Troubled Blood: Unanswered Questions

Earlier this month, inspired by a comment Elisa made about Cormoran and Joan’s deathbed conversation and how Strike may have misunderstood what was said, I wrote a post that asserted that, as long and as satisfying a novel as Troubled Blood is and as much attention as we have given here to exploring the artistry and meaning involved, there are as many Strike5 mysteries still left to be solved. See Have We Covered ‘Troubled Blood’? No. for that discussion.

Yesterday I listed 7+ unanswered questions about the Strike series that we neglect because we’ve been suckered into trusting our two narrators, Sherlock Strike the Amazing Memory Man and the Jungian Jungfrau Ellacott, who are no more dependable as story-tellers than Harry Potter, Rowling’s other misdirection delivery system. Read Cormoran Strike: Unanswered Questions for those subjects that our Dynamic Detecting Duo just refuse to think about despite Rowling-Galbraith dropping clues around them for stop-and-look-down discovery.

Today I want to list and discuss seven plus more unanswered questions that are specific to Troubled Blood. Dave Polworth, Lucy Fantoni, Charlotte Campbell, Jonny Rokeby, Shanker, Ted Nancarrow, and Cormoran Strike with a ‘plus’ question about Ellacott the Incredible Cartomantist are all featured. See you after the jump!

I have organized today’s unanswered questions and misdirection mysteries in the order in which they appear in Troubled Blood. Several of them echo or touch tangentially on questions discussed in yesterday’s Unanswered Questions post as you’d expect, but the difference is significant enough to explore. I number the questions for easy reference in your feedback in the post comment boxes — please share your thoughts and the clues and curiosities I have not caught in this list!

(1) Dave Polworth’s ‘Adoption’ of Five Year Old Strike

Yesterday I pointed out that Dave Polworth is not just a nuanced character but one whose contradictory behaviors and beliefs invite investigation, which Strike never does. Troubled Blood begins at The Victory pub in St Mawes with Strike and Polworth out for a pint to celebrate Dave’s 39th birthday. It’s the first birthday observation in a book heavily laden with the subjects of pregnancy, birth, parenting, and childhood, not to mention astrological natal charts and influences, and we’re presented a mystery straight up about Polsworth, one that Strike notes himself, repeats later in the book, but nowhere actually thinks to apply his critical thinking skills to answer.

“Why Dave Polworth, pocket don of the class, had decided to befriend the new boy had never been satisfactorily explained, even to Strike… By the end of the first day Polworth had become both friend and champion” (Blood 6). “The flame of pure, practical kindness that burned in Dave Polworth had never been more clearly visible to Strike, except perhaps on his very first day at primary school, when the diminutive Polworth had taken Strike under his protection.” Polworth’s closeness to the Nancarrow family is touched on again and again and not just in the various kindnesses he does for Aunt Joan and Uncle Ted during the “eternal rain” of Troubled Blood.

In their chapter 1 Victory conversation, Little Dave presses his didicoy mate about his feelings for Robin. In his push, Polworth mentions that he has talked to Joan and Ted and to Lucy about Strike’s love-life, the latter at a barbecue date he had with Lucy and her boys on one of their visits to Cornwall. Re-read Strike 5’s Easter chapter, too, and focus on all the cues that are dropped that Dave is considered family by the Nancarrows and by Lucy. Why, for example, does Lucy consider Strike’s not bringing chocolate for the Polworth daughters an inexcusable gaffe? Note, too, how much a role Dave plays in the operation of the Johanet sailboat, from its deployment at sea to tying up at the dock.  He didn’t learn those skills training for Ironman competitions but by sailing with Uncle Ted

Rowling drops the mystery of Polworth’s ties to the Nancarrows in the first chapter of Troubled Blood and we are meant to overlook it just as Strike has. The clueless detective seems to accept that Dave does all he does for the family because of their friendship though he has never sought to answer the question about why Dave adopted him on the gypsy’s first day of school. I have high hopes that Polworth will spill his guts to Strike after a fashion in London about having been adopted by the Nancarrows, a conversation that might spring naturally after meeting Shanker, who “adopted” Leda, Lucy, and Cormoran after having been rescued.

