Who Killed Leda Strike? Uncle Ted Did It

I promised yesterday in an aside that I would explain today why I think Cormoran Strike’s Uncle Ted killed Leda Strike. I doubt we’ll get anything in Strike5 that lays out this ending of the seven book story cycle but the fifth book will have to set up that finale if true. Rowling’s new twitter page header, the natal astrological chart of Aleister Crowley, suggests that Jeff Whittaker will be returning in Strike5 because Strike’s step-father is a great fan of Crowley and Anton LaVey, so much of an admirer that he named his son, Switch LaVey Bloom Whittaker, after the California Satanist. LaVey, a wannabe musician who tortured animals and abused women and children, may be the real world model for fictional Whittaker.

My recent re-reading of the four Strike mysteries and the new twitter header make me think that Whittaker was not Leda Strike’s murderer as her son Cormoran believes, but the evil person that Leda’s real killer attempted to frame for the seemingly faked suicide. Leda’s real killer? Her brother, Cormoran and Lucy’s beloved Uncle Ted.

I have three reasons for thinking Uncle Ted killed his sister, Leda Strike. Join me after the jump for exploration of Uncle Ted’s means, motive and opportunity as well as the structural and misdirection reasons for this shocking possibility! Talk about Chairos Moments –imagine Cormoran when he figures this out.

(1) He Who Must Not Be Named: In keeping with parallels between the Strike series and Harry Potter, the really bad guy is not named or known by his real name. Uncle Ted and Aunt Joan are the only recurring characters whose surnames are never given. I can see you making a big eyeball roll here, but there has to be a reason that a novelist consumed by finding the right name for her characters has not mentioned Leda’s maiden name or Ted’s given surname. We have another pointer to the importance of this in Lula Landry in Cuckoo choosing to take her mother’s maiden name rather than her adopted family’s name, Bristow. If the first and seventh books latch up as I suspect they must, the reveal of Leda’s maiden name and why she gladly gave it up for ‘Strike’ will be no small thing.

(2) Echoing the Murders of Books One and Four: Did I mention the structural parallels in the Strike series with Harry Potter? We saw in Lethal White and its myriad echoes with Cuckoo’s Calling the same kind of correspondences that exist between Philosopher’s Stone and Goblet of Fire. Because Deathly Hallows tied in to those correspondences between the first and fourth Potter novels, it seems plausible that Strike7 will echo Cuckoo and Lethal. Both those stories are about murders staged as suicides. In Cuckoo, the avenging brother hiring Strike because he wants justice; in Lethal White, the sister of the murderer hires Strike because she does not think their father committed suicide. The brother kills his sister in Strike1, in other words, and the sister in Strike4 convicts her brother (and step-mother) of the crime. It was Bea Groves or Louise Freeman who first noted that the faked suicides in Strikes 1 and 4 meant that we should learn about Leda’s faked suicide in the Big Finish; I think a closer look at the pattern reveals the last book of the opening series will include an out of the blue sister-brother revelation about a murder staged as a suicide as well. Uncle Ted is the brother who kills his sister and stages it as a drug overdose suicide.

(3) Means, Motive, and Opportunity: The big three! In summary, no one has better reason to kill Leda Strike than her brother Ted, no other characters have the skill set with both drugs and police procedures to stage the seeming suicide so that it incriminates Jeff Whittaker, his real target, as the murderer, and only Uncle Ted has the smarts to wait until the moment there would be no witnesses in the flat, his alibi is bullet proof, and Cormoran and Shanker are not implicated.

One at a time starting with the last, Opportunity. We don’t know what Uncle Ted does for a living. He apparently is a serious fisherman, though, because Strike references his Uncle’s fishing tackle box in Cuckoo’s Calling while interviewing Bryony at the Guy Some photo shoot. If he fishes in deep water well off the Cornwall coast for recreation or to make a living, Uncle Ted could have the perfect alibi in hand for where he was during the murder. Strike marvels internally when recalling how his uncle had appeared ex machina to take him and Lucy away from Leda and her Rastafarian boyfriend; no such wonders were necessary for Ted to have known where Leda and Jeff were living and all the details of their flat because he had taken Lucy away from the very spot when his neice called for a rescue.

Onto Means. Uncle Ted was an Special Investigations Branch soldier, a Red Cap, and Strike so admired this quality in his mother’s brother that he chose to become one himself after leaving Oxford in the wake of Whittaker’s acquittal. This miltary experience gives Ted a phenomenal skill set for a murderer, frankly, and, consequent to exposure to the truly evil and the frustrations in bringing them to trial successfully, perhaps a certain disregard for the finer points of the law in seeking justice and protecting the innocent.

