Troubled Blood: The Astrological Clock and Otherworldly Structure of Strike5

Overview: Rowling-Galbraith wrote Troubled Blood not only as a ring composition, her standard narrative structure, but also as an astrological chart or clock-face. The 73 chapters divide neatly into twelve houses or hours, the chapter groups correspond at meaningful points with the values assigned to specific astrological houses, and a St John’s Cross is visible in the four angular houses of the chart. The author has, in other words, taken her structural artistry to an entirely different and higher plane than she ever has before.

Introduction:, if it is to be tagged with a critical school category name, is probably best labeled as ‘Formalist.’ I’d give that tag the prefix ‘Estecean’ to avoid confusing what we have chosen to focus on at this website — the structure and style concerns of an intentional and capable writer who as often as not is ‘writing about writing,’ that is, the conscious experience of narrative — from the soulless and social justice excesses of structuralism or deconstruction, but the ‘Formalism’ shoe fits, frankly, with or without the modifier. Search for ‘Ring Composition’ in the site search space in the left column of the web page if you doubt that.

Troubled Blood, as far as ring writing goes, is Rowling-Galbraith’s most involved and intricate piece of writing. As explained in the exposition of each of the first six parts of the novel I wrote during my first read-through, the novel as a whole is a ring composition: the latch is in parts one and seven, the story turn is in Part Four which creates a story axis in connecting with the latch in the first and last parts, and the corresponding Parts to and from that center, two and six as well as three and five, match up for the classic turtleback.

The book corresponds as well with the seven book turtle-back structure of the Harry Potter novels in reflecting the third novel of the series, Career of Evil, and, once again, its corresponding number in the Hogwarts Saga, Order of the Phoenix. For real Ring Wraiths who know that the fifth book in the Potter series ring corresponds closely with the first book in that series, there are also many notes connecting Troubled Blood with Cuckoo’s Calling, the first cold case Robin and Cormoran solve, and with Philosopher’s Stone.

Incredibly, though, there is more. Each of the first six parts of Troubled Blood is written as a ring composition within itself, the first two parts being seven chapter rings in reflection of the book’s seven parts and the first seven books of Strike being a ring, too. Wheels within wheels within wheels. This is structural artistry that, however arcane it may seem to the reader new to Rowling-Galbraith’s formal fetish, is only “more of the same” to those of us who have been charting her novel-rings (and longer twitter threads!) since 2010.

With Troubled Blood, however, Rowling has added another dimension of structure and style that reflects and reinforces the symbolic and thematic meaning of the book. In addition to the ‘Wheels Within Wheels’ Ring artistry, Strike5 is also laid out as an astrological chart, more easily visualized as a clock face, whose twelve sections or ‘houses’ correspond with the twelve houses of Western horoscope natal charts and the three groupings of these houses into St John crosses (the four house astrological bundles called “angular, succedent, and cadent”).

Four Pointers to Embedded Astrological Clock: Rowling signals this in four ways. First, the astrological clock at Hampton Court was the defining image in the book’s marketing. The cover designers have said that this was Rowling’s choice (hat tip to Nick Jeffrey):

The author’s input identified this as an ideal image to use. The shape and construction of a clock face also created an ideal framing device for the design to set the lettering within and draw the viewer into the scene. This also achieved something which was more emblematic rather than just location-based.

If that isn’t enough, the chapter in which we first see the astrological clock includes the revelation that Margot used to leave her husband messages hidden inside an ornate clock in their living room; Roy confesses in the next chapter that his wife left a cry of the heart to him, ‘Talk to me!,’ in just this fashion the week of her disappearance. The idea of a ‘secret message in a clock’ is planted.

Second, there is the astrological chart drawn up by Talbot for the moment of Margot Bamborough’s disappearance, which is simultaneously dismissed by the Dynamic Duo as Looney Tunes and studied endlessly by them. It gives the literal and figurative shape to their supposed-to-be year long investigation — and that Talbot chart corresponds exactly with the Aries to Pisces organization of the standard twelve houses organization of astrological charts.

Third, the story is set as a one year frame, a deadline established by Anna Phipps and Kim Sullivan, that corresponds to the zodiac cycle. The Dynamic Duo work two extra months after failing to meet the deadline, an addendum and addition to the traditional cycle of twelve that Rowling teasingly refers to via the embedded text of Astrology 14 by Stephen Schmidt that adds two constellations to the zodiac (nota bene: this charting won’t be neat, right?).

Fourth and last on my first listing, St John’s crosses are spread through-out Troubled Blood, most notably in Clerkenwell, at the Phipps gazebo, in a brick at Hampton Court, and in the ‘Dig Here’ note of the novel’s Hermes figure, Carl Oakden, in which readers are told that the secret of the book is to be found buried beneath the eight point cross.

Rowling divides the work into seven Parts, however, rather than twelve. How are we to ‘get’ that the book is an astrological chart if it isn’t obviously broken into twelve sections? More important, how do we divide the book into twelve sections? Follow me after the jump for the fascinating details.

Charting the Astrological Clock in Troubled Blood: Creating a twelve part division of Troubled Blood actually is the easiest part of this effort.