“Listen, mate—thanks for everything.”

“Shut up,” said Polworth. “You’d do it for me.”

“You’re right,” said Strike. “I would.”

“Easy to say, you cunt,” said Polworth, without skipping a beat, “seeing as my mum’s dead and I don’t know where the fuck my dad is.”

Strike laughed. “Well, I’m a private detective. Want me to find him for you?”

“Fuck, no,” said Polworth. “Good riddance.” They drank their pints. There was a brief break in the cloud and the sea was suddenly a carpet of diamonds and the bobbing seagull, a paper-white piece of origami.

Strike was wondering idly whether Polworth’s passionate devotion to Cornwall was a reaction against his absent Birmingham-born father…

My suggestion to the professional detective here is — “Forget finding Polworth’s father, Strike. Find out the circumstances of Polworth’s mother’s death and her break with his father and connect the dots in the Polsworth-Nancarrow-Strike bond. That kinship is not all about you, Cormoran, and it almost certainly is relevant to figuring out the mysteries of your own make-up vis a vis a hippie mother and absent father.”

(2) Lucy’s Disavowal of Leda Strike as Her Mother

We get a few mysteries involving Leda Strike that Cormoran chooses not to explore in Part One of Troubled Blood. First, still in chapter one, we learn that Leda left a note when she first left her two children with the Nancarrows:

Thirty-five years previously, Strike had entered St. Mawes Primary School a term late, unusually large for his age and with an accent that was glaringly different from the local burr. Although he’d been born in Cornwall, his mother had spirited him away as soon as she’d recovered from the birth, fleeing into the night, baby in her arms, back to the London life she loved, flitting from flat to squat to party. Four years after Strike’s birth, she’d returned to St. Mawes with her son and with her newborn, Lucy, only to take off again in the early hours of the morning, leaving Strike and his half-sister behind.

Precisely what Leda had said in the note she left on the kitchen table, Strike had never known. Doubtless she’d been having a spell of difficulty with a landlord or a boyfriend, or perhaps there was a music festival she particularly wanted to attend: it became difficult to live exactly as she pleased with two children in tow. Whatever the reason for her lengthening absence, Leda’s sister-in-law, Joan, who was as conventional and orderly as Leda was flighty and chaotic, had bought Strike a uniform and enrolled him in the local school.

Strike of course (!) has never asked about and the Nancarrows have never shared what was in that note (see yesterday’s discussion of ‘Why did Leda leave St. Mawes?’). This passage has all the marks of a Rowling-drop, words like “doubtless” and “perhaps” that suggest what is obviously the case; Strike has only guessed about and shrugged away his mother’s reckless behavior here and his Aunt and Uncle riding with it. It’s as if he is still four years old. That Rowling includes the first class gaffe about Strike and Lucy’s ages may also be, stretching charity to gross lengths, only her attempt to make the reader pause here and think about what has been said (and not said).

At least as important and much more up-front is Lucy’s disavowal of Leda as her mother in chapter four, the centerpiece of Part One’s seven chapter ring:

“I’ve rung [Joan] twice a week for nigh on twenty years, Stick. This place is a second home for our boys. She’s the only mother I’ve ever known.”

Strike knew he oughtn’t to rise to the bait. Nevertheless, he said, “Other than our actual mother, you mean.”

“Leda wasn’t my mother,” said Lucy coldly. Strike had never heard her say it in so many words, though it had often been implied. “I haven’t considered her my mother since I was fourteen years old. Younger, actually. Joan’s my mother.”

And when Strike made no response, she said, “You chose Leda. I know you love Joan, but we have entirely different relationships with her…. I always hated it when Leda came to take us away,” said Lucy now, “but you were glad to go.”

We’re meant to get caught up in Lucy’s anger about Strike’s comments that two of her children are despicable but the key mystery here is the depth of Lucy Fantoni’s disowning her biological mother. Lucy clearly hates Leda and labors to live as different a life as possible from her real mum. Strike excuses, even empathizes with his half-sister in that same conversation:

Lower back throbbing, eyes stinging with tiredness, Strike stood smoking in silence. He knew that Lucy would have liked to excise Leda forever from her memory, and sometimes, remembering a few of the things Leda had put them through, he sympathized. This morning, though, the wraith of Leda seemed to drift on his cigarette smoke around him. He could hear her saying to Lucy, “Go on and have a good cry, darling, it always helps,” and “Give your old mum a fag, Cormy.” He couldn’t hate her.

