Review: The Silkworm

Welcome back, readers! Today’s review features the second book of Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling)’s Cormoran Strike series, entitled The Silkworm. Several weeks ago I posted a review of the first book (The Cuckoo’s Calling), which can be found here. I’ll try not to include spoilers, for those of you who haven’t begun the series yet, but my comments will probably make more sense if you’ve already read the first book. And without further ado…

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About the book: Cormoran and Robin are back in business after their success with the Lula Landry case brought new customers and fame. But despite a number of paying cases, Strike is intrigued by the pleas of a woman he fears will never be able to afford giving him more than thanks. Her husband, an egotistical author named Quine, has disappeared, but his colleagues and supposed friends are offering as little assistance as possible in helping to locate him. Quine’s disappearance coincides with his sharing a new manuscript in which many of his acquaintances appear as awful characters with secrets that may have some relation to unsavory truths. When a killing occurs mimicking a gruesome death in the manuscript, the hunt for answers becomes a dangerous chase, where each of the main suspects know all too well of Strike’s involvement with the case. The police, of course, have jumped to hasty conclusions that Cormoran believes will land an innocent person in jail and tear a fragile family apart, leaving Strike to take matters into his own hands. Meanwhile, Robin’s career and engagement remain uncertain, and she’s forced to choose over and over what (or who) she loves most, and how much she’s willing to fight for it.

“‘Writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want lifelong 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.'”

As always, Rowling’s writing is superb. In The Silkworm, the careful and adept writing is made more intriguing by the fact that many of the main characters are authors, editors, publishers, etc., making this one of those fascinating pieces in which the author is writing about the writing process. Characters’ thoughts of reading and writing in fiction are always interesting to me because characters who like to read are one of the most constant aspects in literature, and I like to believe a bit of the author shows through his/her representation of these bookish characters. Those of The Silkworm certainly know the ins and outs of the publishing world, as Rowling certainly must.

All of the characters, however, writers or not, possess great depth in this series. Returning characters have more to their pasts than was unearthed in the previous book, and new characters are diverse and rich enough to keep the reader busy sorting out the lies from the truths. The plot is carefully constructed to avoid those convenient coincidences that feel unrealistic in mysteries, although I should probably warn future Silkworm readers that this book contains much more gore in its details than The Cuckoo’s Calling. I’m not usually one to shy away from a bit of blood and tragedy, because such aspects keep otherwise calm stories engaging, but I was honestly a little squeamish about a few of the descriptions in this one. I mean, I watch The Walking Dead, and I enjoy the story line of it quite a bit, but I try not to look too closely at the people-eating parts. That’s the best description I can give for the gore in this book–it wouldn’t have stopped me from reading it, but I had to grimace to myself a couple times as I read.

One point of frustration for me in this addition to the Cormoran Strike series is the turning point at which the reader doesn’t have all the answers–not because the detectives are lacking them, but because Strike suddenly assembles the puzzle and refuses to share the final picture with the reader. More simply, I mean that I find it frustrating to follow Cormoran and Robin on their fact-seeking ventures only to be excluded from that level of equal access to their thoughts and actions once they understand how all the pieces fit together. There was a similar sort of turning point in The Cuckoo’s Calling where the information exchange between narrator and reader suddenly changed, but I found it much more obvious and, personally, a little more annoying the second time around.

“Like the turning lid that finds its thread, a multitude of disconnected facts revolved around Strike’s mind and slid suddenly into place, incontrovertible correct, unassailably right. He turned his theory around and around: it was perfect, snug and solid. The problem was that he could not yet see how to prove it.”

Then the narrator takes his/her time about getting around to sharing the theory while Strike is working on his proof.

Despite the gore and the necessity of patience toward the end, however, The Silkworm is a great mystery, and more. I particularly love that Cormoran and Robin are very normal people–they have no superhuman abilities, and deal with personal problems just like anyone else. They deal with breakups, repress private thoughts and emotions, hide insecurities, and fall short. They have great chemistry as work partners that constantly leaves the reader wondering whether they belong together more than they’re willing to admit. Theirs isn’t the obvious romance of typical detective stories where the unlikely couple inevitably fall in love, bonding over their need for answers and justice, but they’re bound together by their interest in their cases, nonetheless. It’s difficult to discern whether they’re destined or doomed, but they make a great team nonetheless. I can read almost any poor plot as long as the characters are captivating, as Cormoran and Robin certainly are, but the plot is far from poor here and both aspects encourage each other, as in good books they should.

Rating: 4/5 stars. The Silkworm was my least favorite Cormoran Strike book, but I definitely enjoyed it, and it was a worthwhile contribution to the series. If you’re on the fence for any reason, I personally found the third book much worth the effort of getting to it, which isn’t to say that the rest of the series was a drag, either.

Further recommendations:

  1. Stephen King’s Misery might be a good fit if you like this particular Robert Galbraith volume, and vice versa; there’s less mystery in Misery, since the narration follows the missing writer rather than the people looking for him, but I think there are similar elements between these two.
  2. Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places is also perhaps a bit more sinister than The Silkworm, but if you enjoy mystery and unstable characters, this one is a good pick. Dark Places lacks the missing writer angle, but shares the investigative aspect.

Feel free to send me your questions, comments, and/or recommendations!

Up next: I’ll share why I found Galbraith’s third (and final) book of the Cormoran Strike trilogy, Career of Evil, the best of the group.

In the meantime, happy reading!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: here’s my review of the third Cormoran Strike novel, Career of Evil!

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