In her second outing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, author J.K. Rowling is back with her erstwhile noir private dick Cormoran Strike and a whole new mystery in the recently released Silkworm. And dare I say it? Rowling is getting better and better with each installment.
Perhaps it's because this time she chose a victim no true bibliophile could possibly resist: an author. Yes, this time Rowling takes us into London's seedy publishing underworld where the chief occupational skill is backstabbing. When author Owen Quine disappears, no one thinks much of it other than his wife who decides to hire Cormoran Strike to drag his sorry ass home. No one else seems to much care that Quine has gone underground because what he's left behind is much more important: a manuscript. And not just any old manuscript. This particular novel is a good old fashioned character smear of just about anyone who is anyone in the London publishing world. And anyone who is anyone is pretty darned pissed off at Owen Quine.
So it shouldn't be much of a surprise when Strike finds his man --- murdered. And with as many suspects as there are characters in Quine's book it's fun romp to find who killed the old boy. There is little doubt that Rowling had a ball writing this novel. And who could blame her? All she had to do was take her vast experience in the publishing world and set it loose with a little imagination. What a hoot.
But writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want lifelong friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.
More important to the series, Rowling goes a long way in further developing the characters of both Comoran Strike and his assistant, Robin, who will clearly play a more important role as the series continues. Both characters are quite complex despite the noir-like genre Rowling has created here. Their backgrounds make them far more three-dimensional than your typical noir detectives and while hints of a future relationship are occasionally dropped, I wouldn't be surprised if this were a red herring given Robin's independence, intelligence, and general non-typical female role here. Similarly, Strike's own romantic history (see book one of the series) is so fraught with trauma, any relationship between he and his assistant would be far below his own standards (and Rowling's, for that matter).
Learning more about Strike's past is also part of the allure of these books. Rowling doles out details sparingly, as they pertain to the situation at hand, deftly avoiding any information dump while tantalizing the reader. Sly references are her specialty, after all:
"Hard to remember these days that there was a time when you had to wait for the ink and paper reviews to see your work excoriated. With the invention of the internet, any sub-literate cretin can be Michiko Kakutani."
How many readers will recall Kakutani's glowing review of the first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo's Calling that appeared in The New York Times back in 2013? I told you Rowling was clever. Dang.