Rowling has divided the work into 73 chapters. All that needs to be done to divide the work into twelve equal chapter-set pieces is have the first and last chapters overlap as the ’12’ does as beginning and end on a clock-face. The ‘6’ will be chapter 37 because it has thirty six chapters before and after it. The ‘3’ and ‘9’ will be chapters 19 and 55 respectively because in like fashion these chapters have eighteen chapters between them on either side from the start-finish and half-way point. The remaining numbers on the clock face come in six chapter intervals, that is, add six to the previous number for the clock face digit. Chapters 7, 13, 19, 25, 31, 37, 43, 49, 55, 61, 67, and 73/1 by this reckoning are the Clock Face and Astrological House numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.

If you draw this up (as I have, above), of course, you have to make a choice between drawing it up as a clock face, that is, the numbers rotating in a clockwise circle from 12 at the top to six at the bottom back to twelve again, or as astrological chart, which begins at the ascendant, clock face ‘9,’ and moves counter-clockwise in twelve intervals back to the ascendant and the twelfth house. I used the clock face though I was looking for astrological correspondences because the analog time-piece face is tattooed to the back of my eye-lids and I realized I would be fighting that embedded intellectual technology if I tried to chart a counter-clockwise map of the novel. De gustibus.

Astrological House Theory Premises: Now the hard work. Do the houses in this twelve part division correspond to the twelve Houses of natal astrology? This requires making several assumptions I want to acknowledge up front.

The first is that there is meaning to be found here. That’s a great leap in itself. Rowling is a Nabokovian, as discussed here many times, and the serious reader of Nabokov is familiar with his disdain for and delight in setting snares for those who choose to over-read the signs and symbols of his work (read the Wikipedia discussion of the VVN short story ‘Signs and Symbols‘ if you doubt me on that). Strike tells Robin flat out that, when the case is finished, crazy astrologers and skeptics will be able to find compelling evidence that Talbot’s chart, pictures, and notes had all the answers to the Bamborough case and none of the answers.

“If we ever find out what happened to Margot Bamborough,” said Strike, “I’ll bet you a hundred quid you’ll be able to make equally strong cases for Talbot’s occult stuff being bang on the money, and completely off beam. You can always stretch this symbolic stuff to fit the facts. One of my mother’s friends used to guess everyone’s star signs and she was right every single time.”

“She was?”

“Oh yeah,” said Strike. “Because even when she was wrong, she was right. Turned out they had a load of planets in that sign or, I dunno, the midwife who delivered them was that sign. Or their dog.” (586-587)

Strike goes on from there to mock the notion of houses. This is chapter 49, however, the first chapter of both Part Five and the Ninth House. Robin and Cormoran begin their discussion at last of “nature versus nurture” in this chapter in addition to the veracity of astrological charts, the correspondence of earth to the heavens. The Ninth House, is, you guessed it, the House of “religion and philosophy.” If this whole bit is a Rowling head fake to mock formalist interpretation of her work, it’s a wonderfully detailed trap.

My second assumption is that the houses are to be counted from the beginning, i.e., chapter 1 corresponding with the start of the first astrological House and the chart proceeding in sequence. This could be wrong, of course. It could be that the Tenth House, for example, starting at chapter 55, is the Ascendant and we should read from the clock face ‘9’ counter clockwise back to it. I have taken the most straight-forward reading of this relatively well-obscured story scaffolding because, yes, I am lazy and because there is a fixed point in the houses interpretation with which the ‘easy’ reading works.

My third and last assumption to be written out here is that Rowling-Galbraith is using the conventional or ‘standard’ readings of the twelve Houses. Robin purchases several guides to astrology and tarot in Troubled Blood and it is clear that Rowling uses them herself to describe what Robin sees and understands. The only astrology book we know Rowling herself has studied and used, however, is Louis MacNeice’s Astrology, the book referred to throughout the natal chart interpretations she drew up for friends while writing Philosopher’s Stone. I will use that book and the most popular astrological guide in print, Woolfolk’s The Only Astrological Book You’ll Ever Need, as tests for the House theory and the St John’s Cross House Group corollary.

I’m way out on a limb here, of course, at least as far out as I was with Literary Alchemy in 2002 and Ring Composition in 2010. Perhaps the better analogy is a baseball one: I’m “swinging for the fences” on this astrological chart interpretation. I have to acknowledge this idea must seem a great stretch even to Ring Wraiths and that the evidence of astrological correspondence I present here is nowhere near as compelling as, say, that found in the Rev Dr Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia thesis. I offer it in good faith, though, as a possibility and curiosity for your exploration and greater exegesis.

That said, let’s explore the Houses.

Astrological House Correspondences: I want to start with the “fixed point” I mentioned above rather than the First House, the “sure thing” correspondence that pushed me to chart the book as a astrological ‘clock.’ That correspondence is in the Eighth House.

MacNeice describes it this way:

Eighth (Natural Ruler- Scorpio/Mars)

Death, dissolution, loss; the wife’s or husband’s wealth and possessions; the partner’s property; legacies, bequests, and wills.

Descriptions of how to understand the twelve Houses can be rather ‘squishy.’ The eighth and the twelfth? Not so much. And the eighth least ‘squishy’ of all. ‘Death’ can be figurative, of course, but we’re looking for a physical corpse in the eighth House chapter set if Troubled Blood is an astrological chart.

