The Silkworm ~ Robert Galbraith

18214414On a similar Saturday to this last summer, having read a tempting review of a crime novel by new writer Robert Galbraith, I was half way through The Cuckoo Calling and throughly enjoying it.  I was also, however, extremely frustrated because I knew that Galbraith was a pseudonym and with every page I was becoming more and more certain that this was no first novel.  Furthermore, I was certain that in one guise or another I had encountered Galbraith before.  I took myself through just about every other crime writer I had ever read but I couldn’t place what it was about the style of writing that was nagging away in the lower depths of my mind.

Fast forward twenty-four hours and the puzzle was solved.  I opened my Sunday paper to discover that Robert Galbraith was none other than J K Rowling.  Of course, within days The Cuckoo Calling had added a couple of noughts to its sales figures and the world and his wife had their noses buried in it but I have always been proud of the fact that I read Robert Galbraith rather than Rowling and that I’d made my judgement about the book before I knew who the author really was.

Where the second Cormoran Strike adventure is concerned no one is going to be able to read it with such innocent eyes but fortunately that really doesn’t matter because Galbraith/Rowling is such a consummate storyteller that within half a dozen pages I was completely engrossed and I would imagine the same would be true for anyone who enjoys quality crime fiction.

Strike, an ex-army private detective, is now on a rather firmer financial footing  than he was when we first met him, having attracted a good many clients on the back of the murder he solved in the previous novel.  This doesn’t mean, however, that he can afford to take on a case where there seems little likelihood of his ever receiving so much as a penny piece in recompense.  His secretary (cum assistant if she has her way) Robin, points this out to him in no uncertain terms after Leonora Quine asks Cormoran to find her errant husband, the novelist, Owen Quine.  It is clear that Leonora herself hasn’t the money to meet the detective’s fees and given the fact that Quine has not been noted for his Rowlingesque sales figures it doesn’t seem feasible that his agent will foot the bill as his wife has suggested. Nevertheless, something about the case sparks Strike’s interest and he undertakes to find the missing writer even though, as the story progresses, it becomes apparent that he might be better left lost.  For it seems that Owen Quine is not the nicest of people to know, certainly not if his forthcoming novel, Bombyx Mori is anything to go by.

In The Cuckoo Calling Galbraith held the worlds of celebrity status and the paparazzi up to scrutiny, in The Silkworm the author focuses fairly and squarely on the world of publishing and offers the reader a plot built around a series of petty squabbles and spiteful rivalries grown to such a magnitude that when they find voice in Quine’s unpublished novel it is perfectly feasible that they might drive someone to murder. And, given that said murder reflects the ending of Quine’s magnum opus, the pool of suspects is pretty easily defined. Easily defined, but not necessarily therefore easily narrowed down.  I had reached the last thirty or so pages before I felt confident about who the killer was and even then I thought I had got in wrong ten pages further on.  I have said this from the earliest days of Harry Potter, this writer can plot.

One of the aspects I like best about these books is the way in which Galbraith deals with the fact that Strike is not a member of the police force.  Given the way in which so much crime fiction now relies on the sort of specialist services to which only the police have access there has to be a limited range of cases that a private detective can handle.  In fact, most of Strike’s business entails establishing marital infidelities and Leonora comes to him about a missing person case which only later turns out to be a question of murder.  However, Strike recognises this and as far as possible works with the police, only launching out on his own when it becomes apparent that the official guardians of law and order are proving to be less competent than we might hope; there are some features of private eye literature that will never change.

This is a really good and, I would say, literary novel.  In fact, it is literary in more than one sense of the word.  It is, I think, good literature.  It is certainly crime fiction of the highest quality.  It is also about the literary world.  And, it is studded with references to other literary works including a tiny nod towards Harry Potter himself when Robin asks if no one has ever tried to give Strike the nickname of Lightning.  If you enjoy detective fiction and haven’t yet read Galbraith then you really should but I think anyone who revels in a good story, well told, would appreciate this and I very much hope that there will be more to come.

33 thoughts on “The Silkworm ~ Robert Galbraith

  1. I’m at the opposite end of the line to you. Where you were early on to Galbraith I think I’m last!!! I’ve only just finished Cuckoo Calling but have gone straight on to Silkworm. About half way and love it! And as you say – she’s just a consummate storyteller!!!

