Troubled Blood, Part Three: Top Ten Take-Aways from Chapters 15 to 30

As explained Tuesday, I will be reading and writing about one of the seven Parts of the just published Troubled Blood every day this week. For Part One’s seven chapters, go here. Part Two’s seven chapters and my Top Ten Take-Aways can be found here. Thank you in advance for not posting in the comment thread about Parts not yet discussed in this series; feel free, of course, to join in the discussion if you have read no further than Part Three, Chapter Thirty!

It’s already time for a review. In Part One’s seven chapters we have a ring that turns around Cornwall, the status of Strike Detective Agency partners a year after the conclusion of Lethal White, and the re-opening of the Margot Bamborough missing person case from 1974. Writers call this “throat clearing” and Rowling-Galbraith succeeds in simultaneously and seamlessly catching us up with old friends and turning us on to the new story being introduced. Still, it’s Prologue rather than Mind Blowing Inciting Incident (think Katniss Everdeen’s decision in District 12’s Reaping for that kind of start). The Part Seven epilogue, if you’ll forgive me for assuming Troubled Blood is a ring composition, is only two chapters long because it won’t have to ‘catch us up’ as its corresponding prologue had to but just ‘sum it all up.’

Part Two’s seven chapters, also a ring within the larger ring, are our deep dives into the Margot Bamborough case. In Strike’s interview with Dr Gupta and during the Peg-Legged PI’s walk through Clerkenwell with Robin in which he shares what he has learned from the Met file we learn at least something about almost all the players in the drama to be performed:

  • The Clerkenwell Cast features Gupta, Brenner, and Bamborough, the doctors at 29 Clerkenwell’s practice, Janice Beattie, the RN, Gloria, Irene, and Dorothy (and son) the receptionists and secretary, Wilma Bayliss the cleaning woman, and Steve Douthwaite, former patient;
  • The Day of Disappearance extras include Theo, the “gypsy-ish” last patient, Amanda White, the witness of a woman at the window, Ruby Elliot who witnesses Fiona Fleury and her mother at the Phone Box, the van driver on the scene, and Willy Lomax, our witness for a woman entering St James church
  • The Demon of Paradise Park embedded text introduces us to Dennis Creed, psychopathic murderer, Violet Cooper, his ennabling landlord, and the beginning of his nightmare victim list;
  • Margot Bamborough’s Other Life feature her best Bunny buddy, Oonaugh Kennedy, her old boyfriend, Paul Satchwell, her husband Roy Phipps, a hematologist, the nasty mother-in-law, Cynthia Phipps, the au paire third cousin become second wife to Roy, Anne, Roy and Margot’s daughter, and Dr Kim Sullivan, Anne’s wife; and
  • The Strike Agency and Metropolitan Police add the new characters of Pat the grumpy but professional receptionist in the Denmark Street office, Saul Morris, our detective replacement for Matthew Cunliffe as ‘dickhead male idiot’ in Robin’s life, and the policeman Layboun who graciously provides Strike with the hefty police file. That file includes the work of DI’s Talbot and Lawson, whose notes on the case and their contrasting personalities are a big backdrop to Strike’s revisiting Margot’s disappearance, especially Talbot’s occult focus and incipient madness. Cases the Agency are working and their principals — Tufty, Twinkletoes, Shifty, Two-Timer, and Postcards — are so much fascinating filler.

This is leaving out the cast members with whom we are already familiar and whom we have to think are not going to solve the Bamborough cold case. As important as the Cornwall players are, the Nancarrows and Polworths especially, the Strike family entourage, from Lucy, Gregg, and their three boys to his late mother Leda (ghost in the smoke!), his father Jonny Rokeby and Strike’s various half-siblings, and mad Charlotte Campbell-Ross, super-model ex, and Robin’s roommate Max, her once husband Matt (now with Sarah Shadlock), and the family in Masham, and Strike’s friends Ilsa and Nick, not to mention Shanker, they are all actors in the Strike Theater Company, not this year’s Featured Players. Except, of course, in the overarching dramas about ‘Who Killed Leda Strike?’ and ‘When Will Robin and Cormoran become Wife and Man?’ in which background play, which more often than not takes the front of the stage, they are the stars.

We meet all the new dramatis personae and are re-acquainted with all the stock players by the end of Part Two. I think Rowling-Galbraith crowds the stage intentionally right up front so the game is fair; she won’t be introducing anyone ex machina later in the story but her attentive reader is responsible for keeping a scorecard with the revelations to come for everyone involved. If you struggle with this (and, frankly, who doesn’t?) and you’re reading one Part per day rather than straight through on a binge, a good idea is to write out the suspects and side-players on a list which you can update as clues and information are dropped.

A lot of work, I know! Let’s get to Part Three, today’s Troubled Blood portion on the plate. Unlike the first two Parts, Three has more than seven chapters; it has sixteen, a relatively giant step up in content and degree of difficulty in charting. This is just a warm up, though, for the even more mammoth Part Four and its eighteen chapters (Parts Five and Six are eleven and twelve chapters, respectively). My first three points will be about whether Part Three is, as were the first two Parts, a ring within the larger ring of the novel. Having charted the chapters, I’ll take a relatively deep dive into the astrological chart and Celtic Cross Tarot card spread from Talbot’s True Book, note some correspondences and echoing with previous Rowling-Galbraith work I think may be meaningful, take a look at this Part’s fresh embedded text, and guess about what Part Five might include if it answers questions raised by or has pieces in parallel with Part Three. After the jump!

