Who Killed Leda Strike, Suicide Victim? Leda, Rokeby, Whittaker, Ted, or Dave?

In yesterday’s post, with the help of Nick Jeffery, I tried to calculate the amount of money as of 2014 that Jonny Rokeby, rock star, owed his illegitimate son, Cormoran Strike, in child-support payments that have been accumulating compound interest in a bank or maturing as blue-chip stocks since 1985. We came to a dollar figure well over $500,000.

Remember, Strike is living in a two room flat over the Agency office with a one ring hot-plate and college dorm room refrigerator. Half a million dollars is a life-style changing amount of money to our working boy.

We reviewed, however, the history of what Rokeby once called his son’s “nice little nest egg” and why Strike’s only relationship with it was to take out a loan on it, paid back with interest, to start the C. B. Strike Detective Agency. In brief, it is the tangible, exteriorized representative of Strike’s Oedipal outage, the desire to kill his biological father in devotion to his late mother. For reasons Rokeby certainly doesn’t grasp, Strike thinks of it as blood money and taboo.

See ‘Rokeby Owes Strike How Much? for the calculations and the explanation of all that.

Which brings us to the natural question: So What? Believe it or not, I think the “nest egg” money is a nice segue to discussion of that haunting topic, ‘Who Killed Leda Strike and Why?‘ I think there are five principal suspects: Leda herself, Jonny Rokeby, Jeff Whittaker, Ted Nancarrow, and Dave Polworth. Let’s walk through the reasons each could have had to kill Leda Strike and whether knowing the “nest egg” money existed may have influenced his or her decision to do her in.

(1) Leda Strike Would the money have been a reason for Leda to kill herself? Let’s start with her, as disappointing as it would be to learn in the end that it really was a suicide straight-up rather than a staged suicide, y’know, like the ones in Cuckoo and Lethal White that have us thinking the seven book ring axis all but requires a suicide staged by Leda’s murderer to hide his or her crime….

I think the “nest egg” calculation, although the total was obviously much smaller in 1994, does put Leda Strike’s suicide into a new light. Leda presumably knew how much money was in the bank at that time through her lawyers and that her oldest child was almost certainly not ever going to claim it, at least while she is alive. This means that her brother and sister-in-law were pressed to pay the Oxford fees she and her son could not afford. (It is suggested by Strike in Troubled Blood that this was a significant burden (723) but all I have been able to find online is that Oxford University tuition and expenses were all covered by the government well into the 90’s.)

On the one hand, if Leda knew about the “little nest egg” Strike was never going to accept while she was alive, and she felt ashamed that her anything-but-rich brother was having to “stump up” — a painful phrase when used by Strike, no? (723) — because she could not pay, and she despaired about her life with Whittaker, for whom this money was the reason for their marriage, that she actually did commit suicide seems more credible. Leda’s thinking might have been, “If I commit suicide, Cormoran and Lucy are freed of worry about loser me and from any relationship with their dangerous step-father, Cormoran’s education is paid for (with quite a bit left over?), and the Nancarrows consequently are also off the hook with respect to Strike’s Oxford fees. And, maybe if I do it just right, the police will suspect Jeff and put him in jail for killing me.”

On the other hand, having said all that, all the selfless-suicide calculation and gymnastics above requires quite a different Leda Strike than the person Cormoran tells us about in asides during each of his investigations, every one of which so far in its own way is an aspect of the ‘Leda Strike Mystery.’

(I’m not making that up. Cuckoo? Seeming suicide investigated as a murder. Silkworm? Mother and child neglected by self-important artist father. Career? Whittaker, in your face as suspect, brutally mistreating child-lover. Lethal White? Strike’s Oedipal rage at negligent powerful father reflected in novel’s murderer, another seeming suicide investigated as murder. Troubled Blood? Child now adult with indifferent father desperate to find out what happened to her mother, why she disappeared, years after the fact. Every Strike story thus far has been an image of the over-arching mystery of ‘Who killed Leda Strike?’ and Strike’s being haunted by his conviction that it wasn’t a suicide but a murder. Back to why Leda is an unlikely person to choose suicide to help everyone out –)

She is empathetic, even sacrificially so, but only at times; e.g., Shanker owed his life to her decision to take him home the night he was knifed on the street. But what a schizophrenic, unstable, even dangerous childhood her children experienced because of her selfish indifference to their needs… That she committed suicide so they could have better lives is quite the leap. Here’s a review of that from Troubled Blood:

Rokeby had demanded Leda take a paternity test before he’d accept that Strike was his son. When the test came back positive, a financial settlement had been reached which ought to have ensured that his young son would never again have to sleep on a dirty mattress in a room shared with near-strangers. However, a combination of his mother’s profligacy and her regular disputes with Rokeby’s representatives had merely ensured that Strike’s life became a series of confusing bouts of affluence that usually ended in abrupt descents back into chaos and squalor. Leda was prone to giving her children wildly extravagant treats, which they enjoyed while wearing toosmall shoes, and to taking off on trips to the Continent or to America to see her favorite bands in concert, leaving her children with Ted and Joan while she rode around in chauffeured cars and stayed in the best hotels.

He could still remember lying in the spare room in Cornwall, Lucy asleep in the twin bed beside him, listening to his mother and Joan arguing downstairs, because the children had arrived back at their aunt and uncle’s in the middle of winter, without coats. Strike had twice been enrolled in private schools, but Leda had both times pulled him out again before he’d completed more than a couple of terms, because she’d decided that her son was being taught the wrong values. Every month, Rokeby’s money melted away on handouts to friends and boyfriends, and in reckless ventures—Strike remembered a jewelry business, an arts magazine and a vegetarian restaurant, all of which failed, not to mention the commune in Norfolk that had been the worst experience of his young life.

