One of the most impressive things about Rowling’s books is how cleverly she leaves clues throughout the text, which we then find on rereads and just think to ourselves, “Damn, she’s brilliant!” You know the ones: Hermione knocking over Quirrell, Snape accusing Harry of stealing Polyjuice ingredients in Year 4, etc. I love catching these things on rereads.
But some of the things we sometimes forget to appreciate on our umpteenth reading is how carefully Jo lays red herrings and fake trails. This struck me on a recent rereading of Goblet of Fire: how Jo pointed the finger of blame at Crouch Sr., Karkaroff, and Bagman. Goblet of Fire has a striking resemblance to Cuckoo’s Calling – it’s a whodunit. The “crime” is putting Harry’s name into the Goblet of Fire, and we spend the book trying to figure out who did and why.
The first time I read GoF, I was nine years old, and powered through the book, so I don’t really remember any theories I may have had. But I am now in my twenties and considerably more well-read, so my mind was whirring as I read Cuckoo’s Calling. I’d like to share my observations. I’ve read it twice, so I could pick up on some of the Jo’s misdirection I’m sure even more will become apparent upon further rereads.
Here, I will analyze all the likely suspects in The Cuckoo’s Calling by comparing them to their GoF counterparts, and will talk about how I thought the mystery would unfold. Needless to say, I was wrong (for analysis of the real culprit, read The Psychopaths). But much of the comparison between GoF and TCC remains valid, because the two books are quite alike in their structure.
The Mean Ones – Tony Landry and Evan Duffield
If we are thinking of the HP quotes that get referenced most often, first place would go to “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (CS333). But second probably goes to “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.” (OP302) Far too often, there is too clear a distinction between the unpleasant bad guys and the friendly good guys (a good example of this is the Percy Jackson series – it’s one of my favorites, but the lines between good and evil are too clear cut).
In Rowling’s books, oftentimes very unpleasant people end up being on the side of good. She makes full use of this in planting red herrings – TCC is no exception, as there are quite a few unsavory characters running about to confuse everything. Having had a lot of experience with Rowling’s style, I knew enough to not suspect Tony Landry and Evan Duffield – they were too plainly antagonistic to actually be the murderers.
Looking for an HP equivalent, the best one for Evan Duffield would be Draco Malfoy. As Team StarKid so eloquently put it, Draco is “a little shit.” Both Draco and Evan are unpleasant, spoiled rotten, arrogant and pretentious, and love attention. But neither Draco nor Evan are truly villains, despite how much we dislike them. And they seem to fit the criminal’s outline to a T, which is why everyone in TCC suspects Evan, and why in CoS Ernie and Hannah point the finger of blame at Draco: “That Draco Malfoy character, […] he seems very pleased about all this, doesn’t he? D’you know, I think he might be Slytherin’s heir.” (CS268)
The scene where we are first introduced to Evan Duffield, holding court at a club full of famous people, immediately brought to mind the scene of Draco holding court with the Slytherins on the Hogwarts Express in HBP.
Malfoy, sniggering, lay back down across two seats with his head in Pansy Parkinson’s lap. […] Pansy stroke[d] the sleek-blond hair off Malfoy’s forehead, smirking as she did so, as though anyone would have loved to have been in her place. [HBP149]
Duffield was talking to a sexy brunette. Her lips were parted as she listened, almost ludicrously immersed in him. [TCC330]
Crabbe and Goyle were both sitting with their mouths open like gargoyles. Pansy was gazing down at Malfoy as though she had never seen anything so awe-inspiring.
“I can see Hogwarts,” said Malfoy, clearly relishing the effect he had created as he pointed out of the blackened window. [HBP152]
The whole bar seemed, for a few shining moments, to be watching; then they remembered themselves, and returned to their chat and their cocktails. [TCC331]
Duffield and his cohorts’ apparent unselfconsciousness was, Strike recognized, nothing but expert artifice. [TCC330]
Both are treated with awe bordering on veneration by their respective social circles, both clearly lap up the attention , and both are really not all that popular outside of these social circles. I believed Jo would never be so obvious as to make Duffield the killer, so I discounted him as a suspect even before we met him.
Tony Landry seems a much more fitting suspect – full of vitriol towards both detective and victim, recalcitrant in interviews and clearly keeping secrets. He so clearly echoed Snape’s role in SS, being unpleasant and drawing suspicion, thereby inadvertently helping the real culprit: “So useful to have him swooping around like an overgrown bat.” “[H]e did make himself unpopular.” (Quirrell, SS288-289) “Both of you [Bristow and Tony], lying through your teeth, wondering what the other one was up to, but too scared to question each other.” (Strike, TCC438)
But if we go by the GoF comparison, then Tony isn’t so much Snape as he is Karkaroff. Just like Tony, Karkaroff is keeping a secret (his darkening Dark Mark and Death Eater past) that leads him to act very suspiciously. Karkaroff treats the “victim” (Harry) and the “detective” (Dumbledore) with contempt, as Tony does Lula and Strike. And both unwittingly protect the cover of the true villain – no one questions the presence of an ex-Auror when an ex-Death Eater is running amok, just like Tony ends up falsely corroborating John’s alibi.
