This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling’s) “Cormoran Strike” books. As we both like mysteries, especially when they are combined with thriller-like components, we’ve each been avidly reading the series since the first book released in 2013. And like other fans, we’ve just been dying during the horrendous 3-year wait that has come between the last book and the most recent entry, “Lethal White,” which released this last September. So this week, Monday through Thursday will be devoted to our joint reviews of all four books now released in the series. And to round out the week, on Friday we’ll be joint reviewing the BBC series “Strike” that has covered the first three books in the series so far. Today we move to “The Silkworm.”
Book: “The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith
Publishing Info: Mulholland Books, June 2014
Where Did We Get This Book: Serena owns it, Kate got it from the library.
Book Description: 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…
At the start of this book, my hopes were on an upward trajectory. The first book had taken me completely by surprise with how much I loved it, especially my immediate attachment to both Strike and Robin. But how would these relationships progress and would the quality of the mystery be sustained? Given that I routinely reference the fact that, regardless of anything else, it is truly a heroic feat that Rowling managed to maintain the quality of her Harry Potter series amidst a world gone Potter-mad, this was probably a silly worry.
After the success of the Lula Landry case, Strike’s private investigation firm has taken a turn for the positive. It is made even better by the burgeoning abilities of his receptionist Robin who has proven herself more than capable of taking on a few of the investigative aspects of a case herself. However, neither are prepared for the strangeness of the mystery that arrives on their door: a reclusive author, a poisonous book, a ritualized killing, and a whole mess of suspects.
Like the first book did with its behind-the-scenes look into celebrity life and the fashion industry, this mystery delves into the seedy underbelly of the publishing world: its challenges, rivalries, and the various roles that so many play in the creation of a work of art. Within this world, we meet a whole slew of potential suspects, all with their own creepy little ties to the victim and his work. But unlike Lula, even our victim has his own sleazy connections. While the first book’s crime was fairly straightforward, this book delves into the truly disturbing aspects of a ritualized death and highlights the dark and uncomfortable versions of art (this time in the written word) that can be found in the world.
With this darker tone, it is a relief to still have Robin and Strike at the heart of the story. Their histories and ongoing struggles are slowly continuing to be padded out, as is their strengthening friendship. We even get a tense little meeting between Strike and Robin’s horrid fiance, Matthew.
The mystery itself was excellent (though I did have a better guess as to who the perpetrator could be), but its the strength of the characters that really continued to sell this series to me. That and the strong writing: Galbraith has a particular talent with dialogue that is best exemplified in exchanges between Robin/Strike and when Strike is testing the waters with new suspects.
After I enjoyed “The Cuckoo’s Calling” so much, I knew that “The Silkworm” was going to either dash my hopes for a good series, or solidify them. So when I picked it up and started reading, I was relieved to see that not only was Galbraith still going strong, but she had even taken it a few steps further in regards to complexity and darkness.
I loved the mystery at hand even more this time around for a few reasons. The first is the nature of it. What starts as a missing person’s case (when Owen Quine’s long suffering but still loyal wife approaches Strike) turns into something far darker, involving a ritualistic murder and the darker aspects of the publishing industry. Not only did I highly enjoy the fact that Galbraith had no qualms calling out a lot of the cutthroat and abusive aspects of the industry as a whole, I liked that, given how entrenched Galbraith has been in the business for a couple decades now, it felt like this portrayal had some teeth behind it. Many of the suspects are in the industry in various capacities, are skeevy in their own rights because of how they treat others and each other. Quine himself sounded like a real prick, and I liked that, unlike Lula Landry, Strike and Robin were investigating the death of someone who didn’t deserve it, per se, but was unlikable enough that it made the suspect pool that much larger since seemingly EVERYONE had a beef with him. Because of this, I was left questioning things a bit more. Plus, the murder itself was, while disturbing, incredibly creative and memorable. But it also didn’t feel like it was purely there for shock value; it manages to tie into the story at hand, and say a bit more about how others viewed Quine and the poison pen work they attributed to him. I also feel like Galbraith felt more at ease in terms of writing a full fledged mystery in “The Silkworm”. While I of course adore “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, “The Silkworm” felt like it came together more naturally with its clues and how they fit together.
And like Serena said, at the heart of this book is the friendship and working relationship between Cormoran and Robin. I loved that Robin has been given more to do since Strike has a more comfortable and trusting rapport with her, as while the ‘his girl Friday’ trope is a fun one, she really does go above and beyond it. Her passion for the work has really allowed her to grow as a person and a character, and now that she and Strike are both friends and on a more equal footing it means that their relationship just becomes all the better and more entertaining. Of course this story isn’t without some obstacles to this friendship, namely in Matthew, Robin’s sleaze of a fiancé. Matthew never quite manages to grow as a character and remains pretty two dimensional, and while sometimes I find that frustrating it actually works in this story for a couple of reasons. The first is that his inability to grow really highlights how much Robin DOES grow, which of course leads to tension between not only them, but also between Robin and Strike (though theirs is the far more enjoyable romantic type). And the second is that it is fun to have a character to hate, at least until a point, which I’m sure Serena and I will touch upon in the later books…
Overall, “The Silkworm” proves that “The Cuckoo’s Calling” wasn’t a fluke for Galbraith, and it also made it so this series became an absolute must read for me. It shows that, like the “Harry Potter” books before it, Galbraith is comfortable to push into more complex territories as her stories go on.
Serena’s Rating 8: A strong sequel that turns its darker tone on the underbelly of the publishing world and the disturbing nature of art.
Kate’s Rating 8: With more complexity and a comfortable descent into darker thematics, “The Silkworm” serves as proof that Galbraith knows how to write a solid mystery with excellent characters.
Find “The Silkworm” at your library using WorldCat!