Troubled Blood, Part Two: Top Ten Take-Aways from Chapters Eight to Fourteen

As explained yesterday, 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. 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 Two, Chapter Fourteen!

Top Ten Take-Aways from Troubled Blood, Part Two

29 St John’s Lane

(1) My first take-away from this exercise in relatively slow reading of a Rowling-Galbraith text is the thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if Rowling released a la Dickens her books in serial format?” I’d enjoy and appreciate the books that much more if she released several chapters or a novel section every other week or over several months. That sort of spacing would be a grace for the especially attentive reader so we could read the book as closely as this literal ‘narrative slow release’ would allow. No, I won’t hold my breath for that. (The pictures of Clerkenwell that grace this post are Google Street View screen shots collected by Nick Jeffery; thank you, Nick!)

(2) Ring Notes: Latch in chapters 8 and 14. 8 is largely set in a pub with Strike learning from Layboun the Missing Person case essentials. 14 is entirely in The Three Kings in which Robin and Cormoran review the findings in the police file Layboun has given them. That’s a pretty solid ring latch.

29 St John’s Lane

(3) Ring notes: Story Turn. For a seven part ring, chapter 11 is the natural center, the fourth of seven parts. Strike is in transition between his interview with Gupta and London, literally on a train — not in a pub, not ruminating on Bamborough case details, not a real strong echo, therefore, with the latch of Part Two. The significant connection is that Strike hears from Layboun about the Metropolitan Police file discussed in chapters 8 and 14 and that he will be delivering copies of the four boxes to Strike’s office. That will have to serve as the Part Two axis, then, if it is a ring.

Passing Alley

(4) Ring Notes: Meaning in the Middle. The central piece of a ring, in addition to linking beginning and end, should provide the take-away meaning for the whole. If that is the case, I think it is Strike’s realization after his conversation with Margot’s partner that he is beginning to think of her now as a real person rather than as a concept or flat surface reality (Robin has the same thoughts at the beginning of the last chapter). That is what Part Two does; we get three increasingly deep dives into the case and how it was investigated in chapters 8, 10, 13, and 14. Part One of Troubled Blood was prologue, i.e., the hiring, Part Two is the case details. Strike receives messages from Al Rokeby and Ilsa that are profoundly revealing, Strike’s shadow reality made exterior, namely, his suppression of all thinking about his father’s side and about his feelings for and obligations to Robin. These messages coupled with the great news about the Met file are a snapshot of both Part Two (chapters noted above) and the Strike-Ellacott drama (the Robin chapters 9 and 12, with chapter 8’s call from Charlotte). Chapter 11 is a short chapter but a brilliant center to Part Two’s ring.

St John’s Gate

If Troubled Blood is a seven part ring and its seven Parts are a turtle-back, then the questions opened up in Part Two should be answered in Part Six. Part Two is both the first lay out of the mystery of Margot Bamborough’s disappearance and the introduction of the incipient crisis in Strike’s long delayed and suppressed daddy and first true love psychological issues. Part Six, and, yes, I know this is not an especially brilliant insight given the brevity of Part Seven, will be the big reveal of ‘What Happened to Margot?’ and ‘Will Strike Successfully Come to Terms with His Feelings about Rokeby, Charlotte, and Robin?’

(5) Ring Notes: Asterisk Lines. If Part Two is a ring, the obvious relations between the fore and aft chapters is an asterisk rather than a turtle-back [about which, see (6)]. Chapters nine and twelve, the first and fifth parts of the ring, and chapters ten and thirteen, the third and sixth pieces, are undeniable parallels. The first pair are Robin chapters, in which she waits for a birthday call from Strike and then she receives it in the corresponding chapter on the diagonal. The second pair are largely deep-dives, as mentioned, into the 29 St John’s Lane office situation and day of disappearance events thirty nine years ago. 

Entrance to Albermarle

(6) Ring Notes: Turtle-Back lines. There are connections between the second and next to last chapters and the two just before and after the story-turn. Strike does mention the Gupta interview, for example, in his chapter twelve phone conversation with Robin, an interview that takes place in chapter ten. Strike and Robin talk about her reading Demon of Paradise Park in chapter 13’s long walk to The Three Kings, a reading she takes up with the exact misgivings Strike has for her in chapter nine. The strongest links between nine and thirteen, though, are all the mentions of the number 29. It is Robin’s 29th birthday in nine and she is reading about Creed’s release from prison on his 29th (and how his life takes a serious change in direction at this point). Chapter thirteen begins at 29 St John’s Lane and largely turns on the walk around and in the vicinity of this building. That’s a decent link if nothing akin to the asterisk lines joining chapters mentioned in (5).