The eighth House of Troubled Blood by my division of the seventy three chapters is chapters 43 to 48. In chapter 43, we learn about Max Priestwood’s “mutilated heart” and his recovery before Robin returns to her bedroom and receives the phone call from Strike in which he apologizes to her. Cormoran “dies,” if you will, to his ‘old man’ and becomes a new man, one on a hero’s journey to Mythic Cornwall to be at the bedside of the wise crone, Joan Nancarrow. She dies at the end of the next chapter, the death and benediction that are the book’s beginning, middle, and end. The eighth House chapter set ends with Joan’s funeral. In between, Robin visits the graveyard in Leamington Spa and has her weeping epiphany in a pub after visiting the cathedral there in which she realizes that Strike is her best friend and that she loves him, warts, pube hair, and all. Her wise crone is the one-eyed Paul Statchwell who begrudgingly gives her the clue and push that takes Strike back to Janice Beattie.

The twelfth House is almost as fixed as the eighth. Again, MacNeice:

Twelfth (Pisces/Jupiter (Neptune))

Confinement, restraint, prison, exile; secret enemies, plots; large animals.

Robin actually tells Strike in Troubled Blood the meaning of the twelfth House: “enemies, secrets, sorrows, undoing” (586). Woolfolk uses almost these exact words: “This is the House of Secrets, Sorrows, and Self-Undoing.” She goes on to say that this “end of the circle” defines “the limitations placed on your life, including by yourself through self-undoing behavior.” “It rules unseen forces, secret enemies, escapism, asylums, hospitals, and prisons.” 

The twelfth Hose in Troubled Blood would be the final set of seven, chapters 67 to 73. Strike travels to Broadmoor, the UK asylum for mentally ill prisoners, in chapter 68 after solving the Bamborough disappearance case in 67. He interviews Dennis Creed and, through a brilliant Knight’s Move (I did say this was a Formalist web site, right?), ensures that the psychopath will never be freed. Robin and Barclay go to the literal House of Secrets, the Athorn apartment, and find Margot at last. Strike then moves to confront the murderer in her Red Room (‘Mur-der’ backwards, right?) and he assures Roy Phipps in chapter 72 that she will die in prison.

I’ll even throw in the “large animal” nod to the donkey balloon we get in the last chapter. You’ll recall that the donkeys are mentioned on the trip to Skegness, the largest animals discussed in Strike5, but they are absent.

These strong correspondences convinced me that it was worth looking at the novel as an astrological chart. there are others, if, frankly, none as are “spot on” as these two. ‘Good,’ not ‘Great.’ Here is that survey:

First (Aries/Mars)

The body of the native, his physical condition and appearance.

The astrological clock of Troubled Blood is that of the book’s events not Cormoran Strike’s life or character per se. That said, the book is about Strike’s transformation for the most part so we will see parallels between Strike and the Houses in some chapter sets. The First House of chapters, 1 to 6, is of this type; we learn the sort of man Cormoran Strike is and what he is thinking about at the story’s start. His conversations with Polworth, sister Lucy, and Robin about women and children reveal him to be, if not quite the misogynist his oldest mate is, than at least a man who does not understand the bonds of women and children and who does not want to be tied down to either a wife or to offspring. His discomfort and impatience with Aunt Joan’s maternal attention, his brutal assessment of Lucy’s children that he offers her in anger, and his rudeness to Robin and the hippie family at The Moor in Falmouth are the picture of what has to change in the chrysalis to come.

Woolfolk describes the First House “as a giant lens through which the rest of your chart is seen and interpreted.” I think that is a match with Strike’s mental frame in these chapters as well as with the introduction of the Margot Bamborough cold case in chapters 2 and 6.

Second (Taurus/Venus)

Money, possessions of value; trade; gain or loss.

Chapters 7 to 12 are the Second House of Troubled Blood’s astrological clock face, which house according to both MacNeice and Woolfolk is the House of Money and Possessions “The Second House often shows what activities and projects may be a lucrative source of income to you” (294). This is not a strong connection with this set of chapters, frankly. Strike does obtain the invaluable Metropolitan Police file from Layborn after meeting with him in chapter 8, the evidence and record that is really the sine qua non of the C. B. Strike Agency’s efforts to find Margot Bamborough, but this “possession of value” is never linked with anything pecuniary or mercenary.

Third (Gemini/Mercury)

Letters, papers, writings; all means of communication and transportation; brothers and sisters, near relations, neighbors.

Chapters 13 to 18, are the Third House, what Woolfolk calls “the House of Communication,” “self-expression, family ties, and day-to-day travel” (294). Again, this a weak link of correspondence with the assigned chapters. There is, though, a significant acquisition of “papers” and “writing” in chapter 17 when Strike interviews Gregory Talbot and picks up for his pains a copy of that man’s father’s ‘True Book,’ a text second only to the Metropolitan Police file in importance to the investigation.

Fourth (Cancer/Moon)

The residence; the place of birth; houses, landed property, grounds, mines, underground places; the mother in a man’s chart, the father in a woman’s.

The Fourth House, Woolfolk’s “House of Home,” corresponds on the Troubled Blood clock face with chapters 19 to 24: “The fourth House is one of the most mystical houses in your chart, for it represents what you keep protected and secluded from the rest of the world — the place you call home in both a physical and emotional sense” (295). Strike’s mother and biological father certainly come into focus in chapter 19 when Rokeby’s birthday card arrives and causes the boy-man who always wanted this kind of attention from his dad and never received it to explode. Robin thinks of her home in Masham, too, after receiving a telephone Howler from the turned topsy-turvy Tom Turvey. Outside of the Rokeby card, though, I think the highlights of this chapter set are the fascinating interviews with Irene Hickson, Janice Beattie, and Oonaugh Kennedy rather than home life.

