Originally published September 2014
File this one under, “She read it so I don’t have to.”
Reviewing J.K. Rowling (writing under her male pseudonym Robert Galbraith) can be a bit of a sticky widget. Say you like it when it’s not a Harry Potter novel and people say you just don’t want to speak ill of Rowling. Say you don’t like it, and people say you can’t see Rowling outside the Harry Potter box.
Listen, I think I was one of the few people I know who really appreciated and enjoyed Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy.” Not a single redeeming character, depressing and morally bankrupt, I still adore that tiny little town of whackadoos that she created. And I very much enjoyed “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” Rowling’s first Cormoran Strike mystery.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy “The Silkworm.” But for me, some of the luster that comes with a new series has worn off. I still care about Strike, but I really don’t want to wait another three books to uncover some secret in his past, or that of his assistant Robin—two books in and we’re still being teased with why she dropped out of university. And speaking of Robin, Rowling gives us more of a glimpse into her relationship with her fiance Matthew, but he’s being written off as a tool, so how much is the reader really going to invest in that relationship before we just make the assumption Robin and Strike end up together?
In the case of “The Silkworm,” Strike is juggling multiple cases and newfound fame from his previous success in solving the Lula Landry case. Leonora Quine comes to Strike’s office looking for help in finding her husband, a once-sorta-successful author, Owen Quine. Strike takes her case to spite an assy client, and we’re off to the races.
Strike eventually finds Quine dead, of course. And now it’s all about who Quine wronged and who may have exacted revenge in such a grotesque fashion. And this is where the wheels came off the track for me—it’s just kind of all over the place. In one paragraph, we’re dealing with Strike’s wounded and inflamed knee. The next? His wounded and inflamed ego (his ex, Charlotte, is a trollop and is getting married and he’s pretty pissed about it.) The next? An interview with one of about a dozen people who wanted Quine dead.
Then it’s Robin worried about Matthew. Then it’s a tranny chasing Strike down. Then it’s a car wreck. The novel just seems all over the place. Not that Rowling has ever had a lean, mean writing style, but unless you are paying close attention, it can be hard to follow. And that’s frustrating, given it’s a pretty long story.
For the time and effort, if I were to recommend a series featuring a emotionally and physically wounded detective of sorts, you’re much better off with Chicago author Lynne Raimondo and her “Dante” series. Much tighter writing, and just as evolved in terms of a plot line. That’s not to take away from Rowling—but for me, I think Round Three with Cormoran Strike will wait until it hits the paperback shelves.