Finally, Rokeby’s lawyers (to whom the rock star had delegated all matters concerning the well-being of his son) tied up the paternity payments in such a way that Leda could no longer fritter the money away. The only difference this made to the teenage Strike’s day-today life had been that the treats had stopped, because Leda wasn’t prepared to have her spending scrutinized in the manner demanded by the new arrangement. From that point onwards, the paternity payments had sat accumulating quietly in an account, and the family had survived on the smaller financial contributions made by Lucy’s father. (176-177)

People change, I know. But you have to be “exceptional,” which is to say, self-aware, dedicated to recovery, and with certain mental and emotional tools to work with. Leda has none of these. Hard for me to see her as a person committing suicide-in-order-to-do-the-right-thing-for-her-children.

(2) Jeff Whittaker The “nest egg” brings us back to Jeff Whittaker, Leda’s husband and certifiable psycho.

That there was ‘money in the bank’ that Leda couldn’t and Cormoran wouldn’t access, I think, has to make the odds that Leda was murdered by her husband rather than commit suicide go way up.

Whittaker married Leda for the same reason that she publicly had sex with Rokeby, that is, in hopes of gaining unearned financial security. Sarah Shadlock and Leda Strike are in this respect soul sisters. (The wiki dates for Rokeby’s relationships say that Cormoran may be wrong in his assertion that his conception was responsible for the break-up of Rokeby’s second marriage, but his more important error is thinking his existence is somehow “accidental.” Strike’s conception was almost certainly the product of a desperate woman’s calculated long-shot throw of the sexual dice.) When Whittaker realizes that he is never going to see any Rokeby money and that even the possibility of the Fantoni required pay-outs returning — I assume the money went to the Nancarrows when Lucy left — has been extinguished now that Lucy has turned 18, a murder set up as a suicide becomes a natural out for him from a now senseless marriage.

And, no doubt, he tortured Leda with the idea that his killing her was imminent, Shanker or no Shanker, and that he and boy Switch would inherit the “nest egg” because her death would be ruled a suicide. Again, I don’t think Whittaker ever believed Leda’s protestations that she had no access to the Rokeby money or would have believed her when she told him it all belonged to Cormoran now that he was 18. He made Leda change her will so he would inherit everything she owned; that was done in hopes of wresting the “nest egg” from Rokeby, I think, or from Strike. No doubt he imagined his family’s lawyers could have pursued her fair share of the child support as Switch’s mother’s due.

I’m going to come back to this after reviewing the other three suspects, because, if Leda learned what I think she may have about Whittaker, her despair and self-injury index may have gone through the roof, not to mention her desire to hurt Whittaker, even at the cost of her own life, before the Satanist could kill her himself. Marker down.

(3) Jonny Rokeby I posted a theory the day before Lethal White was published that, on its way to arguing that Rokeby was responsible for Leda’s murder, explored the incredible tangle of dates for Strike’s IED explosion, when he left the Army, and when he started his business. If date gaffes are a thrill to you — and spotting the continuity errors in this series are becoming something of a recreational sport or collector’s obsession — the opening of Heroin Dark Lord 2.0 will light you up. Just the Donny Laing mess is worth the trip; Strike dates his first meeting with Laing, the boxing match, as 2001 and then tells Robin that Laing was “out in ten” from jail in 2007 for the crimes Strike sent him down for on Cyprus. He nailed him, in other words, four years before they met.

Why did I think Jonny Rokeby had to be a prime suspect, if not for putting the needle into her vein, at least for Leda’s death staged as a suicide? Here is the short version:

If Strike’s investigations in Afghanistan in 2007 were heroin related (more than plausible given the trade out of Helmand Province and Strike’s SIB experience with drug deals), if that research was done as part of the SIB “joint ops with Vice Squad” tracking the Afghan-UK pipeline for heroin, which investigation ended in a 2008 trial and conviction (still plausible, if a stretch [we’re told that the investigation was about “wrongful death”?]), then a hit on Strike to shut down the investigation is credible. It also may explain why Strike grabbed Anstis from the Viking front seat rather than the younger Red Cap driver; Anstis may know something about the drug ring, knowledge that Strike felt had to survive the IED blast which ‘Mystic Bob’ somehow knew was coming.

Rokeby’s involvment? This part of the Heroin Dark Lord 1.0 theory remains intact. Leda knew something criminal he had done and made a deal with Rokeby; he accepts paternity and pays child support in exchange for her silence about his drug crimes to include murder (she wouldn’t fink on Cormoran’s father and forever dishonor her own son…).

Let me add this wrinkle someone may reveal to the Peg-Legged PI in Lethal White. Strike gets into Oxford less on merit — his itinerant childhood and teen years make his ability to pass the exams and interviews for such a position extremely unlikely, however gifted — than because of his supposed relationship with Rokeby (a probability Strike seems blissfully unaware of). Either the rock star pulled strings or the DNA-established connection was sufficient to tip the balances in young Strike’s favor. Remember, Rowling was the Head Girl at her Comprehensive but was passed over for Oxbridge.

Back to revision of Heroin Dark Lord 1.0.

When Whittaker begins to press Rokeby for more support or more in hush money payoff, Rokeby sends a message via Digger’s killers and a heroin overdose which shuts up Leda forever and Whittaker indefinitely. Rokeby keeps a close watch on Strike because he has to suspect Leda told him the secret; when he learns about the joint ops investigation concerning Harringay and heroin and Afghanistan (and potentially the rock star’s violent, lucrative history with all three), Rokeby and Malley decide to kill him in 2007 as they had killed his mother in 1994, albeit with a bomb rather than a drug overdose. Strike survives, however, to testify against Digger “anonymously” — and he is only alive today because the protective seal on his identity at that trial was not broken.

It’s worth reading the original posts again to be reminded of the Harringay Crime Syndicate and what we learn about it in Career of Evil. Joanne Gray noted at the time that Rowling’s model for these mafiosos was almost certainly the real world Clerkenwell Crime Syndicate, the founder of which was Terrence ‘Terry’ Adams, the probable story-cipher for Terrence ‘Digger’ Malley. That was years before our Troubled Blood time in Clerkenwell and meeting the Riccis, whom even Shanker is not willing to play with on any terms. Strike testifies against Digger Malley and the head of the Syndicate goes to jail.

