In The Silkworm, J.K. Rowling’s (writing as Robert Galbraith) follow up to The Cuckoo’s Calling, prickly detective Cormoran Strike is called into investigate the disappearance of an author who was rumored to have written a scathing novel that uses real publishing world folks as characters and revealing secrets most would not like the general public to read about.
Leonora Quine, the dowdy wife of the novelist Owen Quine, hires Strike find Quine. And at first, no one suspects anything is amiss, as the author has vanished for days before. But Leonora, taking care of her developmentally handicapped child Orlando, realizes that nearly 2 weeks have passed since her husband vanished, but instead of filing a missing persons report, she hires Strike.
But this is a mystery novel and it’s no surprise to the reader when Quine is discovered dead –by Strike- who has also been gruesomely slaughtered in the exact way a character is killed in the mysterious novel the author was penning, Bombyx Mori.
Now Strike (and his Girl Friday, Robin) must navigate the apparent under belly of the publishing industry, and Rowling seems to take great pleasure in taking pot shots at it. The book comes across as a mystery, of course, and her prose style is brutal and modern as most crime thrillers have become, but it can be seen as a satire of the celebrity tell-all and of the genre itself.
To me, had the world not discovered that Galbraith was Rowling, this second book might’ve been seen as one authors attempt at showing how difficult it can be to get anything published (although two characters echo one problem that exist today in the book publishing industry –a lot of authors releasing books, but not a lot of people reading them), especially in this time where ebooks and self-publishing are becoming more common than ever before.
Still, as modern a thriller as this is, The Silkworm also comes off as a classic whodunit from the 1950s, which would appeal to more traditional readers of the genre, as we get a gaggle of odd and eccentric characters who all have reason to want Quine dead. Strike even has a friend in the police department who is willing to pass on information (the officer is in debt to Strike for saving him in the Afghanistan war). And yet Robin, his once temporary secretary, is given a bit more to do here, even while she still comes off as little underdeveloped. But while they seem “meant” for each other, their relationship seems to be built on mutual appreciation for each other’s talents they bring to the table.
It’s well paced and plotted and as brutally honest as Strike can be, it’s also refreshing to read a story where the reader has to question whether they like the main lead or not. And it’s that balancing act that makes Rowling an intriguing writer and Strike an original hero.