Strike8: The Charlotte Campbell Murder Mystery
Nick Jeffery's Idea Checks a Lot of Boxes
When I finally finished Running Grave — and it was weeks after publication because of the charting I was doing on my first read through — my first conversation with Nick Jeffery began with my astonishment and delight with Part Nine and the Epilogue and then turned to the question Nick had been sitting on for more than a month: “Am I the only one who thinks that Charlotte Campbell was murdered?” That was his diplomatic way of asking me if the thought had occurred to me and I had dismissed it for reasons x, y, and z.
After righting myself — the idea had made me all but fall off of my chair — I admitted that he almost certainly was the first and that this twist had not once come into my mind during my prolonged reading. I urged him to write it up quickly. For reasons beyond our control, it took him several weeks, but I expect ‘The Strange Death of Charlotte Campbell’ still had the effect on many readers that it had on me the first time I heard it. Mind blown.
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Mr. Jeffery [hereafter ‘Nick’] and I have been discussing the possibility of Charlotte’s suicide being staged, another one about Robin’s capacity to have children, and the Fourth Generation of Rowling Studies perspective on the moderator back channels ever since. Today I want to add three more reasons to the argument Nick assembled for ‘Strange Death’ that came up in our back-and-forths on the subject.
My thesis is the same as his, namely, that Charlotte Campbell was murdered, that her suicide was staged, and that the last three books of the Strike series will begin with an investigation into her demise. Nick in his post offered arguments from “structure, intertextuality, hanging plot lines, and cryptonym deciphering” in support of that tri-partite contention; I will argue along the same lines and from the signature quality of Rowling’s writing that is missing from the “Charlotte Committed Suicide” plot point. And I will introduce in my conclusion a new aspect to the murder-not-suicide reading from a Fourth Generation critical perspective.
Structure: Beginning, Middle, and End
Nick noted in ‘Strange Death’ that the first and fourth Strike books were cases of seeming suicide that turned out to be murders — and that speculation about Running Grave from the publication of Lethal White forward was largely about the seeming suicide that would be revealed as a murder in Strike7. Suicide-staged-as-murder was a natural conclusion about the book-to-come, Running Grave, from the first and fourth books in the series turning on this idea because of Rowling’s writing her Strike novels in parallel with their apposite numbers in the Hogwarts Saga, the so-called ‘Parallel Series Idea’ (PSI); the first, fourth, and seventh Harry Potter novels were in large part images of one another, the axis of the seven part ring (see Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle for all that), so it was considered likely that this would be true of the seventh Strike novel as well. What was true of the first and fourth books would be true of the seventh.
As Nick noted, the assumption (and hope?) after Lethal White was that the seeming suicide that Strike would be investigating in Running Grave would be his mother Leda’s, whence all the posts that have been written at HogwartsProfessor about ‘Who Killed Leda Strike?’ If you feel the need to review those, here are quick links to the cases made against Jonny Rokeby and the Harringay Crime Syndicate (Heroin Dark Lord 2.0), Ted Nancarrow (Uncle Ted Did It), Dave Polworth, Lucy Fantoni (Lucy and Joan Did It and here), Sir Randolph Whittaker, Nick Herbert, Peter Gillespie, and Charlotte Campbell-Ross. There’s a post, too, about why we can be confident all these best-guesses are wrong. Louise Freeman has set the ‘3M Standard’ for suspect speculation here as ‘Means, Motive, and Meta-literary Reasons;’ anyone that killed Leda must have credible opportunity and skills to have done the job, he or she must have a good reason for having killed her, and the revelation that this person did it must come as a shock to Cormoran Strike and the reader (see the Polworth post for my discussion of that or just wait a minute; it comes up here soon enough).
In brief, Serious Strikers were waiting on the Agency working to solve a faked suicide case in Running Grave. I rush to say we were waiting for that up until the Strike7 title and synopsis were released with no pointers to Leda Strike other than the Norfolk Commune and we were told repeatedly and emphatically that the series was not ending at seven, in parallel with the Hogwarts books, but moving on to a three book conclusion after Running Grave.
Speaking for myself, then, I can say again that, until Nick raised the possibility that Charlotte had been murdered, I had totally overlooked that Charlotte’s was the faked-suicide-actually-murder we’d been expecting for years but put aside just before Grave’s publication. I want to add a structural point to the one made in ‘Strange Death’ that makes the likelihood that Charlotte was murdered go way up for me. It helps to think about the dragons in Harry Potter to see this point.
The publication of Beatrice Groves’ Literary Allusion in Harry Potter (2017) acts as the starting point in my mind at least for the Third Generation of Rowling Studies, namely, the advent of Generation Hex, those who grew up reading the Hogwarts septology as children and young adults, into the critical circle of readers. She demonstrated in this brief but concentrated tome a still startling grasp of the first two generations of scholarship and moved the ball forward significantly and boldly along intertextual lines. She didn’t make too much of the work I had done with structure though writing at some length about chiasmus, but, in her post-publication marketing efforts at least, found one point I’d made in Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle worthy of note: those dragons in Philosopher’s Stone, Goblet of Fire, and Deathly Hallows.