Clerkenwell Rd Woman in window

(7) Twenty Nine. I was born on October 29th and if I have a lucky or favorite number it is 29. Perhaps the only really interesting and important thing related to this prime number is that it is the number of years it takes Saturn to complete an orbit around the sun. This is a very big deal among Western astrologers who have dubbed itSaturn Return and who believe the years before and after every twenty nine years after one’s birth are decisive in one’s life (starting at twenty-seven, ending at thirty). Saturn is also the marker of death, so it has notes on its return in the natal chart of momento mori. {Public confession, I am in my fifty-eighth year in 2020, so I am due a big change. Your prayers.} It’s no accident that Robin is in the crisis she is passing through just now and that it comes in the series nigredo. All of that only in support of our shared conviction at HogwartsProfessor that the coming Troubled Blood parts do not promise sunny days for Robin and Cormoran; astrologer Rowling in this paranormal heavy novel is cueing just that darkness with the number 29.

St John’s Priory Church

(8) Halloween: Robin’s birthday, like mine, falls in late October, which makes her a first-third Scorpio in Western astrology (my father is one as well; my mother was a last third Scorpio). [ERROR: Robin’s birthday is 7 October; she is a Libra.] This placement is supposed to mean that one is especially the qualities related to the Scorpio sun-sign, e.g., being both profoundly spiritual and martial. I mention this because Strike teases Robin in Albemare Way at St John Priory Church — after first noting and disliking her new Fracas scent — and then again at St James on the Green church on Clerkenwell Close that she is the enthusiast for the medium’s messages about Margot lying in “Holy Places.” Strike plays the metaphysical skeptic and assigns Robin the relatively spiritual or noumenal part of the investigation, one, with his ‘means before motive’ messaging, he clearly thinks is less helpful or important than material practicalities.

That they are visiting these places and a pub named for the Three Magi, as Robin notes, on Halloween, a night associated with revelations and appearances from the psychic realm, suggest that Rowling is pointing to Strike’s blind spot and psychological shadow as an investigator in this regard. Egad, the names! Theo, Creed, Margot (Pearl), Gloria, Irene, Dorothy, Oonaugh (Una) — all heavy with Christian allegorical content. And the places, not only the churches but Jerusalem Passage, St John’s Lane, and The Three Kings. Someone reading this book, forget the Spenser epigraphs, and not picking up the highlighting and iconographic notes should lose their Serious Reader’s license. Look for Strike’s empiricism to take a big blow in this book and for Scorpio Robin to shine. 

St John’s Priory Church Entrance

(9) Embedded Texts: I sense three, two of which jump off the page. The first is The Demon of Paradise Park, a book by an investigative reporter into the Dennis Creed case. Both Robin and Cormoran buy used copies and we get a lot of information dumped on us via their readings of this helpful book. A book inside the book about the subject matter of the book… I’m betting that the place Strike’s reading of the book is interrupted by Charlotte’s call in chapter eight will prove to be something he’ll have wished he read. The second is the Metropolitan case files on the Bamborough disappearance. It’s a huge file of four boxes — and has a double narrator, investigative officers Talbot and Lawson, one an occultist of some kind, the other Mr Professional Procedural. Cormoran is spending as much time interpreting these interpreters of the story as he is the actual case at hand. Rowling once again is writing an embedded narrative about reading and writing within her story about how best to read the narrative in hand.

The third narrative is Career of Evil. There are Silkworm touches, I know, especially that book within the book bit, but when Strike tells Robin in chapter fourteen that there are three primary suspects — “So now we turn to three men the police considered plausible suspects at the time and ask ourselves where they were at a quarter to six on the eleventh of October 1974” — we’re back to Strike3, no? The book will turn on Strike’s search for, discoveries about, and confrontations with Roy Phipps, Paul Satchwell, and Steve Douthwaite (and the dates Talbot circled by each of their names), the way Career did with Laing, Brockbank, and Whittaker (and Malley! Whittaker and Malley are likely for cameo appearances at least in Troubled Blood).