  2. I’ve got both The Cuckoo Calling and The Silkworm on my to-read list, and I’m looking forward to reading them. Great review!

    1. Gemma, I am so jealous. I wish I still had them to read. I would lock myself away for the next four days and refuse to see anyone or do anything:-)

    1. They are excellent and I think you’ll like the way she has drawn her main characters. By the way, I’m just reading my first Barbara Pym and thinking of you as I do so.

    1. Don’t we all, Margaret. I have lost count of all the books I really did intend to read when they first came out and which now languish unread either on my shelves or my kindle but these are well worth seeking out.

    1. Oh, as someone embedded in the book world, Harriet, you’ll love this. The only thing I think you (and I) would enjoy more would be if she decides to deconstruct the world of academia next time round.

      I’m glad you liked the review. Do you know what the most difficult thing about writing it was? How do you decide what to do about the personal pronoun. He or she?

  3. I remember your review of the first book, which definitely left me wanting to read it. But I put it on the mental TBR list, and then lost track of it. That’s one reason I keep buying books, so I’ll have them to hand when I remember or am reminded. But to my shame I lose track of those books as well. Thank you for the reminder about these books – I think I will put them on my library list.

    1. If I were to try and read all the books on my mental tbr list I would still be around at the beginning of the next millennium, Lisa. But, these are definitely worth moving up any pile you may have, imaginary or real. I am envious that you still have them both to read.

  4. I’ve got a hold on this at the library right now, and I’m excited for it to come in. I wasn’t wild about The Cuckoo Calling (liked it, didn’t love it), but I’m looking forward to The Silkworm. The longer JK Rowling has her characters, I expect the more I’ll grow to like them. (That’s how it was with Harry Potter.)

    1. You definitely get to know both Strike and Robin better in this book, Jenny, as well as being aware that there are still parts of their past experiences that are being withheld from the reader. This is all to the good as it suggests that there are further books to come in the series.

  5. There’s something special about reading a book before the hype – judging it on purely your experience of reading it and no-one else’s isn’t there…. However I will still look forward to reading the Cuckoo’s Calling, and inevitably following up with volume 2.

  6. I think you did exactly what Rowling wanted her readers to do, Alex – made a judgement before knowing her identity. Hard to imagine how difficult it must be to start on a new venture after writing what must be one of the most famous series of books in the modern world.
    In other news, I’ve nominated you for the Very Inspiring Bloggers award over at my own blog.

    1. I haven’t read any of the Harry Potters let alone the Galbraiths so must give these a try. I can see both sides of the Scottish referendum question but I did admire JK Rowling’s.recent sane and humane article for the No side and was saddened at the amount of trolling she got for it.

      1. Yes, Ian, there is something very wrong when a person is condemned simply for saying this is what I believe. Do try the Galbraiths. I don’t see you as a Harry Potter reader, but I think you would enjoy Cormoran Strike.

    2. I certainly wouldn’t have read the first of these books in the same way had I known it was Rowling and that’s for sure.

      Thanks for the award. I don’t normally follow through on these but I am very touched that you should consider me.

  7. I fail to understand why so many people feel the need to get their knives out around her, Ian. She seems a throughly decent person who is also very talented. Perhaps that’s the problem – a nasty bout of envy.

  8. At least you got to read the first book before you knew who the author really was. Do you find that it makes a difference knowing the author is Rowling?

    1. Not really, Stefanie. I was re-reading the third Harry Potter last night and while I can see the similarity of style Rowling has developed so much as a writer in the intervening years that I find myself revelling in her growth.

  9. Oooh, I saw your review just as I was about to read this, and had to put it off reading it until I’d finished The Sillkworm. I heartily agree that these are really good books, she’s done really well at switching genres (unlike you I didn’t get to these early enough not to know who the author was!). I particularly like Robin. And I didn’t guess the murderer for this one at all. Looking forward to the next one now!

  10. Hurray! I loved the first one and am delighted to know the second is as good. I’ll be reading this. Oh and I forgot to mention last visit, I’ve nominated you for a blog award on my site. Just so’s you know. 🙂

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