(1) Ring Latch: Opening and Ending Chapters of Part Three

Part Three begins with Robin on her own at the Agency while Strike is in Cornwall. She does a quick review of the Bamborough case, talks with Saul Morris on the phone about what was said at the staff meeting (he of course wants to disregard what she has said needs to be done), and thinks to herself about the many times women fall into the role of being kind to men who really don’t deserve it, having to “take care of them.” It closes with Robin in Masham with her family at Christmas where she reviews Strike’s email about ‘Possible Leads’ and ‘Action Items’ with respect to the Bamborough Case. She makes a natural if unfortunate misstep in communicating with Saul Morris by text message about their mutually miserable Christmas celebrations. He confirms the judgment she made in the opening chapter of Part Three by sending her a ‘Dick Pic.’ Merry Christmas, Robin!

If we expand the latch from first and last chapters to the first and last three chapters, i.e., 15 to 17 and 28 to 30, we get an ever stronger closure for the ring. Strike gets the True Book from Gregory Talbot, for instance, in chapter 17 and Strike gives it his overview and symbol key in chapter 29. Strike gets off a train for meeting with Robin in chapter 16 and Robin gets on a train in 28 after a meeting with Strike.

Either way, the start and finish match up as reverse images or echoes and constitute a ring latch.

(2) Ring Story Turn: The Central Chapters

The first two Parts of Troubled Blood were a breeze to chart because they both had seven chapters, the fourth of which was a natural story turn. Part Three is sixteen chapters, 15 to 30, so there isn’t a single chapter before and after which there are an equal number of chapters between it and the beginning and end; the even number means the whole if divided has two equal halves of eight chapters.  The end of the opening half of the third Part is chapters 21 and 22, in which Strike discovers and explores (with something close to disdain, even disgust) the illustrated pages from Talbot’s Truth Book, one an astrological chart for the time and place of Margot’s disappearance from Clerkenwell Street and the other a Tarot Card reading. Robin reads Strike’s preliminary conclusions and working hypotheses about these pages in his Christmas email in Part Three’s last chapter.

The first chapter of the second half, chapter 23, has Robin learning that she is an Aunt and expected to be home at Christmas in Masham to meet her niece, writing Strike an email updating him on the Bamborough case, and hearing from Tom Turvey about his having been left at the altar by Sarah Shadlock. When she meets Strike, he shares his news that Joan Nancarrow is back in the hospital and he is expected in Cornwall at Christmas. Robin solitaire ties to the first and last chapters, the email an inverse echo of the last, the news from her brother and from Tom all set up her experience as spinster Aunt in Masham at Christmas, and Strike’s message from Cornwall echoes his presence there at the Part Three beginning.

More? Chapter 16 ends with Robin worried about Strike’s feelings for Charlotte; Strike misses Charlotte’s phone call in chapter 22 and deletes the sexually inviting text from her that follows his non-response to her call. Robin is similarly not interested in the picture she is sent of Saul Morris’ penis.

Tom Turvey’s Howler to Robin for not telling him about Matt and Sarah echoes and points to the discussion Robin has with her lawyer in chapter 18 about mediation with Matt about their divorce and Linda Ellacott’s complaints about Robin’s London divorce lawyer in chapter 28.

That’s a ring composition story turn, albeit not in one neat pivoting chapter. I feel obliged to note, too, that Rowling inserts a playful note or marker of the separation point in telling us that there are eleven days between the events of chapters 22 and 23. Eleven, represented as ’11,’ is a number-picture of a unity made into two ‘ones.’

(3) Ring Turtle Back Lines: Chapters After and Before Latch, Before and After Story Turn

The most obvious turtleback story line can be drawn between the chapters just before and after the story turn. In chapters 20 and 21, Strike and Robin interview Irene Hickson and Janice Beattie about Margot’s disappearance and then discuss it in a pub. Just across the story pivot, they sit down with Oonaugh Kennedy in Fortnum’s and discuss her relationship with Margot and thoughts about her disappearance.

Working our way down the left and right sides of the story circle, we see correspondences with holidays and gifts. On the front side, it is Cormoran’s birthday and he is disappointed that Robin has remembered and bought him a thoughtful gift (he’d rather bungled her birthday present in October by buying flowers). On the back side, Cormoran is scrambling to find Robin something nice, balks at the perfume counter, and gets her the exact chocolates that Morris had for her birthday. Ouch. 

One more step down and we find a parallel for Potter-philes. In chapters 17 and 18, the Rokebys appear in force: All texts first and then Jonny sends his estranged son a Bloodhound Xmas greeting card. Cormoran explodes about the card. Across the story axis, Strike calls Shanker, sets up a meeting, and meets with him in Shakespeare’s Head pub. The connection? Order of the Phoenix echoes I will discuss in Part Three Take-Away #9. Stay tuned.

Conclusion? We’re three Parts in to a seven Part novel and every one of the Parts so far is an independent ring composition with latch, turn, and transverse lines, either as an asterisk or turtle-back. Rowling-Galbraith seems to be writing not only rings within rings, a quality Mary Douglas says is characteristic of greater parallelism, with her novels each being rings within a series that is a ring taken altogether, but also rings of each Part within the rings of each novel within the grand ring of the series. Can you say ‘Wheels within wheels’?

(4) Cuckoo’s Calling Echo That May Be a Clue: Louise Freeman is monitoring the comment thread of discovered connections between Troubled Blood and various Strike and Potter novels. I heard an echo in the conversation Strike and Robin had with Janice Beattie in chapter 20 with a passage in Cuckoo’s Calling, namely, Strike’s interview with Lula’s mother, Marlene Higson (Part 4, chapter 4, p 292).

“‘E was an African student. Lived upstairs from me, jus’ along the road ‘ee, Barking Road, wiv two others. There’s the bookie downstairs there now. Very good looking boy. ‘Elped me with me shopping a couple of times.”

