Troubled Blood Chapters Three and Four

RGalbraith tweeted two questions yesterday about the first fourteen chapters of Troubled Blood to encourage new readers to discuss the story as they are reading it. We have been discussing Troubled Blood in some depth since its publication for attentive re-readers so I started tweeting a question for each of the novel’s first two Parts, the fourteen chapters, and posting my answers here for those wanting more challenging conversation.

Yesterday it was the first two chapters; today I’ll be taking a deep dive into chapter 3, Robin on the job in Torquay, and chapter 4, Lucy and Cormoran fight it out early in the morning in St. Mawes. First the @HogwartsProf tweet, then my answer to the question, and finally, I hope, your push-back and counter-point responses in the comment boxes beneath the post. See you after the jump!

What’s up with that unfaithful husband in Torquay? There’s a lot going on here, and, as serious Rowling Readers expect, there’s very little that is arbitrary about Robin’s opening scene being in that town, tackling a trigamist, with that name. One by one —

Torquay is a seaside town in Devon, due south of Rowling’s university in Exeter. It’s at least a four hours drive from London, so Robin being knackered is not just from her lack of time-off. Following ‘Tufty’ there on the fly was no small accomplishment. It’s a picturesque place and, as Robin noted as she drove west to meet Strike in Falmouth, it boasts a hint of Florida sub-climate unique in the UK:

The further west Robin drove, the lusher and greener the landscape became. Yorkshire-born, she’d found it extraordinary to see palm trees actually flourishing on English soil, back in Torquay. These twisting, verdant lanes, the luxuriance of the vegetation, the almost sub-tropical greenness was a surprise to a person raised among bare, rolling moors and hillside. Then there were the glints to her left of a quicksilver sea, as wide and gleaming as plate glass, and the tang of the salt now mixed with the citrus of her hastily purchased cologne. In spite of her tiredness she found her spirits buoyed by the glorious morning, and the idea of Strike waiting at journey’s end.

But that’s not why the author places the first scene with Robin and Cormoran talking about the Bamborough case in Torquay. Rowling-Galbraith is a writer of detective fiction, a student of the genre, and as she has told interviewers and demonstrated in her work, she is a big fan of Agatha Christie. Not that she isn’t eager to chat up the other Queens of Golden Age fiction, often at Christie’s expense (she claims, for example, to prefer Margery Allingham over the author of the Miss Marple mysteries). But she knows Christie’s personal history and has read everything she wrote. Christie’s novels are the most numerous and easily identified in the bookshelves pictures we have of Rowling circa 2000.

Agatha Christie was born and grew up in Torquay and lived there all her life outside short stays in London and at archeological digs and the like. And, if Christie had a single preference for murder weapons in her whodunnits, readers of her novels all know it is poison. Robin starts out at the birthplace and longtime home of the ‘Queen of Crime’ — whose books as often as not featured murder by poison.

From Dame Agatha’s wikipedia page: “Professor of Pharmacology Michael C. Gerald noted that ‘in over half her novels, one or more victims are poisoned, albeit not always to the full satisfaction of the perpetrator’.” At, we learn in their review of A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie that:

In A is for Arsenic Kathryn Harkup explores the poisons used by Agatha Christie in her novels. Christie used poison to kill her characters more often than any other crime fiction writer. … Agatha Christie revelled in the use of poison to kill off unfortunate victims in her books; indeed, she employed it more than any other murder method, with the poison itself often being a central part of the novel. Her choice of deadly substances was far from random – the characteristics of each often provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. 

Christie was an apothecary at hospitals in both World Wars and doctors of the time of Dame Agatha’s greatest popularity testified that they saved lives of patients who had been poisoned because they had read a Poirot or Marple mystery in which the effects of that drug had been accurately described. Rowling foreshadows the murderer of Margot Bamborough being a poisoner by having this first conversation about the cold case between the dynamic duo take place in Torquay.

The trigamist is named Edward John Campion along the same lines. The ‘Campion’ is a marker of Rowling-Galbraith’s claimed favorite among the four Golden Age women Greats in this genre, Margery Allingham, whose principal detective was named ‘Campion.’ If we missed the clue about Christie in Torquay, the name Campion was supposed to get you there via Allingham and her lateral association with her more famous rival writer. (I ‘got’ the Torquay clue but missed the pointer to poison, alas!). The choice to make Campion’s middle name ‘John’ reflects Rowling’s touchstone use of the names ‘Peter’ and ‘John’ (her father’s name is ‘Peter John Rowling’); in brief, it  means he is potentially a good guy, someone with a heart, but that he can go very bad. See ‘Exceptions to the Peter-John Rule?‘ for more on that.