Red Caps, we have learned in Strike’s flash backs, as often as not are involved in narcotics cases. Uncle Ted knows about heroin, then, how to inject it, and what constitutes a lethal dose. More important, he knows exactly how the murder investigation will be handled by the Metropolitan police; Ted can stage the suicide so that it might seem at first that Leda killed herself but, knowing as he does the slew of pointers to Whittaker as killer that Lucy has told him about, the inconsistencies in Leda’s death by heroin will be enough to charge and perhaps convict his brother-in-law the Satanist.

Motive is the key element Strike continually downplays in his investigations but he allows that it is the thing jurors are most interested in. The same with we readers, right? What possible motive could Uncle Ted have for killing his own sister, the only blood relation he seems to have outside her children?

Answer: The best possible motives a heroic man can have, frankly: protecting and providing for his wife and dependents out of religious conviction.

Aunt Joan, you’ll note, is childless. Whether this is due to her inability to conceive and carry a child to term or Uncle Ted’s impotence, we are not told. The closest Joan has come to being a mother is fostering her sister-in-law’s children when Leda has gone beyond the pale and put the children at risk (Shumba the Rastafarian, the Norfolk Commune, naked Whittaker) or when she just leaves Lucy and Cormoran in Cornwall. Joan is not a Leda fan. How could she be?

Strike recalls that Aunt Joan tried hard not to share her disapproval of Leda in front of her children, but it seems she had no such reservations with telling Leda straight on. Recall that Leda Strike tells her son once at the Cornwall beach that, “If Joan is right and I am going to hell,” then she imagines it to be an agony akin to “Sunday in bloody St Mawes.”

This is both a good joke and a heavy note; Joan has traditional Protestant convictions about the eternal destiny of her godless pleasure seeker sister-in-law and has shared what she believes with Leda. I do not think it a stretch to believe that her husband Ted shares these beliefs and estimate of his shameless sister born of their childlessness and their religious conviction. More to the point, when Leda dies, her children are just at the point of beginning their own lives as adults. The grieving children and family in Cornwall at the time of death are described in Cuckoo’s Calling, pages 376-377, as Lucy being nineteen years old and Strike being a student of twenty.

I suggest for your consideration that Ted arrives at the common sense conclusion that Lucy and Cormoran’s best chance of healthy and productive lives and for his own wife to know the pleasures of being a grandmother and having an extended family in her dotage is for Leda to die and her dangerous husband to be jailed indefinitely. I think it reasonable, too, that he would act on that conviction. Leda’s death and Whittaker’s confinement would guard against the future abuse and suffering of his niece and nephew and mean providing for his wife what he was not able to give her, children of her own.

Especially if he felt no great love for his sister and a real hatred for Whittaker. Why not kill Whittaker rather than Leda? Jeff Whittaker needs killing in Shanker’s view and I think this was true even before the circumstantial evidence framed him for Leda’s death. The step-father’s abuse of Lucy probably went further than taunting her and parading around their apartment naked (sexual abuse unknown to Strike), and, if Lucy shared this with Uncle Ted, it seems he is almost obliged to take him down.

The problem? If he kills Whittaker, Ted himself, Cormoran, Shanker or even Leda become the primary targets of the subsequent police investigation. He’s not doing wife Joan or his niece and nephew any favors by murdering Whittaker; Ted knows from his SIB days odds are that he makes some mistake in the killing that leads to his conviction. By killing Leda instead of Whittaker via a staged suicide, the immediate suspect is husband Jeff who is a perfect fit-up for the crime. A Satanist who has recently forced his wife to include him in her will as principal benefactor? Ted knows the police will be all over that, especially as Leda was not a heroin user. He is in Cornwall supposedly, Strike is at Oxford, and Shanker is out on a drug deal.

Professor Freeman has already commented that Uncle Ted as Leda’s killer is a real stretch. Very few Serious Strikers if any have read the four novels as closely and perceptively as Louise Freeman so her skepticism is no small thing. Let’s take a closer look.

Think about Lucy Fantoni. Everything about her we have seen in the first four books is about her attempts to construct a life that distances herself and her children from her the life her mother led and insulates her from the memories she has from childhood. Post traumatic stress is something of a theme in these books; we learn at some depth how difficult Strike’s recovery is from the IED explosion and Robin’s struggles consequent to being raped as a college student and knifed by a serial killer. Cormoran and Robin like Lucy make seemingly protective but ultimately absurd relationship choices to shield themselves from the nightmares they have experienced. I think Lucy was affected in almost exactly the same way by her experiences with Jeff Whittaker.