It’s also rather funny that Tony’s affair with Ursula May and use of Alison was what ended up being his undoing. Ursula and Alison are some of the characters without discernible equivalents in GoF. But it’s very much Rowling’s style to put in a throwaway bit about Robin pretending to be Alison, only for that to be what blows Tony’s cover wide open. The exact moment is on page 358, when Robin says, “I thought I’d pretend to be Alison and check whether Tony Landry had left something there or something …” […] “Anyway, that was a mistake.” […] “Yes, because Alison actually did go to the Malmaison on the seventh, to try and find Tony Landry.” This is evidence for Strike that Alison lied when corroborating John’s alibi, and slowly everything falls into place. Further proof that no detail is too small to be overlooked when reading a Rowling book!
While I’m proud to know enough of Rowling’s style to eliminate certain suspects, I’m always wary of getting too smug. Rowling is a master of subverting our expectations. She did this best in HBP – by then, we all knew to expect a twist. So the twist was that there was no twist! Draco really was trying to kill Dumbledore as Harry feared. So despite discounting Tony and Evan, I always remembered in the back of my mind that there was a 1% chance it could be them after all.
Tansy Bestigui represents one of Jo’s more clever twists. We already know that many characters who seem trustworthy aren’t, but here we get the inverse of that: a character who is discounted as untrustworthy turns out to be right. The Potter series is littered with examples of characters people should have listened to, but didn’t to their cost – Hokey, Morfin, Trelawney, etc. The one Tansy echoes most is Bertha Jorkins.
Bertha’s memory is notoriously poor. No one worries when she disappears for months because she’s terribly absent-minded, “hopeless” (GF61) and “more trouble than she’s worth” (GF62), with a “memory like a leaky cauldron” (GF89).
Tansy suffers a similar fate – because she was under the influence of drugs, her valuable testimony is discarded, even though it proved crucial to the investigation. Strike yells at Carver, “You based your whole case on one almighty fuck-up. If you’d taken Tansy Bestigui seriously, if you’d broken her down and got her to tell you the whole fucking truth, Rochelle Onifade would still be alive.” (TCC372) These women are dismissed to the cost of the people in charge.
By extension, that would make Freddie Bestigui the equivalent of Crouch Sr., since they are the ones who ensured no one would believe Tansy and Bertha, respectively. Crouch Sr. casts a powerful memory charm on Bertha to protect his family secret – Barty Jr’s existence – and thereby destroys Bertha’s credibility altogether. Freddie ensures that no one believes Tansy by paying her to keep quiet and lie about circumstances – and thus ruins her credibility.
One of my favorite “ooooh!” moments in HP is the line very early in GoF: “Mr. Crouch has been taking a personal interest” in Bertha’s disappearance (GF62) – I bet he has! Percy attributes this to Crouch’s being “fond of her” because she worked in his department, but in reality Crouch fears only for the damaging information Bertha could reveal.
There’s a similar line early in TCC, when Wilson relates that Tansy was “Hysterical. Shaking like a wet dog.” (TCC91) In hindsight, we know that Tansy was shaking not because of her hysterics, but because she was getting hypothermia after Freddie locked her outside on the balcony – something Freddie spends the entire book trying to cover up. Both Crouch and Freddie are willing to ruin people in order to keep their secrets. And those secrets inevitably come back to haunt them anyway.
I knew that the Bestiguis had some unsavory secret, but they were never at the top of my list of suspects. Their behavior would make no sense if one of them had indeed been the culprit. If Freddie had just perpetrated a murder, he would try not to draw attention to himself; instead, he throws a tantrum about a broken bouquet that was obviously meant to distract from Tansy. Tansy, meanwhile, was the one who alerted everyone to the murder – it would make no sense for her to do that if she had just committed the murder. It’s also much less likely that somebody of Tansy’s stature could push Lula off a balcony. So in my mind, the Bestiguis were not the murderers.
The Possible Accomplices
There were three characters that I seriously considered as suspects: Kieran Kolovos-Jones (Lula’s driver), Derrick Wilson (the security man), and Deeby Macc (the rapper in love with Lula). But the theory that I stuck with was Kieran and/or Wilson being accomplices to whoever the real killer is.
