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Guest Post written by Amber, @LitleLessCuckoo on Twitter

After finishing The Ink Black Heart for the first time, I was absolutely glowing. Strike’s admission to himself put me over the moon even as I was rolling my eyes that it took him so long and screaming at him to call Robin and have her come back so they could talk about their relationship right then and there. That said, even with the wonderfully heartwarming, shippy ending, I was left with a horribly ominous feeling about Robin’s future. I couldn’t shake the idea that the threat from the Halvening wasn’t over. After a few closer rereads, I have a theory and if I’m right, that feeling is because they are keeping uncomfortably close tabs on Robin through none other than Ryan Murphy – who is secretly a member of the Halvening. Hear me out…

What first got me suspicious that something wasn’t right in Robin’s world was that the Halvening found her new apartment quickly, even though it’s noted several times throughout TIBH that it’s difficult to find people if they’ve recently moved. 

So, I started by looking at who, outside her immediate family, friends, and work circle knew Robin’s new address. This is a small list, not only because she’s a private person, but we’re also told that she didn’t even hire removal men (p. 572). By my count there are only two people that knew: her estate agent and Ryan Murphy. Although the estate agent sounded more than a bit off, I homed in on Murphy because the Halvening find her literally the day after he drives her home. 

With my suspicions in mind, I reread the book assuming that Murphy is in the Halvening, and I was surprised at what I found. It felt a bit like the first reread of a Harry Potter book after learning about a big twist – I literally shouted out loud at a few things, and that makes me feel like I’m on to something. 

Before we dive into the specifics, I want to note that on my first read I liked Murphy a lot. I thought that he would be a good companion for Robin while Strike works through all his relationship and commitment issues. But, as you’ll see, that initial impression faded quickly when I put his behavior under more scrutiny. As a side note, I also think JKR intends us to like Murphy, which might be reason enough to be suspicious of him.

Here’s a look at some of the bigger red flags I found, arranged by plot points. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but hopefully enough to make my case without coming across as too obsessed.

Credit: BBC/ Bronte Film & TV/ Sam Taylor

Robin’s initial conversation with Murphy and Darwish

On my reread I kept Strike’s comment, “Don’t know if you noticed, but they never told us what that Angela Darwish does either” (p. 104) in the back of my mind. Throughout the book, I felt led to believe she is MI5 and tasked with investigating the Halvening, but I don’t want to take these types of implications at face value in a JKR novel. I’ve also noticed on rereads of other Strike books that she uses this type of language as a subtle way to break the fourth wall. It’s almost as if she’s telling us, ‘Hey look, here’s a clue’ even though we (ok, I) usually miss these moments the first time around.

So, thinking about other possibilities for Darwish’s role, I read this interview with the idea that she might be investigating an internal leak at the Met rather than (or in addition to) what we’re led to believe (more on why I chose this particular angle later). Reading from that approach, these things jump out:

 

 

  • When Robin mentions Edie’s attempted suicide, she notices “Darwish’s gaze flicker towards Murphy and away again. The latter’s unblinking gaze remained fixed on Robin…” (p. 101). They don’t exchange glances as if this is interesting to both of them, she’s just looking at him. This reminds me of the move that Strike and Robin use all the time: watching suspects for reactions when certain topics are brought up.
  • Robin notices “an almost imperceptible lowering of shoulders and slackening of faces” (p. 101) when she says that Edie suspected Seb Montgomery. Robin being Robin assumes that she’s disappointed them, but this body language could just as easily be relief on Murphy’s part when he realizes that the Halvening isn’t likely to be brought up. On Darwish’s part, this body language might suggest disappointment that she won’t have an opportunity to observe Murphy while Halvening activity is under discussion.
  • Before Darwish asks her questions, Murphy appears to be wrapping up the interview without asking anything about potential Halvening activity (p. 103). It’s suspicious that he didn’t bring any of this up, because the possibility of terrorist activity is the pretense (or actual reason) for Darwish’s presence and Murphy would have known that. If my theory is correct, it seems like he was deliberately trying to keep the conversation away from anything that would point to possible Halvening activity directed at Edie.
  • Darwish’s last question is whether Edie mentioned the actor who voiced Drek. At the end of Robin’s answer, Murphy subtly jumps in and changes the subject to her thoughts on the cartoon itself, and we never return to Cardew or Robin’s comments about Drek’s game (p. 103). Reading through a lens of suspicion, this felt like a very Janice-esq piece of misdirection on Murphy’s part. I also noticed that Darwish makes a note about something here. Unless she needed a record that Edie didn’t mention Cardew, I can’t see what would have been interesting enough to write down except for a comment on Murphy’s behavior.
Blackhorse Road