Strike knows, however, that Lucy has more reasons than the Norfolk Commune to hate Leda Strike. There is Jeff Whittaker.

Whittaker had driven Strike’s half-sister Lucy away for good with his bullying, his sexual taunts and sneers. He had strutted around the squat naked, scratching his tattooed torso, laughing at the fourteen-year-old girl’s mortification. One night she had run to the telephone box at the corner of the street and begged their aunt and uncle in Cornwall to come and fetch her. They had arrived at the squat at dawn next day, having driven overnight from St. Mawes. Lucy was ready with her meager possessions in a small suitcase. She had never lived with her mother again. (Career of Evil)

I have written before, in my exploration of the possibility that Dave Polworth killed Jeff Whittaker (suspect #5 in this post), that Lucy Fantoni was the victim of sexual abuse well beyond exposure to male nudity and verbal abuse and taunting. The short version of that bit of fan fiction goes like this:

Brother Dave at age 20 learns from his 18 year old sister Lucy in a heart-to-heart conversation after he beats up yet another handsy suitor of his Nancarrow kid sister why she finds it so hard to have men touch her. She tells him that Whittaker molested her, Leda wouldn’t believe it, and she didn’t dare tell Cormoran or Shanker because they would have killed the step-father in residence. Uncle Ted rescued her and she’d been having nightmares ever since — and hated the very thought of her mother, Leda, who still lived with a man she knew had forced himself on her daughter.

That’s one answer to the question of why Lucy hates Leda. The undeniable fact, though, is that Cormoran has never discussed this with his half-sister or his oldest mate. Aunt Joan thinks Jonny Rokeby is “behind” a lot of Strike’s problems and urges her nephew to meet with him and learn what she knows but he doesn’t about “what went on” (maybe something touched on in the kitchen table note?). I think there’s at least as much in the Lucy Fantoni story and Dave Polworth’s fraternal relations with her as there is with Rokeby.

(3) “I Have Something That He Wants”

“Strike Detective Agency, Robin speaking.”

“Hi, Robin,” said a slightly husky female voice. “Is the boss there?” Given that Robin had only spoken to Charlotte Campbell once, three years previously, it was perhaps surprising that she’d known instantly who was on the line.

Robin had analyzed these few words of Charlotte’s to a perhaps ludicrous degree since. Robin had detected an undertone of laughter, as though Charlotte found Robin amusing. The easy use of Robin’s first name and the description of Strike as “the boss” had also come in for their share of rumination.

“No, I’m afraid not,” Robin had said, reaching for a pen while her heart beat a little faster. “Can I take a message?”

“Could you ask him to call Charlotte Campbell? I’ve got something he wants. He knows my number.”

“Will do,” said Robin.

“Thanks very much,” Charlotte had said, still sounding amused. “Bye, then.”

This conversation between Charlotte Campbell and Robin Ellacott is reviewed in chapter 3 of Troubled Blood, with Robin being described as being preoccupied “to a perhaps ludicrous degree” with coming to a understanding of what Charlotte was about. She hadn’t “analyzed” Charlotte’s words, though, beyond noting that “Charlotte clearly wasn’t aware that Strike was in Cornwall with his terminally ill aunt, which didn’t suggest regular contact between them. On the other hand, Charlotte’s slightly amused tone had seemed to hint at an alliance between herself and Strike.” Her analysis misses out on the questions that readers should be asking. 

The first is “Why does Charlotte call the office in the first place?” In her text to Strike the day after Valentine’s Day she claimed “Yours is the only mobile number I know by heart. Why didn’t you ever change it? Was it because of me or is that my vanity”? (505). If she has Strike’s cellular phone number, what possible reason could she have to dial his office? Besides, of course, the author’s need for a mind-worm in Robin’s head about Strike’s ex and his feelings for her.

