12:45 pm EDT, June 19, 2014

Book review: ‘The Silkworm’ by J.K. Rowling (spoiler free)

Cormoran Strike is back on the case in The Silkworm, the second installment of J.K. Rowling’s detective series. The series is published under Rowling’s pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, and this second book sees Rowling tackling the murky world of publishing.

the silkworm book reviewAfter solving the murder of Lula Landry in The Cuckoo’s Calling, investigative duo Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are back on the case. This time they are tracking a missing person; novelist Owen Quine, whose wife is concerned after he has not been seen for several days.

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Quine has left behind an unpublished manuscript that features unflattering portraits of almost the entirety of London’s literary scene – and that leaves Strike with a lot of suspects. The stakes are heightened when this missing person case quickly turns into a murder, and a grisly murder it is.

Strike has done the seemingly impossible with the Landry case, now it is up to him and Robin to do it again.

The Silkworm by J.K Rowling as Robert Galbraith is available now.

There is more than one allusion to Rowling’s own life in her Cormoran Strike series. Rowling used the glamorous world of celebrities as the setting for The Cuckoo’s Calling, a reality that she herself is certainly familiar with. In The Silkworm she turns to scrutinise her other world – that of publishing.

The Silkworm sees Strike musing over his previous success in the Landry case, and wondering if he will be able to replicate it – certainly everyone around him is watching to see if he can. It is no far stretch to imagine Rowling experienced similar misgivings, after she was outed as the real author behind Robert Galbraith, and faced all of the scrutiny that she had no doubt been seeking to avoid.

Luckily, The Silkworm delivers, even with the expectation of another Harry Potter hanging over Rowling’s head.

As with the first installment of the series, The Silkworm is as much satire as it is detective story, and no one gets off easily under Rowling’s practiced scrutiny. There is no shortage of plot here, and the well constructed story progresses with continuous twists and turns. A novel-within-a-novel format is cleverly used when Strike investigates Quine’s unpublishable manuscript; it is compelling enough to intrigue readers without being overused to the point of tediousness. And Rowling is a master of foreshadowing, a skill that is once again on display in The Silkworm.

The new cast of characters are colourful and varied; Rowling, again paralleling her own story, displays a knack for clever and occasionally scathing character portraits. However what is even more welcome is the individual development of Strike and Robin. The Cuckoo’s Calling truly was Strike’s book, and so it is gratifying to see Robin become more than just Strike’s beautiful and clever assistant, but a character in her own right.

Rowling is able to build on the solid foundation she established in The Cuckoo’s Calling, proving that her strength does lie in the writing of a series, rather than a standalone book.

There is no doubt that The Silkworm is an improvement on The Cuckoo’s Calling. Galbraith’s debut was good – but this is much better.

Still, as with The Cuckoo’s Calling, this is not a groundbreaking detective novel – not that it purports to be. Indeed, much of Rowling’s skill is in successfully utilising the classic hallmarks of the genre – a small cast of characters from the same circle, the tough detective and plucky assistant, and numerous red herrings – without the plot or characters seeming stale. The conventions are tried and true, but that doesn’t mean you will be able to guess the ending.

And even with the particularly grisly descriptions, and an abundance of odious characters odious, there is something supremely enjoyable about The Silkworm. The suspects are not especially likeable, and certainly neither is the victim. But Strike and Robin are, and with a potential for seven books in this series, it is clear that this really is their story.

Grade: A

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