Troubled Blood, Part Six: Top Ten Take-Aways for Chapters Sixty to Seventy One

As explained on the day of Troubled Blood’s publication, I have been reading and writing about one of the seven Parts of the just published Troubled Blood every day until finished. For Part One’s seven chapters, go here. Part Two’s seven chapters and my Top Ten Take-Aways can be found here. Part Three’s epic post? It’s right here. And here is Part Four, the longest part of Troubled Blood and the longest HogwartsProfessor post ever. Part Five, too! The murderer is confronted and apprehended in Part Six so feel free to discuss the ending (to include Part Seven) in the comment thread below.

What a wild ride! I am simultaneously delighted and disappointed by the Big Twist and Great Reveal in Troubled Blood‘s concluding Parts — delighted by Rowling-Galbraith’s brilliant concealment in plain sight of Whodunnit and frustrated that I was not able to guess it even after the deep dives into Talbot’s tarot card spreads. As Strike told Robin, the future or reality the cards predicted is only visible after the present shows itself — which will be fun to go back to now that we have our answers!

My efforts today will be charting Part Six’s chapters to see if they work as a ring, trying to identify the woman in Talbot’s vision, the spirit who appeared to him in his invocational magic ceremony that finally broke his grip on sanity, and an interpretation of Robin’s final Thoth deck three card spread. Join me after the jump for a close-up look at Troubled Blood, Part Six, and conversation in the comment thread about the wonderful ending! I hope we can agree this was Rowling-Galbraith’s best ever? 

(1) The Latch

Chapter 60 is the first chapter and chapter 71 is the last of Troubled Blood’s Part Six. The first chapter is seven pages long, only chapter 69 is shorter at six pages, and the last chapter is the longest by quite a bit at twenty-four pages. The opening chapter in its brevity — it’s largely a placeholder chapter that could have been folded into the following one in which Robin goes to the St Peter Nursing Home — transitions from the earth-shaking events at the end of Part Five (“You are my best mate”) to Strike’s aborted attempt at St Peter’s. It has a phone call between Robin and Cormoran with only one other subject: Gloria Conti’s throwing up at the Phipps’ barbecue (746-747). The last of the twelve chapters is Strike’s confrontation of Janice Beattie in the poisoner’s den, in which epic conversation she admits that, yes, she put ipecac syrup in the punch which made Gloria sick. Not much, but, as we’ll see, it’s enough for the latch.

(2) The Turn

The story-turn is complicated (again) because Part Six has twelve chapters, an even number, so there isn’t one which has the same number of chapters before and after it. Instead of a single chapter that acts as a pivot for the set, though, there are four chapters which mirror each other like a turtle-back line and which also echo and point to the story latch’s beginning and end.

In brief, chapter 64 is Robin and Cormoran’s trip to Skegness for their interview with Steve Diamond, nee Douthwaite, and chapter 65 their follow-up conversation over Fish and Chips. It is reflected in chapters 66 and 67’s FaceTime interview with Gloria Conti and their subsequent conversation. The two pairs are complementary mirror images of one another.

They echo the latch’s beginning and end in their Gloria Conti content. Robin finally hears from Gloria while they are in Skegness and they learn that, indeed, as Robin guessed in Part Six’s opening chapter, she was pregnant (though not at the barbeque) and she was helped by Margot in murdering the child of Luca Ricci she was carrying. In chapter 67, Robin has her epiphany about the struggling pair at the telephone boxes not being daughter with elder mother and Strike claims to have solved the case. Story turn and turtle-back four chapter package…

(3) The Transverse Ring Lines

In between the latch and the involved story-turn there are three chapter sets that act as front-and-back pairs, the turtle-back lines of the Part Six ring composition:

  • Chapters 61 and 70 are Robin adventures out-of-bounds and in disguise. In the opener she is at St Peter’s home against Strike’s wishes and without his knowledge; she meets Luca Ricci in his father’s room and discovers that he was the person writing threatening notes to Margot. On the far side, Robin and Sam Barclay visit the Athorns’ apartment in the hope of finding Margot; Robin deceives Deborah into thinking they are social workers or building inspectors.
  • Chapters 63 and 68 are the Creed interview pair. In the first, Robin solves the Shifty case by talking up Gemma the PA while Strike finds Douthwaite; the thrill and finish of the chapter is Robin’s revelation that Strike will be allowed to interview Dennis Creed. The backside chapter is the Strike-Creed chess match at Broadmoor.
  • And chapters 62 and 69? We get our last look at a True Book page in the first, the image Talbot drew of the nightmare spirit he invoked by spellwork inside a magic circle. In chapter 69, Douthwaite confirms Strike’s suspicions about what Margot told him in their last meeting (not to mention Robin solving the M54 clue Creed has given Strike — “The Archer”! — with the best guesses that Brian Tucker had shared with her in their secret interview in Part Three). The Talbot picture tells the careful reader who killed Margot Bamborough (see Take Away #5 below) and, though we are not told what Dr Bamborough shared with Douthwaite, we learn very soon after that this information reveals the killer as well.

Part Seven only has two chapters so I won’t bother to chart them as rings per se. Please note, though, that this Part Six ring means that, as I’ve suspected since reading Part One, Rowling-Galbraith has written Troubled Blood not only as a ring novel, i.e., its seven parts acting as a ring, within a series that so far is acting like a seven book ring, but that each of its first six Parts’ chapters work as rings as well. Egad. Who knew?

(4) The Part Two Parallels

Part Six will have to resonate with Part Two if the novel is a ring composition apart from its chapter sets, and, as you’d expect at this point I hope, it does.

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.

And Devon! Remember Robin was in Devon at the beginning of Part Two? She was solving the mysterious case of Tufty Campion, the serial bigamist and adulterer. We get another mention of Devon in Part Six; Janice Beattie tells Cormoran it is where Dr Brenner died. So what? See Take Away #7 below!

(5) The ‘True Book’ Page Embedded Text: “Janice Did It, Talbot! Go Get Her!”

I have already started writing a post in which I will argue that each of the True Book pages and references we get in Troubled Blood reveals that Janice Beattie killed Margot Bamborough. Here, though, I’ll just share what Strike says about the drawing Talbot makes of the woman-demon he invoked inside a pentagram magic circle and contrast that with what the actual page says. Here is Strike’s summary:

Strike had never given Talbot’s final jottings more than cursory attention, partly because his patience had run out by the time he got there, partly they were among the most shambolic and incoherent parts of the notes. Tonight, though, he had a melancholy reason for examining the last page of Talbot’s notebook, because Strike, too, had come to the end of the case. Se he examined Talbot’s drawing of the demon he believed he’d conjured before the ambulance came to take him away: the spirit of Margot Bamborough, returned from some astral plane to haunt him in the form of Babalon, the Mother of Abominations.

There was no pressure to understand any more. Strike defocused his mind as he’d have relaxed his eyes, the better to spot one of those apparently three-dimensional images hidden in what appeared to be a flat pattern. His eyes glided over the phrases and fragments Talbot had half-remembered from Crowley’s writings, and of consultation of the Thoth tarot. As he scrutinized the picture of the heavy-breasted demon, on whose belly the penitent Talbot had subsequently inscribed a Christian cross, he remembered Robin’s words all those months previously in Hampton Court Palace, about the allure of myth and symbol, and the idea of the collective unconscious, where archetypes lurked. This demon, and the disconnected phrases that had seemed pertinent to Talbot in his psychotic state, had sprung from the policeman’s own subconscious: it was too easy, too simplistic, to blame Crowley and Levi for what Talbot’s own mind had chosen to retain. This was what it generated, in a last spasm of madness, in a final attempt at resolution. Seven veils, seven heads, seven streams. Lust and strange drugs. Seven around her neck. the poisoned darkness of the BLACK MOON. Blood and sin. She rides upon the lion serpent.

Strike bent the lamp closer to the page, so that he could scrutinize the drawing more closely. Was he deluding himself, or did some of these crazy jottings indicate that Talbot had noticed the odd coincidences that Strike had, after talking to the Bayliss sisters? As his gaze moved from one fragment of mystic writing to another, Strike thought he saw, not just a penitent churchgoer trying to make amends for his descent into witchcraft, but the last desperate effort of a good detective, trying to salvage clues from chaos, sense from madness. (pp 773, 775; emphasis mine).