More important, though, is her message, which Robin delivers to Strike when she drops him off on Denmark Street after their drive back from Falmouth. “What something does Charlotte have that Strike wants?” He does not return her call, about which she complains in her first drunken late night call to him (82). She doesn’t tell him then what she had called the office rather this mobile phone to tell him she had, he doesn’t ask, and the mystery disappears from our screens. There’s a lot going on in Troubled Blood, especially in the early going, so we can be forgiven for letting this pass.

After repeated re-readings and listening to the Glenister audio file, though, I think we’re obliged to note this marker. It certainly could be, as noted, just a necessary means for the author to plant a Veneral mind-bomb in the Psyche psychological turnings. What if she really did have something Strike wanted, something that was related to the Agency, hence the call to the office?

My three best guesses are: the nude photograph she eventually sends Strike on his birthday, some proof that she actually had been pregnant with his child the month before they broke up, and information about Peter Gillespie and Jonny Rokeby.

The photograph makes sense because, though it was best shared on his birthday, it would be a fun thing to tease Strike about via Robin so he might be put in a position to explain or even show the picture to his business partner. Charlotte admits in Blood that she is out of control jealous with respect to Robin. And a photograph is a thing as in “something.”

The most devastating text Charlotte has sent was in The Silkworm: “It was yours” (357). This sends Strike around the twist because it is a claim that she had indeed been pregnant, he had been the father, and his clumsy ox-in-a-phone-box detection work to accuse her of lying about the dates involved had missed the truth, caused their break-up (not to mention the likelihood Strike’s reaction moved her to commit infanticide), and moved her to marry Jago Ross to hurt him. What if she has “something” that proves she was pregnant? I don’t think she could have proof that “it was yours” (amniocentesis?) but, insomuch as their break-up is the inciting incident of the Strike-Robin relationship, the core drama of the first seven book set, this kind of “something” would be a major reveal.

The only reasons I can think of that Charlotte would call the office rather than the mobile (again, besides Robin…) is that she had heard through her elite gossip network something about Rokeby. Charlotte knew that Strike had borrowed money that was legally his to start his detective agency and as surely was aware that Gillespie was leaning on Strike to re-pay the loan as the Proud Boy had insisted he would. Maybe she had learned about Gillespie’s forced retirement after Al had shared with dad how “heavy” old Peter had been with Cormoran.

Much more likely, if still fan fiction, is that Rokeby, Al, or Prudence have contacted Charlotte, the last person they knew Strike had been in a relationship with, to ask her about how best to bring about a reconciliation? Might the “something” be an olive branch or what Strike would describe as a bribe? Might “new offices” be in the offing? 

Regardless, the “something” that Charlotte has and that Strike wants is an unanswered question. I look forward to reading your ideas of what it might be or have been.

(4) Rokeby Redux! 

Aunt Joan tells her nephew in their most revealing conversation that “I know what went on,” she said. “[Jonny Rokeby] behaved very badly, but he’s still your father…. You should go to that party, Corm. I think your father’s at the heart of… of a lot of things” (355-356). Rokeby certainly plays an outsized role in Troubled Blood. He sends Cormoran a birthday card for the first time, he calls his son on Valentine’s Day and all but begs for a meeting, and he deploys his children, Al as the leader of the pack, to do everything they can to get Strike to stop “sticking up two fingers” at his estranged biological father. Readers are treated in Troubled Blood to Strike’s longest internal ruminations about his relationship with the Jovean rock-star, we learn at last in his tell-all with Robin post their American Bar one-round slug-fest about his first two meetings with Rokeby, and Al shares that the Deadbeat frontman has prostate cancer. We’re all but buried in Rokeby information in Strike 5 after a long desert of asides in the first four books.

One thing, though, we’re not told and that Strike never asks is “Why all the sudden interest from Rokeby?” Strike is in his fortieth year and has been a celebrity in his own right for close to five. What happened in the rock-star’s life in 2014 that he had to make things right right now with his prodigal son?

Strike discounts the obvious reason, that is, his being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Cormoran doesn’t think this rates with Joan’s terminal ovarian cancer because he assumes that Rokeby’s cancer was caught in its early stages, that the gazillionaire can afford the best of treatments, and that he isn’t worthy, consequently, of any special commiseration on this count. All of which may be true, if Strike comes off as more than a little insensitive to the concerns of his half-siblings, especially given his experiences with Joan and Lucy.