“And then, ‘cos ‘e’d ‘elped me all them times, one day I asked him in, y’know, jus’ as a thank-you, really. I’m not a prejudiced person. Ev’ryone’s the same to me. Fancy a cuppa, I sez, that were all. And then,” said Marlene, harsh reality clanging down amidst the vague impressions of teacups and doilies, “I finds out I’m expecting.”

Janice Beattie, as much as she can get a word in with Irene Hickson constantly interrupting her, tells a similar story about Steve Douthwaite using almost the same words (chapter 20, p 216):

“He kept coming back to see you,” Irene chided her. “You told me he did. Kept coming back to your place for tea and sympathy and telling you all his problems.”

“It were only a couple of times,” said Janice. “We’d chat, passing on the stairs, and one time ‘e ‘elped me with my shopping and come in for tea.”

At the end of her defense of Steve against Irene’s accusations that he was “Queer!” Janice asks Strike to pass a word to him. “If you find Steve,” she added, “tell ‘im I said ‘ello” (217). 

So what? I wonder if this echo between Cuckoo and Blood is more than just a marker. Between Hickson and Higson (and the unpleasant women so named) and the parallel of a young man helping a woman with her shopping being invited in for tea, it occurs as a possibility that Douthwaite, as did Ageyman, helped himself to more than a chocolate biscuit. Talbot, after all, asks Janice for a list of her sexual partners. Might he have been suspicious? If Janice became pregnant as Marlene did through her shopping porter and Margot intervened so she would have an abortion, that could be the upsetting news that Margot shares with Douthwaite on his last visit. Which might amount to a motive for murder?

That’s a stretch, I know. Enter it on the Cuckoo‘s Parallel page then, but, just in case, do keep an eye on the Douthwaite-Beattie relationship. 

(5) Talbot’s Astrological Chart of Margot’s Disappearance: In chapter 21, p 240, Strike shows Robin the Truth Book: “Want to see exactly how crazy Talbot was?” She takes a look and realizes Talbot was “using astrological symbols.” Strike takes a closer look at the page reproduced in text (p 241) and realizes,

“He’s calculated the full horoscope for the moment he thought she was abducted… Look at the date there. The eleventh of October 1974. Half past six in the evening… fuck’s sake. Astrology… he was out of his tree.”

The reproduced horoscope presents immediate challenges to the serious reader. First of all, are we supposed to take it seriously? After all, Talbot was sectioned, that is, put into custody for a break with reality. Should we assume the chart is random nonsense or an authentic charting of the heavens above 29 Clerkenwell Street the hour that Margot Bamborough disappeared?

Next, the text of the chart is layered, which is to say, it has at least two different hands or characteristic writing styles or implements. There is the miniscule writing with a fine point men and a set of annotations made with a Sharpie. Was Talbot the author of both? Who is the ‘Schmidt’ that seems to be guiding the corrections with the bold marker?

And the three-eyed goat that dominates the drawing? Sagittarius? Baphomet?

We don’t get answers to these questions in Part Three, though Strike discusses the picture in his fevered email to Robin on Christmas day (see chapters 29 and 30). We can, though, do something Strike seems to have neglected doing. To see if Talbot was really nuts and the chart a madman’s etch-a-sketch, we can calculate the chart for the time and date and place indicated.

It’s fairly straight forward because internet sites now exist that do all the heavy lifting of chart calculation. I used because it requires exact longitude and latitude as well as time and date to the minute, GMT. Nick Jeffery provided those numbers for 29 Clerkenwell Lane (51°31’17″N 0°06’08″W) and the chart below was generated in seconds.

It is an exact match with Talbot’s chart, if the Baphomet’s head is missing. Which raises more questions.

Which came first, for example, the story or the chart? Did Rowling choose a place and time she wanted for the story and then write around whatever the horoscope provided? That would suggest the horoscope isn’t that important for the story. Or did she randomly cast a horoscope (or had one given to her) with the challenge, “Go ahead and make an intelligible story around that”? 

Nick Jeffery pointed out that Rowling’s friends since her college semester in Paris, the astrologer duo Starsky and Cox, are thanked in Rowling’s acknowledgements: “to William Leone and Lynne Corbett, for inspiration and for checking my calculations” (929). “My calculations” is a claim that she drew the chart herself without the help of a computer, which we know she is more than capable of doing.

The chart does not seem to be meaningless; if nothing else, Talbot was dead serious about it. He was on the hunt for the Essex Butcher, Dennis Creed, whom he thought of as Capricorn (see Strike’s ‘Symbol Key’ in chapter 29 — of course). The Capricorn goat he elides with the Satanist Baphomet, hence our goat picture in the chart. We know two things about Capricorn and Rowling.

First, she gave us a picture on her Twitter page header of the Capricorn constellation on 19 May 2019, doggone close to the death-laden day of the Battle of Hogwarts.

Second, Rowling’s two natal horoscopes that she drew in 1994 for friends came with detailed and funny interpretations. All the references to astrological guides that she makes in those interpretations — and there are a bunch — can be found in one book, Louis MacNeice’s Astrology (Doubleday, 1964). What does MacNiece say about Capricorn?

I found very little in the pages dedicated to Capricorn except for MacNiece’s concern about “Capricorn’s ruler… frosty old Saturn.”  “Saturn is casting a chill or a shadow and yet he may be a liberator. If Saturn the ruler is actually in this sign [i.e., Capricorn on the natal chart], then everything is cut to the bone” (p 98).

In the discussion of the planet Saturn and its influences we find “In the Middle Ages Saturn was said to carry a scythe or a sickle because he does more execution when receding than when advancing” (p 60). It is also “much connected with magic” (p 62). Mostly, though, Saturn is bad news: melancholy, depression, illness, and death.

So… Aunt Joan is dying and we have a mystery of a young mother’s disappearance and presumed death. The Metropolitan Police detective for unknown reasons tried to take an occult passage through Capricorn and the Goat God Baphomet to find the person responsible. The reader is on a death watch with Cormoran and involved with a Cold Case in which the dead are repeatedly said to be with us (Oonaugh Kennedy: “They don’t disappear, the dead”). We hear repeatedly “water, water everywhere” and think albedo in the very real rain and wet weather, but the reference is to Rime of the Ancient Mariner’s “nor any drop to drink.” We are in the Saturnine nigredo of the series which Rowling-Galbraith is delivering via astrological rather than the usual alchemical glyphs.

I trust those of you who are literate in the language of constellations, planets, and houses, not to mention all the aspects involved will take a moment before finishing the book to see if Talbot, mad as he was, didn’t have the answer right before him in this chart and his mad association of suspects with their sun signs. especially if you know who ‘Schmidt’ is why he seems to have changed Talbot’s mind along the way!

Two more things: remember Robin’s birthday back in Part Two? It is her 29th birthday and she reads about Creed’s liberation from prison on his 29th birthday. The Clerkenwell Lane street address is 29 — and Strike gives the key to Talbot’s Capricorn cued chart in Troubled Blood‘s chapter 29. Saturn, as I noted yesterday, completes its orbit around the sun every 29 years, the so-called ‘Saturn Return.’ Yep, it’s a Saturnine fifth book, akin to Order of the Phoenix.

We do not know the time of birth for either Robin or Cormoran but we do know the day and the approximate place (thank you again, Nick Jeffery, for the lat and long specifics!). I think we can be pretty sure that Rowling cast these horoscopes, as Strike describes his in chapter 21, p 240: “Sagittarius, Scorpio rising, with the sun in the first house.” The data you need to confirm or disprove this is 23 November 1974, 12:00 (you insert noon if the time is not known), and “the closest maternity unit for St Mawes would be the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Treliske, Truro, 50° 16′ 0.12″ N, 5° 5′ 29.76″ W.” For Robin, enter 9 October 1984, 12:00, and “the closest maternity unit for Masham would be the Harrogate District Hospital, 53° 59′ 37.14″ N, 1° 31′ 3.58″ W.” Let us know what you find — especially if you invest in or research their compatability via a little comparative astrology!

(6) Talbot’s Celtic Cross Tarot Spread: Strike goes all in on interpreting (deciphering?) Talbot’s mad astrological chart and his attempt to find the Baphomet through this unconventional if relatively traditional method. I suppose Strike hopes that the rational Talbot may have buried some of his rational reasoning and investigative findings in the notes he makes about stars and planets. What Strike does not pursue is the Tarot Card reading Talbot attempted, a Celtic Cross eleven card spread that the Police Detective Inspector wrote down in his True Book with various annotations. Just before Charlotte interrupts him with her birthday suit birthday gift text message, he sees the card spread and thinks:

Returning to the notebook, Strike recognized the Celtic cross layout of tarot cards from his youth. Leda fancied herself a reader of tarot; many times had he seen her lay out the cards in the very formation Talbot had sketched in the middle of the page. He had never, however, seen the cards given astrological meanings before, and wondered whether this, too, had been Talbot’s own invention. (250)

On the True Book page facsimile we get in the hardcover edition of Troubled Blood on which the Celtic cross spread is depicted, Strike’s confusion is understandable. By far the most popular and available set of tarot cards is the Rider-Waite deck and I think it can safely be assumed that these would be the cards that Leda would have used for her amateur hour readings. There are no astrological signs assigned to these cards in published guides though the suits are usually interpreted in terms of the four elements into which astrological signs are also sorted.

Rowling, though, has all but told us which card deck Talbot is using. See the Rowling twitter page header for Strike’s birthday 2019:

The very serious Striker at Pools of Venetian Blue identified these cards as Thoth Tarot Deck pieces. The Thoth Deck is the collaborative creation of Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris. The deck was painted and complete in 1944 but only published as deck in 1969 and that in a poor reproduction of Harris’ paintings (a better set came out in 1977). Crowley’s guide to the tarot, one of them at least, is The Book of Thoth, in print since 1944. He does not assign astrological signs to every card, to any card in that guide.  Most of the minor trumps’ signs, though, can be found on the deck’s Wikipedia page.or in the little booklet that comes with the U. S. Games Systems Thoth Tarot deck (the booklet includes a card by card exegesis by Lady Harris supposedly from Crowley’s notes).

As above with Talbot’s astrological chart and its inherent challenges to the reader, so here with the neglected Celtic cross reading. Rowling-Galbraith via Strike’s key and notes gives readers a lot of help with the chart. We aren’t given more than the cards’ positions and a few Talbot annotations with the Celtic cross spread.

The good news? Unlike the astrological chart which would have been a monster to create in terms of what the story demands and then match up with a time and place that would match the hoped-for chart, the spread could easily (well…) be created to match what Rowling wanted to communicate. Which is? A reading that would reveal to the careful cartomancer the answer to the question Talbot asked when laying out the cards.

The problem is that Talbot doesn’t give us more than a few clues about what he was hoping to learn from his divination; we don’t even get all the cards thrown, alas.

Talbot’s card spread is the ten visible parts of the Celtic cross layout. There are eleven cards, however. The significator in the Celtic cross, the card representing the querent or subject of the question, is covered by the first card drawn — and Talbot doesn’t tell us what the card or the person is. The seventh card drawn is the consultant or card dealer and interpreter and Talbot tips his hand here in his ALL CAPS notes next to the Ten of Swords (Gemini): “RUIN — I WILL BE RUINED — I FACE RUIN.”

