An obnoxious old writer has gone missing from his shabby London home just as he finished his scandalous masterpiece, Bombyx Mori. If that name sounds like a spell taught at Hogwarts, it won’t surprise you to learn that Robert Galbraith is the nom de plume of J. K. Rowling and that “bombyx mori” is the scientific name for silkworms, creatures boiled alive in their cocoons to preserve the valuable threads they have woven.
The Silkworm is the sequel to The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013) which introduced Cormoran Strike, a down on his heel (he lost half a leg in Afghanistan) private investigator. Strike is built like a boxer with a nose that has been broken more than once. In pain, he limps through the winter mist and snow of a gritty contemporary London, negotiating slick pavements and steps down into the London Underground. He can’t afford taxis, but is nonetheless attractive to beautiful socialites he encounters on his search for the missing author, Owen Quine. Strike’s search leads him into the heart of the London publishing scene, familiar turf for Rowling. The publishing executives, editors, staffers, and agents he interviews present themselves to the reader like Hogwarts professors, or fine old British character actors at the least. Rowling’s portrait of the book publishing world is trenchant and frankly outrageous.
Cormoran and Harry do not physically resemble, and the adult detective novels substitute sex, often perverse, for magic, but the two series of novels share much, including a taste for the horrific. Characters inhabit a shadowy world of evil intentions and official indifference. Strike and Harry are both lonely knights, keeping their counsel, finding truth in details, as is befitting of noir fiction. Strike has but one sidekick. Her name is Robin.
Lovers of crime fiction and devotees of Rowling’s Harry Potter series will likely find enjoyment in The Silkworm. The author retains her gift for plot and narrative. Her many characters have lives one can imagine extending beyond the written page. Dark quotes from London writers of the Jacobean era, like John Webster and Thomas Dekker, set the tone for each chapter. The Silkworm is yet another page turner from Rowling.
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