What if her PTSD was especially severe after her rescue by her Aunt and Uncle from the Strike-Whittaker flat? If Uncle Ted every day for more than a year had to watch a young woman relive and recover from her nightmare existence with the sexual terrorist Whittaker? Leda and her husband may have already become to Ted and Joan what Whittaker would be in the future to Cormoran and Lucy, “the turd that won’t flush.”

As explained above, Uncle Ted has the means and opportunity to flush that toilet and free Cormoran and Lucy from a future forever entangled with the oblivious mother and the dangerous step-father. As much as one is going to hell and the other embraces everything demonic, in Ted’s mind, which is the greater crime: killing Leda or letting her continue to obstruct and ruin by her relationship and life-style choices the lives of Joan, Lucy, and Cormoran? That’s a rhetorical question, right?

Tell me why I’m wrong!

Before you jump in with your objections, though, I hope you will review three things.

First, return to the brilliant detective work of Louise Freeman in piecing together the fragmentary clues about Cormoran and Lucy’s childhood experiences into a coherent, credible sequence. It’s all there in her February 2019 HogwartsProfessor post ‘Piecing Together Cormoran Strike’s Childhood.’ Cormoran and Lucy endure the horrors of the Norfiolk commune, are then whisked into Public School (American ‘Private School’) existence for the two or three months Strike spends as a friend to Charlie Bristow at Blakeyfield Prep, from which position of privilege they are removed by Shumba the Rastafarian and antifa wannabe. Aunt Joan and Uncle Ted in turn rescue Lucy and Corm from their life as unschoolers in Briston. Strike and his younger sister spend the rest of their childhoods bouncing back and forth between Cornwall and London until Leda’s marriage to twisted Jeff Whittaker in Strike’s A-Level year means Lucy is removed for her safety and Strike stays on for Leda’s safety.

Professor Freeman’s observations about the religious backdrop of the commune and cannabis spirituality of Seeker Leda and the probable role of Lucy and Cormoran’s biological fathers in trying to protect their daughter and son are all cogent arguments. I think the sum of these adventures, especially the yo-yo-ing between Cornwall and London, paint the picture of a tug of war between Ted and Leda about her fitness as a mother, in which her marriage to an avowed Satanist and nihilist after her cult and Rastafarian sojourns seal the deal for Uncle Ted. He has to do something to protect his niece and nephew from physical, psychological, and spiritual danger and to put his wife’s mind at ease at last.

Next, re-visit the passages in the four Strike mysteries in which the Peg Legged PI reflects on Leda’s death and Lucy’s life. Hearing and reading these interludes again in rapid succession this past week made one thing patently clear. Strike has never given the case of his mother’s death a serious re-examination in light of his experience in the SIB and as a private investigator. He believes that Whittaker staged the suicide in hope of some kind of financial gain, as absurd as that is prima facie because Leda’s only real money, trust funds set up by the biological fathers of Lucy and Cormoran as child support, are things to which she had no access and the absence of Lucy and Cormoran as they both had reach their age of majority at eighteen mean are no longer in force.

Strike has also never thought of Lucy’s life decisions with any sympathy or in light of his own decision to stay with the poisonous Charlotte post IED explosion or Robin’s decision to marry Matt consequent to her having been raped. Lucy is prone to sharing the Leda-Super-Groupie story with strangers, Strike notes with some disgust in Cuckoo, but he never notes that she never discusses Norfolk, Blakeyfield Prep, Shamba, or what Jeff Whittaker did to her. He just fails to give Lucy and her life the penetrating analysis and seasoned reflection that he he gives suspects in the mysteries he investigates. There is nada about Uncle Ted and Aunt Lucy and what they must have been going through in the childhood pendulum swing tug-of-war between Cornwall and London — or how they shielded him from the worst of what Leda did and what happened to Lucy. 

I put it to you for serious consideration that, just as Joan did her best not to speak unkindly about Leda in front of her children, so Uncle Ted would not tell Strike what happened to his sister in the Whittaker apartment. He knew his nephew Cormoran would have murdered Whittaker and blown up his own life if Strike had known. Instead he bided his time and took the only course that insured Leda would not continue to mess up her children’s lives (and Aunt Joan’s) and that put Whittaker to rest as well.