You’ll recall that there are dragons in the plot lines of the first, fourth, and seventh Potter novels; Hagrid has the Norwegian Ridge-Back he hatched from an egg in Philosopher’s Stone (‘Norberta’), the first Tri-Wizard Tournament Task in Goblet of Fire was to get past mother dragons protecting their eggs, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione ride the Ukrainian Ironbelly ancient-of-days out of Gringott’s Bank’s depths in Deathly Hallows. There are structural sequences here via PSI that are relevant to the suicide-murders of the Strike novels.
Note first that the dragons age significantly as the Potter series moves from beginning to end; we witness Norberta’s birth in Stone, we see four dragon mothers in their prime of life in Goblet, and in the series conclusion the poor dragon is blind and aged, if still remarkably powerful: baby, adult, senior.
The position of these dragons in the those novels is at least as interesting. Norberta, named ‘Norbert,’ does not appear until near the end of Philosopher’s Stone but this is because Harry does not get to Hogwarts until the seventh of seventeen chapters. The dead center and pivot of the series in Goblet of Fire is ‘The Hungarian Horntail’ chapter, a turning point Rowling marks by the date and the time of Harry’s adventure out-of-bounds under the Invisibility Cloak and meeting with Sirius Black (11/22 between 12 midnight and 1 AM; Harry is out-of-bounds under the Cloak at the center of Stone and Hallows as well). The trio escape from Gringott’s in Hallows in chapter 26 of a 36 chapter book, i.e., relatively near the end.
The structural parallels in the Strike series’ seven book ring's beginning, middle, and end point to another staged-suicide, namely Charlotte’s in Running Grave. Note that, as with the dragons in Potter, the place in the book where the investigation begins shifts from the start to the finish with the fourth novel featuring a beginning at the start of ‘Part Two,’ the center of Lethal White and the seven book set.
Strike1 begins with the victim-near-relation (step-brother John Bristow) coming to the Agency to talk about the suicide staged as a murder and ends in a restaurant talking to the victim's half-brother Jonah Agyeman about the fall-out from the case.
Strike4 begins with the victim himself, Jasper Chiswell, meeting with Strike in a restaurant/club to hire him, turns at 'Part Two,' the turn of the series as well as the book, with a victim-near-relation (daughter Izzy) hiring Strike to investigate the suicide staged as a murder, and ends with a meeting in a restaurant with the killer's near-relation (half-sister Izzy) to talk about fall-out from the case.
Strike7 begins --the end of Part One -- with the victim herself, Charlotte Campbell, meeting with Strike in a restaurant to talk about her case, turns at her suicide at the end of Part Four and Amelia called Strike the morning after the discovery of her body (Part Five, chapter 67) although Strike is actually only reached by her in Part Eight (chapter 107), and ends with a meeting with the victim-near-relation (“full sibling” Amelia) in a restaurant, in which no doubt is expressed about the suicide, i.e., it's being suspicious and in need of investigation.
Each of the suicide cases in the three books ends with Strike sitting down with a relation of the supposed suicide in a restaurant. The case begins at the start of Strike1 in a meeting in which a half-sibling begs Strike to take the case, and the middle of Strike4 in which a a daughter of the victim but a half-sibling of the murderer also begs Strike to investigate. Charlotte’s suicide is not explored in any depth in Running Grave beyond Strike’s revisiting in Aylmerton Chapel the resolutions for change he made to himself in the hospital at the end of Ink Black Heart, his chairos moment with Robin. His conversation, though, with Amelia, the suicide’s sister in an upscale restaurant takes place at the end of the book, where we have beginning-middle-end structural reasons to think she will be asking him to investigate the circumstances of this suicide as had Bristow at the start and Izzie in the middle of their respective novels.
As Nick noted in ‘Strange Death,’ nothing of the kind happens in the Thomas Cubbitt restaurant meeting between Cormoran and Amelia. Amelia tells Strike nothing of what the suicide note said, only that she had destroyed it, an act that should have raised every red flag in Strike’s semaphore kit. He is delighted to tell her what the note said (!) and wash his hands of the death, for which he himself admits to Robin later he was complicit (“I could’ve [stopped it happening],” 941). The structure of the series, though, suggests strongly that this ending of Running Grave, as with the John Bristow and Izzy Chiswell meetings with Strike at the start and middle of their respective novels, is the beginning of the next investigation, what will be the business of Strike8 to unravel.
