This is more like it! A remarkable improvement over “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, J. K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith’s “The Silkworm” takes care to fix many of the problems of the previous book in the Cormoran Strike series. The fixes go from the major ( the “reveal scene” here is far from perfect but improves over the last one) to the minor (Rowling/Galbraith noticeably stops referring to Asians as “Orientals,” which, yay!)
Controversial “artsy” writer Owen Quine has gone missing after a public row with his publisher, and soon it becomes apparent that his disappearance may be permanent. Quine has written a roman-a-clef called “Bombyx Mori” in which he has slandered half of England’s literatti… or told the bitter truth about them. In any case, there’s a long list of bruised egos who would do anything to stop the book from seeing the light of day. And so we have another investigation by Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott (who’s soon to be married to her jealous, unsympathetically moody boyfriend Matthew – OR IS SHE?)
The real reason why “The Silkworm” is a far more assured crime novel is that it unfolds in the publishing world, far from the tabloid cliches of “The Cuckoo’s Calling”. Rowling is at ease here, where the McGuffins involve unpublished manuscripts, the suspects are novelists and editors, the riddles are literary (each chapter is illuminated by lines from Elizabethan/Jacobean revenge tragedies by the likes of Thomas Kyd, John Webster, and the Beaumont / Fletcher duo.)
“The Silkworm” is not exactly flawless. The “revenge tragedy” angle could have been more substantial – the allusions are seriously undermined by the fact that the “Bombyx Mori” is NOT a revenge tragedy, but a “Pilgrim’s Progress”-style allegory. Also, Rowling belabors Strike’s surfeit of traits, padding the novel with constant, mostly irrelevant references to his stump pains and his celebrity dad and his estranged brothers and his Army days and his shaving habits and, worst of all, to his psychologically unlikely relationship with a glitzy/ditzy ex-girlfriend. I suspect all those things will pay off in future volumes – (if Rowling hasn’t carefully outlined the next five or six books of Cormoran Strike, I would be shocked) but at this point, they’re annoyances.
Overall, though, this is shaping up to be one of those series that perch themselves on best-seller lists automatically for as long as the writer bothers to release them. (*cough cough* Lee Child James Patterson Sue Grafton John Sandford *end cough.*)
RATING : COOL!