All that, frankly, is a neon flashing pointer for the serious reader to look very hard at the picture. If you ignore the “fragment(s) of mystic writing” that Rowling-Galbraith chose to have Strike mention or check to see what is left out, you’ll note, first, that Strike does not mention that “SEVEN veils, SEVEN heads, SEVEN streams” is followed by “SEVEN letters in her name, SEVEN times.” ‘Babalon,’ of course, has seven letters, but what is there behind the phrase “SEVEN times“?

The only suspect who was interviewed “seven times” was Janice Beattie, whose surname has seven letters. She killed her victims with poison and her motive was her desire, call it “lust,” for Steve Douthwaite. Hence, “lust and strange drugs,” “POISONED DARKNESS in the MAGICK CUP, blood and bitterness.”

After Strike catches Janice trying to poison the tea for a murder-suicide in her apartment, he says, “I don’t much fancy being victim number… how many is it?” (879) Taking that as an invitation to count how many murders Janice committed, I tallied them: Larry, his mistress Clare Martin, Johnny Marks, Joanna Hammond, Julie Wilkes, Margot Bamborough, and Gwilherm Athorn. Which of course comes to — SEVEN.

[To the objection that at the time that Talbot “performed the ritual of the mark of the BEAST” to conjure Margot’s spirit from the psychic realm, Janice had not yet killed seven people — Margot may have been only her third victim, after Johnny Marks and Joanna Hammond — I’ll respond that time is not past-present-future sequential in eternity but simultaneous. Margot’s spirit would know the total was SEVEN. A better objection is that this is not a reveal of whodunnit because we couldn’t have linked the seven murders with the nurse until Janice Beattie’s tell-all conversation with Strike reveals the deaths of Johnny Marks and Clare Martin.]

(6) The Embedded Thoth Tarot Card Reading

There is an embedded tarot spread here in the Naked Margot/Lust Major Trump ‘True Book’ page, too, just as there were in the Horn Page (537) and the Death tarot card page (632) discussed in the Parts Four and Five Take-Away posts. The three cards on the Part Six page are The Moon, major trump XVIII (“The moon has no air“), Lust, major trump XI (“she rides upon the lion serpent” inscribed three times on page, LUST once, circled and crossed out after Talbot’s medical treatment), and “Nine of Swords / cruelty, a cathedral of the DAMNED blood and POISON drip.”

I’ll go into this spread at greater length when I lay out how all the True Book pages reveal Janice as the killer but will note here that:

  • We have seen The Moon and Lust cards previously;
  • the Lust trump card features a naked full breasted woman, almost certainly the inspiration for Talbot’s vision figure, one who on the tarot card is riding a lion serpent, a lion with seven faces, and 
  • the Nine of Swords is to be interpreted, according to the booklet that comes with the Thoth tarot card deck, as “Cruelty… intellect is replaced by heartless passion” (30), “mind dominated by insatiable desires” (47).

The nature of the problem, the cause of the problem, and the solution, right? If The Moon, Lust, and the Nine of Swords are the answers, now that we know Janice Beattie is the killer, we should be able to figure out the question. I’ll return to this in the longer True Book analysis post I’m working on; for those working at home, find a copy of Crowley’s Book of Thoth and check out these three cards and what I wrote about them in previous posts.

(7) Predictive Hits and Misses: Christie!

In Rowling-Galbraith’s interview with Val McDermid she said about Agatha Christie:

Christie who was someone who interested me a great deal because she was writing much of her career to outrun the tax man. Hence her incredibly patchy output. But she could shuffle those cards and fool you, couldn’t she, again and again and again. Sometimes very plausibly, sometimes not so plausibly. But she had that almost mathematical ability to fool you. And that’s something not many could do as well as she did it.

Those of you who read my attempts in the five previous Top Ten Take Away posts know that I tried very hard to see where she was headed and not to be taken in. But I was fooled and tricked mightily. 

did get that Janice was a principal figure and that her relationship with Douthewait was the cause of the problem (the Snitch with snake that was the embedded card in the Death card True Book page is from ‘Love,’ the major trump card and ’cause of the problem’ that is Janice, the Princess/Queen of Cups). I was convinced, though, that she was a good guy for all the reasons Cormoran and Robin give for their not getting it sooner. Rowling sets us up to love nurses in Troubled Blood, between the woman who gives hospice care to Joan Nancarrow to Strike’s Selly Oak physiotherapist and the nurses at St Peter’s, so of course I gave Janice a pass.

