Bill Talbot

Detective Inspector Bill Talbot, now deceased, was the lead investigator on Margot Bamborough’s disappearance in 19741 before he was taken off the case due to a mental breakdown2 caused by a hyperactive thyroid.3 Strike and Robin are left to sort through Talbot’s botched investigation, which takes them into the mind of a severely mentally ill man.

It’s not until Strike gets the old case file from DI Layborn (a contact from the Chiswell case) that Strike begins to fully understand the depths of Talbot’s illness.4 Layborn tells Strike that it was “a fucking mess” 5 and that Talbot was “putting too much stock in his own intuitions, didn’t take evidence properly, had no interest in talking to witnesses if they didn’t fit his theory—”6

It’s made clear that Talbot was only interested in the serial killer, Dennis Creed, who he believed to be responsible for Margot’s disappearance. Talbot was convinced from the start that Margot had been a victim of Creed’s and would only follow leads that supported this theory.7

Talbot’s mental illness also showed itself in the form of an obsession with the occult, which he believed would help solve the case. Talbot kept a secret notebook (given to Strike by Talbot’s son, Gregory8), which was full of astrological signs, drawings of pentagrams and the occult deity Baphomet, references to occult writers like Alesiter Crowley and indications that Talbot used tarot cards and magical rituals in an effort to find Margot.9 

It’s unfortunate that no one caught Talbot’s illness sooner, as he remained on the case for six months before being replaced.10 It led to evidence vanishing, witnesses leaving or forgetting and a possible killer remaining free for over 40 years. Gregory Talbot explains that even after his father had recovered, the public and police were angry at him for the mess that had been created.11 

There isn’t much that we know of  Bill Talbot’s personal life or what he was like when he wasn’t suffering from a mental breakdown. His son describes him as a good husband and father and Strike senses he had good investigative skills underneath the illness.12 However, we also learn that he “was definitely a racist” and, on at least one occasion, tampered with and concealed evidence of a crime.13 

Throughout their investigation, Strike and Robin both remind themselves not to get too focused on one theory or see meaning where there isn’t any. At one point, Robin says, “‘… so I was worried I was doing a Talbot, chasing my own mad hunches.’” 14 And Strike, “‘I think I’m doing a Talbot. Seeing meaning in total coincidence.’” 15

1: Troubled Blood, Chapter 2
2: Troubled Blood, Chapter 8
3: Troubled Blood, Chapter 17
4: Troubled Blood, Chapter 11
5-7: Troubled Blood, Chapter 8
8: Troubled Blood, Chapter 17
9: Troubled Blood, Chapter 21
10: Troubled Blood, Chapter 8
11, 12: Troubled Blood, Chapter 17
13: Troubled Blood, Chapter 53
14: Troubled Blood, Chapter 26
15: Troubled Blood, Chapter 53

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