Fifth (Leo/Sun)

Pleasures, love affairs, non-marital sex ties; children, schools, theatres, education; places of amusement and all sensual enjoyments.

Woolfolk says “This is the house of your heart,” “everything you do for pleasure and to express yourself creatively,” especially with respect to one’s “sexual nature” (295). The Troubled Blood chapters that are supposed to line up with this are the Christmas chapters of the book, chapters 25 to 30, easily the most depressing and discouraging of the very long novel I think. The creative expressions of a sexual kind include Leo Ricci’s snuff film ‘artistry,’ the gang rape and murder of Kara Wolfson, and the photographic brilliance of Saul Morris’ ‘dick pic’ that he shares with Robin. The Ellacott family, to be sure, is all over the only daughter to learn about her “love affairs” during her stay with them at Christmas and Strike does receive a Christmas text from Charlotte but those are not striking (sic) correspondences with the Fifth House. 

Sixth (Virgo/Mercury)

Health, servants, food, clothing, physical comforts; employees, small animals, and domestic creatures; climatic and other conditions affecting health.

Chapters 31 to 36 make up the Sixth House in astrology, the “House of Service and Health.” “This House rules your relationship with the people you work with” and “relates to your state of health.” Strike has recovered sufficiently from the flu and chocolate poisoning he experienced in the Fifth House chapters that he is able to visit Cornwall and have his most meaningful discussions with his Aunt Joan (chapter 31). the big events of this chapter set after his return to London, though, are the texts from half-sister Prudence and the call from Al Rokeby and the interviews with the Phipps at Hampton Court and the family mansion in chapters 35 and 36. The presiding planet of the House is Mercury and he makes an appearance among the statuary at the Phipps home.

Seventh (Libra/Venus)

The husband in a woman’s chart, the wife in a man’s; partners, contracts, agreements; litigation, open enemies.

The chart’s half-way point or Descendant is reached in the Seventh House, chapters 37 to 42, and this is the heart of the novel’s story turn. Bracketed by interviews with Irene and Claire/Janice on the phone, Strike finds the Athorns (and Margot’s “holy place”), receives a phone call from Jonny Rokeby, and has a street fight with his business partner and true love after the Valentines Day Dinner Party from Hell. Other than the office meeting after Strike breaks Robin’s nose, these are the most meaningful chapters in their relationship, a true turning point in Strike’s appreciation of what Robin means to him and how inappropriate his behaviors towards her have been. 

Woolfolk calls this house the one governing “Partnership and Marriage” in which is indicated “what kind of marriage you will have and whether you might divorce or remarry.” Partnerships? “This is your house of Partnerships, not only in marriage but in work, business, legal affairs, and sometimes in politics.” This is a solid match with the chapter events.

“It also governs what astrologers call your open enemies , those who are usually your adversaries in the business or professional world” (296). Rokeby is certainly considered an enemy by Strike and it is in this chapter set that he comes into the open, if not in person, than at least by live phone conversation. Strike’s real adversary, Janice Beattie, makes a disguised appearance in her persona as Claire Spencer, the murderer appearing in the story turn as in every Strike novel thus far. Again, a good match with the astrological House in play.

Ninth (Sagittarius/Jupiter)

Religion and philosophy; publications; sea voyages, foreign countries; dreams, spiritual occurrences; the clergy and church affairs; relatives by marriage.

I skip the House of Death, number Eight, because I discussed it above, but I return to the Ninth House to say more than I already have about it’s being the House of Religion and Philosophy being a match with Strike and Robin’s conversation in chapter 49 about astrology and the twelve Houses. Chapters 49 to 54 are heavy with interviews — Amanda Laws, Janice Beattie, Brian Tucker, and the Bayliss sisters — but the big event is Strike’s return to St Mawes for the Easter Sunday spreading (sort of) of Joan’s ashes with his family. It is the only “sea voyage” of Troubled Blood beside Strike’s ferry ride that takes place off stage between chapters 4 and 5, and though not liturgical, the day and the urn event certainly qualify as “religious” to the non Church going families involved, even over-looking how Strike raises Charlotte semi-miraculously from the dead via phone calls. I think we have to score this as another strong correspondence, chapters with astrological House.

Tenth (Capricorn/Saturn)

The occupation; credit, honor, and rank; employer, superior, or master; business affairs, government.

The chapters in Troubled Blood that correspond with the astrological Tenth House, 55 to 60, are perhaps the most gripping and eventful chapters in the longest novel Rowling has ever written. Not only is Robin’s separation from Matt Cunliffe finalized (55), but, after Strike’s attempt to knock out Carl Oakden levels Robin instead, he, under the influence of quite a few drinks and no little remorse, tells her everything about his relationship with Rokeby, what happened with Charlotte at Easter, and that she is his “best mate” (58-59). Even better in a way, that same night Robin head butts Saul Morris, breaks his nose and foot, and fires him.