Strike tells Janice “You’re a genius of misdirection” (886) and later says to Anna, Kim, and company “Janice Beattie’s probably the best liar I’ve ever met and a hell of an actress.” I’ll leave it at what I’ve said before, Rowling’s signature virtue may be her narrative misdirection, all while playing fair. The clues were there, I found many of the ones I think it’s fair to say most missed, at least on the True Book pages, and I still thought the murderer was not the killer-in-fact.

But there is one clue I was delighted to find at the beginning of Part Two that I’m kicking myself now for having forgotten about or just not given enough attention. Because if I’d just taken it more seriously than as a hat tip or literary allusion, the “coincidences” that Strike finally notes would have been enormous red flags from the start.

The clue I’m thinking of is Robin’s first appearance in the novel being in Torquay, Devon. I wrote about this in the discussion about chapter 3, released the week before the book’s publication:

That [Robin] is in Torquay, the birthplace and childhood home of Agatha Christie, and investigating a faithless Campion, the surname of Margery Allingham’s detective, are both heavy markers beyond hat-tipping that the Affair in Devon is a big clue to coming events.

You’d think, as much attention as I paid to the center of the book because Strike’s killers turn up there as a rule, that I’d remember a proper ring latches, so the end is evident in some way at the beginning. We begin with Polworth at The Victory quoting a passage from Anna Karenina and Strike recalls that passage and its meaning in Troubled Blood’s last paragraph. 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 agathachristie.com, 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. 

I knew that, as will any halfway serious fan of Christie; she was an apothecary at hospitals in both World Wars and doctors have 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. So how did I miss that the Christie clue in chapter 3 meant the Troubled Blood killer would be adept with poisons? Just slow, I guess; maybe a self-esteem issue?

(8) The Other (Face Palm) Clue Missed: ‘The Moon’ Tarot Card Scarab Beetle

How about one more near-miss clue discovered but neglected?

In Part Five, page 632, we were shown the True Book page featuring a dancing black skeleton. In my discussion of the page I noted that there was an embedded three card tarot spread on the page and identified the third card in this disguised spread as The Moon, major trump card XVIII.

Talbot made this discovery pretty straight forward; he put a picture of scarab beetle with a sun orb in its front pincers at the upper right corner of the page, the exact image at the bottom center of The Moon card as drawn by Lady Frieda Harris according to Crowley’s notes or instructions. I wrote about this card (Part Six, Take-Away 5):

Crowley’s Book of Thoth is the reference text we know Talbot is using, Robin, though, only has the booklet that came with her Thoth tarot card deck. In it, The Moon is the card of nightmares. In one spot Crowley-Harris writes “This card represents the state of impure horror, hidden darkness which must be passed through before light can be reborn.” “At the bottom of the card moves the Sacred Beetle, bearing the Sun through the darkness of night” (25).

As noted above, I had figured out that Talbot’s question was ‘Where is or What Happened Margot Bamborough?’ in that three card spread. The first card or ‘nature of the problem’ is about Janice Beattie, the second, the cause of the problem, about her love for Douthwaite, and the solution is The Moon — a horror, “hidden darkness.” I totally misunderstood the last and my predictions are almost the opposite of what really happened; again, more on these embedded spreads in a coming post.

I do want to note, though, that Talbot was either inspired or clairovoyant in his doodling because he gives the solution to the Bamborough missing person case in his illustration of the tarot card’s Scarab Beetle. He adds an Ankh, the occult Egyptian cross, next to the Beetle on the True Book page, a feature not on the tarot card. And the only other place an Ankh appears in the novel? That’s right, there is a tall blue Ankh painted on the wall of the room where Margot Bamborough is buried in concrete. So close — and no cigar!

(9) The Song of the Western Men — Trelawny!

I’ve written at some length about the song Cormoran sings to Robin in Skegness:Cormoran’s Song: Twenty Thousand Cornish Lads Will Know the Reason Why.’ A hat-tip to Beatrice Groves for having predicted the appearance of this song pre-publication (!) and to Evan Willis for being the first reader of Troubled Blood to note that it is in parallel with Trelawny’s prophecy at the end of Order of the Phoenix. In the post linked above, I try to explain the song along those lines, that is, as a marker of the alchemical nigredo or stage of dissolution, reduction to prime matter, that takes place in Troubled Blood. Definitely an important take-away from Part Six!

