Tag Archives: Robert Galbraith

On Robert Galbraith’s “The Silkworm” (Cormoran Strike #2)

21 Apr

The Silkworm [2014] by Robert Galbraith

The Silkworm [2014] by Robert Galbraith

My head must have been buried in the proverbial sand last summer since it seemed I completely missed the publication of Robert Galbraith’s second novel and second entry in the Cormoran Strike series. Galbraith, better known to the world as legendary British author J.K. Rowling, ups the ante with The Silkworm, a much darker and much nastier murder mystery for our favorite one-legged, ex-military, Cornish private detective Cormoran Strike and his sidekick, the blonde and curvy Robin Ellacott. In a wintry London, an unpopular author disappears on the heels of a public row (see how London I’m being?) with his agent. Strike must navigate the murky waters of the city’s literary elite, with all its undercurrents and toothy predators.

The first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, featured our burly hero solving the murder of tragically gorgeous model Luna Landry, and the high-publicity victim made the detective an overnight sensation. His business is booming with the revenue from wealthy cuckolds, and all seems to be settling into a calm and distinctly murderless daily grind. That is, until–in the grand old tradition of noir mysteries–a distraught woman appears on Strike’s doorstep. Leonora Quine’s husband, the contested and now washed up author Owen Quine, has gone missing, and we all know what “missing” means when it comes to books shelved in the mystery/thriller section of the bookstore.

Look at that guy. So private. Such detective. Though, I doubt Strike keeps such a neat desk. Or ever wears a tie, for that matter. (Photo from "blackwarrior57")

Look at that guy. So private. Such detective. Though, I doubt Strike keeps such a neat desk. Or ever wears a tie, for that matter. (Photo from “blackwarrior57“)

Strike juggles his smaller jobs, the deep and manly angst he feels as his ex-girlfriend prepares to get married to some northern aristocrat, his confusing feelings for his secretary Robin, and the case of the missing author. Can things possibly get more complicated?? They always do. The missing Quine leaves behind the manuscript of his latest novel, a novel so grotesque and slanderous that Strike suddenly has his hands full with suspects in the author’s mysterious disappearance. Quine titled the unpublished novel Bombyx mori, the Latin name for the silkworm, and it reads like a raunchy, X-rated Pilgrim’s Progress. The characters of the novel are thinly veiled references to the people in Quine’s life, and no one escapes the man’s scathing criticism. Quine’s agent, editor, publisher, wife, mistress, protégé, and rival all feature prominently in Bombyx mori and all get the symbolic shaft in the most wonderfully gruesome, vivid and vitriolic ways. The caustic nature of Owen Quine’s opus leaves Strike with too many and, yet, none at all. It’s up to his perseverance and Robin’s clutch skills for the duo to find out what really happened to the antagonistic author.

The brutality of The Silkworm blows The Cuckoo’s Calling out of the water. From the graphic, carnal detail of Owen Quine’s unpublished Bombyx mori to the gruesome nature of Strike’s discoveries in his investigation, the content of this novel proves to the world that Galbraith holds no reservations with her writing and pulls no punches. One can’t help but wonder that, since everyone knows her true identity, Galbraith is making that extra special effort to distance her new works from the young adult categorization of the writing that made her a worldwide phenom. On the other hand, the blood and guts of The Silkworm also point to the deliciously evil minds of writers.

This cute little bugger is the namesake of Owen Quine's novel, Bombyx mori. (Photo from "Steve Begin")

This cute little bugger is the namesake of Owen Quine’s novel Bombyx mori. (Photo from “Steve Begin“)

More disturbing than icky silkworms and the vile details of Bombyx mori is the pattern Galbraith creates among her female characters, who are portrayed as possessive, passive-aggressive, wastes of time. Even Robin, despite one or two flashes of brilliance, suffers from the moodiness of a petulant child. Strike’s desire to help Leonora Quine comes from his personal sense of honor and morality rather than any empathy for her, as seen from his constant impatience with her grief. The men in the novel are evil, and the women in the novel are motivated entirely by the men around them. I hope future Cormoran Strike novels (and I’m sure there will be future Cormoran Strike novels) give women more agency and less angst. Robin won my admiration in The Cuckoo’s Calling and I would love to see her come into her own as a full crime-fighting partner beside Strike.

Read It: Gore hounds and mystery buffs will eat this right up, not to mention J.K. Rowling zealots! The sequel to Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling is classic noir with a touch of Criminal Minds-level grotesquerie, and our favorite one-legged private detective is on the case, prepared to solve mysteries with a combination of brute, Cornish force and straight-up perseverance.

Don’t Read It: Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, The Silkworm can be a little too graphic–both in the bedroom and in the Billiards Room with the knife (and the hydrochloric acid), if you know what I mean. All the darkness Rowling alluded to in her Harry Potter series is fully realized here in Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series.