These are ‘wow’ events but I fail to see any correspondence with the astrological House, “the House of Career and Public Standing.” It “rules all matters outside the home — your profession, your status in the community, and your public reputation” (297). The Tenth House is important because of the Rokeby-Rage point in it but more on that in a minute.

If you want to see a correspondence, I think it is in the presiding planet again, Saturn, the orb governing Robin’s life in her 29th year (‘Saturn Return’); essentially everything that hangs over Robin with respect to Strike and their relationship is revealed in their office tete a tete.

Eleventh (Aquarius/Saturn (Uranus))

Friends, counselors, companions, society; wishes and hopes; financial affairs of employers or others in command of the native.

Woolfolk calls this “the House of Friends and of Hopes and Wishes.” I think its another match but not an obvious one with the chapters corresponding to the Eleventh House, 61 to 66. The interviews that blow open the Bamborough and SB cases are crowded into this House — Luca Ricci and Gloria Conti bracket the set and in between we get talks with Anna Phipps, Gemma the PA, and the Diamond-Douthwaites in Skegness. The correspondence, though, is in the change that happens in Robin and Strike’s professional relationship after her trip to St Peter’s nursing home in chapter 61, a change as profound in the shift in their personal relationship post-Oakden in chapters 58 and 59.

“On its highest level, ” Woolfolk writes,”this House represents the harmonious working together of all people each one doing what best expresses his or her individual personality” (297). Strike explodes at Robin about her clandestine trip to St Peter’s and her unexpected but fruitful encounter with Luca Ricci there. In parallel with the solo misadventure in Career of Evil, Strike thinks about firing her. Instead, he comes to the painful realization that it is he that is being wrong-headed about what she did and they agree, as they had in the ‘Drinks in the Office’ chapters, to talk about what they’re doing and thinking as partners and in mutual respect for the other’s strengths.

Scorecard of House Correspondences: I score that last as another strong match. I’ve already covered the Twelfth House (prisons!) so let’s tally up the winning and loser correspondences.

  • Houses One, Seven, Eight, Nine, Eleven, and Twelve I think are matches with the chapter sets that line up with them.
  • Houses Two and Three have suggestive elements.
  • Houses Four, Five, Six, and Ten? I don’t see anything substantive or tangentially connecting the chapters and traditional House meanings there.

That is not enough of a picture match-up with template to be as compelling an argument for an astrological clock face story scaffolding in Troubled Blood as the many ring composition elements in the novel’s seven Parts are. I will certainly understand if skeptics give this a Biden-esque “C’mon, Man!” response and dismiss it as a frenetic overreach; I confess to anticipating this response, frankly, even if I’m more than a little attached to the idea.

The Embedded St John’s Cross: Allow me to make one more argument for the possibility that Rowling has organized her 73 chapters in correspondence with the twelve hours of a clock face and the twelve Houses of an astrological chart. If you look at the novel’s chapters this way, a St John’s Cross jumps out at you, which is no small thing, right?

There are three primary symbols that appear repeatedly in Troubled Blood. The most obvious is water. As Strike says more than once, “Water everywhere.” He does so not just with respect to the rain and flooding in many chapters but also within the astrological symbols in Talbot’s chart, astrology being the second great symbol set of Strike5 and signs being sorted with respect to their Four Element qualities. The water signs are a big deal in Troubled Blood (or so Talbot thought).

The third symbol that appears everywhere is the St John’s or Maltese Cross, an eight point cross Americans recognize as its kindred shaped German military decoration, the Iron Cross. As noted above, it is in Clerkenwell in multiple spots because of its ties with the St John’s Hospitallers, at Hampton Court, and at the Phipps mansion. Carl Oakden uses this cross as the ‘X’ in his ‘Dig here’ note to the Metropolitan Police in 1985.

To see the St John’s Cross in the Troubled Blood astrological chart story scaffolding of twelve Houses or hours, you need to know how the Houses are grouped and a specific event that happens in four of the twelve Troubled Blood chapters.

Houses — and Rowling has a thing about ‘Houses,’ no? Tell me you don’t know your Hogwarts House designation as well as your astrological sun sign — are sorted not by a magical hat but in three groups of four houses each. The first and most important four are the Angular Houses, one, four, seven, and ten. “Planets in these Houses,” Woolfolk explains, “indicate that you will achieve some kind of prominence in the world” (299).

The Astrology Place explains the dominance of the Angular Houses in  a natal chart:

The angular houses are those that have one of the four angles – ascendant, midheaven, immum coli or descendant on the cusp. The angular houses are houses 1, 4, 7, and 10. They correspond to the signs Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn. These are the signs which have one thing in common; they are all cardinal in nature. The Cardinal Mode is known is an “initiating” or leading energy, and these angles/signs create primary experiences. The cardinal signs also mark the change of the seasons. The term cardinal comes from the zodiacal position of these signs (Aries – east, Cancer – south, Libra –west, Capricorn – north). Astrologers believe that if you have many planets in the angular houses, you may display some of the cardinal qualities. In traditional astrology, the angular houses are said to indicate action-orientated events that dominate the life.

The Succedent and Cadent House sets, 2, 5, 8, 11 and 3, 6, 9, and 12, respectively, are not as big a deal as the Angular.