(10) The Baphomet. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when Pat translated the Pitman shorthand code for Baphomet. The nutters who have been writing me since I posted about Rowling’s solve et coagula tattoo have all been saying that she is a Satanist because the alchemical formula is on the arms of the Satanist idol-god, the Baphomet. That Talbot wrote this in shorthand suggests he was either taking dictation or wanted to keep it from idle eyes (though not an especially arcane code, right?). I wonder if we aren’t going to learn that Talbot, wait for it, was a Satanist, that Margot was chosen as a Satanic ritual sacrifice of some kind, and that Talbot’s job was to dead-end the case (and protect the hematologist-Satanist husband who is something of a vampire and cult-leader). Wilma Bayliss’ testimony about blood on the floor of the Phipp’s home on the day of disappearance will prove critical.

Hats off, regardless, to the online Assassins of Satanists who were convinced months ago that Rowling’s tattoo was a pointer to the Baphomet!

The circled dates? The Pentagrams? You tell me. Frankly, I’ll be disappointed if the killer turns out to be Roy Phipps; the husband, even if with a solid alibi at the start, being the murderer is a little too much like “the butler did it.”  I hope Oonaugh has some serious information about Margot’s loves, especially if she had lesbian or bisexual issues, to make this case and Margot less cut and dried than a jealous husband killing his wife, even if in a cult sacrifice, must be.

Two more quick notes for your interest and possible investigation before we move on to the much longer Part Three:

(*) Strike mentions real life serial killers Peter Tobin and Harold Shipman in Part Two. If Creed has a parallel here, it is probably Shipman, whose final death count remained something of a mystery. Tobin is fascinating because of his possibly being the Bible John murderer; Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue, which has significant parallels with Career of Evil, is largely about DI John Rebus’ fascination with Bible John. If there is an embedded ‘model muderer’ in Troubled Blood akin to Rattenbury the Wonder Dog, look for him first in the murderers named by Strike.

(**) If Rowling has read Louise Freeman’s HogwartsProfessor posts about DNA testing and realized she’d written herself into a corner, she writes her escape, brilliantly I might add, by having Strike think to himself that his mother Leda was “the woman with whom [poor Jonny Rokeby] had carelessly fathered a child in the semi-public corner of a New York party.” This opens the possibility that Cormoran was conceived while others watched or knew it was happening and that his birth nine months later was sufficient evidence of paternity to Rokeby and his entourage that he was the daddy, even without testing to prove paternity conclusively. That it happened in New York and 1974 re-opens the possibility that Strike is Eric Bloom’s son, Bloom being the lead singer of Blue Oyster Cult and Leda’s obsession. They were a Long Island, NY, group with a few hits in 1974 that might have been the opening act for the touring Deadbeats.

There’s more — Margot as WEA worker like the Murray matron of the dedication, the Guptas, partition, and mother-son relationships a la Gandhi’s Truth (you might want to check that out; Rowling as Louise Freeman has revealed seems to have a thing for Indian psychology/psychologists, no? Review the importance of Dr V. S. Ramachandran to Career of Evil if that doesn’t make sense to you) — but that’s all I have time to write up today.

On to Part Three, the first of the seven book Parts that is more than seven chapters! Wish me luck — and please share your thoughts on Part Two in the comment boxes below if and only if you have not read Part Three and beyond. Cheers!



  1. (Only a third of the way through three, so I’ll venture a comment where I include only what I had in my notes by the end of Part Two.)

    Continued Freudian word choice in these chapters:
    Ch. 10: Gupta describes the reactions of those in his practice: “…a week hadn’t passed since it happened that she hadn’t dreamed about Margot…There is something—uncanny about it…Irene was quite hysterical after Margot disappeared.”

    The language here of “dreams”, the “uncanny”, and “hysteria” are all central within Freud, and appear within a page of one another in this chapter. Given Rowling’s Jungian approach to alchemy, I think this anticipates a reading of the occult elements surrounding the case from a psychoanalytic point of view (archetypes/collective unconscious/Jungian synchronicity).

