Amongst all the set-up and background data, however, Rowling drops important markers about what the story to come is about, which will be the focus of today’s tweet-question-and-post-answer. Enjoy!

We’ll start with the necessary structural note here before attempting an answer to today’s tweeted challenge.

Chapter 7 is the close of Part 1’s ring so we should detect strong echoes of both chapter 1 and chapter 4, the beginning and turn of the ring respectively — and they’re there. Anna and Kim are present but silent at The Victory in chapter one; they are not present and vocal in chapter seven, in which phone conversation the investigation into Margot Bamborough’s disappearance is made official. Chapter one’s uncomfortable conversation with Dave Polworth about Cornish nationalism is matched by Robin and Strike’s brief discussion of Social Identity issues and Strike’s allusion to Polworth in this regard. That’s a latch. Strike brings up his fight with half-sister Lucy, the main event of chapter 4, too, in his conversation with Robin on the drive ‘home’ so the link to the Part 1 turn is made. 

I think the main event of chapter 7 is Robin’s attempt to enlighten Strike with a discussion of “social identity theory’s” “implications for businesses as well as society,” the business here being specifically detective agencies. Strike promptly falls asleep, which is a nice metaphor for Robin’s point, that is, people in general are clueless and indifferent to an important psychological reality, namely, biased thinking. She explains her “application of social identity theory to detective practice:”

“In essence, we tend to sort each other and ourselves into groupings, and that usually leads to an overestimation of similarities between members of a group, and an underestimation of the similarities between insiders and outsiders.”

Strike, as noted, makes the connection between this idea and Polworth’s beliefs about the Western Men versus Londoners. That has interesting implications for the transformation Strike has with respect to his Cornish identity; he resists it at the start because he thinks of it as “blood and soil” nationalist prejudice but comes to embrace the reality of his roots by the time he serenades Robin with ‘Trelawny’ in Skegness. With respect to the Bamborough case, however, Rowling-Galbraith is telling us pretty much up front by saying the important thing here is its “application” to “detective practice” that the case will be solved only when the investigators are able to get past their “overestimation of similarities between members of a group,” most notably, the prejudice in favor of nurses (and astrological Cancer sun-signs!)

The author repeats this theme on the walk Strike and Ellacott make from the medical practice to The Three King’s pub:

“Churches are good cover for killers,” said Strike. “Sex offenders, too.”

“Priests and doctors,” said Robin thoughtfully. “It’s hardwired in most of us to trust them, don’t you think?”

“After the Catholic Church’s many scandals? After Harold Shipman?”

“Yes, I think so,” said Robin. “Don’t you think we tend to invest some categories of people with unearned goodness? I suppose we’ve all got a need to trust people who seem to have power over life and death.”

“Think you’re onto something there,” said Strike, as they entered a short pedestrian lane called Jerusalem Passage. “I told Gupta it was odd that Joseph Brenner didn’t like people. I thought that might be a basic job requirement for a doctor. He soon put me right.”

Rowling-Murray is married to a doctor and obviously favors that profession both personally and in the generosity of her philanthropy via the Volant Trust. She is as obviously prejudiced against church authority and “church-goers,” those she usually calls “fundamentalists” in interviewers. I suspect she is equally aware of both prejudices and their consequent blind-spots. In Troubled Blood, we have seen the consequences of trusting beloved nurses too much. I suspect in Ink Black Heart or Strike 7 we are going to learn about the origins of Strike’s distrust of “vicars” and “mediums” and how this bias, however deserved, blinds him to spiritual reality.

The first chapter of Troubled Blood, Part 2, is chapter 8. It is the beginning of another seven chapter ring, one that turns on George Layborn’s provision of the Metropolitan Police cold case file on the Bamborough Case. In the opening chapter he meets with Strike to discuss the case and pledge that he’ll try to get him a copy of the file. In chapter 11, the ring’s turn, he calls to say he’s got it and will drop off the four cartons of material at Strike’s office. Chapter 14, the last piece of Part 2 finds Robin and Strike in The Three Kings going through the file.

[I am tempted to go down the rabbit hole here of the parallels with Strike’s meeting in The Feathers pub with another Metropolitan policeman in search of the Lula Landry file in Cuckoo’s Calling. See the post about the echoes between Troubled Blood and Cuckoo’s Calling for more on that.]

The information drop in chapter 8 — and almost every chapter in the first two parts of this very long novel have data dumps to set-up the story properly — is about Dennis Creed. Layborn talks about the Talbot and Lawson investigations of the Bamborough largely in relation to the one starting out with the conclusion and the other working himself to the same end of Creed being the killer. Strike spends the greater part of the chapter reading a Creed biography, The Demon of Paradise Park, in which the reader is treated to the horrific conception — incestuous rape — of the serial killer and the as disturbing abuse he suffered as a child. That nightmare reading begins with his mother, Agnes Waite, explaining how she prevented her step-father and Creed’s biological father from killing the baby at birth; her part of Creed’s history ends with her lament, after learning what he’d grown up to do, that he hadn’t been killed at birth.

“After the trial was over, I thought back to him, all naked and bloody on the lino where I’d had him, with my stepfather standing over us, threatening to drown him, and I swear to you now,” said Agnes Waite, “I wish I’d let it happen.”