 And last, before you tell me how off-base the Killer Ted theory is, take a moment and think of Rowling’s signature qualities as a writer. Near the top of the list has to be ‘Narrative Misdirection.’ The solution to the over-arching mystery of these books, ‘Who Killed Leda Strike?’ has to be a mind-bending big twist. There has to be at least one credible alternative that Strike will explore until the Big Reveal in the series finale explains how this possibility doesn’t cover the facts; I think my Heroin Dark Lord theory may be this believable solution which Rowling has left bread crumbs for us to follow, if only to explain the IED explosion in Afghanistan.

Perhaps the very top of the list of Rowling’s unique abilities as a writer, though, has to be Ring Composition or Structural Parallelism. The first murder Strike solves is John Bristow’s murder of her supposedly beloved sister, Lula Landry. The death in the pivot novel, Lethal White, that we should expect to see echoed in the finale is another staged suicide murder in which sister Izzie Chiswell in mirror imaging hires Strike to find out how her half-brother Raphael and his step-mother Kinvara killed her father with the back-drop of cruel brother Freddie seeming to kill Raff “up by the horse.” The sister-brother play here and the murderous brother are perumbrations I think of Uncle Ted being revealed in the end as Leda’s killer.

My Parthian Shot is Strike’s nephew, Jack. He play acts shooting Uncle Corm in Cuckoo’s Calling and the boy nearly dies of appendicitis in Lethal White. We are told repeatedly that young Jack hero worships his uncle and wants to be a soldier like Strike was, just as Strike became an SIB officer on the model of his Uncle Ted. We know, though, that Cormoran is named for the Cornish giant whom Jack of Beanstalk fame kills in the fairy tale. A strong parallel finish will have Jack kill the Giant and Strike confront his Uncle Ted with the murder of Leda Strike.

What can Strike learn from Jack in Strike7 that is a gut shot a la Cuckoo that brings Strike to his knees emotionally and psychologically as did his time at Jack’s ICU bedside in Lethal White? Jack can tell him something his mother told him about Whittaker or a story about a time he spent with Uncle Ted that brings Strike at last to realize all he has been neglecting about the story of his childhood as context for Leda’s death. That realization will mean Strike’s solve et coagula, his true Chairos moment with sister Lucy in parallel with the Charlotte moment in the Army hospital and with Robin in the NHS unitv parking lot (the kiss!), in which he has to realize all he has become has been built on his Uncle Ted’s decision to take Leda out of her son’s life. Strike finally has to read and understand the neglected narrative of his own life, the text within all the texts.

All of Rowling’s novels ultimately turn on the struggle of characters to come to a right understanding of an unexamined narrative or a misunderstood text. This interior struggle is offered as parallel and mirror to the reader’s efforts to understand the murder mystery in hand, Rowling’s Nabokov-esque and Austen-inspired ‘Double Game.’ The foundational narrative structure Rowling offers in her detective fiction is the struggle of her characters to sort out their lives after life-exploding events derail, even transfigure them. It serves as a model for all of her readers to reflect on the core events, traumatic or just formative, of their lives that set their course — and to choose a deliberate re-set in light of their true vocations rather than the relationships and jobs we have chosen to protect ourselves from our injuries. If you didn’t get that from Lethal White, the series pivot and its meaningful middle, I urge you to read it again.

Strike thus far has been dealing with his life issues consequent to his near death in Afghanistan vis a vis his relationship with Charlotte, Ditto for Robin and Matt. What Strike has not dealt with, though, is the first and greater explosion in his life, the blast of his mother’s death that blew him out of Oxford and into his life as an avenger of injustice, first in the Army’s SIB and then as a private dick. I think the Killer Ted theory is the best possibility to force him to come to terms with the responsibilities of a parent or as good as a parent when confronted with the situation Ted and Joan saw in the lives of Cormoran and Lucy.

Okay, now tell me how wrong I am!

Comments

  1. Oh, one more thing. Let’s loop back to my first point about ‘He Who Must Not Be Named,’ to make this post something of a ring.

    I think I know what Uncle Ted’s last name is, the one moniker that will let the whole Strike series in parallel with the Hogwarts Saga cat out of the bag in the finale.

    Uncle Ted and Aunt Joan’s surname is Potter. Call this idea, then, the ‘Killer Ted Potter’ theory. Uncle Ted in murdering Leda sacrificed his idea of himself as Good Guy and Killer Catcher to save Joan, Lucy, and Cormoran from a life with Mad Mom and Satanic Step Father. It was his walk into the Forbidden Forest to face his sacrificial death, with the twin meaning of sacrificial death there, the sacrifice maker being the sacrifice as well.