The structure of the series, both Harry Potter and the Strike novels, then, point to Charlotte’s death being, a la Bristow’s slaying of Lula Landry and Raff’s execution of his father, a murder committed by a relation that was staged as a suicide. Note that the beginning of Cuckoo and the end of Grave are inverted reflections or mirrored images of one another; the meeting being placed at the finish rather than the start, it's being a sister not a brother, and her not asking him for his help in investigating the death as a staged-suicide. Amelia has every reason (and as ‘Strange Death’ observes, her name explains she is by nature prudent) not to give Strike any hint or clue that she or one of her half-siblings killed Charlotte Campbell. They, unlike the “bat-shit insane” Bristow and like Strike in this regard, alas, want the case to be closed and buried with Charlotte’s corpse in her coffin.
But it won’t be, I’m confident. The structure of the set, as Nick observed, suggests that the failure to pick up the Charlotte Campbell death investigation at the end of Running Grave means it will be the beginning of the three book coda to the seven novel ring cycle in Strike 8. Charlotte will be exhumed, figuratively or literarily, if not literally.
Defamiliarization and Misdirection: Rowling’s Signature Knight’s Move
I am as sure as one gets with this sort of speculation (not very sure, indeed!) because the set-up of Charlotte committing suicide, our believing it, and it not-being-so is so carefully done. This is conformity with Rowling’s most distinctive aim and method in her writing, namely, knocking her reader’s off their high horse of accepted ideas via a strong turn away from the expected and conventional story line or genre topos.
I discussed this in both Who Killed Leda Strike, Suicide Victim? and Genre and Meta-Literary Guides for Talking Seriously About Who Killed Leda Strike. To see why Uncle Ted and Dave Polworth are simultaneously really disturbing to readers as potential suspects and for that very reason likely candidates, one needs to understand Rowling’s use of defamiliarization and misdirection.
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 [kill Leda]. 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 a 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, the genre of crime novels and murder mysteries especially, so suspects have to be credible on all three points. Remember, though, that in the meta-world of literary criticism there are different standards, namely, what it is specifically 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.
This meta-literary approach to explaining why Charlotte Campbell was murdered rather than committing suicide turns largely on just how well readers are set up to accept, even embrace the idea of Charlotte “topping” herself.
Charlotte, in a nut shell, having killed herself is no surprise, it’s expected; in every Strike novel her predilection for self-harm, either staged or for real (Ilsa divides the many attempts Charlotte made on her own life into these categories), is mentioned. It is Strike’s concern about this that moved him to chase after her in his first explosive encounter with Robin at the top of the stairs leading to the Agency’s office. Troubled Blood features the Easter morning suicide attempt at Symonds House (remember that name!) and Strike’s successful attempt to find and revive her. All through Running Grave Charlotte seems increasingly fragile, hysterical, and pointed toward self-destruction. Readers are primed by all these pointers to believe the news that she killed herself when the report finally arrives of her death.
The idea that someone else killed her and staged the suicide, consequently, is very difficult for us to accept. We have all become Roy Carver in Cuckoo’s Calling, shouting, “The cow jumped!” and incredulous, even angry that anyone would suggest she was murdered, The supposed suicide note, despite or even because of the recent events of her life, proves to these readers somehow that it has to have been a suicide.
And those recent events add up to a lot in her Strike7 encounters with Strike and reports about her, all of which suggest she was in serious trouble. She is positively hounding her ex for him to talk with her; she needs to share something with him, something perhaps about her family, about Jago Ross, about the American billionaire she’s dating, about the arrest for attacking that man. Her expression is described as “strangely blank and glassy-eyed” in the second chapter of Running Grave, a note that, if readers give it any thought, accept as evidence, not of her being drugged or despairing, but as a pointer to her mental illness and habit of self-harm.
Beyond the series long and Running Grave set-up for readers to accept the idea of Charlotte committing suicide, overlooking the evidence that she’s in some kind of danger, there is also readers’ desire that she die. No joke. Strike and all of the readers who identify with him (which would be the set of ‘All of Us’) wish as he now does for his emotional history and landscape to be cleared so he can marry Robin. Serious Strikers, in other words, uniformly want the same thing: for Charlotte to be dead and buried. We’re on board, consequently, with Strike’s indifference to her calls for help, some even writing involved apologetics in psychological language for the fictional character’s complicity in her death. “Not guilty!” they explain while wrapping him in the protective cover of humanity’s not being our brother’s or sister’s keeper.
Those who do this overlook the transformation in Strike from his having saved Charlotte in Troubled Blood because he would “do the same for anyone,” a selfless, even sacrificial quality of love of neighbor or ‘other,’ into a character that deliberately and callously ignores another fictional person’s anguished cries for help. That’s not a ‘step up’ but a profound descent, one those empathizing with him embrace because, like him, readers want Charlotte gone from the scene so both Strike’s and Robin’s concern about her psychological shadow over their relationship evaporates.
That has all the qualities of those who embrace even applaud and celebrate Dumbledore’s assisted suicide atop the Astronomy Tower without reservation.