Strike quotes Waite’s reasoning, however, later in this chapter as he reflected on the phone call he’d received from Charlotte Campbell Ross. Waite explained she’s kept Awdry from murdering her baby because of her attachment to the baby post partum:

“He took the baby out of my arms as soon as I’d had it and said he was going to kill it. Drown it in the outside toilet. I begged him not to. I pleaded with him to let the baby live. I hadn’t known till then whether I wanted it to live or die, but once you’ve seen them, held them… and he was strong, Dennis, he wanted to live, you could tell. …

“I used to wonder about him, how he was and that,” Agnes said. “Obviously, you do. Kids come out of you. Men don’t understand what that is. Yeah, I used to wonder, but I moved north with Bert when he got the job with the GPO and I never went back to London, not even when my mum died, because Awdry had put it about that if I turned up he’d kick off.”

Strike repeats the “Kids come out of you” line in his attempt to understand why Charlotte had stayed with Jago after she’d birthed the twins (she had told her ex-lover that she would leave them as soon as they were born). Troubled Blood is a survey of sorts of every kind of human relationship or marriage, especially with respect to children. We see a foster family, an especially fertile trigamist, a married couple unable to bear children, a lesbian couple with pet cats, a heteronormative family with baby celebrated by all its relations, a marriage (like the Murrays) with its own offspring and one child from a previous marriage and haunting history, a liaison ending in an ectopic pregnancy (and probable death due to lack of medical care), an engagement won via pregnancy, and a woman who bore a child in hopes of winning a wedding ring, hopes that failed. Agnes Waite isn’t the only woman in Troubled Blood that wishes she had killed her child. We even have a strong suggestion that Carl Oakden, archetypal misogynist and Hermes figure, killed his grandmother when he was a boy. Children can be dangerous seems to be the message.

All of this is set-up for the big reveal in Part 6’s interview with Gloria Conti in which the reader learns at last about the murder that is at the bottom of the Margot Bamborough disappearance, the infanticide at the Bride Street Clinic of Conti’s child, one fathered by the Luciferian Luca Ricci. Conti is clearly very much of two minds about what Bamborough coached her to do and walked her through. She simultaneously believes that the doctor “saved my life” and laments her baby’s death every year on the anniversary of the foeticide.

Here the woman rather than the man has been the object of manipulation by pregnancy; Ricci wanted to make Conti pregnant to be sure she’d marry him, just as Leda Strike worked it with Rokeby and Fantoni, Sarah Shadlock had become pregnant to win Matt Cunnliffe and, I think, Jeff Whittaker used baby Switch to manipulate Leda (though not into marriage). This ‘trick’ is central to Rowling’s work and is reflected in every book she has written except The Ickabog and Christmas Pig, almost surely a reflection of Rowling’s own conception outside of marriage and difficult relationship with her father. See Louise Freeman’s review of this trope in the other Strike novels and review Rowling’s work for other examples if you doubt this. Everyone from Bellatrix Lestrange to Krystall Weedon works this trick, and Merope Gaunt’s attempt with Tom Riddle, Sr., results, a la Creed, in the creation of the Dark Lord, the foundation of the Hogwarts Saga’s core antagonist.

To answer my tweeted question of the day, the overlap between the Creed biography and the Campbell-Ross call is Strike’s take-away about the connection of women to the children they conceive and especially those they bear. He does not connect the dots about what he learns about the foeticide in Bamborough’s name in Oakden’s book with Gloria Conti and the appearance of the Riccis at the Christmas Party. The reader is left to ponder on Bamborough’s actions in Conti’s case, especially in light of the doctor’s unforced confession that he had changed her mind completely after Anna’s birth about the justice and injustice of pre-natal infanticide.

Rowling-Galbraith uses a mother’s love as the touchstone in all her works for the selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional love of God. Troubled Blood and the Strike series as a whole is in large part an exploration of how this self-transcending maternal and Christ-like love and its demands are to understood in light of an individual woman’s vocation and her suffering if a victim of a man’s abuse. Chapter 8 with its descriptions of Creed’s conception, birth, and nightmare murders and the echoing of the mother’s cry, “Kids come out of you, men don’t understand what that is,” highlights this theme for the first time. It introduces all the parent and children examples to come and the big reveal of the Conti trip to the Bride Street Clinic that finally breaks open the Bamborough case and the metaphor of her death encased in cement like a pearl in its oyster (‘Margot’ is from ‘Margaret’ the Grek word for ‘pearl’) or a fetus forever in its womb.

Let me know what you think!


  1. Interesting q&a’s, John.

    There’s one thing that I see diffierent, though. You say in your post that “the murder that is at the bottom of the Margot Bamborough disappearance” is Conti’s abortion, but I think that, although it is important because it lead Cormoran and Robin to link the dots, the murder that is at the bottom of Margot’s disappearance is the death of Scorpio, aka Douthwaite’s lover. Even thouugh Irene told Janice about the clinic’s phone call, Janice didn’t care that Margot had an abortion. All she cared about was not being exposed as a poisoner.

    I’m looking forward to reading tomorrow’s questions 🙂

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