But, if it’s not the prostate cancer diagnosis or Strike’s cynical belief that his biological father is only trying to position himself for a knighthood or some such (s-OBE!), why is Rokeby pressing so hard all of a sudden to make things right with Cormoran? Alonmg with Professor Freeman and others noting the possible parallels between Ink Black Heart and Half-Blood Prince, we need a Dumbledore figure with whom the hero raged in Episode Five and whom we watch die unexpectedly at the end of Episode Six.

Rokeby fits this part exactly, I’m afraid, if his cancer has metastasized (egad, testicular? double orchiectomy?) or become untreatable. If Ink Black Heart is a Rokeby information dump the way Prince was repeated trip into the Pensieve or on adventures real time with Dumbledore, I hope that Strike doersn’t go his father’s funeral wishing, as Harry does in Deathly Hallows, that he’d asked a lot more questions during his time together with his mentor-father figure. 

I am very much open to other ideas on this point. Why do you think Rokeby made such a big push in Troubled Blood for a meeting and reconciliation with Strike? Do you think he reached out to Charlotte and Oakden as well as to his children in this effort?

(5) Strike’s Prosthesis

Okay, this is a short one, maybe not worth mentioning. Dr. Gupta brings it up in chapter ten:

Gupta popped the end of the fig roll in his mouth, sighed, brushed his hands fastidiously clean of crumbs, then pointed at Strike’s legs and said, “Which one is it?”

Strike didn’t resent the blunt question, from a doctor. “This one,” he said, shifting his right leg.

“You walk very naturally,” said Gupta, “for a big man. I might not have known, if I hadn’t read about you in the press. The prosthetics were not nearly as good in the old days. Wonderful, what you can buy now. Hydraulics reproducing natural joint action! Marvelous.”

“The NHS can’t afford those fancy prosthetics,” said Strike, slipping his notebook back into his pocket. “Mine’s pretty basic” (107).

Maybe this is a typically American question. Strike has half a leg due to an IED blast in Afghanistan (again, see Unanswered Questions 1 for much more on that mysterious event). Taking care of his stump and the meeting point of it and his prosthesis is his primary health and welfare concern, if his smoking habit and obesity are gaining on this handicap. Choke Syndrome out ranks lung cancer and heart disease, if Strike is anything but a hypochondriac.

Robin notes that Strike ploughs almost all of the agency’s earnings that do not go to salaries back into the agency. She is embarrassed by his “Spartan existence:”

Robin was well aware that Strike took very little money out of the business for his own needs, preferring to plow profits back into the agency. He continued to live a Spartan existence in the two and a half rooms over the office, and there were months when she, the salaried partner, took home more pay than the senior partner and founder of the firm.

Is it credible, though, that Strike has not researched the cost of a Grade A prosthesis that would make his life significantly easier? Are they that astronomical in cost that a man leading a successful business wouldn’t even consider taking out a loan to get one? I suspect this is part and parcel of the UK Cult of the National Health Service — remember, it was the feature element of the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony — but, really? The man needs and deserves better than an off-the-rack prosthetic. I hope this exchange between Gupta and Strike in Troubled Blood was a marker for a big upgrade in Ink Black Heart. Maybe Rokeby will pick up that bill…

(6) Shanker the Family Man

Having reviewed Shanker-the-Criminal-Shadow in yesterday’s post, point five, the next mystery is Domesticated Shanker, a new man we meet in Troubled Blood. He has to go to Hamley’s because he “got the wrong fackin Monster High Doll for Zahara” (297). Sure enough, when he meets Strike at the Shakespeare’s Head pub for a pint, he has Christmas packages “incongruously” at his feet. It seems the most dangerous of Strike’s relations has taken up cohabitation with Alyssa, Angel and Zahara in Blondin Street, Bow, the mother and two children he and Robin rescued from Noel Brockbank in Career of Evil Career 432-433).