What does Rokeby’s “nest egg” of at least $500,000 suggest about the validity of my Heroin Dark Lord theory? In itself, not much, but other things we learn in Troubled Blood undermine important premises of the theory.

Strike tells us in Strike5, for example, that his conception broke up Rokeby’s “second marriage.” A big piece of Heroin Dark Lord’s foundation is that Rokeby is not Strike’s biological father and that Leda blackmailed him into accepting paternity because of knowledge she had about drug trade-related crimes the lead Deadbeat had committed. This made sense because, though Strike maintained in the first books that he was responsible for the break-up of one of his father’s marriages, his gestation and birth in 1974 were in a year in which Rokeby was not married. Now we have been told that Rokeby’s wife left him in 1979 because of his infidelity during their courtship or engagement back in 1974 — a stretch, I think, but what Strike believes — which, if true, makes the heroin connection with Harringay, etc., much less plausible.

So, it seems Rowling has written herself into a corner with respect to DNA and paternity tests; Louise Freeman has shown conclusively that, if Rokeby accepted paternity responsibilities for the young Strike in 1978 or 1979, the year his second marriage broke up, it was not because of a demonstrative, uncontestable DNA or paternity test as no such thing existed at that time. That would be in line with the gaffes that pervade the series (apparently even The Presence is aware of the Problem — and working on it!).

If, though, this seeming unforced error is just clever exposition, Rowling knew the tests didn’t exist to establish paternity definitively in the years after Strike’s supposed conception as a Rokeby, then and only then does Heroin Dark Lord regain its plausibility. Rokeby is only a credible suspect in Leda’s death staged as suicide, if he accepted paternity to keep Leda quiet about his crimes on tour and with drugs — and the White Horse of heroin brings in the Harringay Crime Syndicate, their suppliers in the Army stationed in Afghanistan, and their eagerness to silence Leda forever and Whittaker indefinitely.

I think the prudent speculator goes with “Rowling made another dates gaffe.”

I don’t think Cormoran’s “nest egg” means anything to Rokeby, at least not as he is presented to us at last in Troubled Blood. He seems earnest in his desire to reconcile with his angry bastard son — and the money, be it half a million or well over a million, is not legally his or, frankly, a lot of money. Mick Jagger, something of a type or model for the fictional Jonny Rokeby (see ‘Rokeby, Jagger, and Heroin‘ for the numerous and compelling parallels in their life histories — especially Jagger’s history of heroin abuse), is believed to be worth $360 million.

My net take-away from Troubled Blood is that Rokeby didn’t do it but that he knows a lot about it and is eager to talk with Cormoran because he thinks sharing what he knows will end their feud.

If we find out in Strike6, though, that it wasn’t because of a test that Rokeby accepted paternity, I’ll be reviving Heroin Dark Lord in a hurry. On to the two suspects few Strike readers want to take seriously!

(4) Ted Nancarrow Nobody wants to believe that Uncle Ted did it, I understand that. But let’s step outside the stories for a minute to think about how Rowling writes and what her objectives are.

First thing, the big reveal at the story finish has to be a surprise, a shock, in Russian formalist language, a defamiliarizing Knight’s Move. The actual murderer has to be someone that we really didn’t suspect — and certainly not a man or woman whom the characters inside the story believe did it. Rowling doesn’t work that way, both as someone well versed in the guides, the goals, and the gods and goddesses of detective fiction and as a lover of the ‘Big Twist’ finish. Rowling is trying to blow up our conventional biases by having us experience ostrananie or estrangement in her series by our discovery of how blind we have been.

For that reason alone, we can be pretty sure that Whittaker and Rokeby didn’t do it. Cormoran Strike believes in his inner essence that Jeff Whittaker is evil and killed his mother. Even talking with Rokeby for a few minutes on the phone or hearing the story of his conception talked about in public cause the usually remarkably self-controlled Strike to lose his bearing and respond with unhinged outrage. If either of these men turn out to be the murderers, where is the surprise in that?

I understand that this works both ways. If the ending has to be lightning strike surprise to the reader, then the door is open to wing-nut theories like Lucy Fantoni, the Whittaker grandfather, or Guy Some being the murderer. I get that. Those ideas are credible, if only in that they’re preposterous and we need something out of left field for the series finish.

Rowling’s objectives are not limited to defamiliarization, though. She also is determined to drive home a message about violence against women, about bias and bigotry, and, akin to that last, about the dangers of unthinking belief, what Rowling refers to in all her interviews as “fundamentalism.” There must also be a subliminal but profound illustration of spiritual reality in her stories, especially with respect to there being life after death and some kind of judgment with respect to a soul’s virtue and vice. This she calls her “obsession” with “morality and mortality.”

You tell me how the preposterous suspects like sister Lucy and Old Man Whittaker meet those criteria and I will jump on either bandwagon. “Means, motive, and opportunity’ are the standards in Strike’s world, but in the meta-world of literary criticism there are different standards, namely, what it is that the writer consistently tries to communicate. The usual suspects and the new nutty offerings don’t check any of these boxes.

Most important, I think, in the essentials of Rowling’s Lake inspiration and Shed artistry is her creating story-rings that acts as alchemical alembics on the hearts of her readers. Her characters embrace and experience transformational change about how they see and understand themselves and the world — and her readers, having suspended disbelief in poetic faith and imagination, are expected to share in this cathartic change via imaginative experience of the subliminal structure and symbolism as well as the surface story points. 

The murderer of Leda Strike, to have this metamorphic effect on Strike and on the readers of his stories, is going to have to be the closest thing to a mirror reflection to Cormoran as exists on planet Earth. We already have the rings and the literary alchemy in full force; we just need the confrontation with Self that forces transcendence of Strike’s identity and ego. The two characters that qualify on all these counts are Ted Nancarrow and Dave Polworth.

Let’s start with Uncle Ted.

