The case of murdered model Lula Landry, chronicled in 2013’s The Cuckoo’s Calling, raised Strike onto a level of fame, though things have calmed down somewhat, and ‘[s]trangers were once again doing what they had done most of his life: calling him some variation on ‘Cameron Strick.’ ’ Luckily, the glut of work flowing his way hasn’t slowed … Rowling weaves a pleasurably wicked literary murder mystery with all its attendant aspects of publishing politics, from the peevish to the pompous, into Strike’s personal and professional lives … While the gruesome mystery is both unnerving and good fun, the subtle but unmistakable heft in this book comes from the fact that we get more — though, tellingly enough, not all — of the regular characters’ back stories, quirks, and foibles.
Why is ‘likable’ the first word that comes to mind upon finishing The Silkworm? Surely, that has something to do with Rowling’s palpable pleasure in her newly chosen genre (the jig may be up with her Robert Galbraith pseudonym, but the bloom is still on her homicidal rose) and even more to do with her detective hero, who, at the risk of offending, is the second husband of every author’s dreams … This is the kind of traditional mystery in which motives and red herrings are dispensed in syringe-like doses from character to character and in which the guilty party stands obligingly in place while being walled around with deduction … Formula, though, has its function. The title of Owen Quine’s final novel is Latin for silkworm, a creature that, we learn in passing, is boiled alive for its silk. Rowling seems to offer this as a metaphor for the agonies of art.
As written by Rowling, The Silkworm takes ‘write what you know’ and raises it to the 10th power. Is this crime fiction, a celebrity tell-all, juicy satire or all of the above? The blessing/curse here is that you turn the pages for the whodunit, but you never lose sight that these observations on the publishing world come from the very top. This makes complete escape, something mandatory for a crime novel, almost impossible — but then again, who cares? If you want a more complete escape, pick up another book. Reading Rowling on writing is delicious fun … The Silkworm is a very well-written, wonderfully entertaining take on the traditional British crime novel.
With The Silkworm, Rowling returns to Galbraith, framing a novel about a leaked manuscript, the turmoil it creates and its author's grisly murder. If this sounds like some sort of commentary, that's part of the point, I suppose; ‘In Strike's opinion,’ Galbraith/Rowling writes, ‘the safest way of ensuring that secret information did not leak was not to tell anybody about it.’ At the same time, the strength of the novel is that this never gets in the way … Rowling is extraordinarily good at filling her mystery with fleshed-out characters. Even simple walk-ons — a nosy neighbor, Robin's mom — have dimension, oddity, nuance.
In the case of The Silkworm, it’s clear that two narrow genres of literature have been the source of inspiration: the old-fashioned detective story with its careful parsing of evidence; and the Jacobean play, renowned for its biting satire and dark fascination with betrayal and revenge, death and cruelty and corruption … This murder seems to have been staged to replicate a scene in Quine’s unpublished novel, Bombyx Mori (Latin for silkworm), a scandalous and pornographic roman à clef that smears a wide swath of people in the literary world. The killer, Strike and Robin reason, must have been one of the handful of people who read the story in manuscript or heard of its scurrilous details — and, most likely, someone who sought revenge on Quine, or wanted to silence him to prevent further revelations.
Quine's literary evisceration of his agent, his editor, and his publisher forms the basis for a detective story that does not merely suspend disbelief but hoists it like an escape artist over an abyss of improbabilities … The Silkworm labours hard to be silky, but English prose has never been JK Rowling's friend and she herself betrays a tell-tale anxiety about her project. There's a revealing moment on page 166 at which, in the guise of a fictional blog, she instructs the reader in the difference between plot and narrative. ‘Plot is what happens,’ she writes. ‘Narrative is how much you show your readers and how you show it to them.’ In Rowling's imaginative landscape, then, there is no serious consideration either of character or situation. To these two novelistic essentials she is a stranger.
[The Cuckoo’s Calling] followed Strike and his new secretary-cum-sidekick as they solved the mysterious death of model Lula Landry, but The Silkworm delves into territory that is darker and more disturbing than any of Draco Malfoy’s doings … What follows is a sadistic murder mystery that only Ellacott and Strike, now celebrated for solving the Landry case, could solve. The story is enthralling, not only for its twists and turns, but for the fun of the teamwork. Rowling lets the reader in on bits of their back stories—Strike’s combat in Afghanistan that cost him a leg, Ellacott's career goals and difficult relationship with her fiancée. Each chapter draws us further into Cormoran Strike's psyche, and makes us care more not just about the case getting solved, but about Strike being the one to solve it.
