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Running Grave, Part Four: A Ring Reading
The Center Ring within the Ring? Murder Revealed at Heart of Celtic Cross?
What a challenge Running Grave, Part Four, is to a Ring Reader!
I was delighted at the start because this Part is the shortest of the opening Parts; I looked forward to getting to bed before 3 AM (or 6 AM…). I did manage to read and chart it and get to bed before 1 AM (just), but the plot points of the fourth Part and its structure left me wondering and really hoping that its structure and meaning would present themselves all-sorted after a good morning’s sleep. Maybe a picture of the chart of chapters I drew presents the problem better than an introductory thousand words:
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Chart that as a 13 piece ring composition with Robin on the Farm chapters in Blue and Strike in Red and you get something that looks like this:
The opening and the closing chapters do not match up in anything like a latch. The natural center with six chapters before and after has nothing to do with either the opening or the closing chapters so there’s no story-turn. With no turn and no latch, there isn’t an axis or meaning in the middle to speak of. There is one pretty good parallel chapter match, chapters 55 and 61, in both of which Strike in the Agency office reads a letter from Robin and deletes voice mails from Charlotte, but one ‘across the back’ chapter parallel doesn’t amount to a ring, right?
In my parsing of Parts Two and Three, though, I bundled the Robin chapters and Strike chapters rather than parse the ring by individual chapters and that worked well. I tried that, too, with Part Four but it has a fairly obvious problem. Count the colored chapter-bundles in the picture of my hand-drawn chart above; there are six of them, three for Strike and Robin each. That’s a ring without a latch (or one in which two of the bundles have to be combined, which, really, is not happening).
If you can live without a latch of beginning and end, that six point ring looks like this:
This can be made to work and may be the way-out if the goal is just rescuing the ‘Every Part is a Ring Composition’ theory.
Taking the first three chapters as the story ground, we have Robin enduring her Revelation, the UHC ‘Struggle Session,’ in the Farm’s Temple and escaping Spiritual Bonding with Taio in the Retreat Room. How does that match up with the single Strike chapter that is the story-turn in a six-point ring?
On one strong point: in each, Robin and Strike deny a persistent suitor what he or she wants.
In the Retreat Room, Robin repeatedly rebuffs in Uriah Heep fashion Taio’s demands that she have sex with him. She rejects him at the entrance way (“I can’t!”), his attempts to grab her, and his ordering her to “Sit down!” next to him on the nasty bed, one just vacated by Giles Harmoun and Lin.
In the Connaught Hotel’s Jean-Georges Restaurant, Strike is approached by “a very good-looking dark-haired woman in a black dress,” who had been dining alone earlier and exchanged glances and a smile with him. She seems to be on her way out, but stops by his table to ask him, “Excuse me. You aren’t Corm —”. He interrupts her before he can say his full name and says “You must have me confused with someone.” She asks him two more times but he insists, “You’re mistaken,” both times (456).
Strike’s suitor, mystery that she is, had the unfortunate problem of resembling Charlotte Campbell, another “very good-looking woman” who favors a “black dress,” just when Strike is reeling from MiLadyBezerko’s appearing in The Times for assaulting her fiancée. Charlotte has been calling him and leaving increasingly hysterical and threatening voice messages and the news reminds him of the many times she physically attacked him. His natural reticence when on surveillance combined with these facts makes the look-alike triply repugnant.
For a triple chapter set parallel with a single chapter, that’s pretty good.
The turtle-back correspondences are pretty good, too. In the Strike bundle echoes, chapters 55-56 and 61-64, each features voice-mail messages from Charlotte that Strike deletes and an extraordinary interview about the goings-on at Chapman Farm and in Cromer at the time of Daiyu’s death, the drowning of the Farm’s patron goddess, The Drowned Prophet. Jordan Reaney at HMP Bedford and the Heatons and Company have a lot to say.
In the Robin chapters, 57-58 and 60, we get the first hand experience of events with a Lin mention and then Robin telling Strike about these events and others with an actual appearance by Lin. Good, not great as turtle-back lines go. Good enough, frankly, to salvage the ‘Every Part a Ring’ theory, if you’re willing to do without a proper opening and close latch.
Except for the elephant in the ring.
In future days, Part Four of Running Grave will only be recalled, I think, because Strike learns of Charlotte Campbell’s suicide in its last chapter. This six point ring doesn’t have any part of that shock and Strike’s playing Harry to her Dumbledore in the dialogue at King’s Cross in the Aylmerton parish church. Whatever structural artifice Rowling deploys in Part Four, it has to be part of supporting and coloring that story-point earthquake. This ring without a latch just doesn’t do that.
