The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith

The SilkwormI read the first Galbraith book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, long after it had been revealed that he was actually J.K. Rowling (writer of a kids series you may have heard of) and probably just after all the controversy had passed, which is clearly a good time to read things because I thought it was super awesome.

This second book is probably equally awesome. There are all the twists and turns and broken alibis of the first novel, as well as all the introspection and cinematic writing (which are an odd combo, to be sure) and excitement. Really, if you liked the first one, you should just go read the second. Well, unless you’re easily squicked out by gore and weird sex things, which this book has just enough of to be kind of icky.

See, our dead person this time is a fellow called Owen Quine who is a writer of books with weird sex things in them and also kind of a huge drama queen, to the point that his wife only comes to our hero, Cormoran Strike, after he’s been missing several days, and she just wants Strike to go get him back from some writers’ retreat that she’s sure he’s run off to.

But of course it’s more complicated than that, as Strike finds out that Quine went missing shortly after writing a new creepy book that is pretty blatantly about basically everyone Quine has ever known. His friends, fellow writers, mistresses, publishers… almost everyone is painted in a hugely unflattering light. The book hasn’t even been published and there are fights and lawsuits aplenty that would make any writer go into hiding for a while.

Except that when Strike finds Quine’s hiding place, Quine is there and also dead and also really gruesomely dead, tied up and covered in acid and with his guts missing, which conveniently mimics the ending of his already pretty awful novel. It seems likely that someone didn’t like what Quine had to say about them, but with so many suspects, it’s going to take a while for Strike to figure this one out — especially with the police blocking his every move in an effort to save face after that whole Lula Landry debacle.

Meanwhile there’s quite a bit about Strike’s assistant, Robin, and her fiancé issues and her Strike issues and the fact that if she would just use her freaking words her life would be a lot better. I may be projecting that last part. There is also, as you might expect, a lot of talk about the publishing industry, which makes me wonder what could have been if this book had been written after the whole Hachette vs. Amazon shenanigan began. A lost opportunity, really.

There’s nothing particularly new or noteworthy about this book compared to The Cuckoo’s Calling, but it is a solid work of mystery fiction and I am super looking forward to whatever Rowling writes for me next. As long as it comes soon!

Recommendation: For fans of non-Potter Rowling, crazy-pants mysteries, and characters saying “I have a plan” and then not telling you the plan, just doing it.

Rating: 9/10

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The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's CallingI put this book on hold at my small library system maybe a couple of days after it was revealed that one J.K. Rowling had actually written it, back in July, and it only took three months for it to make its way to me! I was pretty excited to see it arrive, finally, after I had seen it go out to so many other readers, and it went straight to the top of Mount TBR.

When I started reading it, I was less excited. The story was incredibly cinematic, with people doing things while they talked and every little thing being narrated and I was like, hey, there’s a dead person, how about we focus on that, maybe, and not this Doom Bar beer that your PI is obsessed with? But soon either Rowling let up on the description or the awesome mystery just overshadowed it, and the book got pretty dang readable.

The mystery at hand is that there’s a pretty model girl who fell to her death from her apartment balcony and everyone was sad but it pretty much had to be suicide and so life went on. But then the pretty girl’s brother shows up at the office of Cormoran Strike, hard-up private investigator who agrees to take the brother’s cash even though he’s pretty sure that he’s going to call it for suicide also. Of course, things quickly get more interesting and complicated and Strike starts to think maybe there was a murder here after all.

Throughout this whole murder mystery story, we also learn a lot about Strike, who we meet as a guy whose PI venture is about to go bust and whose relationship just has and who becomes by the end of the story a pretty nuanced guy with a rocky relationship history and family issues and a military background and one leg and a serious obsession with this Doom Bar beer. Rowling devotes a lot of time to making all of her characters pretty rounded, largely by throwing red herrings at them and ruining their alibis and such but whatever, it counts. She also brings in a lot of class and social issues that I did not know were a thing, or were still a thing, and as you figure out how all of these characters and their various societal constructs interact and relate to each other you also figure out how this mystery is going to end.

Well, maybe not so much that last part, because when it was revealed whodunnit I was like, I’m sorry, whodunnit? Really? Are you sure? And then Rowling was like, of course I’m sure, I wrote this whole book about it and maybe if you’d read it closer, but whatever, let me explain this to you. There was a little Holmes-ian “I have solved the mystery before you even heard it, here are some details I made up on the spot that just so happen to be absolutely right” to the solution, but those details were certainly borne out in the text and it made sense with the characters and what we had thus far learned about them. I may think that the murderer is a complete idiot, but a) of course, we’re talking about a murderer and b) of course, this murderer has been kind of an idiot the whole time.

There was a bit of controversy all those many months ago about the fact that Rowling used a pseudonym to write this book, and blah blah tricksy and blah blah marketing ploy. While it’s true that I had never heard of the book until I found out Rowling wrote it, it’s also true that if I had heard of it I would probably have ended up reading it and I still would have kind of loved it. The only thing I really object to is the fake bio made for Mr. Galbraith, which appropriates a very specific identity that is patently false and makes an intriguing juxtaposition with the concepts of identity in the novel, but only if you know that there’s a pseudonym involved.

I also find it odd that the publisher apparently chose to do the bare minimum to promote the book, because it is quite good and should have gotten at least as much press in my own bookish circles as many terrible books I’ve recently read did. I don’t know if this was some big conspiracy to make people read less-promoted books, but I’ve certainly been looking at my library’s big shelf of New Books I’ve Never Heard Of a little differently.

Recommendation: Read books that sound interesting! Also read this book, because it’s pretty awesome.

Rating: 9/10