In addition to the prolonged set-up of the idea that Charlotte would kill herself and the as long progression of Strike’s feelings for Robin coming at last to the fore, requiring his feelings for Charlotte to recede, there is one more pointer to Rowling’s defamiliarizing artistry in laying the ground or setting the trap for readers to embrace the death of Melady Bezerko as a suicide, no questions asked. The novel in which this stunning set-up comes to a climax, Running Grave, is one about mind-control and cultish thinking. Throughout this novel, readers witness the madness of the UHC and those who fall prey to its mind-games and deceptions.
Here’s the thing. Readers become pretty smug about this. Like Strike and Robin before her immersion in the real experience of sleep and calorie deprivation and narrative channeling of Chapman Farm, we believe that we are above or immune to that kind of deception. “Why are these characters so easily taken in?” readers are meant to be asking themselves; “I sure won’t be susceptive to that kind of thing.” Which is perhaps the best possible set-up for our being duped by a master of reader mind-control.
We are all victims, in other words — well, Nick Jeffery saw through it! — of a brilliant literary deception akin to the death of Daiyu and the stage magic ‘manifestations’ at Chapman Farm. Charlotte didn’t kill herself, as Rowling has gone to such lengths to have us believe, but was murdered, and readers are about to have the experience of cult survivors of being embarrassed by how much they accepted at face value without a critical look at the hard evidence. Along with Strike, Strike fandom felt they could write Charlotte’s suicide note themselves; there’s no need to read it or to be astonished that it has been destroyed by someone previous novels suggest must be a prime suspect in the victim’s demise (siblings are murderous, doncha know).
So Who Killed Charlotte Campbell?
There are, as one should expect by Strike8, A host of possible killers.
The suspects we already know are quite the lot.
Jago Ross is the most obvious one, of course. The mercurial and violent aristocrat has been rejected not once but twice by Charlotte and their divorce and her trading-up for a much wealthier man have to be experienced as something as public humiliations by a person who does not suffer that kind of thing well. There hasn’t been any discussion of alimony or child care payments that Jago is paying but it it isn’t difficult to imagine that they are significant, even onerous to the banker. He may be a little too obvious as a suspect — white, heteronormative, privileged, misogynist, he checks all the boxes for a ‘Bad Guy’ today — which actually makes him unlikely to be the real killer in a Rowling novel.
The billionaire boyfriend she'd just attacked is in the mix, too. Ilsa and Robin discuss him at the baptism that opens Strike7:
‘Did you see Charlotte in the Mail?’ asked Ilsa, when it became clear Robin wasn’t going to discuss Strike’s paternal urges or lack thereof. ‘With that Thingy Dormer?’
’Mm,’ said Robin.
‘I’d say “poor bloke”, but he looks tough enough to handle her… mind you, so did Corm, and that didn’t stop her fucking up his life as badly as she could.’
Charlotte Campbell was Strike’s ex-fiancée, with whom he’d been entangled on and off for sixteen years. Recently separated from her husband, Charlotte was now featuring heavily in gossip columns alongside her new boyfriend, Landon Dormer, a thrice-married, lantern-jawed billionaire American hotelier. Robin’s only thought on seeing the most recent paparazzi pictures of the couple was that Charlotte, though as beautiful as ever in her red slip dress, looked strangely blank and glassy-eyed.
First of all, the word “Thingy,” one used by Cornelius Fudge to describe the Dark Lord at the end of Order of the Phoenix, has to be taken as more than a memory slip by Ilsa. Being “thrice-married,” too, is not the sign of an especially stable person, right? Someone who treats women well? “Looking tough” and “lantern-jawed” — that is, “someone whose lower jaw sticks out beyond the upper jaw” — are not especially encouraging epithets, either. “Billionaire” in Rowling world is just one more strike against this guy.
Just before the reports of Charlotte’s suicide, Strike reads about her arrest:
He clicked on the link. A dishevelled Charlotte appeared on the phone screen, flanked by a policewoman on a dark street.
Former nineties It-Girl Charlotte Campbell, 41, now Viscountess Ross, has been arrested on a charge of assault against billionaire American hotelier, Landon Dormer, 49.
Dormer’s Mayfair neighbours called police in the early hours of June 14th, concerned about the noises coming from the residence. One, who asked not to be named, told The Times, ‘This is now a legal matter, so I’m afraid I can’t say any more than that I’m confident that if this comes to court Charlotte will be fully exonerated.’
The Times approached both Charlotte Ross and Landon Dormer for comment.
There were multiple links below the article: Charlotte at the launch of a jewellery collection the previous year, Charlotte admitted to Symonds House the year before that, and Landon Dormer’s acquisition of one of the oldest five-star hotels in London. Strike ignored these, instead scrolling back up the page to look again at the photograph at the top. Charlotte’s make-up was smeared, her hair tousled, and she faced the camera defiantly as she was led away by the policewoman. (ch 59)
What do you make of her make-up being smeared? Tears ruining mascara? Lipstick being smudged across the face? The hair being “tousled,” too, is suggestive that the “tough guy” was being rough with his arm-candy girl-friend. This was not a one-sided beating, though; Charlotte was arrested for assault and her obituary reported, in a departure from non nisi bonum protocol, that Dormer had required “ten stiches” consequent to her attack.
