As much I wanted to pretend that this book was written by someone else, I just couldn’t get J K Rowling’s magic fingers out of my head. As every sentence led me to the next, engaging and thrilling, suspenseful and dramatic, I was amazed at Rowling’s indefatigable pursuit of well-narrated story. Rowling’s command over her plot and her writing style almost made wonder if she was the same person who authored the tale of the wizards. But therein lies her intelligence and strength as a writer of important force.
When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. Sorry to deviate but here is a small introduction to Strike if you haven’t read the first book in the series: Strike is a onelegged, decorated ex-military policeman aptly named after a Cornish giant, the illegitimate son of a rock legend, a dogged pursuer of fraudsters and adulterers and a man whose heart sometimes gets in the way of his better judgment. He’s supposed only to be taking lucrative cases so he can pay off his debts and give a raise to his sparky PA, Robin, whose impending marriage to an accountant appears a fate worse than wrangling killers.
At first, Mrs Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home. But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives—meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.
When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before.
Rowling has portrayed present day London as a culturally conscious citizen. Cities and corners, restaurants and pubs come alive in this book. At times it’s like a travelogue of London. I suspect that having spent so many books describing a world only she knew has left her with the habit of telling us rather too much about a world most of us know well enough to imagine for ourselves. The Silkworm most often feels like a traditional British crime novel albeit set in the present day, complete with eccentric suspects, a girl Friday (Oh, when will they see that they are meant for each other?) and a close friend in the police department whose life Strike saved in the war. But Rowling gives some of the old saws a new spin. Robin, for example, isn’t a long-time friend or ex-lover—she starts out as a young temp Strike first meets in The Cuckoo’s Calling.
Rowling weaves a pleasurably wicked literary murder mystery with all its attendant aspects of publishing politics, from the peevish to the pompous, into Strike’s personal and professional lives.
The Silkworm thus brings to mind the crime fiction of another, more leisurely and more literary era. In her respect for the structure of the classic detective story, and her obvious delight in its multi-layered artifice, Galbraith aka J K Rowling is evidently re-creating her own golden age of crime. Pick up the book on a fabulous holiday and surrender to its charms.