The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith


The Silkworm


Hi. It’s been a while. But there is a reason, I swear.

You see, I have been reading, but nothing I wanted to blog about. This is a space where I comment on books I like, and, well, nothing has grabbed me recently. There were two or three books in the past month on which I have given up. As in not finished, unresolved. I was so uninterested that I couldn’t be bothered to finish them.

But, you may ask, shouldn’t you tell us what they are so we can avoid them? Nope, not going to do it, sorry folks. As a writer myself (unpublished as of yet but working on it), I would never rip a book to shreds online. I think about these things, you see. Even though a book is an object–we can see it, touch it, smell it, and have the physical thing in our hands, it is also another type of thing. A thing that springs from the head of the writer. I can tell you that no one ever sets out to write a crappy book. No one sets out to write a mediocre or boring book, with exception of perhaps Harlequin Romances. Do you have any idea how much work goes into writing a book? It is a serious undertaking full of long hours, butt in chair, moments of huge self-doubt, and ultimately, a piece of the writer’s soul goes into it, never to be given back.

I am not a soul shredder. Just as I would not have others shred me, I shall not dangle another’s work over an open flame. Better to leave unsaid the words that could annihilate another writer’s peace of mind. So no, you don’t get to hear about the books I didn’t like. I am not going to be that asshole.

So, have you read Harry Potter? There are folks left in the world who haven’t, you know. My husband is one of them. I tried to get him to listen to the first one in the car on a road trip to Orlando and he just never caught the fever. I myself was reluctant in the early days to pick up the first one, simply because if the masses were raving about it, how could it be that good? Oh but you know it was. It is! The Harry Potter series is one of the most amazing series of books I’ve ever read. The plotting alone is almost an impossible feat, but the characters, the setting, the mythology are all so carefully intertwined I am in a constant marvel at the brain of J.K. Rowling.

But this isn’t about Harry Potter, is it? But The Silkworm is by the same author, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The first novel in this series about private detective Cormoran Strike, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was published before anyone knew Rowling wrote it. And it did pretty well before the secret leaked. Now, of course it’s an international bestseller.

Even so, I savored this book. Rowling is an excellent study in character, and Cormoran Strike is a fascinating invention indeed. A war hero who lost his leg in Afghanistan, he is also an illegitimate issue of a famous rocker. But all he wants to do is work as a private detective. He demurs from the spotlight and doesn’t want a handout from his almost completely absent father. He wants to do things on his own terms and has a great brain and a soft heart under his imposing exterior.

Like Harry Potter though, he is often cast into the limelight. Solving the murder of famous supermodel Lula Landry in The Cuckoo’s Calling, he has made a name for himself. Suddenly business is booming and he has more than enough work to keep him busy. So when the wife of a little known writer walks through his door and asks him to find her wayward husband, he takes her on even though payment is not necessarily forthcoming. He seems to have great intuition about people in general, and he sees the need in this woman, one Leonora Quine.

Apparently her husband, Owen Quine has done a runner (an English turn of phrase that I really dig) and she and her handicapped daughter Orlando are left with little money. What begins as a missing person’s case quickly escalates when he finds the mutilated corpse of Owen Quine quietly decomposing in an old Victorian house of which he shared ownership with another, much more successful, writer.

To further complicate matters, Owen latest work, the yet unpublished Bombyx Mori (which is Latin for “silkworm”) has been circulating through the publisher’s office and a few other key blabbermouths in the London literary scene. It turns out that this fable (likened in structure to Bunyon’s morality tale The Pilgrim’s Progress) has some thinly-veiled characters based on people he knows: his publisher, his editor, his wife, his mistress, his enemies. Each character is a gruesome caricature that will most certainly embarrass and humiliate everyone he knows. Suddenly the suspect list is a mile long and Cormoran and his assistant, the lovely Robin (and there’s another can of worms right there itself) have to juggle all their new business along with this high profile murder investigation.

One of the things I loved the most about this book was the way Rowling comments on the publishing industry within the context of this novel. It is more subtle than Olivia Goldsmith’s The Bestseller, but it is no less an opinion about publishers, editors, agents and writers and their quirks, predilections, and the brutal business of books.

Good grief this was well plotted. Great mystery, interesting characters, well-placed clues. This is Harry Potter for grown-ups, make no mistake. I hope Rowling wouldn’t be offended by that, but I do see a lot of similarities. We have an underdog with a great brain and a great heart who must take on a dangerous foe in a race that is kill or be killed. It’s an exciting read from start to finish, the pacing was incredible and being an anglophile, I soaked up every little detail about London at Christmastime. And coming from someone who has lived in South Florida for the last ten years, all the snowstorms sounded glorious.

Of course, there are things that make this series discrete and completely separate from Harry Potter. Obvious differences, and I love that she can slip so easily into writing for adults. She has another winning series on her hands and I look forward with anticipation for the next installment, which I hope will come out next summer.