I think there are two solutions to this problem, one relatively exotic, the other pretty simple.
The one I spent my day toying with is that there is a ring inside this Part’s ring which may be the story turn of the whole novel. Remember the squares in Parts Two and Three? The chapter bundles in Part Four are triangles, which took my thinking in this interior ring direction with two plot point pushes.
It looks like a Star of David, no? The curious thing about this symbol, is that, like the cross and swastika, it is almost universal in usage among world religions though strongly associated with just one. Seeing it while playing around with Part Four’s possible configurations, I thought of the cross and Strike’s comment about it in the Aylmerton church. “He might not believe but the cross meant something to him, nonetheless” (492). I don’t know what imagery there is within this church but we do know there is a Celtic Cross stone marker just outside that Strike could not have missed (nor Rowling on her visit). See the picture atop this post for a good luck at it; here is what it looks like face on:
It is, of course, a neat picture of a ring composition. Could Part Four be drawn as a ring so that this piece was a ring-within-the-ring, an image of the Celtic Cross? Here’s one attempt at parsing Part Four as a ring without including the last four chapters:
That naturally works as a five piece ring because the latch points both involve Robin at the Farm as does the story turn, whence an axis. The remaining chapters are the transverse or turtle-back line, both of which are Strike chapters. It has the advantage of being a Celtic Cross and the downside of having relatively weak correspondences when compared to the six-point, latch-free ring above.
What makes it interesting is that it frees the last four chapters to be a ring of their own:
It’s not really a ring composition as such with only four points (no latch!), but a chiastic line, abb’a’, as in a line of poetry:
In brief, 61 and 64 are in parallel. Strike deletes the calls from Charlotte in the first and refuses to talk with her, glad only that in her “new heights of vindictiveness” that she cannot get at Robin. In the last, Charlotte has deleted herself (!) and she and Strike have a proper sit down conversation in the church pew. Both these chapters take place largely outside of Comer.
Chapters 62 and 63 are Strike’s madcap interview with the Heatons about the day Daiyu died as well as the inquest and Strike’s ruminations thereafter about this aspect of the case colored by his depression consequent to Charlotte and Robin agonies. Both take place in Comer.
Strike’s aversion to the Tower above Aylmerton and his misunderstanding of what it is, an idea he had had since his childhood nightmare on the commune, is invoked on his drive into Comer at the very beginning of chapter 62. He obeys an inner voice — Charlotte? Leda? — on his way back to London and drives to see what is really there, to solve this mystery. There he finds the cross and “what he was looking for.”
In addition to Strike’s reflections on the Cross in St John the Baptist Church, there are two other odd plot points that make me wonder, not having read Part Five, if this four chapter chiasmus is not the story-turn of Running Grave.
Robin, for one, in her note to Strike in chapter 60, numbers her ideas 1 and 2, then, after shuddering at the memory of the Stolen Prophet’s Manifestation ceremony, she numbers the next two entries 1 and 2 as well, rather than the natural sequence 3 and 4. She’s not starving or as sleep deprived as she was previously because she is in the High Level Group again, so this number gaffe could be, like the ‘Part Two’ missing page mystery in Lethal White, a pointer to a story division: the chiastic four chapter set follows immediately after this chapter. [Rowling plays a similar ‘1/2’ game at the center of Goblet of Fire with the date and time of Sirius’ meeting with Harry in the Gryffindor Common room: 11/22 between 12 and 1 AM.]
I like the possibility that this four chapter set is the novel’s story-turn because in it Strike finally resolves, internally at least, his difficulties with Lucy and his desire to right the world a la Charlotte, i.e., the greater part of the dark side to his childhood. The other reason, well, it’s because the murderer is revealed in chapter 62.
No, really, it’s there.
For one thing, the book is 945 pages long. The center page of the book, then, is 472 or 473, which, go ahead and check, is in chapter 62, Strike’s wild interview with the Heatons in Comer (I’m really looking forward to hearing the Robert Glenister reading of that!). Rowling thus far has always hidden the murderer in the central Part of each Cormoran Strike novel. If she decided to make the chiasmus X of these four chapters ‘mark the spot’ of the novel’s center, then naturally the killer will be hidden there.