Looking at the Troubled Blood astrological chart, there is something that happens in the first, fourth, seven, and tenth houses that doesn’t happen anywhere else. Strike loses his temper, as in CAPS LOCK rage, consequent to a family member triggering his deep set insecurities about his conception and family history, which ill mood he proceeds to take out on Robin.

  • In the First House, it is Lucy that tees Strike off because of his badgering him about favoring Leda over Joan and his being a bad uncle to his nephews. When Strike meets Robin in Falmouth he is still in a foul temper because of this dawn confrontation to his closest relation (and, of course, his fall on the ferry).
  • In the Fourth House, Strike receives a birthday card from Rokeby which he rips up, and, still fuming, he is Grumpy Gus again with Robin as he gets into the Land Rover for their trip to Irene Hickson’s place (200-201).
  • In the Seventh House, Rokeby calls his prodigal son (‘prodigal’ in the sense of ‘prodigious’ or ‘giant’ as well as ‘willfully estranged’) and Strike proceeds to get pissed (here in the sense of ‘drunk off his arse’ as well as ‘angry’) and he and Robin come to verbal blows in the street outside her flat after the Valentine’s Day dinner with Max and family.
  • In the Tenth House, Rokeby does a limousine cameo appearance Robin sees as she approaches the American Bar for her and Strike’s meeting with Carl Oakden. Oakden throws the details of Strike’s public and shameful 1974 mis-conception in another American bar in his face and Strike, predictably I hope by this time, explodes and hits Robin rather than his intended target.

Color in these four houses, the Cardinal and Angular Houses of the Troubled Blood chart in which Strike is angry about his family (and specifically about Rokeby and Leda’s hook-up) and flares at Robin, and what you have is a St John’s Cross.

That, in my opinion, is a decent stand-alone argument for Rowling-Galbraith having deliberately crafted an astrological clock structure for Troubled Blood. Add in the six relatively strong correspondences between the chapter events with their placement in the twelve Houses, especially 8, 9, and 12, and I think the need to de-bunk the possibility falls on skeptics at least as much as it has been my responsibility to make the case for it. That Rowling-Galbraith wanted the astrological clock at Hampton Court used as the principal image in the book’s marketing and she includes a clock that holds a secret message in one of her central chapters, 36, is icing on the cake.

Contrary Evidence to St John’s Cross: There are four other times that Strike becomes angry in Troubled Blood outside of these four Houses, three of which result in grumpiness with Robin, one of which involves the Rokeby clan. Let’s review those lest I be accused of shaping the evidence to fit my Embedded St John’s Cross theory.

In chapter 67, the Twelfth House, Strike becomes angry with himself because he took so long to figure out who killed Margot Bamborough. He refuses to answer Robin’s questions about the coincidences he says were important to solving the case (804). I don’t think he is really angry or that he withholds the answer from Robin for long; only the readers do not get to hear his deductions.

In chapter 48, the Eighth House, Strike is speaking with Polsworth at the post funeral reception (which Rowling calls a ‘Wake’ — must be an Anglican version of that). Polsworth presses him about Rokeby and whether Strike will be making contact with him. Strike is upset and explodes at nephew Luke immediately after for chasing the Polsworth girls down to the beach. There’s no Robin here and, well, Luke is a problem child, right? It’s a stretch to say this is all about Rokeby.

In chapter 62, the Eleventh House, we have a real conflict. Strike is over the top furious with Robin because she went to St Peter’s to interview Leo Ricci and ran into Luca Ricci instead. They work it out by doing the “talking thing” they’d agreed to in their late-night office meeting in chapters 57 and 58 (761-767). This is a critical event, granted, in demonstrating how their relationship has changed into a true partnership as well as making one of the strongest links with the ending of Career of Evil and Strike’s rage there about Robin’s having acted independently. But there is no Rokeby or family element in here so it’s not an exception to the pattern.

The best exception to the pattern, the only valid objection I think, is in the Sixth House, chapter 34. Half-sister Prudence has texted Strike while he is having his best conversation with Aunt Joan (chapter 31, 355) and she notes that he is “angry” and advises him to go to his father’s party (which he does, sort of). She texts him again after he has returned to London, to which he responds, “Not interested, thanks” (ch 34, 382).

Al Rokeby follow-ups this text with a phone-call and he and his “Bruv” go toe-to-toe. Strike is really angry now, lets Al have it, and is then grumpy with Robin as he gets into the Land Rover for their trip to Hampton Court (384-385). This is exactly the pattern of family anger and consequent testiness with Robin that is in the embedded St John’s Cross in the astrological clock’s Angular Houses. This Sixth House exception to the rule, if it is to be excused or overlooked, has to be seen as part of the Seventh House much more significant explosion when Jonny Rokeby himself calls, as the proverbial exception proving the rule, or both.

Conclusion — So What? The question I hope you’re asking is not, “Has John lost his mind?” but “Why would Rowling go to this much trouble?” The Ring artistry is already over the top OCD structural subliminal wizardry; why on top of those wheels within wheels has she put an astrological clock and embedded St John’s Cross inside the novel as its story scaffolding?

I don’t doubt that you are already exhausted by the discussion above but I am obliged to put down at least a marker here of what Rowling may be trying to communicate to her most attentive readers with these playful hidden structures.