The Halvening finding Robin’s new flat

As I mentioned, there are quite a few references in TIBH to the idea that it’s difficult to track people down if they’ve recently moved:

  • While discussing her efforts to identify the girl with the tattoos who lives on Junction Road Robin says, “She isn’t on any record I can find…Maybe she only just moved in” (p. 312). 
  • Later Strike comforts himself with the idea that, “Robin had only moved that day: anyone wishing to retaliate against the agency for suspected surveillance would find it that much harder to find her” (p. 580). 
  • While discussing her security after the bombing, Murphy tells Robin that, “It could be helpful, you only just having moved” (p. 709).
  • There were a few more, but you get the idea.

Looking at the timeline (thank you Strikefans.com), Robin moved into Blackhorse Road on May 24th, Ryan Murphy gave her a ride home on June 5th, and the Halvening member was spotted casing her new flat on June 6th. We’re not always aware of exact dates in these novels, so the fact that JKR hid just enough information within the chat logs to pinpoint these dates exactly felt important. Looking at it from the Ryan Murphy/Halvening angle provides two clues:

  • They found Robin less than two weeks after her move whereas Robin, undoubtedly a much better detective, was still having difficulty finding property records several months after Zoe’s move. 
    • The timeline on Zoe’s move is vague, but we get a rough idea knowing she met Josh Blay after she moved but before the attacks, which were in February. Robin and Strike start looking for Zoe in April.
    • Is it possible that it was easier to find Robin than Zoe, since Zoe (likely) rented whereas we know Robin owns her flat? A quick search through the websites for some UK based mortgage and real estate companies revealed that long processing times for the Land Registry Office are typical. One example is SAM Conveyancing, which operates in London, cautions buyers that after completing their purchase, “it can take anywhere up to 12 months to register your property, however most are registered within 6 months.” Obviously this doesn’t rule out the possibility of the Halvening finding Robin through property records, but it seems unlikely that they would be available so quickly, leaving an inside informant as a strong possibility for the discovery of her address.  
  • The Halvening found Robin literally the day after Murphy drove her home. On my first read, I thought he offered a ride to be nice and to have an opportunity to talk with her. Reading it while suspicious of Murphy, I noticed that:
    • While in the pub talking about the bombing, Murphy initiates a conversation about her living situation where Robin reveals that she lives alone, that she just moved, and that she’s got “all the usual security” (p. 709).
    • Murphy understands that Robin’s recent move will make it difficult for someone to find her (see above).
    • Right after learning the general area where she moved to (Walthamstow), he claims to live nearby.
    • Murphy offers her a ride home. It’s already established that he’s aware it’s hard to find someone who has recently moved. So, giving her a ride home is a clever strategy to overcome this obstacle while outwardly looking like a nice guy. 
    • I also noted that he only makes the offer after Strike leaves, and he again emphasizes that he lives nearby and that it wouldn’t be an imposition. This could all be true, but it could also be a ploy to minimize the chance of her refusing.
New Scotland Yard, ssfl.co.uk

Leak inside the Met

We’re told that there is a suspected leak inside the Met by Ryan Murphy himself when he’s talking to Robin about the article on the Halvening (p. 242). To be honest, this made me wonder if I was on the wrong track. But because this could be an obvious conclusion to draw from the article, I thought it was possible that this was Murphy trying to build ties with the Agency for some darker reason. So, I decided to pay close attention to this behavior going forward, and I noticed a pattern: 

 

 

 