Similarly, there is a strong suggestion in the notes for the first or “covering card,” Nine of Swords (Gemini) which is supposed to reflect the querent’s current situation that the reading is about Margot Bamborough. Poison and blood drip’, CRUELTY, she suffers now ~ STILL ALIVE?

The U. S. Games System’s booklet’s entry for the Nine of Swords reads:

Cruelty. Yesod in the suit of Air. Mars in Gemini. The nine swords are of different lengths, pointing downwards, poison blood drips from their jagged points. The background is studded with tears and crystal forms. In this card intellect is replaced by heartless passion. (30, bold highlighting mine)

This booklet and Lady Harris’ notes may or may not have been available in 1974 when Talbot is supposed to have thrown the cards but let’s assume they were or he was working from another Crowley inspired text. Regardless, Talbot seems, as we might have guessed to be asking ‘What Happened to Margot Bamborough?’ The first answer he receives is the possibility that she is suffering but still among the living. Strike is aware from the police file that there had been multiple sightings of Margot after her vanishing from Clerkenwell and he learns about a credible witness who is sure he saw her in Laemington Spa two weeks after she disappeared. There is also the Amanda White testimony about Margot at a window on Clerkenwell Road. The card says she hadn’t died by the time Talbot did the reading. Strike’s Symbol Key tells us Talbot understood Gemini to mean either Oonaugh or Amanda. What else does the spread say and how did Talbot read the cards, both with his fine-tip pen and with the Schmidt-guided Sharpie?

‘The Two of Cups (Cancer)’ is the “obstacle” card in this layout, crossing the present condition. Cancer in the Talbot code refers to either Janice Beattie or Cynthia Phipps; he notes that “A partnership with (cancer) will emerge” as his interpretation and Strike tells us he thinks this partially explains Talbot’s repeated interviews with the nurse. Talbot also writes, “But Levi says ‘the two of cups is the cow’ SO ALSO POSSIBLY (Taurus): These two will be key (Cancer and Taurus).” Taurus in the Talbot key is Wilma Bayliss.

Let’s assume Talbot is Trelawney and that he is correct but not in how he understands his own interpretation or method. Then the “partnership that will emerge” is not between him and Cancer Janice, but the obstacle to his finding Margot alive or dead is the partnership in love that Cancer Cynthia will make with Roy Phipps — and Cancer Cynthia and Taurus Wilma will be key obstacles to his solving the case. The USGS booklet tells us:

Love. Chokmah in the suit of water. Venus in Cancer. The card represents two cups overflowing on a calm sea. These are filled from a Lotus, floating on the sea, twined with two dolphins, showing the harmony of the male and female interpreted in the highest and broadest sense.

The third card represents the “best that can be expected under the circumstances” and Talbot draws the trump card, The Chariot (Cancer). He writes “Victory, determination — I can solve [with (Cancer)]” and, written in fine tip but underlined with Sharpie, “(Cancer) opposes (Sagittarius/Baphomet).” USGS for this card says:

The four sphinxes on this card, drawing the Chariot, are the Bull, the Lion, the Eagle, and the Man, the whole representing the sixteen sub-elements. The function of the Charioteer is to bear the Holy Grail, in the centre of which is radiant blood, symbolising the presence of Light in Darkness. (22)

The four characters mentioned are traditional symbols of the four Christian evangelists derived from Ezekiel 1:10 and seen in Revelation 4:7. The Holy Grail is a sign of the eucharistic chalice bearing the blood of Christ, the Light of the world, Which “shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not” (John 1:5). The USGS “basic divinatory meanings” not derived from Crowley that are also in the Thoth deck booklet are given as “Triumph. Victory. Hope. Obedience. Faithfulness. Health. Success, though sometimes not enduring. Authority under authority. Ill-dignified: Violence in maintaining traditional ideas. Lust of destruction” (8-9).

Talbot’s reading, “Victory, determination — I can solve” suggests he is not reading or ignoring the Harris/Crowley spiritual meaning in favor of the simpler cipher. It also suggests his question may be, consciously or unconsciously “Will I Solve This Case?” rather than “What Happened to Margot?” The Chariot in the third position per St John of Patmos and Ezekiel the Prophet answers the Margot question with “the best possible ending to Margot’s situation is her salvation in Christ.” This is a remarkably Johannine card for an occult divinatory tool, no?

Note that neither reading identifies the Chariot with the astrological sign of Cancer. A third reading of this card in the USGS booklet, one written by Lady Harris for a 1942 exhibition of her paintings, reads:

VII. The Chariot. Cancer. Cheth. Held by the charioteer is the cup of Indian, Egyptian, and Arthurian tradition and it contains the blood of voluntary sacrifice. The charioteer (spirit) is seated in the chariot of the body and is drawn by sphinxes, who represent the sixteen sub-elements of the emotions.

If there is a take-away possibility here, besides ‘Cancer,’ it is ‘voluntary sacrifice.’ Shanker in Part Three, chapter 27, tells Strike flat out to leave Nico Ricci and his family alone. “You wanna drop this, Bunsen. If Mucky Ricci’s the answer, you need to stop askin’ the question” (311). Might atheist Margot who despises the church and God because of her father’s fall have had to choose between confronting the Riccis or being taken out by them for something she did unwittingly and just disappearing, “the blood of voluntary sacrifice,” to save her husband and daughter?