Troubled Blood is a story told against an occult backdrop and with abundant Medieval allegorical touches. Check out the description of Anna Phipps as “Medieval martyr” at their first talk in St Mawes by the sea:

The dark woman was slighter in build. Her large gray eyes shone palely in her long face. She had an air of intensity, even of fanaticism, about her in the half-light, like a medieval martyr. (15)

Note, too, her disappointment that Strike at their Falmouth meeting was not going to swear a knightly oath to find her mother or die in the attempt:

Strike’s stump protested at being asked to support his weight again so soon after sitting down, but there seemed little more to discuss, especially as Anna had regressed into a tearful silence. Slightly regretting the untouched plate of biscuits, the detective shook Anna’s cool hand.

“Thanks, anyway,” she said, and he had the feeling that he had disappointed her, that she’d hoped he would make her a promise of the truth, that he would swear upon his honor to do what everyone else had failed to do. (52) 

This is neglecting the allegorical characters named King, Queen, Sin, Prudence, Peace, Janus, Glory, Pearl, Una, Cross, Creed, God, Law, and Isla (joke!). Talbot’s True Book and its astrological and tarot images are the icons before which Strike and Robin do reverence with attentive skepticism throughout the story.

It’s not pagan or heretical in nature anymore than Spenser’s Faerie Queen, the overarching template of the book. If you doubt that, count with me the mentions of ‘Christ,’ ‘Jesus,’ and the ‘Cross’ in Strike5. There are thirty-six mentions of ‘Christ’ excluding ‘Christmas,’ if you include ‘Christie’ and ‘christening’  with the many, many invocatory and blasphemous exclamations and ten more of just ‘Jesus’, and from Polworth’s “black and white cross of St Piran” we see in the first pages to the Rev Oonaugh Keenedy’s pectoral cross and the St John’s crosses everywhere in the novel, the defining symbol of Christian sacrifice dominates Troubled Blood the way white horses do Lethal White.

The embedded Christian message, where Strike’s nigredo cathartic crisis brings him at the end of Rowling’s longest book is the love proclaimed in St John’s Gospel and Epistles. Read again his text to Charlotte and hers to him that close off their relationship after he all but raised her from death at Easter:

Charlotte: I don’t know whether you’ll be glad to hear from me or not. Probably not. You never called the hospital, or if you did, nobody told me. Maybe you’d have been secretly glad if I’d died? A problem solved, and you like solving things… Don’t think I’m not grateful. I suppose I am, or I will be, one day. But I know you’d have done what you did for anyone. That’s your code, isn’t it? And I always wanted something particular from you, something you wouldn’t give anyone else. Funny, I’ve started to appreciate people who’re decent to everyone, but it’s too late for that, too, isn’t it? 

Cormoran: You’re right, I’d have done what I did for anyone. That doesn’t mean I’m not glad you’re alive, because I am. But you need to stay alive for yourself and your kids now. I’m about to change my number. Look after yourself. (907)

Strike has become the knight-errant, champion of chivalry and selfless love for anyone as for self at journey’s end. And Rowling has embedded the superlunary and otherworldly symbolism of the astrological chart and St John’s cross as the story structure as the pointer to Serious Strikers that Strike’s discomfort with all things otherworldly and his disdain for mediums and occult science are misdirecting surface points from the spiritual heart and meaning of the book.

I look forward, of course, to your comments and correction — and to the supporting and contrary evidence to this Astrological Clock theory that I have neglected. Thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts!

Post-Marathon Post- Post: If you’re wondering, yes, I drew up a chart of Troubled Blood’s chapters on a fourteen House structure per Steven Schmidt’s Astrology 14. No, I didn’t find anything worth sharing here other than that it was an interesting exercise in trying to force puzzle pieces.



  1. Louise Freeman says


    As always, amazing analysis of the meticulousness and intentionality of JKR’s writing. My question: how do we reconcile attention to this level of detail with the glaring–and for me, almost book-spoiling continuity errors. Marcus Flint was a fifth-string character, at best— most errors in Harry Potter were about things only super-fans would notice. In Cormoran Strike, the errors are much more serious. For the author to forget details like the female protagonist’s attending her would-have-been-future-mother-in-law’s funeral, and the fact that the lead couple stood shoulder to shoulder and together read a newspaper article that mentioned Strike’s paternity— these are not minor errors. This is the equivalent of the DH Harry, upon seeing the Gringott’s dragon, being narrated as “Harry was amazed! He had never seen a full-grown dragon, only the hatchling Hagrid had briefly possessed during his first year.” (and forgetting the encounter in the Triwizard Tournament ever happened!)
    Sometimes I feel like we are reading a paper by a Nobel prize winning oncologist, who somehow managed to refer to her subject as “prostrate cancer” all the way through the document.

  2. Such an intriguing analysis! I took a look at some of the sections which had “weaker” connections, to see if I could find anything:

    Regarding the Second House, if we consider the Agency itself as a source of income, and therefore its health and functioning being part of the Second House, I think there is a lot in this set of chapters that could apply. In Ch7, Robin and Cormoran have a discussion about whether their new employees are working out. We also get a thorough outline of the agency’s current clients, and a brief mention of their rates and business contracts, which Strike promises to send to Anna. There is also time spent with clients – Mrs Tufty, and the impact that the bigamy reveal has on the agency as well as a meeting with Postcard and his wife. Parts of the interview with Gupta, and how much it focused on the way team dynamics affect the health of a business also seem relevant to both the plot and the Second House. In little nods, we see Robin receiving birthday gifts (or not receiving them, in the case of Strike); we learn that Max is unemployed and grumpy; Morris calls Pat “Moneypenny”; and Robin spends a gift card shopping for perfume, trying to reinvent herself through purchasing a new signature scent (possessions!). You could argue that the workplace dynamics belongs in the Sixth house, with relationships, but I think there’s a strong case to be made for the relevance of a functioning team to Cormoran & Robin’s income stream.