  2. Joanne Gray says

    Absolutely riveting post! I have to confess I have actually mulled over this very possibility but not in the minute totality that you have managed. I don’t put it beyond the pale because of the other parallels and the fact that for some reason we are never given the surnames of Leda, Ted or Joan.

    Genetics definitely play a big part in the series–even turning up in the title of the fourth book: “Lethal White.” As well as the recurring sets of twins (boy/girl).

    I confess I do wonder why the title of this 5th book was blurred out in her Tweet yesterday announcing her completion of the 5th book by showing the high stack of book’s printed paged?? Why keep it under wraps? It appears to be two words–would those two words risk giving us too much of a clue to what lies within during our speculating in the space of the months before its publication?

    I’m not adverse to the Uncle Ted premise but I feel that JKR has been using the promise of Charlotte’s return/revenge along the lines of what she did in HP for Voldemort. More mentioned than seen but then turning up again in Book 4.

    As far as genetics go, I can’t shake the feeling that all the talk of their (Corm & Charlotte’s) phantom baby–and how ephemeral it seemed–and how he wasn’t allowed to see it (if it even existed) seemed to me to echo the Lethal White outcome of the foal that is born to die. It played into the book’s talk of comparing Charlotte to thoroughbreds–aristocrats in search of cart horses–Cormoran–commoner’s blood. Ironically, in matching them to a sort of lethal white defective gene, it would put them as both sharing the same genetic make up.

    Genetics will definitely be figuring into the series final solution; I’m just not sure how. Yet.

  3. Louise Freeman says

    Well, as John has already stated, I have a lot of problems with this theory. There are some intriguing points, to be sure, and some parts that are likely quite relevant to the series, but overall, for me, the “Uncle Ted Did It” conclusion doesn’t hang together.

    The believable aspects: I do think there is likely some significance to the lack of a surname and some reason yet to be revealed why Leda was so eager to adopt a new name after a marriage of only a few weeks. But I don’t think that’s enough to convict poor Uncle Ted of murder quite yet. And, as far as unknown names go, in Harry Potter, Lord Badguy’s real name was known to all by the end of the second book. Finally, if you think a siblicide is necessary to complete the Book 1, 4 and 7 parallelism, that pattern has already been broken by the fact that the killing in LW was a patricide. All the sister did was pay the detective’s bill.

    Lucy as sexual assault victim and PTSD sufferer: almost certainly. Given Leda’s lifestyle and shady associates, it would be surprising if poor Lucy wasn’t groped… or worse… at some point in her childhood, and if Whittaker was openly strutting about naked and taunting her sexually, he was probably doing worse when he caught her alone. But, if Cormoran had ever realized that, the argument over playing rugby would not have been the closest Cormoran had ever come to hitting his stepdaddy dearest.

    Uncle Ted’s means: yes, his police training would have given him some skill in planning and covering up a murder. But, I see no reason to think that investigating drug cases would give Uncle Ted special expertise in how to dose and administer heroin; drug trafficking investigators are not called upon to do that on the job. Also, Ted would have known that the police would not be quick to suspect murder in the overdose death of a long-term junkie. If he was serious about wanting Whittaker to go down for the crime, he’d have had the good sense to plant the fatal needle, or other incriminating evidence on him. Or just bump Whittaker off too, and pass it off as a Satanist’s murder-suicide.

    Opportunity: Cornwall is a long way from London— 4-5 car or train ride; Ted and Joan had to drive overnight to rescue Lucy when she was 14. I don’t see how Ted would claim a days fishing trip, nip down to London, stake out the squat long enough to catch his sister alone in a communal living situation where there were typically lots of other people around, do the deed and then get back home in time to avoid suspicion. We have been told that Leda “slowly stiffened” on the mattress for six hours, while her drugged-out housemates ignored her. The odds of getting caught were pretty high.

    But, the aspect of the theory I find hardest to believe is the motive. Uncle Ted thinks, in 1995, the only way of stopping Leda from ruining her now-adult children’s lives is to kill her? This might make some sense if Leda had died a decade earlier, when Cormoran and Lucy were still actually children. And, if there had ever been evidence of Ted and Joan actually fighting Leda for custody. But the impression I get is that, most of the time, Leda voluntarily surrendered them to her brother’s care, probably so she could pursue some groupie-ing opportunity unencumbered by the young-uns. The Shumba-era rescue, when Uncle Ted shows up and insists on taking them, seems to be the exception, not the rule.