I made the case for Ted Nancarrow being the murderer before Troubled Blood was published: see ‘Who Killed Leda Strike? Uncle Ted Did It.’ That’s quite the long post, one that explains how ‘Ted Nancarrow, Killer,’ is an especially resonant finish to the seven book series because of how it echoes the structure and substance of Cuckoo’s Calling and Lethal White. ‘Who Killed Leda Strike? Uncle Ted Did It‘ also explains in no little detail the means, motive, and opportunity of Leda being murdered by her brother and several of the meta-literary points touched on above.

Nothing in Strike5 contradicted my points there and quite a few points suggested he’s a good suspect.

For one thing, Joan all but says in her jokes with Strike about Ted being a Capricorn that he is the murderer. Funny, I know, but just the kind of teasing foreshadowing that Rowling-Galbraith loves.

More to the point, though, we learn something essential in Troubled Blood about Uncle Ted’s history which ties into the Rosmersholm backdrop of Lethal White. We learn in Strike5 that Ted Nancarrow left his Cornwall home for the Red Caps after a fight with his father (ch 31, p 354).

The Rosmersholm connection tells us that father-daughter incest will be a revelation in Strike7 and a probable cause for Leda’s suicide or murder. If we assume Leda’s father molested her as a child or young woman and she ran away with the first man who would have her to escape her nightmare existence in St Mawes, several mysterious behaviors in the books become transparently clear.

Ted’s fight with his father and departure from home, for example, would be natural on learning that his old man had been forcing sex on his daughter, Ted’s only sister; his choice would have been the common-sensical one of leaving home and fighting crime rather than attempt to prosecute his father and bring shame on his whole family in provincial Cornwall. I assume he returned only after his father has died.

Ted and Joan’s refusal to send the authorities to take away Leda’s children makes sense, too, if they know she was sexually molested at home as a young women by her father. They are simultaneously at her mercy lest she tell everyone in St Mawes the Nancarrow family dirty secret and necessarily nothing but profoundly sympathetic and understanding about the unhinged, anti-bourgeois exhibitionist Leda has become in light of her nightmare childhood of rape and violation. Ted and Joan, childless as they are, take on Lucy and Cormoran as Leda dictated, rescuing them at times when Leda goes too far, but never calling in Child Protective Services to have her ruled unfit as a mother. The incest explains that.

We also learn in Troubled Blood that the Nancarrows were in contact with Rokeby about Oxford and that when Strike refuses his “little nest egg,” it is the Nancarrows who must “stump up” for his college fees. Leda is desperately unhappy and a worrisome burden on her children, especially Cormoran. She is psychologically unstable and self-destructive in all her behaviors and decision-making. There is little to no reason to expect change for the better as far as damaged-to-the-core Leda is concerned. Everything noted about means, motive, and opportunity about Uncle Ted as Leda’s murderer I discuss in ‘Who Killed Leda Strike? Uncle Ted Did It‘ are only amplified by the revelations of Troubled Blood.

To the meta points:

Defamiliarizing shock — check. People freak out even at the suggestion that Ted killed Leda.

Violence against women being the root of all evil and psychopathology — oh, yeah. Father-daughter incest is the very model for all violence against women, no?

Transformational change — I think so. Strike at the end of Troubled Blood is at last settling into his identity as the son of Ted Nancarrow, a true Western Man, and Cornwall partisan, if no zealot. Learning the Nancarrow dirty secret of incest, his Uncle’s ‘mercy killing’ of Ted’s own sister with the heroin knowledge that he learned in the Red Caps, blows that up and he becomes, like the Theo’ or ‘God’ in Troubled Blood, a true didicoy or gypsy, a man who lives in the world but not of it.

But, y’know, I confess I really don’t think Ted Nancarrow did it, spitting image and father to Strike that he is. His ‘opportunity’ to do the job, frankly, is relatively weak as I explain it in Who Killed Leda Strike? Uncle Ted Did It.’ There’s another character in Strike’s life who is a better fit for murderer, let’s say ‘mercy-killer,’ than the upright Ted Nancarrow.

(5) Dave Polworth

Dave Polworth, we learn in Troubled Blood, has never known his father. His mother is dead in 2014, but Little Dave’s relationship with women as instruments good for little more than “gash” or a “blowie” suggests quite strongly that his mother was not Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in terms of her male companions — and that Dave despised her for it.

We learn, too, that Dave adopted Strike the first day of his appearance in the St Mawes elementary school and instantly became his closest and most loyal friend, all a mystery to Strike.

Throughout Troubled Blood, Dave Polworth does anything and everything in his power to help the Nancarrows, from fixing their cable connection and bringing them food in a tsunami to ferrying Strike and Lucy across fifteen miles of flood-water and being Johnny on the Spot to take Ted out for a pint. Strike observes in his shame and gratitude for all that Polworth does for his Aunt and Uncle that it is he rather than Dave who should be doing all that.

Polworth does talk to women, we learn in Troubled Blood, though Strike doesn’t notice it. He has conversations with Lucy Fantoni in his backyard when she is down for a visit and with Joan about Cormoran’s love-life and relationship with his father. It seems the only women with whom Dave talks at any length or about anything meaningful are Ted’s wife and de facto daughter.

Readers are meant, as Strike does, to assume all this is true because Polworth and Strike are such long-term good mates, something more like brothers than friends. He is on such good terms with the Nancarrows and Lucy because he is so close to Strike.

This is in all probability almost exactly backward.

The Nancarrows had no children and Little Dave Polworth when he was a truly a little tyke had no loving, attentive parents. Before the arrival of Cormoran Strike, Dave Polworth was Ted Nancarrow’s first adopted son. Polworth loves Ted and Joan — and defended and befriended Cormoran his first day in school — because they are his true family. The Nancarrows gave him his identity, such as it is.

This is why he is invited to the sailing trip to send Joan’s ashes afloat in her urn and to come to Easter dinner with his wife and children. And why Lucy is scandalized that Cormoran didn’t think to bring the Polworth girl chocolate eggs, too. Polworth is family and perhaps as much if not more a brother to her than Cormoran.

