Author: Robert Galbraith (pseudonym for JK Rowling)
Published: 2014 (this edition 2015)
Synopsis: Private Detective Cormoran Strike is contacted by a writer’s wife, who wants him to locate her missing husband.
However, when the missing novelist is found brutally murdered, the case turns into a race against time, as Strike tries to track down the killer, before someone innocent can be wrongly convicted of the murder.
Review: I finally got around to this one after reading The Cuckoo’s Calling– the last book in the series- over the summer and reviewing it here. I’ll start by confirming that The Silkworm is indeed as good as Rowling’s previous crime adventure, with enough twists and turns to keep readers hooked from the off. I was impressed by the sheer complexity of the plot, as Rowling juggles several potential leads at once, building to a thrilling resolution.
As with the previous book, there are, of course, strengths and weaknesses. Those of you who read my review of The Cuckoo’s Calling might recall that I said I thought the book dragged a little, with Rowling’s excessive use of description adding unnecessary pages to the book. Happily, I’m pleased to report that this wasn’t the case this time! For all it was a similar length, I felt The Silkworm dragged less, probably due to a combination of there being more potential suspects, and the fact it contained more twists and false leads than its predecessor.
The book’s main weakness is actually the level of gore it includes (fair warning- if you’re used to reading Harry Potter, this one will be a shock to the system!). Not only is Owen Quine (the murder victim) both killed and discovered in extremely grim circumstances, the extracts from the manuscript for his latest novel are extremely disturbing. Unfortunately, aside from the fact the actual murder arguably needed to involve some degree of shock factor, much of the violence comes across as unnecessarily graphic, particularly the extracts from Quine’s surreal, twisted novel. As with the previous book, one gets the sense Rowling is trying to create something completely different from the Young Adult work that made her famous. Sadly, this seems to manifest itself in the book being filled with gratuitous violence. I’m not really a squeamish person, but one scene actually made me feel rather ill!
In terms of the characters, Strike himself remains largely unchanged from the previous book. He is simply a detective character that can be inserted into any case of Rowling’s choosing. The character who intrigued me most in this novel was actually his sidekick Robin, who Rowling seemed to develop much further. I enjoyed finding out more about her life outside of her work with Strike, and about her own desires to pursue a career as a detective. She definitely seemed more likeable than she had done previously, and I liked the fact she had a more significant role in catching the killer than she had in the last book.
When I reviewed the previous book in the series, I remember remarking that I loved the way Rowling had told the murder victim’s backstory, making the reader feel like they knew them, even though they were dead before the book even started. The same can definitely be said of Owen Quine- he may be missing, and later dead, before the book even starts, but his presence is still felt throughout the novel. We are given the impression that he was an eccentric character, but also a controversial one, who had offended much of literary London with his new book. All of this adds to the idea that there could be several potential murderers, making the book even more thrilling.
And the book does indeed thrill, with every character seeming like a potential murderer. It’s one of the few murder mysteries I’ve read where, not only did I not guess the identity of the killer, I didn’t actually have any theories as to who they might be in the first place! I particularly liked the way Quine’s unpublished manuscript seemed to draw parallels to his murder, before this fed into a twist, as it was revealed the manuscript hadn’t quite been used the way the audience would expect. The fact the whole book was a race against time, as Strike worked to free someone who’d been wrongly arrested for the murder, made the whole situation even more thrilling. Basically, this was me the whole time I was reading the book:
Having read both books, I really can’t decide whether I enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling or The Silkworm more, but I do know that I’ll certainly be reading the rest of the series. (I’ll also take a moment to recommend the BBC adaptations of the series- the two mini-series that have aired so far have been excellent!). The Silkworm is another stellar murder mystery, well executed by Rowling, with all of her false leads. My only criticism is the extent of the violence depicted, which explains my slightly stingy rating on such a good book. Other than that, this is a book I’d highly recommend!