He has plenty of motive, in other words, and as a billionaire, sufficient means to get the job done, silence a potentially dangerous enemy, and make it look like a suicide. Again, though, as a rich white man, he’s a little too obvious as the villain in the piece.
There are other suspects I think much more likely than Dormer or Ross in this regard. Strike's ex, Madeline Courson-Miles, is unstable enough to merit an interrogation. Charlotte’s half- brother, Valentine Longcaster, if only because of his Cupid-inspired name and sycophancy, needs to be brought in for questioning, too. And let's not forget Amelia Crichton, as much an executioner as an executor?
Anyone of these three could have been called by Charlotte as she threatened suicide once again and been alerted to the existence of a new spin on previous efforts, the note-diatribe that revealed all. The person notified could simply have visited her flat, found the drunk and drugged woman, made sure she was unconscious, undressed her, put her in the bath, and cut her wrists. The sister, I’m afraid, becomes the principal suspect in this scenario, especially if her shop in Belgravia is not doing well and she’d been hopeful of a Dormer-money escape from her troubles if Charlotte had married into American Hilton-esque billions.
Amelia has said she gave the note to the police before destroying that document, out of what Strike charitably presumes to have been a "duty to the living," but we only have her word (a) that Charlotte wrote it and (b) that she gave all of it or any of it to the Met before torching it. Her surprise at Strike's volunteering what Charlotte wrote about him may have been less surprise at how well he'd guessed than relief that she hadn't shared what she'd made up.
But, given the deceased's bilious nature and well-known reputation, the suicide note could be genuine and untampered with -- and she might still have been murdered by all the people she tore into, who become suspects in her killing by having been named. If Strike's relationship with Robin moves forward, he moves way up the suspect list -- and his alibi for the night of her death is not a very good one. He has admitted that she called him repeatedly and he destroyed her messages.
Or was he in Norfolk at the time?
The best suspect, though, is the half-brother Sacha Legard, both for his Shakespearean allusion to the press at Charlotte’s death and because of his hidden name.
As Nick discussed in ‘Strange Death,’ Legard quotes from the closing scene of Romeo and Juliet to describe his departed sibling: “Death lies on her like an untimely frost/ Upon the sweetest flower of all the field” (ch 64). This is Lord Capulet lamenting the seeming death of his beloved daughter (Scene 4, Act 5).
For shame, bring Juliet forth. Her lord is come.
She’s dead, deceased. She’s dead, alack the day!
Alack the day, she’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead.
30 Ha, let me see her! Out, alas, she’s cold.
Her blood is settled, and her joints are stiff.
Life and these lips have long been separated.
Death lies on her like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.
35 O lamentable day!
LADY CAPULET O woeful time!
Death, that hath ta’en her hence to make me wail,
Ties up my tongue and will not let me speak.
This is not, however, from the true finale of Romeo and Juliet, the scene in which Lord Capulet laments the death of his daughter to the assembled crowd and Prince, wherein her father pledges with his Montague counter-part to lay aside their feud and to erect statues of the star-cross’d lovers in gold. This Act 4 scene is the moment he learns that Juliet is dead — but she really isn’t; she’s taken a knock-out drug courtesy of Brother Lawrence in order to duck her unwanted marriage to Paris and to escape to Romeo.
That plan, of course, does not work out as the conspirators hoped, alas.
What is interesting about Sacha Legard quoting this line is not that he had it at the tip of his tongue; the man is a professional actor and the play in question is all but required repertoire for thespians. I think it possible at least that Rowling chose to put it in his mouth because (a) the suicide of the beautiful woman in question is not what it seems and (b) the person doing the histrionic lamentation is in fact the person ultimately responsible for the death. Lord Capulet had refused to brook Juliet’s objections to her arranged and loveless marriage to Paris which compelled her to the stratagem that led to her eventual death, an actual suicide in the Capulet tomb at play’s end.
The clue that Sacha is the man responsible for Charlotte’s seeming suicide — let’s go ahead and call him her actual murderer — is, besides his being a step-sibling a la John Bristow and Raff Seraphin-Chiswell, to be found in his name.
‘Sacha’ and it’s more common form ‘Sasha’ is the Russian and affectionate diminutive for ‘Alexander,’ the ‘Help or Defender of Man’ in Greek, often used as ‘Savior,’ even ‘Messiah.’ ‘Legard,’ according to The Dictionary of English Surnames that Rowling uses (Reaney & Wilson, Oxford), means “people-protection” (276), and, more specifically, a “people-protective enclosure yard,” a walled garden or protected enclosure. That same link-source explains that it can just mean “gardener.”