Has Shanker been reading Anna Karenina, too? This transformation straight out of Ovid in its depth of metamorphosis passes by in the haze of Strike’s flu at Christmas time. Again, maybe the alembic with catalyst of meeting Polworth and his happy family on their field trip to London in Strike 6 will throw some light on this change as well as Little Dave’s relationship with Lucy Fantoni and the Nancarrows. As it is, the mystery of Shanker’s transformation from mad dog to domestic provider goes unnoted by Strike.

(7) Ted Leaving St Mawes

We are given two small facts about Ted Nancarrow that raise more questions than they answer. The first is that he left home because of a fight with his father:

The plan [of cremation rather than burial] had so much of the Joan he knew in it: it was full of practical kindness and forethought, but he hadn’t expected the final touch of the ashes floating away on the tide, no tombstone, no neat dates, instead a melding with the element that had dominated her and Ted’s lives, perched on their seaside town, in thrall to the ocean, except during that strange interlude where Ted, in revolt against his own father, had disappeared for several years into the military police.

The second is that this interlude took him to the Falkland Islands in 1982. I discuss these mysteries at length here and here. There are rumbles at the end of Blood that Uncle Ted will be coming Strike’s way, if only to visit Lucy, in Ink Black Heart; here’s hoping we learn more about his problematic relations with his father and how he managed to get to the Falklands when he did.

I noted yesterday that Strike is strangely childlike and innocent in his acceptance of surface realities at the Nancarrows, present and past. If his own life was the subject of investigation the way that Margot Bamborough’s nigh on forty years of non-existence was in Troubled Blood, I’m confident that he would be amazed about how much he has missed, never inquired about, or intentionally looked past to save himself unnecessary grief.

(*) Talbot’s Astrology Charts and Tarot Card Spreads

Those are my top seven Troubled Blood Unanswered Questions and I really do look forward to reading your answers, objections, and alternative mysteries.

As I did yesterday, I want to close with a larger question, one too big for this kind of survey post. The unanswered question that most intrigues me about Troubled Blood is what we are to make of the occult data we are given. Strike’s skeptical view of Talbot’s astrological and tarot researches and Robin’s sentimental or poetic embrace of them relative to her business partner’s take both act as deterrents, frankly, to giving the Talbot drawings, natal chart, and tarot card spreads serious attention. Strike says flat out to Robin that it is a waste of time:

“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)

Here’s the thing. Outside of the astrological chart Talbot drew up for the time and place of Margot Bamborough’s disappearance which was spot on accurate in calculation and depiction, I think we have to assume that the Celtic Cross tarot card spread, the three-card readings embedded in Talbot’s pictures (see my revelation and breakdowns of these in my posts on the first six parts of Strike 5), and Robin Ellacott’s three-card spreads in Laemington Spa and in her apartment were not chance throwings, but deliberate choices made by the author.

Strike tries to pay Robin their five pound bet about whether Kim Sullivan and Anna Phipps would pay to continue the investigation if they didn’t have results within the year. I think we need to research whether Strike would have won or lost his one hundred pound bet that a serious reader, now that we know what happened to Margot Bamborough, could “make equally strong cases for Talbot’s occult stuff being bang on the money, and completely off beam.” I’m skeptical, especially because Rowling-Galbraith went to such trouble to make Strike-Ellacott a Sagittarius-Libra archetypal love match (and Strike true to his natal chart profile), to draw such involved occult-inspired pictograms with hidden tarot card spreads, and to prevent either Strike or Robin from consulting a professional about this occult material. If you think, as I do, that Roy Phipps was the man most responsible for his wife’s death, Talbot’s obsession with Capricorn takes on a whole new meaning with respect to the author’s messaging about male-female relationships as well as the value of the occult arts. “Saturn in Cancer!”

More on that in a coming post. Until then, I look forward to reading your ideas about neglected mysteries in Troubled Blood and the Strike series in general!



  1. LudicrousMoniker says

    I think we have to discount Dave’s mum’s death being relevant since JKR herself is indecisive as to whether she’s actually dead or alive. You quote “seeing as my mum’s dead and I don’t know where the fuck my dad is.” But in chapter 4 we get this from Joan: “Dave’s mum thought Penny might not want to leave Bristol.”

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