Strike and Polworth have remained friends as long as they have, despite their difference in every respect especially with respect to vocation and living situations (London/Cornwall!), not because they are such great mates, but because they are effectively brothers because of their sharing Joan and Ted as adopted parents.

Why, though, I hear you asking, would Polworth want to kill Strike’s mother, Leda?

This involves a trip into fan-fiction, I fear, but I hope you will bear with me. In Who Killed Leda Strike? Uncle Ted Did It,‘ I argue that Ted wants to kill Jeff Whittaker because of the PTSD Lucy suffers from for months (years? has she ever recovered?) after her experiences with him in the flat. He chooses to kill Leda instead, because he recognizes (a) she is never going to change and will never be happy as a consequence of her childhood experiences, and (b) the only way to remove Whittaker from the scene is to set him up for the crime of killing Leda. He turns his Red Cap knowledge to the task and does just that. Only the bumbling Metropolitan Police and Whittaker’s slick lawyers get him off.

In the Polworth version, 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 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.

Polworth, though, also knows the dark Nancarrow family secret that Lucy doesn’t. In a scene eerily like the Cuckoo’s Calling pub scene after Strike learns that Charlotte is engaged to marry Jago Ross, in Strike7 we learn about the night Joan Nancarrow miscarried in her early forties and Ted tried to drown his sorrows at the Victory. Dave Polworth found him there, drank with him, and carried his old, broken man home and tucked him in. He never forgot, though, all he learned that night about Leda Strike, Ted’s father, Jeff Whittaker, and his real father’s fantasies about how he could kill Leda with a heroin overdose and frame Whittaker for the crime.

Dave Polworth is not a man of great ethics. He is a man of action. He saves a little money, does a little research, and, not in school and not yet employed full-time, he heads to London. To do exactly what Ted Nancarrow said would solve all his family’s problems. Dave feels he owes that much to Ted and Joan and Lucy, and, yes, Cormoran, too. There isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for them, as we learn in Troubled Blood.

The trip to London, of course, doesn’t go exactly as planned. The Metropolitan Police, for one thing, don’t appreciate his decision to “live rough” in the parks. They haul him in, throw him in the drunk tank, laugh when the toughs gang up on him because of his accent, and then give him a proper beating when he spits at them through the bars of his cell. Dave’s hated of the Metropolitan Police and of London is not just because Whittaker got off.

He succeeds in scoring sufficient heroin and learning where Leda lives and when she will be alone in the flat. She lets him in and tries to clean him up. They smoke some marijuana, her joint loaded so she quickly falls asleep. Dave administers the killing dose of heroin via intravenous needle and begins the long trip home. He took the train in, but, between the time in jail and the heroin purchase, he’s broke and has to walk and beg rides to get back to Cornwall.

He stays away from the Nancarrow house as they grieve for Leda but congratulates himself for putting Leda out of her misery, putting Whittaker in jail, and freeing every member of his adopted family of the burden Mr and Mrs Whittaker were to them. Dave has no regrets and no confidants, if Uncle Ted, of course, has his suspicions (and gratitude) with respect to whodunnit.

How do I see all this playing out in Strike6 and Strike7? How does Strike learn that Ted or Polworth killed his mother?

I can imagine Just as Dumbledore inspired hateful, murderous feelings in Harry Potter through Order of the Phoenix but becomes a near constant and benign father-figure in Half-Blood Prince, so Rokeby, his cancer much more serious than Strike believed in Troubled Blood, forces himself on Strike in the next mystery. Perhaps he hires him to solve a case or helps the evicted Strike and Agency to find an affordable (or not so affordable) new home in central London. Regardless of how they meet or how often, though, Rokeby before his death will enlighten Cormoran sans Pensieve immersions about Leda and “all her men” (especially the calculating Whittaker), his mother’s attempt to coerce Rokeby into marriage via pregnancy, and about the Norfolk Commune misadventure, the nadir of Strike’s childhood memories. The Peg-legged PI learns at last what Louise Freeman deduced in her brilliant ‘Piercing Together Cormoran Strike’s Childhood,’ namely that Messrs. Rokeby and Fantoni intervened to protect Strike and Lucy after a police raid on the Commune. Rokeby’s death from prostate cancer at book six’s end leads to Strike’s resolution at last to investigate his mother’s death — perhaps Rokeby leaves him money in his will to do just that. A sum somewhere around $500,000?

One other thing Strike learns in Book6 is during the Polworth family visit to see The Lion King. At the Tottenham, Dave shares that on one of his trips to London as a lad he was picked up as a vagrant and beaten senseless by the Metropolitan Police. Dave explains this is why he hates the Big City and the coppers. It’s another great Polworth story and Strike thinks little of it.

I can imagine, as he takes on solving the mystery of Leda’s death at last, Strike will learn in Strike7 from Norfolk Commune survivors who remember his mother that, in the open group confessions and requests for prayer, the cult leader extracted from Leda a cathartic public revelation of her having been molested by her father during her adolescent years. Which will take Strike to St Mawes for conversation with his Uncle Ted. Which leads in turn to Ted Nancarrow explaining the commitment he and Joan made to protect Leda’s children while respecting Cormoran’s mother’s rights, within limits, to do as she would; her closest, really her only family was not going to be the cause again of destructive emotional distress to her. Strike then has to overcome the greatest of all biases, his love and admiration for his “real father,” Ted Nancarrow, to consider the real possibility that Ted rather than Whittaker staged Leda Strike’s death as a suicide. Of course, Ted would have seen it as a “mercy killing,” something of a theme in Troubled Blood, no? And maybe Strike in the end agrees with him. 

In the Polworth scenario, Ted is able to convince Cormoran that he wanted to kill Leda and Whittaker but he couldn’t have done it. He has a host of witnesses he was somewhere else the day it happened — lifesavers on a rescue mission. Shanker, though, meets Little Dave in Strike6 or Strike7. He doesn’t tell Strike until Book7 that he met the Western Man years ago. Shanker wouldn’t have recognized him except he had that bizarre Cornwall accent that Shanker had only heard from Leda and Lucy. And he remembers that Dave Polworth scored quite a bit of heroin from him, if he doesn’t remember when the deal was made (he’s not the “amazing memory man”). Even Strike has to realize then what has happened.