No, neither of those names point to a Rowling villain in disguise. I’d guess ‘Savior Garden’ would be rather a nice guy, someone you’d have a nice conversation with while working the church grounds after services. It’s Sacha’s hidden or alternative name that outs him as a Black Hat. When Robin’s roommate mentions Legard in Troubled Blood, Max Priestwood — ‘Biggest Cross,’ a synonym, I think, for ‘truth-teller’ -- doesn’t call him ‘Sacha:’
“Yeah, I was in a play years ago with her half-brother. Simon Legard? He starred in that mini-series about the financial crash, what was it called? She came to watch our play and took us all out for dinner afterward. I liked her, actually, she was a real laugh. Some of those posh girls are a lot funnier than you’d think.” Troubled Blood, 673
Oh, my. If Charlotte’s half-brother’s name is ‘Simon’ or if Rowling ever thought of him as a ‘Simon,’ that has to put him at the top of the list of murder suspects. The very top.
As I explained at great length in ‘Troubled Blood: Rowling Father Echoes’ and in my first Christmas Pig post, the one on ‘Jack Jones, Peter, and John,’ Rowling’s defining ‘Family Romance’ issues are the death of her mother and her very bad relationship with her father. Dad’s name is Peter John Rowling. He was all but forced into marriage with Anne Volant due to her pregnancy with the child that became Jo Rowling — and, besides perhaps resenting her existence on that score, he had really wanted her at least to be a boy. Rowling in the most painful interview she did for the BBC’s Day in the Life program said he told her that she was supposed to have been a boy and his near names-sake: ‘Simon John.’ [‘Simon’ and ‘Peter’ are effectively synonyms because the Apostle Peter’s birth name was Simon bar Jonah.]
How badly did this daddy-disappointment affect his daughter? From J. K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues
The writings of young trans men reveal a group of notably sensitive and clever people. The more of their accounts of gender dysphoria I’ve read, with their insightful descriptions of anxiety, dissociation, eating disorders, self-harm and self-hatred, the more I’ve wondered whether, if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition. The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge. I struggled with severe OCD as a teenager. If I’d found community and sympathy online that I couldn’t find in my immediate environment, I believe I could have been persuaded to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he’d have preferred.
How does Rowling deploy the Daddy Issues her Lake inspiration serves up as the “stuff” of her stories? She tags the bad guys as ‘Peter’ or ‘Simon.’
The attentive reader of Rowling’s work knows that any character or place named ‘Peter’ or one of that name’s derivations is a bad guy or suspect locale. We have Peter Pettigrew the person most responsible besides Voldemort for the murder of James and Lily Potter, Simon Price, the wife and child beating husband and father of Casual Vacancy [the apostle Peter’s given name was ‘Simon bar Jonah’ so Simon is another name for Peter], Peter Gillespie in the Strike novels, the lawyer who did everything possible to make Cormoran’s already significant daddy issues much worse, and the St Peter’s Nursing Home and Symonds House in Troubled Blood are dangerous even Satanic places (‘Symound’ is the spelling for ‘Simon Peter’ used by Wyecliffe according to the Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames that Rowling uses as her reference text, cf. Reaney 410).
If ‘Simon’ Legard didn’t kill Charlotte, he sure wasn’t part of support team, either.
Conclusion: The Fourth Generation Question
I recently wrote a three-part post about the seven book ring-cycle in the Strike series, ‘Running Grave as the End of the Strike Series,’ in which I offered a boat load of evidence that Running Grave works as a latch with Cuckoo’s Calling and completes the turn begun in Lethal White. The purpose in writing that extended-play post in several parts was, in the end, to argue that it is past time to re-think how we read J. K. Rowling. As I argued in my conclusion to that parcel of posts, we need, in a nutshell, to stop obsessing over the latest book she’s published and speculating about the novel on the horizon and to start discussing what is true of her work as a whole, beginning to end, her ‘Lake’ inspiration, and her ‘Shed’ artistry.
As I said I would in the conclusion to that piece, the first thing I have written consequent to that call for the advent of the Fourth Generation of Rowling Studies is a piece about the book-in-hand, Running Grave, that is rife with speculation about Strike8. What’s up with that?
For starters, let’s get real, to use a favorite Rowling word. ‘Strike8’ is the most popular word in search engines for the Strike novels and the hot subject of discussion today is Nick Jeffery’s theory that Charlotte Campbell was murdered. I’m obliged to write about what HogwartsProfessor readers are most interested in, whence this post.
Note, though, the points I made in support of ‘Strange Death.’
I started with a strictly structural point about there being a suicide survivor meeting with Strike at the beginning of the first book in the series, at the middle of the central book, and at the end of the seventh or ‘last book’ in the ring-cycle. That fearful symmetry suggests that what was true in the first and fourth books — that the suicide was staged and the death was really a murder — will be true in the eighth book, though cleverly concealed in Running Grave. The subject matter was topical, I admit, but the point being made required an opera omnia awareness of how Rowling writes to understand. The ring argument, too, is all Shed.