“It’s the Heatons?” No, of course not. It’s the person mentioned, not named, almost as an aside in Mrs Heaton’s recall of what went on at the Inquest into Daiyu Graves-Wace’s death by drowning. While we’re distracted by the information that Mr Heaton remembers Cherie Gittins saying (“I could have stopped it”), Shelly drops a note that she met “the little gal’s aunt in the bathroom,” a woman who was felt “relief it wus oll over",” “agreed the blame wus what it belonged” (Carrie Makepeace’s fault!), “a posh woman but very nice” (477).
That’s right. Phillipa Delaunay. She and Nicholas the Royal Marine killed her brother Allie, Daiyu’s father, in a deft bit of locked-room murder (though dad was outside rather than watching the door to the room so maybe it was easier done than all that) and they then conspired with the Waces to kill his daughter, ending the threat to their inheriting Graveston Manor. Strike had best ask the Colonel about the “stupid accident” that put Nicholas’ arm in a sling in the family picture days before the murder. And we have our staged suicide murder a la Cuckoo’s Calling and Lethal White, assuming Charlotte’s suicide wasn’t staged (more on that in a minute).
So I didn’t even have to read the rest of the book. Who said structural analysis was pointless, even a fool’s errand? [Yes, I will be as surprised as anyone if this turns out to be true.]
I mentioned above that there was a simple as well as an exotic way to see a ring composition in Part Four. As you’ve probably guessed, the Star of David to the Celtic Cross to the ring-within-the-ring novel-pivot story-turn four-chapter chiasmus is the exotic way. The simple way is just to cut the last two chapters of Part Four out and consider them the ending latch that connects with the opening Robin chapters and the central Strike piece:
I’ve already covered the Turtle-back parallels for this breakdown and the connection between chapter 54, Robin’s confrontation with Taio, and chapter 59, in which Strike denies he is who he is three times to a woman resembling Charlotte Campbell. What’s left is to explain how the last two chapters of Part Four form a latch with the first three chapters and how they are foreshadowed in the story-turn.
Chapters 53 and 54 are the events Rowena has been dreading since her arrival at the farm, ‘Revelation’ and ‘Spiritual Bonding.’ Before these trials she has been starved and sleep deprived via “spiritual demarcation” and is brought at last to the Temple by Mazu, who demands the “Tribute of Humility” before releasing the High Level Group ‘Speak Bitterness’ true-believers on her. In the agony of Revelation, having to confess something for them to use as an attack on her Egomotivity (‘EM,’ TM), she speaks as her first husband and, assuming this role, says what he said about her, her job, and Strike during their marriage. Her critics in turn say to her what she felt, thought, and said about and to Matt, experiencing cathartically what he did. She is saved by an otherworldly intervention, when, after a figure someone says is the Drowned Prophet upsets the stage and everyone on it slides towards the pool which it covers (shades of the Black Pool in Fantastic Beasts?).
Strike’s otherworldly cathartic experience is nowhere near as dramatic as Robin’s but the presence of a woman’s ghost, the recently departed Charlotte Campbell-Ross, in the Aylmerton parish church, has at least as profound an effect on him as Robin’s Revelation. He tells the pastor after ‘speaking’ at length with the phantom Charlotte that he has found what he needed there, namely, that “he should find something new, as opposed to damaging, but familiar.” Having exorcised himself of the childish need to right the world via Charlotte’s chaos as Lucy had via domesticity, he is free at last to pursue honestly and openly a relationship with Robin, the one thing he regretted not doing the night before as he went to sleep.
That is a singularly powerful latch. The elephants in the ring of the series have linked trunks.
The connection between Strike’s experience of denying the shade of Charlotte Campbell in chapter 59 and the closing chapters of Part Four is that Strike’s denial of who he is was exactly the problem in his relationship with the gorgeous student of Catullus. As he explained in chapter 55, “they could never agree what reality was,” and as he observed many times, how implausible was it that a man whose only missions in life were discovering the truth and seeking justice could be tied to a congenital liar and sower of chaos. In finally absolving himself of having to protect Charlotte from herself, he was able at last to realize who is rather than what the person shaped by the madness of his childhood had become.
“The cross meant something to him.” You bet it does. His Egomotivity, if you will, died on the one he was given to carry and it is time for him to pick up another, one just as challenging but which comes with the support of “the people he loved and admired” who do believe. He has no regrets about his Sundays in church at St Mawes or of his experience in St John the Baptist church on this day that he will never forget.