(10) Best Rowling Book Ever? I Think So

The mystery is all over at the end of Part Six except for the mopping up in the Part Seven two chapter epilogue-cum-denouement. By the last chapter of the sixth Part Cormoran and Robin have solved the missing person case and helped resolve the nightmare questions of a parent whose child may or may not have been murdered by Dennis Creed. I will offer Take-Aways from Part Seven, but I think we can begin the conversation here about whether this is Rowling’s best book to date.

I’ll start with a ‘yes’ and a ‘no.’

For ‘no,’ The Silkworm is a better stand-alone book and in a way more powerful because of its relative compactness and focus. As I’ve written elsewhere, Troubled Blood has a flood of characters — the Agency office and its cases, the Margot Bamborough missing person case clients, suspects, and various players, the standard cast of Robin and Cormoran’s lives, from Shanker and Dave Polworth to the family in Massham, the Cornwall crew and Strike’s family there and Rokeby siblings, not to mention the old love interests, Matthew and Charlotte. It would be very hard to enjoy this book as your first Strike novel, as you can The Silkworm; really, Troubled Blood works only as your fifth Strike adventure.

I think, however, that Troubled Blood is the best thing Rowling-Galbraith has yet written, with the possible exception of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the summit of the Hogwarts Saga, because she does all the things that are her signatures — the ring writing, the alchemy, the literary allusion, the misdirection towards defamiliarization, and the otherworldly resonances — in new, exciting, and challenging fashion. I look forward to writing about all that and hearing your thoughts on same in the coming weeks! Until then, let me know what you think in about these Top Ten Take-Aways from Part Six in the comment boxes below. Thanks for reading, and, in advance, for writing.

 

 

Comments

  1. This sounds like a good place to mention something I noticed.

    Someone was talking about Rowling adding clues to the next book within the previous one. In Lethal White, when Strike visits Aamir Mallik at home, Aamir is reading “a Stieg Larsson novel”. This clicked powerfully when I came across *another* mention of “a Stieg Larsson novel” in Troubled Blood, this time Robin is reading it. We aren’t told which of the three Stieg Larsson novels is involved each time, but given the themes of his writing and his focus on female sex trafficking and violence against women, of course JK Rowling *would* be a Stieg Larsson fan.

    In the first book in the Millennium trilogy (the original Swedish title translates as “Men who hate women”), which is set in the late 90s/early00s I think, the investigator is called to solve the cold case of an old man’s granddaughter disappearing in the 60s when she was a teenager. The solution (SPOILER) is linked to the granddaughter being subjected to horrible sexual abuse at the hands of her father and brother, and involves the granddaughter running away and being aided by a cousin whom she greatly resembles in assuming a different identity.

    As a result of this, I had thought that the solution to Margot’s disappearance would be more complcated and involved people switching identity (something like the situation in Career of Evil when someone is living under someone else’s identity). When at the beginning of Troubled Blood it was stated that Anna had only been able to speak to Oonagh Kennedy on the phone, for example, I’d thought we’d end up finding out that they’d arranged to switch places in some way as a means for Margot to escape something, and that Oonagh would turn out to be someone else all along.

    Something like that *does* happen of course with the fake Clare Spencer, but anyway, there you go.

  2. Thanks for this, John! Always fun to read you on Rowling.

    You want Margot not Janice here: “the room where Janice Beattie is buried in concrete.”

    When I finished the novel, the line echoing in my head was, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

    Our culture of extra-marital shenanigans needs to hear the furious Janice say: Actions have consequences . . .