I moved on to the meta-literary reasons for thinking that Charlotte Campbell was murdered, namely, Rowling’s signature penchant for defamiliarization. The principal reason we all thought, Nick excepted, that Charlotte topped herself is, despite the surfeit of faked suicides in the series, that Rowling has been talking on slow-drip for seven books about Charlotte as a potential suicide and showed us an earnest attempt at self-slaughter in Troubled Blood. That misdirection has caught her readers leaning hard into the direction the author wants us to go. It’s mind-control. Again, topical subject but a look at a question through an understanding of everything Rowling has written and her ‘Shed’ artistry.
My last reason to support the idea that Charlotte was murdered was a list of the people who would be credible suspects as her murderer. That’s grins-and-giggles speculation for the most part, but I closed with the ‘Simon Legard’ discussion which turns on a critical ‘Lake’ issue, namely, Rowling’s non-relationship with her father consequent to his emotional abuse of her as a young woman.
I want to close this Forth Generation post, one disguised as a Running Grave discussion and as speculation about Strike8, with another ‘Lake’ question.
Why is suicide — successful, attempted but survived, and faked-to-cover-up-murders — such a big deal in the Strike series? The only suicides I can think of in the Potter books, for example, are Dumbledore’s assisted death-by-Snape (more like euthanasia than self-destruction?) and Pettigrew’s auto-strangulation — and those don’t work as suicides, really. Krystall Weedon kills herself in Casual Vacancy’s nightmare climax, too, but, in that book of despairing characters, it’s a marvel she was the only one. In the Strike novels, in contrast, there is at least one per book and there are a bevy in Running Grave.
There is the Lula Landry staged suicide in Cuckoo, the Elspeth Fancourt version of Sylvia Plath’s suicide is the foundation crime of Silkworm, Leda Strike’s mysterious death that was ruled a suicide is center stage in Career of Evil, Jasper Chiswell’s death in Lethal White is a patricide staged as a suicide, and Janice Beattie’s first Douthwaite inspired murder in Troubled Blood was the staged suicide of Joanne Hammond. The epigraph source for Strike4 was Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, a play that ends with a double suicide.
All things suicidal pick up in Strike6. Edie Ledwell attempted suicide before she was murdered in Ink Black Heart, Kea Niven identifies as “suicidal,” and ‘Anomic Suicide’ per Durkheim is a theme of that book, if not the whole series. Characters committing or attempting suicide in Running Grave include Flora Brewster, the Stolen Prophet Ally Graves, Emily Pirbright, Cherie Gittens, Jordan Reaney, and, of course, Charlotte Campbell-Ross.
I’m going to close this follow-up post on Nick’s ‘Strange Death of Charlotte Campbell’ theory that she was murdered rather than killed by her own hand with some Fourth Generation observations about this focus on suicides, especially those that were actual murders and as-good-as-murders, self-destruction consequent to being driven to it. We have to start in Rowling’s ‘Lake;’ what unresolved personal issues or experiences could have inspired this series long pre-occupation with suicide?
It could, of course, be any number of experiences about which we know nothing: the death by suicide of a friend, a suicide attempt in her family or circle of acquaintances, even suicides she heard about her in Lumos days of visiting orphanages and cage-children.
A more obvious and near certain grounding for Rowling’s border-line obsessive writing about suicide is her own experience at the nadir of her life with clinical depression, an experience in 1994 as a single mother after the failure of her first marriage that she described as becoming “suicidal.” She went public with this revelation in 2012, the year before Cuckoo’s Calling was published. As she wrote in 2020, “like every other human being on this planet, I have a complex backstory, which shapes my fears, my interests and my opinions. I never forget that inner complexity when I’m creating a fictional character.” I think it clear
That so many of the suicides in the Strike series are actually murders and most are acts of fear, depression, or despair into which the suicides are driven by others, delivers the message that true-suicide-as-such is a myth. Killing one’s self as a positive choice rather than from despair that there are no other choices to be made and that death is preferable to the pain on offer in broken relationships doesn’t appear in the Strike novels; someone else is always responsible at least in part, a threatening Abigail Glover, a John Bristow murderer who disguises the suicide, or a killer Anomie who is invisibly in the background of the attempted self-destruction.
Deeby Mac is instructive on this point. Asked about Lula Landry’s suicide, the rapper cum psychologist commented that her death was really a murder, months before Strike was able to prove it:
‘[Lula Landry’s death by suicide] was fucked-up, man, that was fucked-up,’ replied Deeby, running his hand over his smooth head. His voice was soft, deep and hoarse, with the very faintest trace of a lisp. ‘That’s what they do to success: they hunt you down, they tear you down. That’s what envy does, my friend. The motherfuckin’ press chased her out that window. Let her rest in peace, I say. She’s getting peace right now.’ (Cuckoo’s Calling, 63)
If Evan Willis is right about the center of his Tetractys pyramid being Ink Black Heart, then Rowling’s Shed work to transform her Lake inspiration around her own history of suicidal thoughts into universal and anagogical meaning for her global audience makes a certain sense, the ‘meaning being in the middle’ of structural artistry. It is in Strike6 that Rowling-Galbraith brings up ‘anomic’ suicide, a subject explored in a book by Emile Durkheim to be found on the Art Studio’s book shelf; this theme, a critique of the prisons in which internet-captured souls live, is much more inclusive and universal than her projecting into story her experience of sexual assault, an abusive marriage, clinical depression, and suicidal thoughts.