Note that the ‘Devil (Capricorn/Baphomet)’ card is in the spread position supposed to mean the querent’s ‘Past.’ The Thoth Tarot deck card for the Devil is almost certainly the model for Talbot’s drawing at the center of his astrological chart. The 1942 Harris reading of the card that includes the astrological sign reads:

XV. The Devil. Capricornus. Ain. As this card is governed by Capricornus, we have the traditional goat. On his forehead is the Eye of God, his curved horns represent the spiral force in nature, that is wanton creation, and his abandonment is emphasized by the bacchanalian bunch of grapes. Beneath him are the votaries in two dividing cells, stressing the doctrine that all sin is division. The background is designed from the marking on the planet Mars. The Goat is supported on the Caduceus. At the top of the Tree of Life at the back of the card is the ring of Saturn. (42, emphasis mine)

Talbot circles this card with his Sharpie and writes and circles “NO” next to it. No idea why he does that. He draws a line with his fine tip pen to the last card, ‘The Prince of Swords (Capricorn/Aquarius),’ and writes “CONNECTS” on the line. This last card represents the “culmination” of the reading or answer to the question. Talbot writes next to this top and final card “can be charming — (Aquarius) KNEW IN WORK?” and underlines this last with his Sharpie. Aquarius according to Strike’s ‘Symbol Key’ in chapter 29 (Saturn!) is Margot Bamborough herself.

None of the three interpretations in the USGS booklet provide an astrological reference for ‘The Prince of Swords.’ Talbot combines the connection he sees with the Devil in Margot’s past, the Capricorn/Baphomet, and unites it with Margot herself, the Aquarius, to give the card its Capricorn/Aquarius legend. Where does he get “can be charming”?

The generic meaning given, not from Crowley or Harris, reads:

Prince of Swords. Represents the airy part of air. A young man, purely intellectual, full of ideas and designs, domineering, intensely clever but unstable of purpose, with an elusive and elastic mind supporting various and contradictory opinions. He slays as fast as he creates. Ill-dignified: Harsh, malicious, plotting, unreliable man; a fanatic. (12)

Well, we should recognize him, right? How does Talbot get “can be charming” out of that? Maybe from Harris’ 1942 program guide to her exhibit:

Prince of Swords. The prince conveys two ideas, one simply hail, the other the restriction of the scientific outlook, which used but limits the imagination which is shown in the harnessed fays. (47) 

If the question was ‘What Happened to Margot Bamborough?’ the answer should be the suspect who corresponds with the Prince of Swords. Of the three that Strike has named in Career of Evil fashion — Steve Douthwaite, Paul Satchwell, and Roy Phipps — Oonaugh clearly thinks Satchwell is the monster with his “pillow dream” and pornographic stash. But she also says some things about Roy: “bloodless,” “a manipulator,” “a sulker,” a boyfriend who “would stop talking to Margot for days at a time,” even once “for a week” (271). Unless Douthwaite or Satchwell turn out to be closet scientists, I think the card points to the nasty hematologist.

Talbot’s mistake is his assumption that the Devil card represents the murderer, Creed, and his connecting him with the Prince of Swords. Of course, the boldest writing on the Celtic cross page is the heavy highlighting circles around the oversized words, ALL CAPS, “SCHMIDT CHANGES EVERYTHING BAPHOMET” over a pentagram beneath The Devil card. Maybe he learned something from Schmidt about The Devil; on the astrological chart, he wrote with his big black marker, “SCHMIDT ADVISES REASSESSMENT BAPHOMET BAPHOMET” and “SCHMIDT SAYS (Pisces) IS (Capricorn)!” Strike’s Symbol Key identifies the only Pisces as Steven Douthwaite. Are we back to Janice Beattie, RN, and her shopping porter with privileges?

Margot told Oonaugh that she had to talk with her best friend the night she disappeared because she needed advice. “She said, ‘I need to ask your advice about something. I might be going mad. I shouldn’t really talk about it, but I t’ink you’re the only one I can trust’.” (278) I think that rules out Douthwaite as Prince of Swords, even if Pisces is Capricorn. Margot was “living in a silent order” (277) with pouting, bloodless Roy. Had she found out something about him, something that would link him to the uber-dangerous Riccis? The only clue we’ve been given there is Oonaugh’s testimony that her experience as a mother made the idea of abortion abhorrent to her. Hence Oonaugh’s joining with Roy to have the Oakden boy’s book suppressed for suggesting Margot had had an abortion just before she disappeared (274). If Roy was performing abortions for Ricci sex workers at his clinic and they threatened her with exposure of Dr Brenner’s drug problem or told her to give them his super-supply of pills or else, wouldn’t her choice be disappear, die, or watch them throw acid in Anna’s face (311)?

I’m looking for clues from this point forward that point to a way that it would occur to her that her husband was in league with the most violent of murderers, a hint that would make the insane possibility real enough to think “I might be going mad.” I like the idea of her “voluntary sacrifice” that saves her soul, to boot, however great the suffering her disappearance had to have caused her.

(7) Potustoronost In my overview of the first ten chapters and the SWAGs post that the spirit dimension was going to play an oversized role in Troubled Blood. We get that in Part Three not only in Rev Oonaugh’s testimony that “They don’t disappear, the dead” (ch 24) and Gregory Talbot’s conviction that his finding the True Book just when Strike was re-opening the cold case was “maybe Dad’s doing” (ch 17). It’s in the astrology, the tarot cards, and the seriousness with which Strike is reading Talbot’s notes. We’re given a snoot full, certainly, of Strike’s hating his mother’s beliefs in the paranormal and occult access to the psychic realm as irrational and just plain stupid. But like it or not, we’re dragged into it with him despite this resistance. Just as Rowling smuggled in her Harry Potter novels the Gospel and attendant beliefs about the importance of the soul’s integrity — that there is such a thing as a soul! that it is immortal! — past the watchful dragons of our nihilist age, so now she seems to be using tarot cards and astrological charts to bring in some big ideas through the back door.

