Hard to remember these days that there was a time you had to wait for the ink and paper reviews to see your work excoriated. With the invention of the internet, any subliterate cretin can be Michiko Kakutani.
-- Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm.
Cormoran Strikes Again!
Despite her pseudonym cover having been blown after her very first novel as Robert Galbraith, JK Rowling has returned as Robert Galbraith with another amazing whodunit, The Silkworm. It is the second novel (in what is now rumoured to be a seven novel series like Harry Potter) featuring the private investigator duo of Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott who first appeared in The Cuckoo’s Calling published in April 2013. The Silkworm has unfortunately received slightly less press and publicity than The Cuckoo’s Calling partly because of the surprise of the pseudonym having worn off and partly because the book’s sales and publicity have been hampered by the ongoing Amazon-Hachette dispute.
The novel opens with Strike unexpectedly entertaining Leonora Quine’s request to help look for her husband, the arrogant and eccentric author Owen Quine who is missing for several days and later turns up dead, turning it into a murder mystery. We slowly learn how the death has occured closely on the heels of the leak of his latest manuscript, Bombyx Mori which is a revengeful masterpiece. Bombyx Mori (Latin for The Silkworm) is a book full of thinly veiled references to almost all the people in his life, portraying his lovers, agent, publishers and editor is an extremely negative light. This book which has potential to libel almost everyone in Quine’s world thus opens up an extremely wide field of suspects who have a motive for murdering Quine. We are presented with a cast of several memorable characters, all complete with their own interesting idiosyncrasies. With most of the characters in the novel shown to be associated in one way or the other with the publishing industry, it is impossible to not wonder if Rowling has based some of them on persons she herself has dealt with in the publishing world.
While, Cormoran Strike the one-legged, gruff former military police (also son of a famous rockstar) who is described as a 6-feet 3-inches tall Cornish bloke with boxer's broad nose and thick, surly brows was already introduced in The Cuckoo’s Calling, in The Silkworm we learn more about his friends and family, many of whom he has to call upon to ease his way with the investigation. We also see him continuing to deal with the agony of having finally ended the matters with his extraordinarily beautiful, high society fiancé with whom he has been in a relationship off and on for sixteen long years. Showing the continuity from the previous book we also see him having to deal with the consequences of his unexpected fame following his success in unravelling the mystery of a super model’s death in the previous novel.
Strike continues to be aided by his assistant Robin, a pretty girl, tall and curvaceous, with long strawberry-blonde hair. In The Silkworm, now being a regular employee rather than a temp, Robin’s struggle between her relationship and work comes to the fore. Throughout the tale she has to work around the issue of both the important men in her life being dismissive of her career aspirations. Rowling has continued to use Robin to subtly highlight the problems faced by the working women while at the same time she also tantalises us with some moments of sexual tension between the two leads. Robin’s issues with her largely unsupportive fiancé and Strike’s misery over his ex-fiancé leaves the reader pining for a romantic angle between the two leads.
Strike’s approach to investigation is disciplined and consists of interviews with the suspects coupled with collection of clues and logical deductions. When the long series of interviews slowly begins to feel repetitive, we come across several red herrings strategically embedded in the narrative, to keep the reader guessing. The narrative moves much slower than many other popular crime novels or mysteries but the deft plotting ensures that the reader keeps flipping the pages. At 453 pages the novel does seem a tad bit too long for the limited story that it encompasses and might have felt better had it been slightly faster paced. The ending is beautifully crafted with a clever twist in the tale that I did not manage to anticipate. Only after reading the end do you see the clues scattered strategically through the narrative. However, Rowling reveals that the protagonists have cracked the mystery while the reader has to follow them through almost another 75 pages to discover how they deduced the identity of the killer. I find this style very annoying but with web of clues and leads unfolding, it is impossible not to continue reading.
Writing as Robert Galbraith, Rowling sheds her sanitized language of the Harry Potter series and the characters use expletives rather liberally. She has also not held back on any of the gory details and descriptions of death, making the scene where the dead body is discovered especially gut wrenching. Characters’ dialogue is also peppered with her views on various matters of contemporary interest. Strike and his lawyer friend mention the phone hacking scandal and the status of legal aid respectively while many of the other characters also reflect on the publishing industry. Some of the more memorable lines are -
“If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.”
“You can’t plot murder like a novel. There are always loose ends in real life.”
“Like most writers, I tend to find out what I feel on a subject by writing about it. It is how we interpret the world, how we make sense of it.”
“Fancourt can't write women,' said Nina dismissively. 'He tries but he can't do it. His women are all temper, tits and tampons.”
Though the book is slower than most novels that I love to read, it is an absolute joy and pleasure to read The Silkworm. Rowling is a master of character development and at the end I not only felt like I knew rhr protagonists for ages but also remembered the quirky details of all the minor characters whom she has so expertly fleshed out. Rowling's amazingly detailed descriptions coupled with her deft plotting which keeps you curious throughout ensured that the book was unputdownable.
All in all, it was a great read and I cannot wait to read about Strike and Robin's next case!
Rating : 8/10
You can buy The Silkworm & The Cuckoo's Calling for a discounted price at Flipkart!
Disclosure : I was supplied with a review copy by Hachette India.