The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

silkworm

I’m not always a good fan. What I mean is that when I finish a novel I really like, I’ll immediately check and see if the author has any other books – or any new books coming out, if it’s an author I already read. I do it immediately after finishing the book and if I don’t see anything, I make a note to check again in a couple months and then promptly forget and never check again. Fortunately, I get emails from my book store of choice and occasionally I get a pleasant surprise with the release of a new book. This is what happened with The Silkworm. I enjoyed Rowling(Galbraith)’s first foray into crime fiction enough to want to read the second installment (I hadn’t even known it was going to be a series – exciting!). To make things even more pleasant, the books were on sale and I was able to buy both in hardcover for under $30. If you’ve ever looked at the Canadian price of a book, you’ll know that this is an excellent deal.

I’m almost never home when the books I order arrive. Instead, I get home to a package and get that little tingle of excitement. But this, I was home and got the full on books-are-here excitement. I hurried to finish/put aside other books I’d been reading and start this one. A Cuckoo’s Calling was enjoyable enough, but it had some problems. It took a while to find its footing but by the end, I adored the Cormoran/Robin relationship. The Silkworm suffered from none of these issues. It jumped right into interesting. It starts a little while after they’ve solved the first case and Strike’s know almost as famous as his rockstar/estranged father. He doesn’t want the fame, but he’s got it. He’s also made an enemy of pretty much every cop in London. It’s a mild inconvenience. The perks of the fame – he’s making money. Mostly sleazy divorces and cheating spouses. So, when Leonora Quine shows up with a missing husband and an unreadable attitude, he’s compelled to take the job – even without any guarantees of payment.
This starts a long and twisting trail to a slanderous book, a gruesome murder, and the cutthroat world of literary publishing. Whether or not any of this is based on Rowling’s experiences (the publishing stuff, not the murder stuff) is unknown, but any writer who has ever been even remotely involved in the world of traditional publishing is going to find something to relate to in the story. I think anyone who likes crime fiction can enjoy this book, but I think writers will find a deeper connection to the source material.
Quine (the victim) is a pretentious asshat. He writes one good book and rides that fame into a number of follow up regurgitations of the same basic subject matter. Even the people reading his books aren’t sure the first one was all that good. Literary fiction is a fickle beast. It is much harder to put your finger on what will be considered good. Sometimes, it’s just deep and good. Sometimes, it feels like books are considered good because no one wants to be the first to admit that they don’t freaking understand it. Sometimes, they are good because they get to the heart of pain. Others are just garbage. Generally, they are depressing as hell.

Quine’s latest novel – Bombyx Mori is compared to a literary Pilgram’s Progress. I don’t know if you’ve read that book, but it is not my cup of tea. Allegorical or not, it’s a one way ticket to snoresville for this girl. I read it for a class, and that’s the only reason I even finished it. Quine’s sounds more interesting – in the not boring sense – but is a literary bitchslap to most of the people in his life.
The suspect list grows with every page, and everyone seems a likely suspect. Even Leonora, who reads like she might have a slight case of asperger syndrome, could be the killer – just because it would be so unexpected. Rowling weaves a complicated web of literary mirrors, sex, betrayal, and ego – exactly what you expect from a group of people who spend most of their lives as the omnipotent figure of fictional worlds. Lives are made or ruined on the ever changing tastes of critics and readers. Quine’s books start to sell like hotcakes as soon as the details of his murder leak to the public. He was on the verge of being dropped by the last publisher that would have him before he was murdered, and now he’s become something of a literary darling.

The clues to his murder are buried within the plot of his novel and figuring out what should and shouldn’t be there help us get to the end. The crime drama part of the novel is good, but it’s the commentary on the current state of publishing that really sucked me in. We’ve got Quine who makes his money on the coattails of his own success. Fancourt – who’s the epitome of fame and pretentiousness. His wife – who killed herself over criticism of her writing. There’s Kath, who’s desperate to find a publisher and is one of those writers who gives self-publishing a bad name. The publishers and agents who are constantly caressing each other until they can go in for the kill. Rowling spells it out in the novel – shifting alliances, temporary partnerships, everyone is on your side – until you fail.
Rowling succeeds. She’s a master plotter. She builds characters slowly and thoroughly. She isn’t a gotcha writer. Everything comes together slowly and purposefully. There’s no turning a corner and running into something scary. Everything has purpose. She’s built Cormoran and Robin so perfectly that you can’t help but hope for them. They bring out great qualities in each other. Robin makes Strike try. She distracts him from his obsession with his ex. In this book, he’s actually able to ignore the ex’s taunts leading up to her marriage. Strike’s attraction to Robin is obvious, but Rowling has thankfully kept them from becoming romantically involved. This is a slow burn pairing. Robin’s relationship with her fiancé is complicated, and honestly, I think Matthew is a Grade A douche. He’s that type of guy that wants his women to feel successful, as long as they aren’t actually succeeding in anything more than making him look good. As soon as Robin starts to put her own interests first, he’s all up in arms. Robin’s desire to be an investigator is infectious. She wants to be better than simply what will pay her well. When she and Strike finally got their heads out of their asses and actually talked to each other, their professional and personal relationship took a massive leap forward – and Strike was able to pass off the disgusting job that finally helped them convince the cops that they had the wrong suspect in jail.
The book was excellent, and I can’t wait for the next one in the series – as long as I remember to keep looking for it.

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