    In the Fourth House chapters, there are a couple of things I think might connect if we interpret “home” and “place of birth” a bit loosely. The description mentions place of birth, and it’s in these chapters that we get our first exploration of astrology and star signs – which can be seen as a sort of cosmic place of birth, right? And there are two birthdays in this chapter, to sort of connect to the star sign theme… In the first, Cormoran’s, there are a few things of note. Robin gives him a birthday card with an image of St. Mawes, the closest thing to a childhood home he has. He also thinks about his current home when trying to persuade himself that a relationship with Robin is a bad idea: “No matter the inconveniences, what he craved at the end of a working day was his private space, clean and ordered, organized exactly as he liked it”. Before this, he’d had a moment of regret for the fact that he was sitting alone in his attic with takeaway on his birthday… I think all this is pointing to the fact that Strike’s “home” is… Robin. (Call me a romantic if you want! I stand by it)

    In the Fifth House, there must be some significance to the appearance of so many negative manifestations of the house’s aspects. Is there an inauspicious planet lurking here for Cormoran and Robin??

    There are some minor elements of the Sixth house in the chapters you mention – Robin worries that the woman sending postcards might have killed herself (mental health), and hopes she has the flu instead; Cormoran fears Robin having another panic attack while driving (mental health again!), but she doesn’t.

    In the Tenth House, in terms of “Public Reputation”, Charlotte’s status in the gossip columns and as a public object of interest for everyone in Robin’s life might be relevant here. So is Oakden’s attempt to ‘trap’ Strike by playing on the press’s interest and his father’s fame in order to get himself publicity for his book.

    I don’t know if any of these make sense, or strengthen your theory, but it was certainly a fun exercise!

  3. Thank you, Lindsay, for the great effort to shore up my argument vis a vis the ‘weak’ houses! I, of course, find the correspondences you have written up very compelling, prejudiced as I am, but I look forward to the response of other Serious Strikers. Your work here is the dream reaction of this writer, one exhausted from the week or so of charting and re-visiting the idea, to an over-long post. Thank you again!

    I re-visited the post this morning to clean up a few of the typos and flat-out mistakes in the original (e.g., having written ‘Barclay’ for ‘Polsworth’ more than once) and adding a few more allegorical names to the list (‘God’ for one!). I will be referring to this post’s conclusion in the coming weeks as I explore the supernatural and allegorical ‘shading’ in ‘Troubled Blood.’ Stay tuned!

    And thank you once more, Lindsay, for the rapid response and great help in buttressing my Astrological Clock argument!

  4. Beatrice Groves says

    Thank you for this John! Fascinating as always. I love the image of your chart, and the prison – which we wait so long to enter – is certainly a convincing correspondence. As does that crucially placed clock with a secret message in it – something which otherwise seems a bit of a damp squib in the story: our attention is strongly drawn to it without anything being made of it. I like your idea that this is more than a red herring! It certainly seems that Rowling was strongly trailing the Astrological Clock – both in choosing it for the cover, and then in the choice to emboss it on the book itself – the first time that anything has appeared on the book covers themselves (other than writing on the spine).

  5. Brian Basore says

    I am enchanted by how much depth and breadth there is now in the significance of Dumbledore’s watch from PS. Talk about slow reveal! Another good reason to keep reading what the author is writing.

  6. Thank you, Brian, for making a critical connection I had overlooked — Rowling has included an astrological clock in her first seven book series:

    “Dumbledore gave a great sniff as he took a golden watch from his pocket and examined it. It was a very odd watch. It had twelve hands but no numbers; instead, little planets were moving around the edge. It must have made sense to Dumbledore though, because he put it back in his pocket and said, ‘Hagrid’s late.’”

    And from HP5, Order of the Phoenix:

    ‘You will give the order to remove Dolores Umbridge from Hogwarts,’ said Dumbledore. ‘You will tell your Aurors to stop searching for my Care of Magical Creatures teacher so that he can return to work. I will give you …’ Dumbledore pulled a watch with twelve hands from his pocket and glanced at it ‘… half an hour of my time tonight, in which I think we shall be more than able to cover the important points of what has happened here. After that, I shall need to return to my school. If you need more help from me you are, of course, more than welcome to contact me at Hogwarts. Letters addressed to the Headmaster will find me.’

  7. Can’t read the whole post yet because I’m not finished (~66%), but it seems to me that she’s just as easily railing against the symbolism community as she is using it. Perhaps we could chalk this up to metamodern self-consciousness of her eccentricities on that front, but it’s entirely possible she’s simply making fun of us.

    Wanted to throw that into the mix just in case it hadn’t been considered. Often the criticism comes from Strike’s mouth, but it just as often composes Robin’s internal concerns.

  8. (Coming back to read after having finished, I see you yet again referenced that — of course you would. Sorry for assuming otherwise.)

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