J.K. Rowling is letting no grass grow under her feet by publishing, in just over a year, the second installment in her mystery series (written as Robert Galbraith) starring Iraq war hero Cormoran Strike. The story is a continuation The Cuckoo’s Calling, but the story stands very well on its own. In The Silkworm, the private detective is tracking the case of a mediocre novelist, whose wife initially hires Strike to locate the missing author, but the investigation quickly turns to a murder investigation when he discovers Owen Quine’s mutilated corpse.
What is intriguing about the murder is that it has been staged to look like the final scene in Quine’s most recently completed novel. As the novel is yet unpublished, the list of suspects is immediately narrowed to those who had access to the manuscript- the author’s wife, lover, and a handful of his writer friends and colleagues. Strike’s investigation digs deeply into publishing world intrigue and turns up a number of characters so entertainingly twisted, one wonders if there might not be some caricatures of Rowling’s experiences here.
The story itself is quite good and makes for a brisk read, but what is best about this book, and head and shoulders above Cuckoo’s Calling, is the character development of Strike and his assistant Robin. One of my complaints about Rowling previous book was her apparent antipathy towards these two characters which resulted in a bemusement of the readers’ feelings as well. Moreover, Robin was subjected to a traditional female secretarial role, submissive to Strike, which left modern sensibilities somewhat rankled.
In Silkworm, however, Rowling has continued to flesh out Strike and Robin’s personalities and the end flavor is substantially altered. During the investigation, Robin is chaffing at her substandard role and eventually confronts Strike with his denigration of her skills. She is also addressing her dysfunctional relationship with her jackass of a fiancé, Matt, who considers her career to clearly be secondary in the relationship to his primary one. Strike himself is examining his relationship past, consisting mostly of a long-term slow-motion ship wreck of a relationship with a woman that could only be described as a siren. Despite her allure, Strike manages maneuver himself, Ulysses-like, away from these rocks, while Robin locates the stones to stand up to Matt.
By the end of the book, the reader has gotten to know the main characters much better than we did in Cuckoo’s Calling. And now we are looking forward to hear what this duo will be up to next!