When The Silkworm opens Strike has himself become something of a celebrity, having solved the mystery of the death of a supermodel in The Cuckoo’s Calling. That book dealt with the darker side of fame: the nature of real and manufactured friendship; the fact that everyone is nosy about the rich and famous. It won’t escape readers’ notice that Rowling has long been extremely rich and famous and in The Silkworm Strike is called on to solve a murder within the London publishing world – another profession allied to fame, with all its attendant sycophancy … The Silkworm is not great literary fiction although it expertly skewers the pretensions of that world. It is, rather, what it sets out to be: a properly addictive whodunnit. And in the unlikely pairing of ungainly Strike and his clever young assistant, Robin Ellacott, Rowling/Galbraith has created an investigative duo with spark and empathy.
While there's no Dumbledorean magic in these mysteries, Rowling's earthbound Muggles — most notably the detective himself — are nearly as bewitching as the headmaster of Hogwarts … Strike is a shambling, overweight, hairy, 6-foot-3 (sounds like a diminutive Hagrid) with a face like ‘a young Beethoven who had taken to boxing,’ as he's described in The Cuckoo's Calling. His short curly hair is all too often called ‘pubic.’ And more important, he possesses ample tortured past to propel him through several more novels … There's still plenty of back story to fuel future novels: Where did Robin learn to drive like a stunt woman? Why can Strike quote stanzas of poetry in Latin? And a last-minute bit part for Strike's spoiled, rich, charming younger brother seems to promise a reappearance. So stay tuned: It's probably a safe bet that there are more Strikes to come.
...a great detective novel: sharp, immensely readable, warm-hearted but cool-headed, with a solution worthy of the immaculately plotted Harry Potter series … Rowling tells her story in quick, darting, entertaining chapters, populated with dozens of memorable characters. The writer she most resembles to me is Charles Dickens: like him, she has prodigious, otherworldly gifts of invention, and like him she has a fierce satirical instinct, having used Galbraith to skewer first the paparazzi and now the publishing world.
The Silkworm, which begins a few months after the events of the previous book, is also a murder mystery, set in another world with which Rowling is well acquainted: publishing. Novelist Owen Quine has gone missing; his timid, rumpled wife asks Strike to find him. He does so — that is, Quine’s corpse, under appalling circumstances better not described here. And with that, off we go, into the brutal London winter of 2010, listening to gossip at publishing parties and posh restaurant lunches as Strike and Robin gradually untangle the web the remarkably nasty Quine has spun … Rowling/Galbraith writes with wit and affection for detective-novel tradition, and races us through a twisty plot so smoothly that you won’t notice as the hours tick by.
The second novel featuring private investigator Cormoran Strike offers a corkscrewing plot and a clever use of both Jacobean revenge dramas and the book-within-a-book plot device. In addition to the mystery, Rowling also wryly sends up the publishing industry – both the traditional and self-published branches … Strike eventually finds Quine, and it looks as if his killer has taken a page from his final novel – arranging a gruesome murder that comes straight from the book. To Strike’s horror, the police are convinced that poor, put-upon Leonora Quine is the one who concocted the Grand Guignol crime scene … While there is no poisoned Bible, à la Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, the text is dripping with enough bile that Strike can come up with a plausible motive for almost every character.
Bitter or not, Rowling’s acerbic tone serves the story she tells about a grim, failed author whose final work is a fictional exposé of some big literary names. Owen Quine doesn’t live to see his poisonous novel published. He’s murdered while it’s still in manuscript form … The conceit is delightful, particularly coming from Rowling, who’s had her own issues with London’s snobby literary establishment.
The Cuckoo's Calling was very good crime fiction; The Silkworm is even better. There's a real sense of Rowling enjoying herself, and that might well be a result of its setting: London's publishing world, which she satirizes gleefully … Rowling opens each chapter with a quote from a Jacobean revenge play, a particularly grisly genre, and The Silkworm makes clear revenge is still a fresh and forceful motive. Love is also a force, and not just among the suspects … But the mystery, twisted as Quine's book, drives The Silkworm.
Cormoran Strike, Rowling’s hard-living private eye, isn’t as close to the edge as he was in his first appearance, The Cuckoo’s Calling. His success at proving supermodel Lula Landry was murdered has brought him more clients than he can handle … Rowling has great fun with the book industry: Editors, agents and publishers all want to meet the detective, but only over lunches at fancy restaurants where he’s expected to foot the bill. It’s no big surprise when Strike finds the writer’s dead body—though it’s certainly gruesome, as someone killed him in the same extravagantly macabre way he disposed of the villain of his unpublished book … Rowling proves once again that she’s a master of plotting over the course of a series.