(Editor’s note: The following short review was written by Hannah Stevenson, who comes from Bridport, Dorset. She studied undergraduate English Language and Literature at the University of Chester and is currently working on a Masters in English at Exeter. Her main research focus has been the similarities between very different styles of detective fiction, such as hard-boiled and Scandinavian crime tales.)
Fans of the Harry Potter series will doubtless already be tearing through J.K. Rowling’s latest foray, The Silkworm (Mulholland), which she wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. After the lukewarm reception given her first non-Potter novel, 2012’s The Casual Vacancy, Rowling has moved on to crime fiction, with this new book being the follow-up to her first Galbraith novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013).
Once more we’re placed in the company of Cormoran Strike, the illegitimate son of a rock star, who’s now a wounded military veteran turned perfectly dysfunctional detective. The Silkworm finds him accepting the case of a missing writer, Owen Quine, whose delusional wife is tired of taking care of their disabled daughter alone. The ensuing investigation turns up many people who resent the self-centered Quine, but it’s Strike’s hunch regarding a house Quine co-owned with an ex-friend that finally leads this sleuth to the gruesome discovery of the author’s mutilated corpse. As police begin probing the homicide, they settle their focus firmly on Quine’s spouse, whose attitude is both surly and distracted.
Delving deeper into the mystery, Strike discovers that the circumstances of Quine’s murder copy those in the final scene of a libelous, unpublishable novel he’d been working on — one that threatened to disclose the carefully concealed secrets of many people within his circle, including members of the publishing industry. Myriad suspects thus come into play, from the author’s embittered agent to the staff at Quine’s publishing house. Quine had more enemies than friends, it appears, and as Strike tries to move forward with the case, he is hindered at every turn by those adversaries, all of them fighting to prove their own innocence and question someone else’s.
Rowling’s real skill here is to be found in the way she sets her tale. She elicits a brilliant sense of the ingrained grime of Quine’s world, moving Strike through a succession of identical offices, apartments and posh Devonshire townhouses. Free of the need to distinguish one of those places
from another, she can let her animosity toward nearly all of her characters filter through more clearly.
Although The Silkworm is no groundbreaker, it is certainly a solid literary effort, one that’s likely to leave fans hungry for a third Strike outing. ◊