(8) Embedded Text: Whatever Happened to Margot Bamborough? Robin finds a copy of Whatever Happened to Margot Bamborough? the suppressed book by Dorothy Oakden’s only son, reads and highlights the short text for Strike, and he reads it while on stake-out duty (ch 25). Strike hates everything about what Oakden does as a writer, a hack looking to profit with a package of “speculation, supposition, and half-baked theory” (288). He all but calls Margot a Bunny girl gold-digger whore while suggesting every man in her vicinity was her likely killer. Forgive me, though, as a serious reader of Rowling-Galbraith, for thinking it is exactly when Strike says that he is wasting his time with nonsense that I know we need to be especially attentive.

I re-read the whole section after tripping over the throw-away line about a picture of the Phipps’ property, “it looked as though a summerhouse was under construction.” Ever read Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly? It’s a classic Poirot murder mystery featuring the ever-delightful Christie stand-in, Ariadne Oliver. Read it and you’ll understand why I went into review-mode.

Rowling writes about writing and reading. She embeds texts and unwritten narratives that her characters struggle to understand properly. As often as not, they don’t get what they’re reading or are told to think is wrong-headed the first time through. When they are especially careless, we know from experience of narrative misdirection that we are missing something important.

My bet the big piece of Whatever Happened to Margot Bamborough? that was spot on or which points to an important possibility Strike and Robin are neglecting comes in the series of rhetorical questions Oakden asks, questions, Strike thinks, “he and his foolhardy publishers appeared to think circumvented libel laws” (286). Strike’s answers to all these questions? “No, and you deserved to have your book pulped, pal” (italics in original; 288). He asks seven questions:

  • Was it possible that the woman who had the abortion had used Margot’s name with her support and consent?
  • In which case, who might Margot have been most eager to assist?
  • Was it not most likely that a Roman Catholic would be particularly worried about anyone finding out she had had an abortion?
  • Was it not also the case that complications could arise from such a procedure?
  • Might Margot have returned to the vicinity of the Bride Street Nursing Home on the eleventh of October to visit someone who had been readmitted to the clinic?
  • Or to ask advice on behalf of that person?
  • Could Margot possibly have been abducted, not from Clerkenwell, but from a street or two away from Dennis Creed’s basement?

We’ve heard from Oonaugh that Margot would not have an abortion herself but Oakden has a picture of the Bride Street log with Margot’s name in it, though the people there say she was not the person who signed in with that name. Good feminist and crusading GP that Dr Bamborough was, why are Oakden’s first two questions ripe for dismissal? Janice Beattie, as mentioned, might have been that person, with a son and no father at home already. Wilma Bayliss with a violent husband about to be released from jail is another. Gloria Conti, a woman whose Italian name suggests Roman Catholicism (if you accept Oakden’s premises) qualifies, too. Irene, Dorothy, even Cynthia could be added to that list with just a little imagination. What if the blood at the Phipps’ house that Strike is struggling to explain (324) was from Cynthia having “complications” from an abortion?

Strike is almost certainly right to dismiss questions three to seven as risible guessing to make the reader believe Creed did Margot in. We overlook those first two questions, though, along with the batch by following Strike’s lead and probably miss an important question that really needs to be answered: what was the story behind Margot’s name being used to make an appointment at a de facto abortion clinic?

(9) Order of the Phoenix Echoes: Goodbye, Shanker! Raging ALL CAPS Cormoran

I include in my list of Sure Things that must happen in Troubled Blood that we’d find plenty of pointers to both Career of Evil and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I hope you are writing down all the ones you find in the comment threads beneath the short posts Louise Freeman put up for just that purpose (links below!). As with Take Away #4 above, I want to mention a few echoes not just to note Rowling’s allusions to her other books, as fun as that is, but to suggest where she is going with these echoes.

First, we’ve been talking about the death of Shanker in Strike 5 for years now. He is the relatively obvious Sirius Black figure who will take a bullet or knife to save Strike’s life. His talk with Cormoran in chapter 28 of Part Three points to his dying in the line of fire to protect Robin, Cormoran, or Zahara from the Ricci brothers. Get your handkerchiefs ready.

And the parallel chapters to Shanker in 28 are the other Phoenix echo, namely, Ragin’ Cormoran, angry with his absentee celebrity dad, Jonny Rokeby in chapters 17 and 19, in a decent imitation of adolescent Harry Potter at the beginning and end of his fifth year at Hogwarts. I want to think that, just as Harry mistakes Dumbledore’s neglect as disregard which leads to his manipulation by the Dark Lord and Sirius’ demise, so Strike’s out of hand dismissal of Rokeby’s desire to reconcile with him as necessarily selfish and demeaning to his hard won identity apart from his famous father will somehow lead to Shanker’s death at the Riccis’ hands. Why, when Aunt Joan is at death’s door, does he find it impossible to think that his hard-living, harder-rocking, biological father might not be about to die, too?

(10) Part Five Pointers

Yes, I think Troubled Blood is almost certainly a ring composition and that its seven Parts, in addition to being rings themselves (!), also work as a ring when taken together. That’s our shared working hypothesis here. 

If that is true, then Part Three will have reverse echoes and question-answer correspondences in either Part Five or Part Six of Troubled Blood, five if it is a straight turtle-back, six if it is an asterisk. The ‘meaning being in the middle,’ Part Three is about Talbot’s occult strategy to find out what happened to Margot Bamborough. Look for its parallel parts to illumine both the astrological chart with the God’s Eye Long-horn Goat at its center (Thoth Devil!) and the Celtic Cross spread’s ‘Prince of Swords.’

