Here’s a quick look at the 2nd book in Robert Galbraith’s detective series:
(Okay, we all know the author is J. K. Rowling, right?)
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…
J. K. Rowling made quite a stir when news of her authorship of the pseudonymously published mystery book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was leaked last year. Rowling said in several interviews that she wanted the experience of being a new writer, outside the glare of the intense media scrutiny that follows her every move. The Cuckoo’s Calling was Rowling’s 2nd book for adults (after The Casual Vacancy), written in her post-Potter years — and once author Robert Galbraith was revealed to be Rowling, sales of The Cuckoo’s Calling skyrocketed. I enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling quite a bit; you can read my review here.
In this second Galbraith book (of a reportedly 7-book series), we pick right back up with detective Cormoran Strike, a truly wonderful character and probably the best element of these books. Strike is a big man, fearsome to behold, despite his missing leg stemming from a war injury suffered during his army service in Afghanistan. Strike is smart, obstinate, and unswerving once on the scent of a clue. He makes enemies fairly easily, and has gained notoriety in the wake of the high-profile murder he solved in The Cuckoo’s Calling. He’s also the illegitimate son of a superstar rocker, and the press loves to dwell on all the sordid details that Strike would just as soon ignore.
In the months since his brush with fame, Strike finds himself in high demand to solve cases for the rich and powerful, usually involving infidelity and general skeeviness, and perhaps that’s why he feels both pity and interest when sad-sack Leonora Quine shows up in his office asking for his help. At first, it’s a missing person case, as Leonora’s author husband has disappeared — and unlike his previous periods of hiding out and sulking, he hasn’t shown up again. As Strike begins to dig, he discovers that Owen Quine is a not terribly successful writer whose newest unpublished work skewers allies and enemies alike. There are a lot of powerful people who’d like to make sure this book never sees the light of day — and once Quine’s mutilated body is discovered, all of the book’s subjects become murder suspects.
Plot-wise, The Silkworm teeters on the edge of being overly complicated. There are dates, times, objects, motives, and secrets to unravel, on top of which, the plot synopsis for Quine’s book is a seemingly coded key to each of the main players and their hidden shames and scandals. My main complaint about The Silkworm has to do with Quine’s writing. Honestly, it’s every bit as terrible as it’s supposed to be, and his book is so heavily symbolic that only the most inside of insiders could possibly have any clue who the people being lambasted might be. I just couldn’t quite buy the idea that this awful manuscript by a washed-up, one-hit-wonder of an author could generate that much attention and kick off such a publishing world crisis.
The Silkworm is densely plotted and moves forward at an incredibly fast pace — so even though it felt a bit more convoluted than strictly necessary, I still couldn’t look away. When Strike finally solves the murder, we more or less just have to take his word for it. Yes, it’s all explained, but I’m not sure that I believe that even the brilliant Cormoran Strike could really make the intuitive leap necessary to put it all together.
Still, I enjoyed spending more time with Cormoran Strike and his terrific assistant Robin Ellacott quite a bit. They’re both fantastic characters, and the book is at its most engaging when we follow their interplay and their own inner lives and struggles. The murder mystery is twisted and suspenseful, but eventually it starts to feel like a bit too much. Full disclosure: I’m not much of a mystery fan in general, so my opinion of the case and its resolution is probably colored by that. I’d love to hear what people who are bigger mystery/thriller fans have to say about The Silkworm!
Do I recommend The Silkworm? Yes! Will I read more by Robert Galbraith? Absolutely yes! I’m really looking forward to the next installment in the Cormoran Strike series, mostly for the pleasure of spending time with Strike himself — although we all know that Rowling/Galbraith can spin a good yarn, and I’m always up for seeing whatever she chooses to do next.
Title: The Silkworm
Author: Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling)
Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: June 24, 2014
Length: 455 pages