    The Pitman code section is Rowling at her best, illustrating a mode of decoding. When I first looked at it, it seemed gibberish (I haven’t been initiated into Pitman code.) When it is decoded, we are told that there is one symbol that was not recognizable as Pitman code (thought to self: that might be something I do know how to read). Looking back at the code, and following where the commas were placed to locate the unclear symbol, I saw a symbol I recognized: the astrological sign for Capricorn, here identified with Baphomet. What I love about this is that the total noise of the text to me was clarified as signal by the fact that for the characters the one bit I could understand was noise.

    This connects some things: Aleister Crowley is, at least per Wikipedia page on Baphomet, the chief source for identifying Baphomet with Capricorn. Further, Capricorn is under the rule of Saturn (!) and is, by its place at the turning of the year, representative of the beginning of the alchemical work (nigredo) when the metal is tortured Lead. [Not in my notes: the 29 year cycle you mention above is fascinating here. Not to mention terrifying, given that I turn 27 next year.]

    As to Baphomet, I should have posted earlier this year (mea culpa!) on a non-Satanist esoteric reading of the figure. There are three cards in the Tarot deck that are directly parallel to one another: the Two of Cups (representative of the alchemical wedding presided over by Hermes), the Lovers (again, alchemical wedding imagery), and The Devil (a dark mirror of the alchemical wedding, in which the figure of Baphomet acts as uniter of masculine and feminine). The role of Hermes (as I will need to write further about in the promised post on the Hermetic side of this book) is all three. The Devil (poorly named card, given it represents the starting/leaden arrangement of form and matter as it goes through nigredo-stage torture, rather than evil) shows Hermes/Baphomet in his evil-appearing aspect (think Snape at end of book 6, still working good behind the scenes, but appearing to be fully evil). “Solve et coagula” is on his arms because that is the task of Hermes, to act behind the scenes as both divider/torturer/disolver (Baphomet) and unifier/coagulator (presiding spirit at the Alchemical wedding). Baphomet, despite appearances, is not meant to be the devil (nor was understood as such prior to Satanism’s reworking of its originally Masonic(?) meaning), but Hermes in his dark aspect.

  2. Louise Freeman says

    I love the 29 connection!

    The real-life serial killer most closed resembling Creed is Ted Bundy, with perhaps a dash of Richard “The Night-Stalker” Ramirez thrown in. Though, I am very interested to see what Lana Whited, who literally wrote the book on true-crime, has to say about the inspiration.

  3. Robin’s birthday is on October 9, not in late October – she’s a Libra, not a Scorpio. There’s a time jump between her birthday and Halloween at the beginning of chapter 13. I only mention it because a chunk of your analysis depends on her star sign.

  4. Thank you! I’m writing about Robin’s star chart right now in my notes for Part Three and realized I’d made this mistake…

    Festina lente, right? Thanks again!

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Does JKR/RG ever provide enough detail of any character’s birth to enable one to use an ephemerides to work out a really detailed horoscope? No examples spring to mind, but neither had that question till just now, so I may have been oblivious to all sorts of info!

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    De ‘we’ know if JKR/WG knows A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot (1996) by the late Professor Sir Michael Dummett, Ronald Decker, and Thierry Depaulis, and/or its companion volume, A History of the Occult Tarot, 1870-1970 (2002) by Michael Dummett and Ronald Decker? Among other things, they include attention to fiction including Tarot cards, which would provide food for further reading on her part and allusive play…

    And, given the importance of (so to put it) the early to mid-1970s for the book, does it look like there’s any ‘interaction’ with the 1970-72 Thames Television series, Ace of Wands?

  7. My notes, which focus on literary alchemy, follow:

    Ch. 8: This chapter is loaded with eye symbolism, and water (the latter starts much earlier, and was discussed briefly in my previous comment). Eyes represent preparing the way for the albedo stage (Abraham). Moreover, the weather reflects the slow transmutation occurring within Strike – especially rain upon windows. Windows are also eyes, and their colour at any particular time of the day, and how the rain interacts with them, sort of alludes to how persistently the albedo stage is attempting to be let in. Another, perhaps more obvious, reference to this is actual eyes (Creed’s, alas) on the cover of The Demon of Paradise Park, which is the final ‘unsettling’ (p. 84) image in the chapter.