  3. Bonni Crawford says

    Thank you for this and your other posts so far John! I disagree with you on one point though – I think Janice probably killed more than seven people. I agree that there are seven known victims by the end of the book, but, given Janice’s enjoyment of her horrific hobby, I have to think she killed other people in between Johnny Marks and Joanna Hammond. And maybe others since, apart from the five we know about. We know about seven ‘motivated’ murders by Janice, but given she was thinking of killing all three Athorns just for the pleasure of watching them die, I would guess she’d killed more than twice by the time she was having those thoughts. I think the text also indicates that the total number she killed is likely higher than the seven we know about. On page 905: “A trickle of relatives, suspicious about the way their loved ones had died under Janice’s care, soon turned into a tide. Exhumation orders were made,”
    Some of those will be false alarms, no doubt, but I think Rowling is indicating there that there were other victims. Also, Robin says on page 918 that “the police are confident they’re going to be able to get forensic evidence out of other victims’ graves, even if Margot’s results are inconclusive.” She might be referring to those of the seven known victims who were buried of course, but she may also be referring to victims who died while under Janice’s care.

  4. Bonni Crawford says

    I think I’ve just come across proof, on re-reading, that Janice is thought to have murdered more than seven people. On page 904: “Janice Beattie had outdone [Dennis Creed], not only in the number of her suspected victims,”
    Creed is known to have murdered eight people: Geraldine Christie, Jackie Aylett, Vera Kenny, Noreen Sturrock, Gail Wrightman, Susan Meyer, Andrea Hooton and Louise Tucker. So Janice is suspected of murdering more than eight people.

    P.S. I just noticed the surname of Creed’s first murder victim – Christie. Another nod to Agatha Christie?!

  5. Kelly Loomis says

    Bonni, considering Janice still had a kitchen cabinet full of “potions“, it’s likely that in those 40 years, she had killed someone else.

    John, thank you again for all your work and your posts. There is so much to comment on that I don’t know where to start.

    From the opening chapter, Rowling was laying down her clues to solve this mystery. Polworth’s Cornish “nationalism” set up a theme which ran throughout the book. Robin summarized it when she told Strike how the study of social identity theory and self-categorization theory has wide ranging implications. In chapter 7, she said, “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”. This oversimplification of groups of people clouded the investigation both at the beginning by Talbot and at the end by Strike and Robin.

    First and foremost was the assumption that the killer was a man. Second, Janice was overlooked because she was not only a woman but was also a nurse who projected a concerned and sympathetic demeanor. When Strike interviewed Gupta, he spoke about doctors and Talbot’s idea that a doctor could never have murdered someone. If this was true for doctors, then how much more do for nurses?!

    Talbot’s detective skills did come through all the craziness if the horoscopes and Tarot readings. But even in this, he was categorizing people.

    Clues such as Agatha Christie’s hometown pointing to poisoning as the method of murder because she used it so much in her writing is beyond the my average literature knowledge. . I DO recall Strike musing early in the book about the toilet flushing at Ted and Joan’s house that “if anyone slept through that, they’d have to be drugged”.

    As a Rowling reader, I’m reminded of Strike’s opinion that horoscopes and such are really only useful in looking backwards. When we look backwards at her writing we can pick out her clues and how they fit with the solution to the mystery. However, most of us would never get them on a first read through!

    Besides who did it, even with Strike’s early support of Leda with Lucy, his acknowledgement of Leda’s shortcomings began to come out. I’m thinking especially of his thoughts during the dinner party argument where he saw the students shallow thinking as similar to Leda’s. He has been cognizant of Leda’s shortcomings before but this seemed to me to parallel Harry’s more disillusioned thoughts towards Dumbledore in OOTP. Of course, he hasn’t felt as let down as Harry but we did get the story of how upset he had been at being taken out of school shortly after making friends with Polworth. We are getting to see some cracks in his remembrances. And Joan’s encouragement to meet with his father because “…I think your father’s at the heart of…of a lot of things…” may be a foreshadowing that Rokeby is a better person than Strike thinks and Leda is maybe not.

