Author: Robert Galbraith (J K Rowling)
Series: Cormoran Strike: Book 2
Publisher: Mulholland Books / Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Crime, Mystery Thriller, Detective Fiction
First Publication: 2014
Major Characters: Cormoran Strike, Robin Ellacott, Matthew Cunliffe, Owen Quine, Leonora Quine, Christian Fischer, Liz Tassel, Daniel Chard, Michael Fancourt, Jerry Waldegrave, Jonny Rokeby, Charlotte Campbell, Detective Inspector Richard Anstis, Alexander Rokeby, Catherine Kent, Philip Midgely, Orlando Quine, Dominic Culpepper
Setting Place: London, England
Narration: Third-person limited omniscient perspective
Preceded by: The Cuckoo’s Calling
Followed by: Career of Evil
Book Summary: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.
But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives—meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.
When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…
Book Review: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
The Silkworm is another masterfully constructed mystery, but with a few differences from the first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith aka J K Rowling. For one, the detective Cormoran (whose name, we learn, is that of the giant that Jack killed in a Cornish folktale) and his assistant Robin are still fully developed characters whom we got to know even better; but the suspects and other sidekicks aren’t so three-dimensional here.
That’s partly because the mystery is placed in the world of writers, editors, and publishers and feels at times like satire, even caricature. What an ill-tempered, self-absorbed, mentally unsound bunch they are, both when they get together and when they’re one on one with Cormoran and/or Robin. Several old friends and new acquaintances of Cormoran’s come in for minor helpful roles, and it was nice to meet them, but I felt there wasn’t enough time to get a good sense of them as people; they did contribute a lot, however, to Cormoran’s backstory. Probably the most satisfying character portrayal beyond Cormoran and Robin was Robin’s fiance Matthew; I thought the development of the tension between them over their upcoming marriage and Robin’s job with Cormoran was handled with considerable insight and subtlety, especially on the visit to their home town in Yorkshire.
“The whole world’s writing novels, but nobody’s reading them.”
Another difference: instead of the traditional plot device of the long explanation in which the detective astounds the reader by pulling seemingly unrelated clues together, which I rather enjoyed in The Cuckoo’s Calling; in this book the author has chosen the equally traditional plot device of letting you know very clearly at about the four-fifths point in the novel that the detective has suddenly drawn the clues together and knows who the culprit is. After which all his actions become very cryptic, complete with astonishment from his faithful assistant, whose conversation with him from then on feels distinctly redacted to avoid spoiling the secret. And that goes on right to the final pages, as suspects are dangled repeatedly before the reader.
But the plot of this mystery is truly brilliant, with a secret I completely didn’t see coming; and the humanity of Cormoran, Robin, and Matthew touched me deeply. We begin as Cormoran Strike is living off the fame on cracking the Lula Landry case doing lots of boring jobs following around unfaithful spouses. Then something rather different comes along as Strike investigates a missing second-rate author, Owen Quine. Soon though the case becomes darker than he ever imagined as Strike and his secretary, Robin, are drawn deep into the scandals of the indie publishing world.
“…writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.”
In The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith, I meant J K Rowling, has nailed the magic formula of a good detective story once again. Here there are a host of suspects, all of whom have read the author’s libelous and disturbing final novel. There’s rival publishers, all with their own secrets and extra-marital lover’s, as well as the wife herself. It’s totally plausible that any of these could have committed the crime but of course only one of them did. The explanation for the murder is an extremely good one and one of the cleverest fictional murders I have read.
The other key thing is having a strong detective. Cormoran Strike is exactly that and the hard work as establishing him as a likeable character had already been done. Many authors would have been satisfied with this and let the character stagnate, barely evolving through a series of mysteries. Robert Galbraith doesn’t let this happen here. Cormoran Strike is still recovering from the loss of his fiance but Robin is more important here, as the challenges of her new job conflicting with her relationship with her fiance come to the fore and the relationship between her and Strike develops.
Perhaps the best thing about The Silkworm though is how well portrayed the atmosphere of the literary world is. Everyone knows that J K Rowling has been involved with a lot of publishers and surely some of them must provide the basis for the story here. Rarely have I read a book set in an environment I know nothing about and come out of the other side feeling I know just what it is like.
“We don’t love each other; we love the idea we have of each other. Very few humans understand this or can bear to contemplate it. They have blind faith in their own powers of creation. All love, ultimately, is self-love.”
J K Rowling continues to draw away from her Harry Potter routes and as Robert Galbraith writes proper adult books. There’s real gore here, not something I would have expected from her, and also some really clever symbolism which helps solve the case. Aside from great characters and a fascinating plot, the who-done-it mystery kept me guessing until the very end. At one point or another I considered every single character to be the violent culprit except for the actual criminal. It was absolutely thrilling, and I was desperate for the solution. The Silkworm was an exercise in delayed gratification as the solution was dangled just out of the reader’s reach until the last possible moment. This made the final revelation much more delicious and dramatic. Everything fell together seamlessly and Cormoran Strike unveiled it like a total boss.