Writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, J.K. Rowling’s mystery novel introduces private detective Cormoran Strike (a disheveled war vet with an amputated leg) and his clever secretary/detective-in-training, Robin Ellacott.
This time, Strike and Robin are hired by the wife of a controversial writer who has mysteriously disappeared. Unlike Lula Landry, the victim of The Cuckoo’s Calling, who by all accounts was a beautiful person universally adored, the missing writer Owen Quine is described as ugly inside and out, hated by almost everyone in his life (Strike included) who has penned a depraved new novel that viciously insults everyone close to him. It’s Quine’s straightforward and stubborn wife, Leonora, who provides the novel’s sympathetic driving force when Strike agrees to take her on as a client and find out what happened to her husband.
As always, Rowling is a master of world-building and dialogue. From Strike’s “farting leather sofa” to publishing parties at exclusive clubs, every detail is presented to transport readers into the middle of literary London (and an opportunity for Rowling to tease and divulge information about the seedy underside of the publishing world). This installment introduces welcome new additions in the form of characters from Strike’s past, such as his privileged younger half-brother, childhood friends, and army mates. It also reminds us of the fallout from the previous novel, showing details like how Strike’s leg continues to pain him as he limps around London and how their business and even fellow tenants have been affected by the publicity from their success in the Lula Landry case.
Robin and Strike’s relationship continues to develop, as they finally come together to form a real investigative team: wordlessly communicating while questioning witnesses, Robin taking more initiative in her work and her personal life while trusting her own instincts, and Strike beginning to follow her lead more and more, particularly with witnesses who need a softer touch.
While Rowling does introduce characters with developmental disabilities, characters with AIDS, transgender characters, etc., and issues such as mental illness, animal testing, and the conditions in women’s prisons, one wishes a writer of her caliber would delve more deeply in their lives instead of just touching upon them but not exploring them in much detail. The writing is more powerful when discussing relationships and when showing female characters who exert a kind of quiet dignity to take control of their lives.
Ultimately, although it breaks no new ground, The Silkworm remains a solid British detective mystery. Let’s hope the rumors that Rowling has planned at least six more novels in the series are true!