A Fourth Generation discussion of the central place of suicides will have to include the backdrop of Christmas Pig, conceived in 2012, as well, namely the issue of sibling rivalry, even of murderously violent step-siblings. John and Charlie Bristow with Lula Landry, Freddie and Raff Chiswell, and Abigail Glover and Daiyu Graves-Wace are the axis crimes of the series; future readers of Rowling’s work will not fail to connect the dots, as has already been done with Christmas Pig, between Rowling’s home situation at the time of her planning the Strike series and writing the first books.
The Christmas Pig differs from the Strike series in that it reflects another Murray family issue. It has as its foundation story the agony of a young child in a blended family whose biological father is absent physically and emotionally and whose older step-sister is a bully consequent to her own issues about daddy. The serious reader of Rowling and one even superficially familiar with her life does not strain his or her eyes to see David and Mackenzie Murray and Jessica Arantes here as the story models for Jack and Holly, especially as Mackenzie Jean Murray was seven years old in 2012, the year of the story’s inspiration and the age of Jack, the boy in the story.
The only bit absent from that summary is Holly’s symbolic murder of her step-brother Jack by defenestrating (from a moving car!) the identity-object of his mother’s love and his own worth. If this were a Strike novel, of course, the story would be reorganized so that it was about discovering that she did it.
That ‘Lake’ identification of Rowling’s story stuff, if done correctly, should be immediately followed by a discussion of what work Rowling does with this detritus from her unconscious mind’s struggle with painful issues to raise them up from projection narrative into engaging story. As was done in the piece above about Christmas Pig:
Rowling dedicates the book to David and has explained that the story toys, the cuddly pig favorite and its replacement, reflect two such cuddly pigs that her son adored. Jack Jones, however, is a name, front and back, that is a form of the name John; he is Joanne Rowling more than David Murray, her name also derived from Johannes, the Greek word for John (Rowling has given her daughter Mackenzie the middle name Jean, the more obvious feminine form of John). To put all my allegorical and sublime symbolism cards on the table at the start, what Jack has lost in the story is his father, what Holly fears losing to her step-brother is her father, the Pig is the exteriorized ‘heart’ or love he has as token or “transitional object” of maternal, unconditional love, and the story of the Loser is the sublimated agony of separation from Dad experienced as a child-hero must in the world of things and language. The Christmas Pig, though, in addition to this psychological allegory or dream-journey is an anagogical tale of seeking communion with the Father in Heaven through the light in one’s heart, the Johannine theology of logos-love that permeates Rowling’s work.
Discussing the Strike series in light of Pig, which is to say “in light of her work as a whole,” as well as its roots at the bottom of Rowling’s Lake and its fruits cultivated in her Shed greenhouse is the work of Fourth Generation Potter Pundits and Serious Strikers. Yes, I blush a bit at writing about the Strike novel in hand and the one on the horizon, but I hope the Hypocrisy Police will give me a pass here in consideration of my deployment of the three aspects of Fourth Generation criticism.
Why is Nick Jeffery’s ‘Strange Death’ theory that Charlotte was murdered even more credible in light of this three-tiered approach? An understanding of Rowling’s previous work is essential in grasping what she is doing in the Strike novels, an awareness of her life-issues clarifies the stories’ inspiration, and the knowledge of her Shed artistry, the traditional tools she deploys to deliver anagogical meaning of transformation, even apotheosis, reveals the anagogical, mythological content of her work, what simultaneously lifts them above popular fiction and explains their popularity. Structure, defamiliarization, Peter-Simon, and suicide-as-theme get us there.
There is a lot more to say about suicide — Solve et coagula, anyone? Self transformation by intentional self-destruction? — but this post is just an opening marker on that subject and a continuing introduction to Fourth Generation thinking and methodology. Yes, a post devoted to just the subject of the generations of Rowling studies and the need for change is in the works.
Next up, though, even more speculation about Strike8, this time on the possibility that Robin is sterile. See you there!
Post-post note: none of the speculation I have shared above should be read as a pass or fail test of what I am illustrating by its exposition, i.e., if Charlotte did indeed commit suicide in the course of Running Grave and Strike8 does not re-visit her death as a murder, my Fourth Generation efforts are not thereby invalidated. For why not, see The Value of Interpretative Speculation or ‘Why We Know Dave Polworth Didn’t Kill Leda.’
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