    Ch. 9: The first mention of the recurring bit of dialogue spoken offstage to Robin (‘It’s like you’re travelling in a different direction to the rest of us’), which I discussed briefly in the comments on chapters 1–7 under the theme of displacement. To summarise here, both Strike and Robin need to resolve their own feelings of displacement to reach the albedo stage, and they need to do it both together and alone.

    Robin reflects on the above when ‘all colour seemed drained from her surroundings’, and which involves Matthew, whom she misses ‘not at all’ (p. 86) – though we know that he is still giving her grief. Upon having this reflection, she feels the need to ‘take a shower’ (p. 87) – water motif again.

    I also noted the death/underworld theme (see previous comment) here. For Strike, it began with the boatman and the ferry; it struck me here that Robin had been underground, and had been having underground thoughts on Creed, while travelling to work on the tube (p. 91). Either way, both she and Strike take trips to the underworld throughout Troubled Blood. According to Hillman, Jung compared Picasso’s blue period (I went into detail on why blue is a colour of the transitory stage between nigredo and albedo in my last comment) to the ‘realm of Hades’ where everything is ‘death-struck’ (‘Alchemical Blue and the Unio Mentalis’, p. 8, fn vi).

    Meantime, Robin and Strike are out ongoing quarrelling couple.

    Ch. 10: I am going to omit discussion of this chapter, because I think it would be a spoiler, except to mention that this is the first time we hear about ‘Theo’, and are introduced to a confusion of categories with respect to gender. Later, in chapter 12, we’re reminded of this confusion when the television weatherman’s wife points out that they do not know whether his secret admirer/stalker is male or female (p. 114).

    Ch. 11. The themes and motifs above continue here: for example, ‘rainy dusk’; ‘seven women’, ‘negative images’ (p. 109).

    Ch. 12: ‘The television weatherman brought his wife to the catch-up meeting’ (p. 113). I am drawing attention to the weatherman, because the weather is at the whim of the alchemical stages, so it seems that it all ties together …

    However, the most interesting part of this chapter, for me, is the start of Robin’s Odyssean journey (see the imagery on p. 118) to find a new signature perfume/potion. We find out that Margot Bamborough’s perfume, ‘Rive Gauche’, is in ‘a blue, black and silver cylinder’ – blue and silver being the transitory colours between black/nigredo and white/albedo. Thus, the stage that Margot was in when she vanished mirrors (to borrow another image from p. 118, and also another silver symbol of reflection in between nigredo and albedo) Robin and Strike’s progress here.

    Interestingly, according to Robin, Rive Gauche ‘wasn’t a smell from nature. There was a ghostly rose there, but also something strangely metallic’ (p. 119). I may be reading too much into it, but to me it smells like the white stone/rose – produced by art (not ‘from nature’), and metallic (suggests transmutation of baser metal into the ‘ghostly rose’). In this scene, Robin also wafts past Sarah Shadlock’s perfume, and in this respect, her trial with what will total 7 perfumes is a bit like the one fashioned by Professor Snape in Philosopher’s Stone (the potions riddle with 7 bottles).

    Robin ends up buying Fracas – ‘a rectangular black bottle’ (p. 119) – clearly a choice which will have a blackening effect on her. It is blackening because Robin expresses the desire to be ‘utterly different from the kind of fool …’ – however, this is not the way to albedo. I will discuss these choices, and more perfumes/potions, in relevant chapters later on.

    Ch. 13: In which Strike makes choices as horrible as Robin’s, but with respect to gifts for her. I mention this here because the two side plots are intimately related.

    Strike notices that Robin has changed her perfume, and first mistakes it for ‘what he had thought were the dying stargazer lilies’ (that he gave her). He notes that Fracas reminds him a little of his ex (Lorelei – not Charlotte), and describes its scent as ‘cloying and sickly’ (p. 129). In alchemy, according to Abraham, lilies are usually associated with the albedo stage – but Strike’s are ‘stargazer lilies’, that is, not white.

    A little later, there is more flower imagery (‘The onlookers didn’t all agree what it was, but two of them thought a large flower’, p. 133) – I’ll return to the significance of this in the relevant chapter later on.

    Ch. 14: All the motifs introduced earlier are present and expounded upon here.

    Till later.

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