I choose to read this as an allegory, frankly, because otherwise I am obliged to note once again that Strike’s choices with respect to Charlotte are just shy of murder. After saving her from a suicide attempt in Troubled Blood and her children from a life of misery with Jago Ross in Ink Black Heart, he all but kills his ex in the first Parts of Running Graves. In the world outside of fiction, he would have been obliged to listen to those phone messages, to tell those who loved her that she was suicidal, and to contact suicide hotlines to report her self-destructive mania. Especially after her arrest for assaulting her fiancée, in the unreal world, a good man would have returned her calls or called her family, if only for the Ross twin children, now motherless orphans, however privileged.
I’m not going to read this, though, with Lumos litmus strip morality tests as an academic scold is obliged to do (the moral layer of reading is the only depth of text he or she can plumb). In the psycho-spiritual allegory of Shakespearean psychomachia, Strike is destined for union with Robin as soul is to spirit. He had to be free of what The Answer ironically calls “material possessiveness” and “soul ownership” both with respect to what others demanded of him and what he insisted on from others. What Robin is experiencing in a cultish nightmare by deprivation, indoctrination, and coercion, Strike is learning by trial and error. He’s over Charlotte, it seems; now we await the consequences of his trysts with Belinda Watkins, Esq., in Part One. I predicted we’d get the preview of that in Part Five. I can hardly wait.
There’s so much to talk about in Part Four that a ring reading doesn’t invite. The mystery of Jacob Messenger and his relationship with Becca Pirbright, for one thing; how can he be someone she is related to per Giles Harmon and be the goof-off brother of Lucas? Is Jacob not his real name or was he the father of her child? The bag stinking of feces that Sita is carrying out of Jacob’s building does not seem to promise him a long future, especially in light of the Principals’ agreement that he hasn’t got a soul so ethical concerns don’t enter into his disposal.
And Lin — what did Emily mean when she confronted Becca with the time they had “recognized Lin”? I thought she was a person who could play Daiyu but she couldn’t have been the person who rescued Robin during the Revelation agony; she was with Giles in the Retreat Room at the time. And why is she carrying “plants tugged up by the roots” when she once again is in that one section of the Forbidden Forest that Robin visits for her Thursday night chocolate break? Is that an Ophelia touch? No credit to Will for not “increasing” with Lin so she is obliged to submit to Giles.
I speculated yesterday that Ryan may have a UHC connection because of his “going up north,” a suspicion even I thought was laughable. Then Becca whips out a crime-scene photo of her brother’s apartment, one she could only have from the police, and I wonder if it is Ryan or poor Wordle that provides information to the cultists in exchange for access to the spiritual bonding to be had in Norfolk.
Wan’s childbirth after thirty-six hours, a breech delivery by Robin, midwife in a pinch, with “rusty forceps” (really?), is beyond the twist, frankly. I do think, though, we are being set up for a pedophile ring of some kind. Nick Jeffery reminded me today that the behavior of the children in the classroom Robin visits in Part Four’s first chapter are all like those Rowling described in her Children’s High Level Group accounts of visiting the sensory-and-affection-deprived cage-children in the Czech Republic and Romania.
The heavy information dumps, well, hint or clue dropping in Part Four is about life at the Farm when Daiyu drowned. The two big interviews Strike does are both about the circumstances on the property and what people in Comer saw. The appearance of the Drowned Prophet during the Revelation, Robin’s claim that Emily has said Daiyu didn’t drown (I cannot find that nor do I remember it, but I’m reading and taking notes late at night, alas), and all the mysterious circumstances and comments that the hilarious Heatons shared, willingly and inadvertently (Phillipa!) make her death and disappearance as well as Jennifer Wace’s seven years earlier in the same place a key to the UHC madness and mystery.
I look forward to re-reading Strike’s reflections in the Aylmerton Church and his conversation with Charlotte; as unfortunate as any death may be, especially suicide, this is a turning point in Cormoran’s life. I did wonder, though, and want to put down a marker here that it is just weird that Strike accepted the news reports that this was suicide rather than murder without reservation or a note of suspended judgment. Two of the man’s most famous cases were murders staged as suicides and we know of at least one man who will profit tremendously from his ex-wife’s demise.
The text from the reporter, too, said there are rumors of a suicide note. Is Strike just that eager to believe there is nothing to do here but grieve privately and move on in a hurry? Surely his desire to know the truth should be more in evidence here.
Here’s hoping I find it in Part Five!
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