    Most importantly, by the time Leda died, Cormoran and Lucy were both legal adults, freer of Leda’s excesses and the dangers of her lifestyle than they had ever been. Cormoran had finally done what Joan and Ted had wanted for a long time: left Leda’s home, and, best of all, gone to Oxford. Lucy had been living with them for about 5 years, ever since she was 14; Joan was already more of a mother to Lucy than Leda had been. There was no reason to think Joan would not be the de facto grandma to Lucy’s eventual children (who, assuming her eldest is 11 or so at the time of LW, were at least 5-6 years away), even if Leda was still stoned in her squat rather than stone-cold in her grave. Lucy, much more so than Cormoran, craved the “normal” life with “proper families” and canopy beds. While she might have loved her mother and grieved her death, there is every indication she identified with Aunt Joan, even mimicking her facial expression of disapproval. She was hardly going to send her future children off for a special holiday weekends with Granny and PawPaw Jeff. There was simply no need for Uncle Ted–by all accounts, a peacemaker and upstanding citizen–to resort to murder to protect his niece and nephew from their mother. Both had already forged new lives for themselves, and Leda showed no signs of threatening either.

    If there was anyone who needed protection from Leda and Whittaker at the time of her death, it was Ted and Joan’s second nephew, baby Switch—the one everyone in the maternal family appears to have forgotten about entirely. If Joan was truly desperate to become a mother, that’s the child of which they should have sought custody. But then, killing Leda but leaving Whittaker alive makes even less sense. If Leda was dead, and Whittaker escaped conviction, they could be pretty certain they would never see Switch again. Even if Ted had planned it perfectly so that Whittaker was in jail and SLBW needed new parents, he had to know about the wealthy paternal great-grandparents, and that they could afford better lawyers in a custody battle than he could. Ergo, if Ted resorted to murdering his own sister in order to get her baby as a belated present for his forty-something wife, he was about as competent in his scheme as Neville Longbottom was in Potions class.

    The other problem I have is with characterization. If there is one trait that characterizes the truly evil character in the Strike series, it is the extent to which they plan their crimes. Whether it happens over a period of a few hours (batshit insane John Bristow planning his sister’s murder while hiding in the flat below) or the weeks and months that went into all of the other murder plots, it characterizes the perp as inhuman. A shark, as Liz Tassel was characterized. With the exception of Charlotte, whose beauty appears to blind him, Strike is a shrewd judge of character. He sees Shanker for the untrustworthy criminal he is, even though he loves him like a brother. He understands the Robin/Matthew relationship better than Robin does herself (as I will explain in a future post, I hope). He even understands the way his own actions hurt the women he is with. It is hard for me to believe that the uncle he loves, respects and emulates so much, could be the same type of cold-blooded killer that Cormoran Strike has devoted his life to catching.

    Finally, if Uncle Ted’s surname is Potter, I will happily change mine to Cunliffe.

    I’m sure John will explain how I am wrong, but that’s part of the fun.

  4. Louise Freeman says

    One thing more: Jack. W have gone from book 1 to book 4 in about 2.5 years, and that’s with one year jump-ahead in time. Jack is 9 in book 4. If pacing continues at the same rate, he will be 11-12 by Book 7. Even if the pacing slows down, he would likely be at the most 14. There is no way the overprotective Lucy is going to discuss Whittaker with her young son. Neither is Uncle Ted.

  5. Thanks, Louise, for the as always thoughtful response!

    The fun of this speculative exercise is in part seeing how close we can get to the real ending that Rowling/Galbraith writes before she publishes it.

    Potter Pundits and Serious Strikers know, however, that the odds of a direct hit like the one I have written up as the Killer Ted Potter (KTP) theory are close to zero. We knew that Snape saved Dumbledore with the Stoppered Death potion, for instance, soon after HP6 was published. No one, however, could have put together the Hallows story line in the series finale so the last book was a great surprise.

    If the chance of hitting a predictive bullseye is astronomically slim, why spend so much time in speculation about the books to come?

    The value of this kind of speculative exercise, not the fun, the value, is that it provides the best opportunity to talk about Rowling’s signature qualities as a writer. My Scar-O-Scope Theory pre Deathly Hallows has mercifully been long forgotten; it generated invaluable and lengthy discussion of Rowling’s artistry, however, and I count it as a resounding success consequently rather than just another Air Ball prediction.