Kieran had a romantic interest in Lula that she did not return, he was definitely around her in the day preceding her death, and he had resentment and envy towards the rich and famous. In any other whodunit, this would put KKJ at the head of any suspect list – emotional entanglement with the victim, motive, opportunity, and he’s not a totally obvious suspect. But that’s not Jo’s style. The villains are never motivated by feelings of affection, spurned or otherwise. Anything positive like that is reserved for good guys. The villains are motivated by just about everything else: lust for power (Voldemort, Quirrell, etc.), sadism (Bellatrix, Umbridge, Fenrir), bigotry (Voldemort, Umbridge), cowardice (Pettigrew), or even misguided loyalty coupled with psychosis (Bellatrix, Crouch Jr).
If anything, I thought KKJ might be an accessory to the crime – essentially fulfilling Pettigrew’s role in GoF of helping out the real villain. My primary suspect was Deeby Macc (more on that later), and since KKJ was the one driving him around the night Lula died, they very well could have been in it together.
But he turned out more like Viktor Krum – considered as a potential bad guy for a hot minute, and then discounted as a threat. Everyone told Harry to watch out for the Durmstrang champion. Sirius warns Harry about Karkaroff’s past, then says, “So watch out for the Durmstrang champion as well.” (GF332) Hagrid (who admittedly is not the most reliable source) snaps at Harry, “What were yeh doin’, wanderin’ off with ruddy Krum? He’s from Durmstrang, Harry! Coulda jinxed yeh right there, couldn’ he?” (GF563)
But by that point Harry knows enough to fire back that “Krum’s all right!” The same could be applied to KKJ. He honestly did not have enough of a presence in the book to be considered a potential culprit towards the end. Jo has many tricks up her sleeve, but she never blind-sides us with a villain, and KKJ’s absence in the latter half of the book signaled to me that he was not the murderer. I never discounted the possibility of him being an accomplice, but for the real villain I would have to look elsewhere.
Wilson seemed likeliest to turn out like Moody. I’m wary of anyone who is surprisingly helpful. After all, Moody was awfully helpful to Harry during the Triwizard Tournament; he tipped Harry off about the Summoning Charm that got him through the first task. My alarm bells went off as soon as Strike thought that “Wilson’s testimony […] was of an unusually high quality: concise, precise, and observant.” (TCC93)
The fact was that the entire story of what happened the day and night Lula died hinged on Wilson’s testimony. And we know that where Jo is concerned, we want corroborating evidence before we believe what anyone says. It was mighty convenient that Wilson had the runs that day. That could have provided him with ample opportunity to murder Lula himself.
Of course, he did not have much in the way of readily apparent motive. But he also could have been helping out whoever the real killer was. If a killer had Wilson on his side, that would make the killer’s life so much easier. Easy access, easy getaway. I was definitely suspicious of Wilson all the way throughout the book.
But Wilson ends up like Cedric – genuine, though seemingly too good to be true. He helped the protagonist with no ulterior motive. Of course, Wilson only talks to Strike at first because Bristow paid him to (TCC86), but he then becomes an invaluable asset to Strike – showing Strike the layout of Lula’s residence, and even finding Rochelle Onifade’s name. Wilson is not getting any benefit from these latter actions – in fact, he’s risking his job by showing Strike around.
Similarly, Cedric saves Harry in Goblet of Fire by revealing how to get at the egg’s clue. Cedric gleans no benefit from this; he’s helping his competitor. But he does it out of purely unselfish motives; as Crouch Jr. says, “Decent people are so easy to manipulate, Potter. I was sure Cedric would want to repay you for telling him about the dragons, and so he did.” (GF676) Fortunately, Wilson didn’t meet as sticky an end as Cedric did.
The suspect that I had my money on was Deeby Macc. It seemed like he was just being mentioned far too many times to be inconsequential. Jo has trained us to be on the lookout for anyone who gets mentioned a lot, since the odds are good they’ll come up again (like Regulus Black turning out to be RAB because of his frequent appearances, or Aberforth’s importance in DH because of all the references to him).
Deeby Macc seemed like he would be the perfect villain. After all, it would be very Quirrell-like. Quirrell, too, kept getting mentioned in Sorcerer’s Stone in seemingly throwaway lines – passing along the third-floor corridor (SS132), discovering the troll (SS172), knocked over at the Quidditch match (SS191), etc. Only upon rereading do we see how cleverly Jo kept referencing him while misdirecting us.
At first glance, Deeby Macc seemed to be accounted for the night of Lula’s murder, but it wasn’t in an incontrovertible sort of way. The book spent quite some time establishing that Deeby Macc had a thing for Lula, so it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine he had an unhealthy obsession with her. Since pushing Lula off the balcony was “a hot-blooded, unpremeditated crime” according to Strike (TCC69), it would fit well with an obsessed Deeby Macc.
I remained convinced that Deeby Macc was the most likely culprit, pretty much right up until John’s confession. But Jo remains cleverer than I am, and it turned out Deeby Macc was no more than a red herring. And that’s why Jo has never failed to pull one over on me – she may have patterns, but she never pulls the same trick twice.