My favorite part of this foreshadowing, though, has nothing to do with Torquay or Campion’s name. It’s that chapter 3, if the novel is read as a strict ring composition apart from Rowling-Galbraith’s seven part division of the work, should parallel either directly or in mirrored opposition the action, dialogue, and characters of the antepenultimate chapter, third from last, which is to say chapter 71. This is the novel’s big reveal confrontation in which Strike sits down with Janice Beatty in her Red Room and she tells her history with men.

And it is a mirror-image reflection of Tufty in Torquay.

He’s a man and she is a woman (duh). Campion has three loves in his life, with two of whom he has married and sired off-spring and he is engaged to the third, one carrying his child (the fiancee is the one who stands by her man when the Agency exposes his trigamy). Janice has the opposite experience with her three loves, not counting her “dream man,” actor James Caan. Her dearest love is Steve Douthwaite; he won’t marry her and he dedicates his life from escaping the Granny Poisoner. Beatty, the man who fathered Janice’s child, suspected she was poisoning him and also fled from her. Eddy, Irene’s attempt to find lonely Janice a husband, became one of ‘Mrs. Beatty’s victims.

None of Janice Beatty’s three loves would marry her; E. J. Campion married two woman and was engaged to the third. The detectives marvel in chapter 3 that a man like Tufty without great looks could pull this off; in chapter 71, Janice laments that she never “got her day in church” because, though not bad looking, she didn’t have “what men wanted.”

To nail down that connection, Janice mentions Devon in her confessional conversation with Strike at book’s end (where Bremer died). That would be the only other mention of that place in Rowling’s longest work except for Torquay in chapter 3, its parallel number.

Note t0o that Robin spends much of her surveillance time outside the pizzeria before Strike calls meditating on Charlotte Campbell’s phone message for him. “Tell him I have something that he wants.” I’ve discussed this mysterious call at length in Troubled Blood Unanswered Questions (#3 “I have something that he wants”) — its coming to the office instead of to Strike’s mobile, what she might have, etc. — but the answer may just be to put down the marker for the murderer to be a woman without something a man would want. 

For Serious Strikers, then, which is to say “those familiar with her penchant for reverse parallelism,” Rowling has provided at least five clues in chapter three to who killed Margot Bamborough.

  • Robin has solved a case with an astonishing discovery; this points to Strike solving the case they are discussing in its corresponding chapter.
  • It’s set in Torquay which means “Christie” which means “poison;” the murderer of Margot Bamborough will have used some kind of drug to debilitate or kill her.
  • The criminal in Torquay is a man who has won the marriage game three times; the equal-and-opposite parallel across the story axis should be a woman who cannot win the matrimonial sweepstakes, though she tries three times and even plays the pregnancy and child bearing card to win her man — with no success!
  • The Charlotte call and message that she has something the man she is pursuing wants is another reverse echo of the murderer being a woman who does not have anything any man wants.
  • Edward John Campion is a much admired man, a wonderful father and family man that no one would suspect of being a trigamist; Janice Beatty, beloved and admired nurse, a “saint” according to Irene, her oldest and best mate, takes first place in Strike’s Liar’s Hall of Fame, a woman he calls a “master of misdirection.”

We should have picked out Janice almost from the start based on these clues. Who else could be a poisoner? What other woman was such a loser in the game of Wedding musical chairs? What kind of person would be least suspected of committing this kind of crime? It all pointed to Janice and we missed it.

I don’t know about you, but, if the opening chapters of Ink Black Heart features an Agency case being solved ex machina, one that seems totally unrelated to the big case under investigation, I’ll be putting the solution of that mystery under a microscope in hopes of identifying reverse and direct clues to guide my guesses for Strike 6’s big reveal in the finale.

This is a fun question but it presumes the reader is on board with the idea that Part 1, chapter 4, is a pivotal moment in Troubled Blood, something that you might struggle to accept more than we would, say, the very first scene or the entry of Robin into the story. To see that you have to have a grip on the structural intricacy of Strike 5. Rowling is working her formal artistry on several levels simultaneously.

The most obvious perhaps is that she breaks up the novel into six parts and a seventh of only two chapters, a straight hat-tip to Spenser’s Faerie Queene‘s six books and two stray chapters. I think of the novel as a re-telling of the epic poem’s first book, Strike and Robin playing the parts of the Redcrosse Knight and Una respectively. Others prefer to read it as Artegall and Britomart. No one I have read has interpreted Troubled Blood‘s six Parts as paralleling the virtues celebrated in each of the poem’s six books, if I suspect Beatrice Groves and Elizabeth Baird-Hardy have done just that and my pathetic mind has memory-holed it. Regardless, Troubled Blood is much more Spenserian than its epigraphs (can you say “Psychomachia”?).