    You have made interesting points about KTP, quite a few of which, alas, are misreadings of the admittedly very long post (I think especially the repeated assertion that I wrote that Ted was looking to give Joan a young child; they would want nothing to do with Switch LaVey or his father which is implicit to everything I wrote and Lucy only returns to Ted and Joan’s home when she is 17, not 14). I won’t go through your response, consequently, point by thoughtful point because I think the careful reader can figure out from the original post what a KTP believer would say.

    What I hope readers who get as far as the comment thread in this long and unadorned post take away from it is that this theory, as I wrote, checks all the boxes of Rowling’s signature qualities as a writer: misdirection/ostrananie, alchemical solve et coagula, parallelism in the series and with the Hogwarts books, and, most important, her Double Game of mirroring texts inside the text as embedded reading lessons for narratives. I suspect you’d include, Louise, because of your ground-breaking work on the subject, a recurring theme of recovery from PTSD.

    That is the value of the Killer Ted Potter theory; it forces reflection on Rowling’s artistry and meaning, not to mention her unique powers and skill sets as a writer, the Shed in which she crafts her Lake inspirations into great stories.

    Is KTP credible as a series finish? I think it is much more credible than you allow, but de gustibus. Again, no one is going to guess the series finish this far out from the finale so I expect and can live with nay saying about KTP.

    I hope that careful readers, as intriguing as the prediction may be, will return to KTP as an example of critical exegesis more than speculation, of explanation illustrating how Rowling works as an intentional literary artist. Speculation, given the long odds of guessing a story point or finish by close reading and study of twitter page headers, should and can become a heuristic technique, of sorts, if handled this way.

    Again, that’s my hope.

  6. There is no way the overprotective Lucy is going to discuss Whittaker with her young son. Neither is Uncle Ted.

    Jack may see something, then, Louise, rather than be told it or, as likely, something relatively benign to the boy or his mom or dad about Uncle Ted may be the hint or suggestion that causes Cormoran’s cascading deduction to see the forest for the trees. Think “flowering sea cactus.”

    I admire your command of ages and dates no end. I confess, though, to shaking my head about how this grasp of canon detail caused you to misunderstand completely my point!

  7. Louise Freeman says

    I stand my my position that Lucy was in the custody of her aunt and uncle for most of her high school years. From Career of Evil, Ch. 10. “Whittaker had driven his half-sister Lucy away for good with his bullying, his sexual taunts, and sneers. He had strutted around the flat 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 her aunt and uncle in Cornwall to come and fetch her. They had arrived at the flat 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.”
    And, I did not mean to imply that you said Ted wanted Joan to have a baby… only that, if they were trying to save a relative from Leda, Switch was the vulnerable one who needed saving, not Lucy or Cormoran.

  8. Louise Freeman says

    We may be quibbling about details, John, but I don’t think I am missing your main point at all. KTP, at heart, assumes Uncle Ted, ex-officer of the law, noted peacemaker and respected citizen of St. Mawes, killed his only sister, and shattered his beloved niece and nephew’s lives in the process, because killing her and framing Whittaker “would guard against the future abuse and suffering of his niece and nephew and mean providing for his wife what he was not able to give her, children of her own.”
    And, for some reason, he chose to do this *after* said niece and nephew were both adults and permanently free from their mother’s clutches, the niece having moved out five years previously and the nephew having enrolled in Oxford. If Uncle Ted did it, I hope Ilsa can put him in touch with Leslie Hope Abramson, the Menendez brothers’ original attorney.
    I certainly hope, and expect, there will be a pivotal Jack/Cormoran moment in Book 7, maybe even one key to solving the mystery. But I doubt it will be anything that unmasks Uncle Ted as a killer.
    And it’s sea *holly*, not cactus…..

  9. Mr. Granger,

    First off, I have to admit that as far as theorizing the ending goes, it is at least as thorough as it can possible to make it. That said, yeah. I’m afraid you’ll have to lump me into the skeptic’s camp, at least as far as the above article goes (no offense).

    My criticism of the above ideas center on two levels of how the texts are read. The first is the literal, the second is the most surprising to me in that it centers on what has to be called the anagogic level. Starting out with the literal, I’d argue that a closer reading of books 1 and 4 shows discrepancies in the idea of siblings turning on one another. On the surface level, the catch in the plot of book 1 is that, in the strictest sense, it is mistake to call Lula and Bristow brother and sister. In actual matter of fact, they are not. Instead, the two are perfect strangers brought under one roof by the machinations of Lady Bristow.