  • Throughout the book, Murphy shares an incredible amount of confidential information about his case with both Strike and Robin. We’re led to believe that this is because Murphy finds them helpful and because of his personal interest in Robin, but he shares, in my opinion, unprecedented details about his case, often mentioning that the information is confidential; he even shares some things that MI5 uncovered (some examples p. 408, 590, 712-714, 872-877). 
  • If you read these interactions through the lens of him being a leak and a bad guy, they come across as attempts to get reciprocity. To me, it looked like he was attempting to keep tabs on their case so he would know if they got too close to the Halvening, and keeping the communication open gave him opportunities to try and misdirect them.
  • Two of the three times where Strike calls Murphy about the case, Strike notes that it sounds like Murphy is walking away to take the call somewhere private (p. 408, 590). One explanation is that he’s looking for a quiet place, another is that he doesn’t want to be overheard because he’s sharing confidential information or lying to Strike to throw him off the scent.
  • When they are called to New Scotland Yard to listen to the recording of Wally Cardew, Murphy creates a situation where he’s able to talk with Strike and Robin privately (p. 871). A few suspicious things happen here, but big ones for me are: 
    • He picks one specific (and garbled) point of the conversation to play for them where the only coherent thing we hear is, “Charlie’s gonna be fuckin’ stoked.” Then Murphy says, “bingo…Heimdall, head of the whole thing: Charlie Peach” (p. 872). This stood out because:
      • Heimdall wasn’t mentioned anywhere in that audio clip. Neither were there any allusions to a boss, head honcho, nothing. So, Murphy’s ‘bingo’ just because they used Charlie’s name seems like a desperate attempt at misdirection. I’m honestly shocked that Strike and Robin didn’t question this assertion. 
      • With Wally’s suspicions of Anomie’s identity being the purpose of the meeting, that exchange more likely implies that Charlie will be thrilled at the chance for revenge. 
      • Again, we seem to have Murphy pointing them in a strange direction and, in a move suspiciously like him finding quiet places to talk on the phone to Strike, making sure no one else (Darwish) is around. 
    • It’s only after Darwish is gone that Murphy tells them, “We believe we’ve got the whole top tier of The Halvening…which means you two should be safe to go home” (p. 873). This is alarming because if that were true, surely Darwish would have ensured Strike and Robin knew they were safe before she left. In contrast, her only comment was, “I hope your office wasn’t too badly damaged” (p. 871). 
    • Murphy warns Strike and Robin away from Pez Pierce on the pretense that “It’s possible Charlie Peach has given an order to take him out, and we can’t guarantee we’ve got all the small fry yet” (p. 873). This raised an eyebrow; why would Pez be in danger, but not Strike and Robin, since they’re all being targeted by the same organization? Like my point above, this seems like something Darwish would have made sure they were aware of if there was a credible danger from being around Pierce. So, why warn them away from Pez? If Murphy is a bad guy, the only thing I came up with was that there’s someone else at North Grove he’s trying to protect. More on that later…

Unrelated to the pattern of behavior, but probably the funniest “clue” I found was, “when Strike called Ryan Murphy to identify Oliver Peach as a player of Drek’s Game, and Charlie Peach as a contender for the man who’d tried to recruit Wally Cardew, he received a loud ‘fuck!’ for his trouble. ‘Friends of yours?’” asked Strike (p. 590). Strike was obviously being sarcastic, but Murphy’s reaction could have been genuine. This feels like a very JKR-esq piece of misdirection, and I can picture her giggling as she wrote it.

The Halvening

I also wanted to consider any clues about the Halvening as a whole rather than just Murphy as one potential bad guy and there are a few things I think are important to highlight:

  • When Strike and Robin are brought in to listen to the recording of Wally Cardew, it’s pointed out several times that the smarter Halvening members would conceal their tattoos and their political beliefs in order to blend in with society. Feels like JKR is reminding us that those subtler members exist and are harder to spot. Murphy anyone?
    • “You’d think men trying to operate in the shadows might think twice about tattooing swastikas all over themselves” (p. 868).
    • “Benefit of a university education…teaches you to tattoo your Nazi rune name on your arse, not your forehead” (p. 873).
  • During this same conversation, we learn about a “well-funded far-right web channel that’s about to start up” and that a multi-millionaire is behind the project (p. 869). We’re led, by Murphy’s ghost of a wink (which probably isn’t visible to Darwish), to believe that this refers to Ian Peach. However, it could just as easily be one of the other multi-millionaires we meet in this book including Nils de Jong, or less likely, Finger’s stepdad.
  • At the very end of the recording of Wally Cardew talking about Anomie banning him from the game Wally says, “I’m ready to take the meeting wiv ‘is old man any time…” (p.868). I took this as evidence that the “old man” mentioned here is the leader of the Halvening rather than Charlie Peach. A few side notes here:
    • We know of 3 sons who have exhibited fascist behavior: Charlie Peach, Oliver Peach, and Bram de Jong.
      • I don’t think I need to provide details on Charlie or Oliver, but to explain Bram’s inclusion on this list remember: he sings the Dutch song about standing up for the white race (p. 375), we know he likes to stir the pot and watch reactions, we know he’s got a genius level IQ and can be very articulate, and we know that he’s on social media (p. 302) which is largely where the Halvening operate (p. 140).
    • This is another clue that seems to point to Ian Peach but could also point to Nils. I’m somewhat inclined to lean towards Nils as the better fit here because we hear from Strike that Ian is eccentric, but we’re shown evidence that Nils is a believer of obscure, far-right race theories.
    • This brings me back to my earlier question: why would Murphy warn Robin away from Pez and by extension, North Grove? If Nils and Bram are involved in, financing, or leading any Halvening activity, it makes sense that Murphy would want a pair of very sharp detectives as far away from the place as possible.

Regardless of whether or not Murphy is secretly a member of the Halvening, I feel like we have ample evidence that the smarter Halvening members are still out there trying to gain a greater foothold through social media and the new web channel. That’s before getting into any HP parallels about the Death Eaters. I’d be surprised if we don’t hear from the Halvening again, which again, makes me worried about Robin’s safety.

TL;DR: Ryan Murphy = bad, maybe? Halvening coming back in another book, probably. JKR = master of misdirection and maddingly snarled and brilliant plots, definitely!

What do you all think? Do I need to put my tin foil hat on, or does this feel like something that’s plausible? I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts or any other evidence for or against this theory that you find. Hope you enjoy digging into this as much as I have! 

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16 thoughts on “The Ryan Murphy/Halvening Theory

  1. Thanks again, Amber! Even though I think Ryan will probably still be a nice guy, you did a wonderful job at making me think. It also makes the ending line stand out where Strike thinks that he might get drunk and make a racist joke. It stands out since we know he won’t get drunk, right?

    1. The very last line of is also given new meaning with this theory:
      “And the worst of it was, he knew his predicament could have been avoided if only, in his own recently uttered words, he’d opened his f***ing eyes”

      I hope he has an objective ponder about Murphy rather than be nobly supportive of her dating choices.
      & I wish Robin had a cynical friend who said “WTF Robin?” after she’s told how Murphy had asked Robin out.

      1. Haha- I still see absolutely nothing wrong with how he asked her out, but will give you the point if Amber turns out to be right. 😉

    2. Omg Your right !! I thought “racist joke” was a bit Specific like why a racist joke, instead of sexist or just un PC in general. The more I think about this the more I think it’s right especially with that end.

  2. I absolutely love this theory! And would indicate foreshadowing in the last line of the book. Love it! off for a re-read.

  3. …Kenz just shared your article… while I can’t wait to hear their thoughts, I just wanted to say as I read your theory and got to the end, I had to check myself because I wanted to save Robin. So…. giving you the highest complement I know, all I can say is I am praying yiu are wrong because I am TERRIFIED you are right.

  4. Holy hell. I’m currently re-reading the book to follow along with the podcast, and I totally see how it all makes sense…I wouldn’t put it past JKR to concoct a plot like this. Maybe strike is the one who will uncover Murphy’s secret identity and “save” robin, and this will make them fall in love? *swoon*

  5. Thank you Amber! I so enjoyed reading this and
    I’m so glad someone else noticed “decent guy” Murphy is a bit “off”! Your excellent research has further convinced me that I’m not just Anti-Ryan due to “reasons”.

    From the moment he used a phone call to discuss the case to then ask Robin on a date I had Murphy on my ‘suspicious list’, no doubt partly triggered by the appalling level of “corruption” and ill-intent that seems to be hard to eradicate from the Met Police.

    Then, again when he asked her where she was staying after the bomb I was absolutely convinced he had alterior motives.
    He had actual “eyes on” where Robin lived!! This is incredibly sensitive information about a victim of a crime, (it was her name on the bomb packaging too), and yet more inapproriate behaviour in revealing personal information about himself.