Nephew Jack the Giant Killer almost certainly has something to do with knocking over the first domino that starts the chain reaction in Cormoran’s thinking, a fission bomb that explodes all his ideas about his mother, his Uncle Ted, his oldest mate, and about himself as a Western Man. Jack probably just repeats something Lucy has said about Cormoran as a young man. The Shanker memory seals the deal.

Cormoran learns at last that he is not at all who or what he thinks he is.

He is, in reality, the son of an abused woman, survivor of repeated incestuous rape, and the brother of a woman who was similarly molested, a sister whose mother did not support or believe her daughter. Big man that he is, he was oblivious and uncaring about their pain and unable to protect or comfort them.

Just as shocking, of course, he learns that either his best friend or the model of manhood he always strove to emulate murdered his mother, Dave on a solo mission or Ted and Dave complicitly and silently.

He learns that his Oxford admission was due to Rokeby pulling strings. He isn’t the first tier academic wizard having been chosen for Oxbridge means to most everyone.

He learns along the way that Charlotte killed their child because she knew that the baby would just be another competitor for his love, along with, of course, the real enemy: the C. B. Strike Detective Agency. Another death he is responsible for, another woman in his life whom he failed.

He comes face-to-face with the Norfolk Commune experience, too, and that his ‘Team Reality’ beliefs and denial of the existence of any higher truths or spiritual realities (not to mention disgust for “church-going” believers)  are the result not of discernment and objectivity but childhood psychological trauma.

All the pins are knocked down at last. Except for Robin who is with him through it all doing her “talking thing” to keep him sane. 

Cormoran asks Robin to marry him and to have his children. She agrees. Exeunt Omnes.

I put down a marker way back up in the ‘Leda Killed Herself’ paragraphs that I’d have to revisit this at post’s end. If Leda only learned about Whittaker’s despoiling Lucy in 1994, I think the shame of her not protecting her daughter from experiencing what she had in St Mawes as well as her hatred of her husband may have pushed her into taking her own life. I can see, as I said, her despair index and desire for revenge on having that revelation enabling her to kill herself in a staged suicide the Met would see through so that her children would have a better life and she would be able to hurt Whittaker rather than be his victim. Her ‘Mistress of the Salmon Salt’ tattoo and Whittaker calling her “the Quicklime Girl” in court suggest she set him up by killing herself.

It’s a credible solution to the ‘Who Killed Leda?’ mystery. Who would expect that a staged suicide would be a suicide staged to seem a suicide by the person committing suicide? I’m sure that there are many examples of this in the classics of the genre; no doubt Rowling could write it so it was fresh and a shocking surprise.

I think, though, that the Ted and Dave scenarios, more than Leda turning to have committed suicide or the Heroin Dark Lord theory, satisfy the necessary checklists for a Rowling series.

These Nancarrow and Polworth possibilities satisfy the detective crime genre requirements with respect to means, motive, and opportunity as well the Rowling-Galbraith meta-issues of defamiliarization, “morality and mortality obsession,” and transformative experience in self-understanding for character and reader alike.

“You’re not the person you think you are; you are, in the end, only your vocation and your capacity to love.”

Let me know what you think! Who do you believe killed Leda Strike?




  1. Intriguing thoughts!

    There are also two other people that might have murdered Leta. I’m afraid I haven’t read all of your posts so forgive me if you have discussed these before.

    1. Joan Nancarrow. Much of Troubled Blood focuses on her, and I feel like there must be a reason for that, unless it is just to introduce backstory about Strike’s childhood (or introduce Ted the murderer, as you mentioned). Much of Troubled blood is also centered around the mother-like Nurse-Murderer, that is Janice Beattie. She resembles Joan somewhat and gives a clue that even nice old ladies are capable of murder. Moreover, if it was Joan who murdered Leda, it would play into many myths and perceptions about mothers, i.e. who is a real mother and what mothers are capable of. Lucy and Strike were essentially raised by Joan and Ted for long periods of time. Joan did not have any children but acted as a mother. She has many motives to kill Leda – to end Strike and Lucy’s suffering being one. Also, I am not sure whether Lucy was still underage when Leda died – if she was, she would become Joan’s daughter officially through guardianship. This, obviously, applies to Ted as well. Strike was an adult at that time. Joan’s death would make a good red herring – much of Troubled Blood is spent wondering whether the murderer is even alive ans whether it’s possible to find them. If Joan is dead, it makes her less suspicious.

    2. Another good candidate would be Lucy. She seems to have hated Leda, and, as you said, had traumatic experiences with Whittaker. She would have desperately wanted to get out of the situation any way she could. She likely also knew how to overdose someone as she was constantly exposed to drugs. In my opinion, she has both the motive and the means.

  2. Thank you for this response — and for the two intriguing suspects!

    I have ruled out Lucy Fantoni as a suspect for four reasons:

    (1) As a minor and Nancarrow family member, her disappearance for a trip into London or for any reason for any period longer than a few hours would have been noted and hard to explain (and we’re talking about a job that would have taken quite some time to pull off, unless we are imaging a scene where she drops in on Mum finds her asleep, a full syring of White Horse at hand, and decides to do the deed and be done with her…). Again, opportunity is the chief hurdle to clear for any of the Cornwall suspects — and Dave at age 20 fits the bill most easily.

    (2) Lucy has been public with her anger at Leda, especially in ‘Troubled Blood,’ so for meta-reasons she is an unlikely suspect. The character shouting out, “Look at me! I have a motive for having killed the victim!” pretty much can be ruled out as the actual murderer, unless you want to believe Rowling-Galbraith is being especially clever in having a not especially clever character pull off a ‘hiding in plain sight’ number.

