Cormoran Strike and his gal-Friday Robin Ellacott are back in the Summer’s follow-up novel to last year’s “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” “The Silkworm,” written by JK Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. This time around, in typical JK fashion, things are quite a bit darker and more grim. Strike has been hired by the wife of a famous novelist to find him after he disappears for a longer-than-usual period of time, only for Strike to find him trussed up in the fashion of a character in his latest novel. What follows is a ride through London as Cormoran and Robin try to prove the wife’s innocence and discover who the true perpetrator of this heinous crime really is.
Last year, “The Cuckoo’s Calling” shocked critics and readers alike when it was revealed that first-time novelist Robert Galbraith was in fact the celebrated builder of an entire generation’s childhood, JK Rowling. She remarked that Robert was born from a desire to be a fresh novelist again, to be judged on the merit of her work and not the success of her past. It worked, too. By the time she was discovered, “Cuckoo’s Calling” had ascended to the top of the bestseller list. I was sort of surprised, then, when Robert’s name was the one that greeted me from the cover of The Silkworm. Attached was a predictable sticker proclaiming “Written by JK Rowling,” but it was Robert’s name printed into the slip cover of the book, and Robert’s name receiving the credit. It seems, in her desire to start anew, she has chosen to publish her mysteries under this name and this name alone, which is probably a decent plan considering the target audience for Cormoran Strike’s adventures differs greatly from the ones she aimed at with Harry Potter.
Bits of her style leak through, but overall, this is such a different story from Harry Potter, in virtually every aspect. Harry was always in a fantasy world, but Cormoran is stuck in a very visceral and real London. Her words easily capture the hustle of the city, and the melting pot of Britain therein. Accents aren’t the easiest thing to capture on the page, but she manages it.
One of the things about this entry in the series that caught me was the victim being a novelist, and the title of both this and the fictional author’s book being called “The Silkworm.” Something I didn’t know was that the silk we get from silkworms comes from the cocoons they encase themselves in, not the worms themselves. To get this, we boil them. There are times during the novel that you get the distinct feeling this book only happened as a result of pressure from both the public and her publishers, though maybe it’s only the speed in which it happened, a year is a very short time for such a fleshed out novel. The artist is boiled alive for their art, and The Silkworm pretty clearly spells out an unfortunate result of that.
Rowling’s talent has always lay with her characters. Harry Potter produced more memorable characters than nearly any fantasy series before it, and Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are no exception. The first time around, Robin had just started working for Strike, so there was a lot of getting-to-know-you bits thrown into “Cuckoo’s Calling” that aren’t there anymore. The two are comfortable with each other, a year has passed since the events of the last book and Robin has proven herself as reliable and brilliant as Strike suspected she was. Now they have a mentor/pupil relationship, and the dialogue between the two of them, especially when running through the case, is exciting and well-paced, never drags for a second, and creates a verisimilitude that these two are actually close with one another. Nothing feels hollow, and you grow even closer to two already wonderful characters as a result.
If you read the first one, I highly recommend getting your hands on “The Silkworm.” If you didn’t, I highly recommend finding “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” buying both books, and settling in for a very pleasant weekend.
“The Silkworm” is available now in bookstores nationwide.