We had two critical interviews in Part Three, first with Irene and Janice and then with Reverend Oonaugh Kennedy. I want to think we’ll learn what they were hiding or the meaning of what they actually said in their parallel Part’s chapters the way Oonaugh answered the question (sort of!) of why Irene really didn’t want Strike to know the cause of her fight with Margot at the Christmas Party. Who was the man she thought Margot was flirting with? And what was making Margot think she “might be going mad”?

More likely, there will be more interviews with characters that have evaded Strike and Robin thus far. A child of Wilma Bayliss, for starters, Amanda White, of course, the Oakden boy-author, now middle-aged, and Creed, Satchwell, Douthwaite, and Roy and Cynthia Phipps, the main suspects.

In the Part Three turn, chapter 22, Strike deletes a picture of naked Charlotte on his birthday, a picture she sent him with an open invitation to return to her. I expect, dread, and look forward to an in-person confrontation with his glorious ex, a meeting that promises to be as memorable and painful (Saturnine!) as Robin’s mediation session with Matthew which we hear about in Part Three’s chapters 18, 23, 28 and 30. If this is the series nigredo, these will be the occasions for solve dissolution well before coagula resolution and reintegration.

And how about a meeting with Big Jonny? That would be the parallel with his first contact, the Bloodhound Xmas card, I’d like to see in Part Five.

Tomorrow, though, it’s Part Four, the longest of the seven Parts and as the story center, our best bet for clues about whodunnit. Congratulations if you made it through this over-long post; I’ll try to keep tomorrow’s to a much smaller word count. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Troubled Blood, only up to chapter 30, and my thoughts above, especially on the astrology and tarot gimmes in play, in the comment boxes below. If you have parallels you see between Strike 5 and any of Rowling’s other work, please do write them up on the posts provided just for that (links below).


Day One, Part One: Charting the First Seven Chapters of Troubled Blood

Day Two, Part Two: Top Ten Take Aways for Chapters Eight to Fourteen of Troubled Blood

Day One, Part One: The Spenserian Epigraphs of the Pre-Released Troubled Blood Chapters

Day Two, Part Two: The Spenserian Epigraphs of  Troubled Blood Chapters Eight to Fourteen


  1. Kelly Loomis says

    I won’t comment on your predictions since I’ve finished but I love reading them. One of my favorite things to do is “record” major sporting events because I like to go back to the pregame show and see how accurate the commentators were with their opinions!

  2. Louise Freeman says

    The chocolates may have been an unfortunate choice, but I was reading that entire scene with dread, thinking he was about to make a far worse gaffe by inadvertently picking out Sarah Shagsalot”s perfume.
    “Gazing over the sparkling shelves, he spied a pink bottle shaped like a hand grenade, which reminded him of his Army days. Deciding this was a plausibly good reason for selecting it that would not have overly romantic connotations, he asked the saleswoman to gift-wrap the largest bottle they had. He was shocked at the price tag, but gratified that Ilsa couldn’t accuse him of insensitivity this time.”

  3. Sorry I’m dense here, but what does “Potustoronost” mean? I think you meant to refer to Strike in this line: “We’re given a snoot full, certainly, of Trump’s hating his mother’s beliefs in the paranormal and occult access to the psychic realm as irrational and just plain stupid.” So maybe the reference to “Trump” put me off the scent thinking that POTUS has some reference to President of the United States? Sorry. Need a definition of Potustoronost, and would like clarification that you’re not dealing with TDS, Trump Derangement Syndrome!

  4. Busy week, I got behind in the reading and probably won’t catch up to the group at this point. Maybe it’s just as well. I really “knackered” my neck reading Lethal White the first time.

    I’m about the worst person to give input on this, but in Part 2, Chapter 8, when Strike is reading The Demon on Paradise Park, we are told that Dennis’ mother says that Dennis’ birth certificate is wrong and he was really born on “the night of November 19th.” In which case, Dennis Creed is really a Scorpio, right?

    Agatha Christie’s Nemesis has a similar thing going on as Dead Man’s Folly. Also, I wanted mention Dorothy L. Sayers Have His Carcase has an important character with a blood disorder and a missing body.

    Love Louise’s fan fiction! Picking out perfume while not being able to smell could go so horribly wrong. Although Robin’s mom’s choice of a perfume that’s a super generic scent the wrong message too.

    Jim, not sure how much you’re joking, but I Googled Potustoronost and got search results in a non-Roman alphabet, so I put it into Google translate. It is Russian for “Otherworldly.”

  5. Hello, John.

    I have been re-reading this post after you saying that you will be looking at the tarot spreads pre-IBH, and I have noticed that you say that in the Celtic cross spread that Talbot draws ” There are eleven cards, however. The significator in the Celtic cross, the card representing the querent or subject of the question, is covered by the first card drawn — and Talbot doesn’t tell us what the card or the person is.” There are not 11 cards, but 10: the one you say it is covered, it is not in fact covered but only “crossed”, and it is the IX of Swords. It is true, however, that he doesn’t specify who this card significates or what is the exact question that he asked. We may presume that he directly asked “Who killed Margot?”, hence the IX of Swords significates Margot. However, if the question were “How can I solve this case?”, then the IX of swords may indicate either the case itself (if we choose “this case” as the significator) or Talbot himself (If we choose “I” as the significator). Rowling does a great job in being ambiguous, so as Strike says, once the case is solved you can make a case that the predictions were bang in the money or completely wrong.

    I will keep studying these cards and the True Book notes no see what else can I gleam from them.

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