    Now, to be fair, it is more than possible, it is a simple fact of life that genuine, authentic families do emerge out the practice of adoption. Such events are worth celebrating in themselves. The trick with the situation in Rowling’s First “Strike” novel, however, is that this scenario is precisely what fails to happen in any meaningful way. Lula and Bristow never come together as brother and sister. This is mostly down to the way they are treated by their adoptive mother. Instead of forming a family square, the practices of Lady Bristow just serve to drive a wedge between the two strangers. It even places a barrier between Mama B. and her adopted daughter. Lula is less alienated from her than John, yet even she grows up a bit spoiled, and ultimately decides to breakaway and live by her own name; a sign that she ultimately preferred being herself, rather than someone else’s. As for Bristow, we know where his alienation led.

    The same discrepancy is on display in the case of the Chiswells. Rather than sibling vs. sibling, the audience is presented with a case of a son against a father. In both cases, what relates the two is less a question of which members of a family are the important players. Instead, Rowling’s theme in both books seems to be to highlight the basic concept of the family, just as an idea, tearing itself apart. In Book 1 it was the case of a family that never existed in any meaningful shape or form. In the Fourth Book, there is a family, yet it is disintegrating even before it is properly introduced on-stage. Looked at from this angle, if “Lethal White” is the series pivot, than I would argue that it makes more sense to view what might be termed the Father/Son conflict as the main driver of the series. In this case, it makes more sense for Strike to grapple with the real father in his life, whoever that may be.

    This brings me to the anagogic level. I mentioned the family as an idea in itself in the paragraph above. When I said that, I was approaching the subject from a basic Neo-Platonist point of view. This posits the family as an idea (Eidos) or element of the order of things to which all potential members of the familial unit must adjust themselves. From this perspective, I’m willing to argue that Rowling is bringing her religious sensibilities to bear on the matter. My thinking about Blue Oyster Cult’s “Reaper” song/album/clue/treasure hunt still stands. The anagogy of that element is still the same, that love can conquer death. All there is to add is the Eidos of the Family order, and the Father/Son conflict, both among themselves, and with that very same order of life. In that case the question is will Strike and his biological father form a part of that square, or will one of them betray the order of things? For my part, I hold no hope out for Strike’s dad. Though there is still the possible reconciliation between mother and son, in a way that bridges the barrier between life and the Nabokovian Otherworld.

    At least there’s one way of looking at it.

  10. Jill Hornish says

    This is great fun thinking about all this. What a lot of intricate detail you’ve included! I admit I’m a great fan of the Strike series, but nothing like I see here!
    I actually like the possibility of a Uncle Ted having killed Leda to protect the children. But it leads me to wonder…can you tell me if we actually know Ted and Leda are biological siblings? And going down a dark road here…any chance Ted could be Cormoran’s biological father? And lastly, could it fit that Joan killed Leda? Jealousy? I feel like I’m grasping here without the foundational knowledge to support my thoughts, so I’ll give more thought, an another read or two, to your post and perhaps comment again later. But most pressing in my mind…do we really know if Ted and Leda are biologically full siblings?

  11. Sincé you are speculating, one thing that has bothered me since the beginning is how Cormorán doesn’t look at all like Rokeby, but is “the spitting image” of Uncle Ted.

    So, taking into account genetics, the mystery of the father and the meaning of family, why not “Uncle Ted as Cormoran’s dad”?

    Even though sometimes I think John’s speculations are quite far fetched, I always enjoy Reading them and your discussions 😀

  12. Brian Basore says

    A short attention span pretty much keeps me to reading histories, not murder mysteries. John is the person who asked me to read a mystery, so I did… Anyway, the enthusiasm here is infectious so I’ll read the Strike mysteries more attentively. Why? Because of the Dursley family in the HP books. Subtract Dudley from that family, and you have Uncle Ted and Aunt Joan in the Strike books. A misdirective pattern or a variation on a theme or something…I could be wrong, but if it bothers me after this long it must be obvious. (That didn’t occur to me until this thread came along.)

  13. Just jumping in here to say that I look a LOT like my aunt on my father’s side, so much so that when I had my 21st, people came up to me saying “I know who your mum is!” and my response was always “I bet you’re wrong!”

    So Strike not looking anything like Rokeby doesn’t mean much. (not to mention the DNA test to prove his parentage – if it was done right, that is)

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