    (3) Even with the reminder in ‘Blood’ that Lucy can be quite the determined and focused person in a crisis, imagining 18 year old Lucy, PTSD as she clearly must have been (her whole life, as Strike has noted many times, being an effort to recover from her nomadic, unstable childhood), traveling into London solo and murdering her mother, traveling back to Cornwall and grieving convincingly before a Red Cap veteran and an Oxford student both of whom are quite keen observers and with excellent memories… I just don’t see it.

    (4) If Lucy did it — and I understand that partisans will have arguments contra all the above — how does this cause a cathartic transformation in how Strike sees himself and the world? He knows Lucy hated and still hates Leda. Proving she killed her own mother does what to Strike, besides bringing some resolution to a mystery that has haunted him? Frankly, next to nothing. The revelation of the murderer of Leda Strike, like Harry finding out that the despised Snape loved Lily and dedicated to his life to protecting her son, has to rock Cormoran’s world and everything that makes up his identity, such as it is.

    Rowling-Galbraith is after our defamiliarization, our transformed vision, something achieved in the alembic of cathartic revelation of our mistaken thinking. ‘Lucy Fantoni, Murderer’ does not do any of that.

    Now, Joan Nancarrow, that’s a little different. Her motive is crystal clear and multi-dimensional. On means and opportunity, though, again, I just don’t see it, unless Joan and Ted or Joan and Dave pull off some kind of joint operation.

    It’s possible — imagine Ted gone for a lifesavers exercise, so she has a week in which to travel back and forth to London and all the stars aligning (see above, Leda asleep, syringe on table, etc.) she kills the evil sister-in-law with no one spotting or hearing the Cornwall lady in that environment — but it’s a much greater stretch than Ted and Dave doing the deed together or solo.

    Which unlikelihood I understand is actually an argument in favor of making Joan a suspect; domesticated, simple, childless Joan learns about heroin in volunteer work at the hospital and, enraged by what she learns from Lucy about Whittaker’s sexual behaviors and Leda’s complicity, decides to top the one and set the other up for murder. That’s a ‘wow’ finish, certainly, and one, as you say, we’ve been set up for with RN Janice.

    But does the late Joan Nancarrow turning out to be a murderer turn Cormoran’s self-understanding inside out? Until ‘Blood,’ the reason Strike hasn’t gone back to Cornwall had been that Joan’s guilt-trips and clingy behavior sickened him. He was delighted to learn from dying Joan that she was proud of him and he’ll always think of her when he is seaside, but he just wasn’t that close to her, right? He’d be surprised, even shocked, to figure out his Aunt killed his mother, but it wouldn’t be anything like discovering his oldest mate or “real father,” true ‘Western Men,’ did it.

    Great ideas, though! Thank you for sharing these suspects!

  3. Ah, I see your reasoning behind the murderer not being Lucy. Good points. I’ve only read each book once so I should probably go back to them.

    And I agree that Joan being the murderer would just be pure shock value.

    Now I am more convinced that the murderer might have been Rokeby. Leda would let him into her apartment any time. Perhaps Rokeby wanted to ensure his money really ended up with Strike instead of Leda (which he initially tried to do with the contract). Perhaps we will later learn more about Leda’s wickedness which will make Rokeby an antihero. Who knows.

  4. I read your statement that “every one of which so far in its own way is an aspect of the ‘Leda Strike Mystery’” and remembered my own thoughts that every book involves different kinds of parent-child relationships with the overarching revelation of Strike’s own story.

    In CC there was not only the rather dysfunctional Bristow family relationships, but Lula’s search for her biological parents that was really the beginning of it all.

    Then the devoted Quine family. And wasn’t it the editor who had doubts his daughter was his?

    Then the suspects in CoE with their various abusive relationships with children for whom they had some type of responsibility and mothers who refused to believe it was happening. And also the murky parentage of the killer, wasn’t he the result of an affair?

    Then the family dynamics of the Chiswell family in LW, Rafe’s parentage, Billy’s abuse, countered by Lucy’s worry for and devotion to Jack.

    Then Ann’s confused feelings for her mother, father, and step-mother in TB. We also learn of Janice wanting to use a child to cement a relationship and Gloria trying to escape one. Strike’s own beliefs and attitudes towards family and what makes a person a parent are on display.

    In the beginning Strike identified with John Bristow with regards to his messy, dysfunctional family background and that feeling of oneness with Charlotte concerning their screwed up family life was a driving force of their relationship. Now he’s breaking free of that self-identification.

    I immediately thought of Strike when I read this Rowling tweet:
    “We’re so complicated! We need love, but sometimes childhood pain leaves us with tangled beliefs about ourselves & others. We’re then vulnerable to people who hurt us, yet we can’t stop wanting them, or wanting them to be kinder. Believing you deserve to be happy is the cure x” 3/29/20 Twitter

    I consider this to be Strike’s transformation. Broken relationships and family dysfunction are not inevitable.

    Sorry, this ended up longer than intended and strayed from discussion of suspects. Btw, I’m working on a crazy theory about Charlotte as killer. Has that been discussed before?

  5. Louise Freeman says

    I was re-reading your arguments for Dave Polworth as a killer and got a wild idea. Could Dave, Snape-like, have been in love with Lucy as a young man? He spent more time as a schoolmate of hers than he did Strike’s, given her permanent move to St. Mawes when she was 14. He clearly is on good terms with her as an adult, as evidenced by his inviting her to a barbecue (which seemed to surprise Strike, suggesting he did not realize how close they were) and her dismay that Strike did not bring the Polworth girls Easter eggs. Could his closeness to the Nancarrow family be motivated as much by feelings for Lucy as affection for Ted and Joan as surrogate parents?

    It is somewhat hard for me to buy the incest part of your theory, but the idea of Ted and Joan being surrogate parents for little Dave because of his unhappy home life, and the possibility (even probability) that Whittaker’s sexual abuse of Lucy went beyond exposure and taunting to groping–or worse–and that Leda refused to believe her are quite believable. But, if Lucy was close enough to Dave as a schoolgirl, she may have confided that in him, or he may have overheard it from Ted and Joan, all of which could have motivated him to murder Leda and try to set up Whittaker.