  6. Janice Beattie did it! Sorry, just getting that out of my system. I think it’s a good policy not to mention the main murderer directly most of the time but it makes for some convoluted comments.
    John, it was fascinating reading your section by section posts. Thank you for all of the astrology research. I do know my sign, like Robin claims everybody does, but that’s about it.
    I originally thought you were way off looking at Douthwaite and Janice, but even if you didn’t get the exact solution, you were definitely on the right track. The narrative misdirection in this book is so intense. I think it seriously starts with Dr. Gupta, who doesn’t know that he’s giving incorrect information after two police investigations and forty years and then we have that problem going forward of either trusting Janice or someone else passing on what Janice told them.
    I think Rowling also plays on how much we’re going to dislike Irene compared to Janice, a trust in what seems like efficiency in Janice (which is the first thing Strike initially appreciates in Robin), and a general trust in “the system” of medical staff and social workers. (Although, I think there is probably a point on there about not abnegating responsibility, such as with the Athorns’ cousins.)
    The weight on the characters and the plot and that everyone is hiding something substantial makes it quite the tale to unravel. I’m on the fence at how solvable this mystery is. I don’t think it has any cheap tricks like perhaps the “sea holly” in Career of Evil. I’ve been trying to find the first mention of the Christmas chocolates Janice sent Strike. I think there is probably some clue like that that if the reader latches onto and then manages to remember it for the next six hundred pages, they might be able to solve it.
    I’ve been reading Amazon reviews and my favorite one star review reads, in part, “The mysteries are pretty quickly provided with obvious solutions.” This person definitely read the book.
    I love the Agatha Christie clue and how it misleads. We think Margot might be buried in concrete in the Phipps’ garden and Rowling even teases us with that during the Phipps family interview where Anna had made that accusation of Roy at age 13. Then Rowling teases us again with Kim’s comment that, hmm, it is strange that the St. John’s cross was never removed from the garden…
    And then, at the end, surprise! It’s a poisoner, should have paid attention to the Christie clue after all! And there was concrete as well. I want to dismiss that method of disposing of the body as unlikely, but Rowling probably saved a press clipping of someone doing something similar.
    Any thoughts on “She lies in a holy place”? I don’t know if the Egyptian symbol Ankh painted in the Athorns’ living room is doing it for me. Although, the closest I ever got to the solution was thinking that maybe it was actually Margot’s ashes in the urn on the shelf under the symbol. But spending forty years having jigsaw puzzles worked on top of Margot’s body doesn’t feel like the most respectful resting place.

    Kelly, that was a really good summary. Strikes’ thought about someone being drugged to sleep through something does become very important.
    I’ll be interested to reading John’s post on the true book pages and the clues contained therein. I do tend to think that the astrological items are more helpful looking backwards. There’s a pretty good argument for this just being a plot device for Strike to find the Athorns’ and their apartment, but to me the only truly potential supernatural element in the book is Samhairn walking past Strike just after Irene describes him. I guess Robin has something similar with Google result’s suddenly coming up for Satchwell’s art show and him actually being there. But maybe it’s just all plot devices to string the mystery out for the course of a year.
    I love Agatha Christie. I think my course as a reader as a child and pre-teen pretty much went Baby-Sitters-Club then Anne of Green Gables/L.M. Montgomery then Agatha Christie. As an American, I wouldn’t have remembered Torquay or Devon as Agatha Christie’s birthplace if I hadn’t read John’s post pointing it out. But knowing that Rowling was a Christie fan does make me always think back to common Christie tropes.

  7. Louise Freeman says

    I am now listening to the audiobook for the second time. I am not sure whether this is a ring-structure narrative, a supernatural element, or both, but Anna describes nightmares about finding her mother’s head in her toy box. Robin and Barclay literally find Margot’s head— and the rest of her– in Samhain’s toy box.

  8. Kelly,
    I agree with your belief that Rokeby may turn out to be a better person than Strike (and we) believed him to be. Someone on here late last year wrote that they believed he may turn out to be a sort of Snape figure. I don’t foresee him dying to protect Strike. I don’t believe Jonny loved Leda anything like Snape loved Lily in HP but there was obviously at least one physical encounter if Jonny could give any validity to Cormoran being his son.

    I think Cormoran will definitely come face to face with Jonny in book 6–because book 5 gave too much of a set-up and promise for that not to happen. Finally book 6 will give us some real information that will lead to the solving of the other “missing” mother–Strike’s mother in book 7.

    I think you are right about Cormoran learning that Leda was not the woman he wanted her and believed her to be, as he begins to investigate her 20 year cold case. If and when that happens, it will be even more comforting to remember that Cormoran was with his Aunt Joan at the end and told her that he loved her and saw himself as her son.