Similar Books: One other author comes to mind as having accomplished exactly what Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling is currently doing: Roald Dahl forged his career penning beloved children’s novels about magic and love and overcoming the horrors of the growing up, while simultaneously establishing his collection of wonderfully raunchy adult stories about sex and kinkiness. Check out Switch Bitch or the collection of stories in The Best of Roald Dahl. And, of course, Robert Galbraith’s first Cormoran Strike novel The Cuckoo’s Calling should be the prerequisite to The Silkworm, but it’s not entirely necessary.

I love that the same author who can sit primly in wedge heels reading to kids in a garden can also write about grotesque murder and psychopathic sexual angst.

Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) reads to her adoring fans from one of her books, presumably not this one. I love that the same author who can sit primly in wedge heels reading to kids in a garden can also write about grotesque murder and psychopathic sexual angst. (Photo from “Devon Steven“)

On Robert Galbraith’s “The Cuckoo’s Calling”

19 Dec
Richard Galbraith's (aka, J.K. Rowling's) The Cuckoo's Calling got another couple of rounds of publishing once everyone figured out the Harry Potter superstar was the real author.

Richard Galbraith’s (aka, J.K. Rowling’s) The Cuckoo’s Calling got a lot more heat once everyone figured out the Harry Potter superstar was the real author.

Let’s start this off with a confession. I was once a Rowling hater. That’s right. I hated J.K. Rowling. Part of my hate was born from a knee-jerk reaction to the rest of the world’s absolute adoration of her and her popular Harry Potter children’s book series. Part of it was created by Rowling’s clear misunderstanding of the use of punctuation in the English language. Altogether, I’m a crotchety reader who has a difficult coming to terms with her biases. With that in mind, I read the Potter series in 2011 and felt … OK about it. If I had grown up on them like the rest of my peers, I’m sure I would think differently, but I was reading Dickens when they were reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. When I learned Rowling wrote a grown-up book, I was intrigued, more so because of how she had done it: incognito. The Cuckoo’s Calling is a straight-up detective novel. There’s no kitsch–nothing fancy here–just a good old fashioned  murder and good old fashioned detective work. Reading Rowling under the guise of Robert Galbraith is like running into your fifth grade teacher outside of school and realizing she curses–like, a lot–and has a love life. I had to come to the same terms when I realized Roald Dahl wrote a morbid kind of erotica. Plenty of authors write mainstream fiction then dabble in the young adult genre, but I can see the opposite being much more challenging, especially for author whose fame is of such scale. Rowling has her work cut out for her. Any time she writes a book from here until eternity, she will be competing with herself, Harry bloody Potter, and the entire world’s nostalgic deification of her wildly popular children’s book series. I can definitely understand her choice to write under a pen name. I can also understand how her probably peaceful dalliance in anonymity was so brief.

You can't hide for long, Rowling! (Pic from The Guardian)

You can’t hide for long, Rowling! (Pic from The Guardian)

Now that we have the annoying “Oh, my God, it’s J.K. Rowling!” part out of the way, let’s talk about the book. Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling is an old school detection novel. A woman dies and a crotchety, loner sleuth hoofs it around town beating down doors and wrestling down confessions. Our dead woman is Lula Landry, a tortured but beyond-gorgeous model of mixed race, who supposedly threw herself from her fourth story penthouse to her death on the snowy streets below. Her tormented adopted brother, a lawyer of a prestigious London firm, believes her “suicide” to be murder and sets the crotchety, loner sleuth Cormoran Strike on the hunt. Strike is a war veteran-turned-private eye.

No one can read "private investigator" without thinking of THE private investigator. Between Hammet and Bogart, the profession will always be partiall under the shadow of Sam Spade. (from Sheer Investigations)

No one can read “private investigator” without thinking of THE private investigator. Thanks to Hammett and Bogart, the profession will always be partially under the shadow of Sam Spade. (from Sheer Investigations)

Strikes unintentional sidekick is Robin Ellacott, transplanted to London to be nearer her fiancee and is taking temp jobs until she finds a “real” one. Her first assignment is to assist the indebted, recently dumped, and mildly homeless Cormoran Strike. The two slowly form a working partnership and eventually a working friendship. At first I was pleased with the idea of a buddy cop story line with members of the opposite sex, but there is some tension between Robin and Cormoran that make me think Rowling will take the partnership-cum-friendship to a “partnership” of a different kind in future iterations of the Cormoran Strike series.

Characters are the key in The Cuckoo’s Calling. It’s Cormoran’s muddled but full life that drew me in and his personality–easily switching from bad cop to a soul with the deepest empathy–carried me through the novel. Equally, Robin’s endearing naivete of city life and the world of crime juxtaposed with her fervor for the life of a private eye made her an exciting character to read. I’m not certain that Rowling is a mystery writer … yet. The plot was primarily lengthy interviews with suspects and witnesses, broken up by scenes of egregious drinking, and the conclusion came a surprise only because I felt the clues didn’t add up. But I will say the author knows how to write people. She knows how to craft a lasting, singular character, and for that reason alone I will most likely read the next Cormoran Strike novel. I’m guessing we can expect at least another six books, right?