    Then when Robin is told a member of the Halvening was seen near her flat, my first thought was “who knew where she lived?” It was a very, very short list which included a high ranked police officer who leaves offices to take phone calls and asks out a “witness” to a crime!

    I think a re-read of how Strike & Robin’s relationship with the Met plays out in the other books, especially Lethal White, to compare how odd it felt in The Ink Black Heart is needed.
    Are we due a “bent copper” scenario? Whilst it may seem an obvious trope, there are thousands of reasons why it’s an obvious trope!

    Thank you again, I hope you have further excellent theories!

  6. I also think that if this is true and Murphy is dodgy, that Strike will have an intuition about this. But he will write it off as jealousy in the beginning. He will try to convince himself that he’s seeing things that aren’t truly there just because he doesn’t want Robin to date Murphy, but he won’t be able to let it go. Then there might be a situation where he might start listening to his previously accurate guy feelings and realise he was right. Robin will surely listen to him above anyone else right?
    Love this theory. I didn’t need a reason to hate Ryan but thanks for giving me one!!

  7. I badly want Murphy to be a nice guy! I don’t want to think that Robin could be duped, that her intuition wouldn’t always be on the alert for this kind of sinister motivation. Like with Pez, although she wasn’t attracted to him (her 3 year old starving libido definitely reacted) and his circumstances ticked some suspicious boxes, her gut told her that she would know if she was so near to such evil. Why couldn’t someone other than police have followed Robin to her new home? The Halvening have been following Cardew and also trying discover the identity of Anomie. As much as Strike and Robin are exchanging information with Murphy wouldn’t you think one or the other (Strike!) might have had some inkling.. alarm bells going off… SOMETHING? I don’t want Ryan to be another important man in Robin’s life but I do want Robin to feel that a really nice, handsome man is genuinely interested in her.
    Chapter 72..’ At no time did he mention his previous invitation for a drink, nor did he make her feel uncomfortable in this small space, and she was grateful for both these things.’ and ‘ ‘Listen – that time you called me about a drink – the reason I was so – I’m not used to people asking me out.’ ‘How’s that possible?’ said Murphy..’
    That line ‘How’s that possible?’ made me love Murphy a bit because that’s the way I think everyone should feel about Robin. So maybe I’m the one being duped.

    1. I agree Ginger! This is a well thought out and documented theory but how can Robin and Strikes instincts be so off? JKR will have figured it out in the most unexpected way, cannot wait!

  8. Such fascinating food for thought. This will be at the top of my mind on my next inevitable reread! Two fairly random thoughts occurred after listening late last night. I’ve always been jarred at the first description of Murphy as ‘white’ when there were other ways of saying this more subtly and why was this important anyway? Maybe poor editing but Rowling’s writing is so intentional that I kept thinking about it. Also in chapter 72 Murphy is talking and starts a sentence with ’bout’. Of course this is just a contraction but catches the eye after chapter 32’s discussion of the Brotherhood of Ultima Thule’s (BOUT) use of ’bout’ in member names. Why would this one bit of conversation stand out in 1200 pages? 25 years rereading Rowling has made me on guard for her scattered breadcrumbs. I’m back to thinking about Robin’s dream of remarrying Matthew and Strike’s comment about a ‘racist joke’… hmm. Thinking I’ve gotten a little crazy after IBH!

  9. I noticed something else on a re-read that is quite interesting and I’m not sure if it’s mentioned in this post, but it does sort of add to the theory. In Chapter 43, when Strike calls Murphy to tell him what had happened with Thurisaz in the pub, Murphy ends the call by saying “Currently, they don’t know who you are. I think you’ve got away with it, but I’d still advise you to be careful about security going forwards. Any unsolicited packages, call us.” This is on May 5. A month later, on June 5, the office is bombed. Ryan just happens to be one of the CID officers who shows up to take notes. Hmmm…

  10. I’m re-reading Lethal White right now and we just met Raphael who has a mouth that has “a full upper lip that added vulnerability to his face”. Murphy of course is described: “His upper lip was thicker than his lower, which added a kind of sweetness to a face…” This theory just got way more believable to me…

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