  9. A great read, both Troubled Blood and your posts. One note, the beetle is not a scarab but looks to be a cerambycid (long-horned beetle). Scarab beetles have lamellate antennae, cerambycids have antennae longer than their bodies. In fact, the beetle looks like a crudely drawn male Harlequin beetle (Acrocinus longimanus) with the extremely long forelegs.

  10. Regarding the number of murders, I thought the folder of collected obituaries was her version of souvenirs of her murders. The impression given was that there was a large number of them. She “shuffled” through them and I think there was a separate folder for Margot because of the press coverage.

  11. Kelly loomis says

    Karol, you’re right…So many details to forget in book! And Joanne, I agree, I don’t think Rokeby can be completely similar to Snape since he truly loved Lily but Rowling loves those gray characters that are not completely bad or completely good. Strike’s realizations of his love for Joan and his more objective understanding of Leda, reminds me of my kids as they have become adults and see us as “fellow humans”.

  12. Kathy Hills says

    I read the book in three days (largely because I could not get out of looking after my granddaughter so it took me longer than I wished it to. I have so enjoyed your in-depth analysis of each part, and the self discipline of reading and writing up, and holding back reading the ending. I found I slowed down my reading towards the end but it was mainly because I did not want the book to end. I loved it. And yes, I think it is her best Strike novel to date. The longer the better. I must admit I skimmed a lot of the Tarot stuff because I didn’t really understand it, which makes reading your posts so much more interesting. I had never heard of this theory of writing book in a “ring” before reading your site and it is a fascinating insight. I do have one question and if anyone can answer it for me I will be so grateful. Forgive me for appearing a bit obtuse, but I can’t seem to work out what the coincidences were that Strike suddenly thought of, after interviewing Wilma’s daughters. They are mentioned more than once, but the entire plot is so convoluted they have eluded me. I loved the end of the book. After finishing my reading of it, I bought it on Audible and listened to it again, trying to pick up on the clues I missed. I particularly enjoyed the scene in Broadmoor, and also the “poisoner’s den” scene. I’ve loaned my hard copy of the book to a friend and will listen to the audible copy again after reading all your analyses. Thank you so much. Kathy

  13. GinnyW1981 says

    I also thought that the obituaries were the ‘souvenirs’ of her murders which implicate that there are definitely more than seven.

    This is the second time that I didn’t know the murderer (in the Silkworm I had absolutely no idea who it was; not even a suspect). But this time I did have two suspects at the end and one of them was Janice (the other was Irene). At one time in the novel I had 12! suspects and as I whittled it down the first thing I did was eliminate the male suspects (but that must have been my subconscious, because I don’t know why I did it – I didn’t even know that the method was poison).

  14. Kelly Loomis says

    Kathy – I just came home and was listening to TB in the car. In chapter 60 (which I “just happened” to hear today after reading your comment), Strike throws out that theory in his mind after Robin told him she thought Gloria was pregnant and that was why she threw up at the BBQ. They had just heard the previous weekend that the punch had not been spiked when they interviewed Oakden. “Right, said Strike, who was suddenly remembering the odd notion that occurred to him after they interviewed the Bayliss sisters. Robin’s theory struck him as stronger than his. In fact, his idea was weakened if Robin’s was true”. Since they thought this might mean Gloria was the one who got the abortion, I’m wondering if Strike had thought Wilma had an abortion because she didn’t want her husband’s baby, that was why he had sent the threatening note that his daughters seemed to think was sent by him and he killed Margot as revenge.

  15. Kelly Loomis says

    Getting much further in my listening, the coincidences Strike was seeing were how many people were having stomach upsets and GI issues. Wilma getting sick at work and it being blamed on her “drinking“ alcohol on the job then fired was what he noticed during the interview with the sisters. Several people were described as having anxiety issues and physical symptoms which followed – Steve Douthwaite, Wilma, and even Irene and her bowel problems.

    Amazing how the clues are there but we don’t often pick them up.

    For those of you into crime and mystery and sometimes the mindset behind serial killers, a fascinating show is Mindhunter. And a new show appeared this year called Genetic Detective which uses DNA evidence and family trees through geneology to catch cold case perpetrators. I wonder how much Rowling has done research into serial killers and their psychology. Knowing her, it has been extensive! Maybe by watching the Mindhunter show, I’ll gain some knowledge to help solve her next mystery.

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