Much, much less obvious is the structure of an astrological clock and its twelve houses on Strike 5’s 73 chapters. If you’re unfamiliar with that, read Troubled Blood: The Astrological Clock and Otherworldly Structure of Strike5. The Hampton Court clock on the book cover and the Pallas Athene clock with a drawer for hidden message? They’re a big deal.

The next level of structural artistry is The Parallel Series Idea and the echoes in Troubled Blood of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Be sure to check out, too, Louise Freeman’s compelling evidence that Strike 5 was originally meant to be Strike 6, evidence largely about the parallels between Troubled Blood and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Another bit of parallelism is the ring structure of the Strike series, if one holds that the first seven books are being written as a closed set. This theory requires that there be strong echoes with Career of Evil and with Cuckoo’s Calling. Again, see Louise Freeman’s 5-6 Flip posts for evidence that Troubled Blood was conceived and still has elements of what was supposed to be Strike 6 with echoes of The Silkworm.

More? Well, there’s the fact that each of the Strike novels (and all other Rowling novels to date) are chiastic rings. Troubled Blood is no exception. Part 1 forms a latch with Part 7; Part 4, the story center or ‘turn’ echoes Part 1 and foreshadows Part 7 (including the revelation of the killer in a cameo appearance); Parts 2 and 6 and Parts 3 and 5 form the two transverse turtle-back lines across the 1-4-7 vertical axis. See the first section of the Troubled Blood Pillar Post on structure for all of that.

The killer bit of Rowling’s structural artistry in Troubled Blood, though, for this Serious Striker is that each of the novel’s first six Parts are also distinct story rings with beginning-end latch, story turn, and parallels between chapters on the fore and aft sides of that middle. Again, see the Pillar Post for the links to my breakdown of this formalist wizardry.

This last is the relevant structuralist piece to chapter four, Part 1, and why it deserves serious scrutiny. Part 1 has seven chapters, as does Part Two. This means that the fourth chapter is its turn — and, per chiastic formula, the “meaning is in the middle.” (See this posted comment about the structure of Part 1.) If you accept my unstated premise in the discussions above of the first three chapters that they reflect the story to come in important ways because they are the larger novel’s origin, then the central piece of the first Part will hold something especially meaningful about the novel as a whole.

Chapter 4, from this perspective, is the jumping off point for all the changes to come in the characters featured therein in the novel to come. Aunt Joan is anything but the sage into which she transforms in Troubled Blood; she is manipulative, self-focused (“You slept well”), and a guilt trap. Half-sister Lucy, too, is nothing like the woman with whom Strike travels through flood waters to be with Joan at her deathbed. She is blind to Strike’s situation and feelings, even indifferent to them, and something of a shrew in accusing him of favoring Leda to Joan (and in her outrage about his description of two of her children as a “prick” and “arsehole.” Strike despises nephew Luke, is tired of his sister’s telling him how he feels, and finds Joan, in the end, hard to take for long stretches.

By novel’s end, Joan has become the crone who advises her nephew about Jonny Rokeby and Robin — and, more important, the woman he remembers in the next-to-last chapter as the person whom he wants to hear say she is proud of him, as she had just before expiring. Joan has supplanted Leda in large part, however fond he remains of his mother’s memory. Strike embraces the Western Man identity that Joan wanted him to put on.

Strike also has learned the utilitarian lesson from Anna Karenina Polworth had taught him about the importance of married life for a man of any ambition. In his fight with Lucy, climaxing as it does with his attack on two of her children and in her demands on him, her life choices — domesticity with a husband-provider and an acceptable number of children — are all but anathema to him, especially with respect to children. In his final walk to the Ritz with Robin, we see a Strike who has invested time, talent, and treasure to buy a thoughtful gift for his partner, one who has committed after The American Bar debacle to talk with his “best mate” about his emotional and relationship issues, and a man who it seems may be reconsidering his commitment to remaining childless and unmarried, not to mention captain and lead cheerleader for Team Realist, despiser of everything supernatural.

He travels, in other words, from being the anti-Lucy to a position very much in line with his half-sister’s primary life choices. She changes along the way, too, as noted, but the sea change in the series alchemical nigredo is of Strike’s breakdown and transformation while investigating what happened to the mother missing as long as Strike has been alive, a mystery filled with parallels to the missing mother-figure in Strike’s life and his need for the affection and partnership of a wise woman. See Troubled Blood: Strike’s Transformation for much more on that subject.

Tomorrow? DV, Troubled Blood: Chapters Five and Six. Today? Let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!


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