    If there was a romance between Dave and Lucy, there must be a story behind why she wound up instead with that charismatic personality that is Greg. Could she have simply not reciprocated his feelings, seeing him too much as a brother/best friend to be a romantic partner, much as Lily apparently saw Sev? Could she have gotten a glimpse of his misogyny and lack of respect for women in general, and rejected him on those grounds, just as Lily could not tolerate Snape’s pureblood tendencies? Or, could his cynicism towards women and marriage have been the result of her rejecting his affections, and going off to college to fall in love with someone duller, but more stable?

    Perhaps killing Leda was some sort of grand gesture that Dave thought would prove his love for her, only to backfire when he realized that, despite Leda’s flaws, her death had devastated the entire family, and that he would be forever despised by Strike, Lucy and Ted if they found out he had done the deed.

    In any case, Polworth could be an example of a Snape-Lily relationship that managed to come to a satisfactory conclusion, where both parties are able to remain friends, even as they move on with their lives and into new relationships. Regardless of whether there was a murder tossed into the mix.

  6. I’m chuffed, Louise, that you seem to be on board with the ‘Dave Did It’ theory, even if you resist the Nancarrow Incest fan fiction piece of that idea.

    I’ll stick with Dave as older brother and protector rather than Lucy’s boyfriend or love interest for three reasons:

    (1) If I’m right about Dave being a de facto Nancarrow child from an early age and his having been designated as Cormoran’s protector by Ted before Strike’s first day of school, it seems likely that he was Lucy’s guardian as well, especially after her final return as a teen-ager from Chez Whittaker. I don’t see that as blossoming into romance because of the borderline incestuous quality of it and risking the disapproval of his Nancarrow parents.

    (2) Rowling-Galbraith has written quite powerfully and consistently about the long-term effects of violence against women, especially the PTSD tremors an abused woman feels for years afterward, if not, as with Rowling and Robin, forever. If we are right in guessing that Lucy is just such a victim of sexual abuse — hence her choice of spouse and super-conformist and hyper-ordered behaviors as her means of signaling to her self that all is well — I find the possibility that she was open to any kind of physical relationship until years after Jeff Whittaker’s abuse unlikely. I get that, just as Robin had Matt as her ‘safe haven’ post rape, brother Dave might have been the most likely person for her to bond to; it seems a real stretch, though, for her to ‘go there,’ given the degree of damage we see in her twenty years on, so soon after her return to Cornwall.

    (3) Dave Polworth is, as I hope I more than suggested in the post, also damaged goods, especially with respect to relationships with women. I suspect he came from a home without affection; we know there was no father figure in his life except Ted and that his mother broke with their father. Was the break due to his infidelity — or hers? My guess is that ‘Little Dave’ was sexually precocious and adventurous which precluded being boyfriend to his kid sister which, in his mind, would mean using her as a ‘service instrument’ for his pleasures. That use and abuse and turning out as refuse doesn’t match up with Christmas dinners at Ted and Joan’s.

    Which is a reiteration of reason (1) above, I guess.

    Still, Louise, great to read you are taking the ‘Dave Did It’ idea seriously, even if Nick Herbert looks to be your preferred candidate. Cheers!

  7. Louise Freeman says

    1) Hmmm… where have we seen a young man, abused and neglected by his blood relations, be de facto adopted by his best mate’s family, later fall for his best mate’s sister after serving as her protector/lifesaver, *and* the family enthusiastically embracing the pairing? Can you say Harry and Ginny?

    2) I am not suggesting Dave and Lucy became physically intimate as teenagers. Rather like Snape and Lily, they became best friends as children, and the relationship turned into romantic attraction, at least from the male half, in adolescence. But the romantic attraction may well have been one-sided and not physically acted on in any way.

    3) If Dave killed Leda, the damage goes without saying.

  8. I’ll confess to loving the Harry/Ginny parallel with Dave and Lucy, especially as the Strike series as a whole can be read as Rowling’s repudiation of the Ron/Hermione pairing instead of a Harry/Hermione ‘ship. In this reading, an argument I’m making in a longer paper I’m writing not for publication (yet), Rowling shifts from a Platonic/Patristic/Elizabethan faculty psychology for her exteriorized soul triptych, the lead three characters being body-mind-and-spirit allegorical figures coming into alignment as the spirit-heart figure Harry is purified and perfected alchemically, to a Jungian pairing of just two characters whose love interests are the visible external reflections of their interior struggles with integrating their respective anima and animus.

    Robin and Strike in this reading are psychologically wounded as are all men and women until this assimilation and acceptance of their ‘other’ within occurs; Rowling is writing, brilliantly I might add, this as a love story of two survivors. The man wounded in war, once engaged to a goddess of beauty and feminine madness, struggles to come to terms with his capacity to love and nurture. Thee woman, victim of rape and assault, having married and divorced a cartoon of exterior manliness for safety, works consciously to embrace her vocation as Avenger without forsaking her maternal, caring aspects.

    Rowling said in 2014 the she regretted the Ron/Hermione pairing, which timing, of course, is spot on for her planning and writing the Strike series. We have a boatload of evidence that she is writing the Strike series in playful parallel with and as commentary or gloss on Harry Potter. Circling back to the beginning of this comment, I love the idea of Dave Polworth as the missing clueless-with-respect-to-women childhood mate ‘Ron Weasley’ piece and his being paired, not with Hermione-Robin but the Ginny missing piece, Lucy Fantoni, the adopted family half-sister.

    I’m not sold on ‘Lucy Did It’ — I see you have posted ‘Nick Did It’ so you are not married to Lucy-as-murderer, either — but the idea grows on me if she is spun as a Ginny Weasley character. I can definitely imagine Ginny killing the anti-Molly, Leda Strike.

  9. Coming to this in December, by accident at that. My assumption was always Leda died the way may heron addicts famous and otherwise have, by accidental overdose.
    It’s a whole new world of possibilities.
    Happy to have found this site.

  10. Welcome, Dana! A great place to start is the overview of posts for ‘Troubled Blood.’ Enjoy!

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