Robert Galbraith’s second Cormoran Strike novel, The Silkworm, came out with a new idea, and I could imagine readers would have expected a more challenging crime story than the first one. And it apparently is, mostly. I just didn’t see the drama get a lower dose, nor the plot get any tighter, though I can say it didn’t feel any less enjoyable. More than that, the tone was very much bothersome, and the atmosphere didn’t emanate much suspense.
The crime drama begins with the disappearance of an eccentric, infamous writer, Owen Quine, after finishing his latest manuscript. His wife Leonora comes to our private detective, Cormoran Strike, for help since it is not Quine’s nature to “disappear for so long”. While Strike is desperate for a well paid gig, he cannot deny the temptation of finding the missing writer and cracking the mystery. He finds him, eventually, but not in a state anyone might imagine: dead, both hands tied behind his back, his stomach sliced open and hollow. Everything Strike discovers at the crime scene no doubt indicates murder, and questions of who and when, as usual, flow relentlessly into his head. It is not rocket science to see that the scene of the murder is set exactly the same as the last scene in Quine’s latest novel, and it doesn’t need a genius either to conclude that the murderer must be someone vaguely, and horrendously, described in the book, someone real. Someone who doesn’t want that book to be published and endanger his/her reputation.
Cormoran strike is portrayed as dramatically gloomy as he is in the first book, The Cuckoo’s Calling. Some readers might find it hard to stand his depression and sadness, but we all know that J.K. Rowling a.k.a Robert Galbraith always wants to describe her characters as human as possible. So if that includes showing off some overwhelming feeling of brokenhearted within an ex-soldier private detective, then we have to accept it. Unfortunately, Galbraith/Rowling chooses this moment of broken heart to reveal Strike’s way of thinking, resulting in a depiction of a common man who stresses great importance of beauty and pretty looks in a woman and doesn’t really consider her personality until he regrets it and then finally turns his back on her. The way he treats Nina Lascelles might also force the reader to think of him as a man who doesn’t feel any reluctance to take advantage of a woman for his purpose. Unfortunately, again, the narrative seems to justify this depiction. It’s either because Galbraith wants to show herself as a male writer (even though she is actually a woman) so much that she immerses herself in manliness, or she’s just so sexist (I don’t want to play with the word “misogynist” here) as a woman. Anyway, putting it all aside, there is still an irresistible attraction in the whole characterization, especially among the suspects. Daniel Chard really caught my attention. His portrayal is so appealing to me not for his subtle homosexuality, nor the way he suppresses it inside him and the emerging rumor around him, but for his obvious anxiety about himself. The way he talks, the way he avoids eye contacts with people talking to him, the way his hands twitch and move… all those gestures make the reader able to feel his anxiety and bottled-up anger.
As a whole, The Silkworm is pretty much better than The Cuckoo’s Calling, but there are some disturbing weaknesses getting in the way of me enjoying it completely. If the opinion of certain characters is the voice of the writer, then Galbraith/Rowling has openly looked down her nose at romance/erotica genre in this second crime novel of hers. I didn’t expect that. I thought as a woman—though she disguises herself as a man—she would be more respectful toward works of popular fiction written by “female writers” (if that term has to exist at all). It turns out, however, that through some characters depicted working in the publishing industry Galbraith/Rowling has called romance/erotica “trash”. Well, however disappointing the tone is, I can say that The Silkworm has a good premise, a believable elaboration, and a trickier plot than its predecessor. Unlike the previous installment of the series, this book didn’t let me guess the murderer just after the first few chapters, and dragged me along the storyline to find him/her at the end of the climax instead. The many suspects with their unsettling behaviors have really fooled me and prevented me from stopping all the guesses in my mind. Many of the dialogues are also made in cuts so the reader won’t be able to know exactly what is going on in the investigation process. Despite the still dominating drama, the arrangement of the plot is enormously enjoyable. I’d forget about the lack of the suspense atmosphere here, because it might have been deliberately set so by Galbraith/Rowling to make it easier for the reader to devour than any other crime stories.
All in all, The Silkworm is not an entirely satisfying read, but I liked it. Rowling fans do not have to worry about her characteristics in writing because they’re all still there. She pays much attention to details, she’s elaborative, and a true creator of natural characters. I just wish she didn’t use that tone in it.