If Hogwarts Professor is right that Strike (like Harry Potter) is organised around a seven-novel plan, then Lethal White (as the fourth novel) is a pivot. This idea pairs up the novels before and after Lethal White, for we can expect that in this series – as in Harry Potter – will be organised in a ‘chiastic’ form: which means that the first and last novels, the second and sixth novel, and the third and fifth novels are paired. If we are correct in the theory that Strike follows this pattern, then Troubled Blood should be paired with Career of Evil – and it is. These two novels link decisively for, of the series so far, as they are the only two novels to feature extreme, and repeated, violence against women and serial killers. (There are also many minor plot parallels, such as Robin pursuing her own line of enquiry behind Strike’s back). The most important link, however, is that in each novel the murderer is a kind of doppelgänger. In both the murderer presents as two people within the story: a ‘good’ person with a false name, seemingly kind and concerned, behind whom stands a sociopathic serial killer.
In March Rowling changed her Twitter header to the character of Florimell from Edmund Spenser’s epic poem, The Faerie Queene (1590/96). This was a hint as the source of both Troubled Blood’s title and its epigraphs, but it also marked that Rowling’s interest in ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ characters would continue in this novel. For the most famous aspect of Florimell’s story is that she is replaced by her shadow-twin, False Florimell, who dupes everyone into thinking she is her namesake. It was also a pointer to the most famous doppelgängers within Spenser’s poem – Una and Duessa. Una (whose name tells us she personifies unity and truth) is the heroine of the opening book of The Faerie Queene, while Duessa (whose name points to her duplicity and doubleness) is her shadow twin. Duessa is created by the enchanter Archimago in order to trick the Redcrosse Knight, who is the hero of Book 1. While the Redcrosse knight should be pursuing holiness by questing with Una, he dallies instead with Duessa.
Duessa is the most famous malevolent figure in Spenser’s poem and (as Nick Jeffery noticed prior to publication) the title of Troubled Blood is drawn from a passage from Una and Duessa’s story. This is when Una rescues Redcrosse from the despair into which falling prey to Duessa’s deception has led him:
…his hand did quake,
And tremble like a leafe of Aspin greene,
And troubled bloud through his pale face was seene
To come, and goe with tidings from the heart,
As it a running messenger had beene.
(Epigraph to Chap 64; Faerie Queene, 1.9.51)
This epigraph is marked as one of the most important of Troubled Blood, because it contains the title-phrase. The reader understands, therefore, that the trembling man described (this is the chapter in which Robin and Strike track down and interview Douthwaite) must be central to the plot. The Janus-faced Janice is the ‘Duessa’ figure within the murder plot – and this chapter marks out Douthwaite (and her desire for him) as the motive for her actions.
But while the shadow-twin pairing of Una and Duessa drops clues about who the murderer is, it also performs another function with the on-going Strike/Robin arc of the novels. For Strike, like Redcrosse, clearly should be in love with the near-perfect Robin (‘Una’) but has been lead astray by the seductive charms of the malevolent Duessa (‘Charlotte’). There is, however, a lovely epigraphical moment which suggests that all will finally work out between Robin and Strike, just as it does between Una and Redcrosse:
His louely words her seemd due recompence
Of all her passed paines: one louing howre
For many yeares of sorrow can dispence:
A dram of sweet is worth a pound of sowre:
She has forgot, how many a wofull stowre
For him she late endurd; she speakes no more
Before her stands her knight, for whom she toyld so sore.
(Epigraph to Chap 58; Faerie Queene, 1.3.30)
This epigraph – which marks the moment in which Una believes herself to be united with Redcrosse – is an evocative choice for what is the crucial chapter in Troubled Blood (as far, at least, as Robin and Strike’s relationship is concerned). Una recovering Redcrosse’s love after he has been led astray by false Duessa is a neat parallel to the chapter in which Strike and Robin finally acknowledge what they are to each other. This chapter, and its hopeful epigraph, belong at the heart of the novel in which Strike finally shakes himself free of Charlotte’s cloying and destructive attractions.
Spenser’s Faerie Queene has two major plot lines in which a virtuous woman (Una, Florimell) is replaced by her evil twin (Duessa, False Florimell). This substitution confuses the knight who loves Una, and the knights who want to save Florimell, and sends them astray. Most of the doubling within Troubled Blood works this way, leading our heroes – like the knights of The Faerie Queene with whom they are so closely aligned – down false paths. There are, for example, the false sightings of Margot (in which two different women are mistaken for her) and the doubly ‘false’ sighting – in which a woman thinks that she and her mother have been mistaken for Margot and her murderer when, in fact, that was the sole true sighting of Margot. Then there are the ‘two’ women (Janice Beattie and Clare Spencer) whom Strike mistakenly trusts. The investigation of Margot’s murder is, like the quests of Spenser’s knights, repeatedly led astray by such false pairings. But there is a satisfying twist in the tale. For, at the very end of the novel, it is the hero who uses the device against the villain. These female-doubles, which have so long worked against Strike, are finally used by him to defeat the most evil character in the story.
In the final section of the book, Margot is twinned with Louise Tucker – both are putative victims of Creed whose families are now desperately searching for the truth. When Strike finally goes to interview Creed, the reader (like Creed) believes that although Strike wants the truth about both women, he is there for information about Margot. Margot is the woman whose murder he has been hired to solve, a murder investigation which the reader has been following for eight hundred and fifty pages by this point: we think that it is a clue about Margot that we are seeking and which Creed withholds. For, believing likewise that Strike wants information about Margot, Creed gives him instead information about Louise. When Strike expresses anger, Creed gloats ‘don’t be like that, because it’s not the one you came for’ (858). But Creed has been hoodwinked into giving away the clue for which Strike has come. It is a deeply satisfying final twist, as the doubling which has been used, not only throughout Troubled Blood, but throughout the whole of Strike, by murderers to trick the innocent, is finally used by the hero to trick the evil-doer. The final symmetry of the novel is used as a force for good.
Beatrice Groves is the author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter.