When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days – as he has done before – and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.
But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realises. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were published it would ruin lives – so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him.
And when Quine is found brutally murdered in bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any he has encountered before . . .
I picked The Silkworm up the local library recently, as I didn’t know what else to take with me. I mostly went to get the kiddo some new books to read and wasn’t sure what I wanted to read; so when I saw this, I thought ‘Why not, the last one was a decent enough read.’
The Silkworm is the second in the Cormoran Strike series and follows a completely new mystery for the Private Detective to solve. In The Cuckoos Calling we’re introduced to Cormoran Strike and his secretary Robin. In The Silkworm, they have established some sort of working relationship together, although it’s still not perfect. There has been a steady trickle of work coming in since their previous case and then comes Leonora Quine, asking Strike to find her wayward author husband, Owen.
I wasn’t sure how I would take to The Silkworm after reading the first book; I had my dislikes with The Cuckoos Calling, but I do remember reading through it quickly. Whereas I found the progression of the mystery in the previous novel somewhat stilted, covering the same grounds over and over with mild changes in perspective; I found this to be much easier to contend with in The Silkworm. Each of the conversations adds a little more to the mystery of Owen Quines whereabouts. Making the whole story have an element of realism to it; mysteries such as the one in The Silkworm aren’t solved instantly and the pacing of the novel steadily grows into its tense crescendo. Within the Strike novels there is more of an emphasis on the pain-staking elements of investigation; the repeated conversations for that little, snippet of a clue; the trawling from location to location in order to sniff out something that may have been missed. It’s slow progress, which leaves rooms for additional elements of story-telling to become involved.
Interweaved with the main plot of Owens disappearance are other elements that keep the novel moving forward. The developing relationship between Strike and Robin, both professional and other, make for as entertaining a read as the rest of the book. Seeing them changing and growing alongside one another is a marvel in its own right. Also slowly seeing how Robin and her fiancees relationship adapting to Robins new role in work and life and the tensions that causes is also well placed. The Strike novels are a long-standing series and I am now rather eager to see where the more ‘drama’ aspects of the novels are going; the threads that will join all of the books together into a series, are just as captivating as the individual cases in each book.
Within The Silkworm is a book called Bombyx Mori; it’s a central feature to the novel and what has caused Owen Quine to vanish. The story in itself touches on some difficult notions and comes across as rather a literary Hieronymus Bosch, surreal. As a fictional author explores an abstract landscape, coming across personal demons, hermaphrodites as vile depictions of heaven and hell. Bombyx Mori is detailed within The SIlkworm and approaches some subjects that some readers may struggle with. There are scenes of graphic mutilation and violence within the book too; again, central to the plot and stomach-turningly well written, but they aren’t for the faint-hearted.
This book has a lot going for it. Strong lead characters, for better and worse. There are plot twists and turns aplenty during the solving of the mystery; which isn’t revealed until right at the very end – this kept me guessing as a reader as I was often on the look out of the guilty party and changed my mind often as the novel progressed. There’s a diversity to the cast of characters; not all without their pitfalls, unfortunately, as some of them seem to rely on cliches, rather than depth to their personalities. There are wickedly-depicted crime scenes and a nicely detailed setting for the novel that conjures up vivid mental imagery of the Urban London location in which the novel is set.
The characters within The Silkworm all have their own flavour and voices in which they speak. Cormoran Strike spends a lot of time talking to these individuals so their dialogue has to come across as realistic; which, thankfully, it does. Each of the people he approaches and interviews stands out from all the others; from the despairing self-published erotica author to the high-profile traditional published author. Each of them has their own personalities which come across strongly within the page and as the case unfolds.
There is something dark and gritty about the Cormoran Strike series; they touch upon areas of contention in ways that some readers might be uncomfortable with. There are threats of Murder, Violence, Prison Rape and issues of Gender Identity/(Mis)Representation that could cause contention. Throughout The Silkworm it’s very easy to wonder if the author is drawing on some of their own experiences with the publishing world too, which is under constant attack on several fronts, as well as having a ‘pop’ at avenues of publishing that are non-traditional; then again one of the first hints on most ‘How to write a book’ publications is “Write what you know,” and I can only assume that the authors knows the processes of publishing and all that it involves and is in a good place to make a satirical commentary about it – even if it is in the form of a grisly mystery.
Having stated my praise and cautions for the books, I’d like to note a couple of grivances. Strike is not a likeable character. He wasn’t in The Cuckoos Calling and he isn’t in The Silkworm. He says and does things in a manner that is often disagreeable. His abrasiveness works to a certain extent and makes him into a realistic character, but the constant complaining about how bad his amputated knee feels and many of his derogatory actions towards others doesn’t do him any favours either. I can only hope that in future instalments Robins determination and kindness rubs off on him a little bit more and that he actually get’s a comfortable/better fitting prosthetic leg!
There was also rather a lot of angst involved between Robin and Strike, while I can understand the anger in miscommunication and the frustration that comes between people in a working relationship, but there were some really simple things that either of the main characters got worked up about that made them come across, quite frankly as childish and pathetic. It didn’t attract me to either of them too strongly in the end and I found this part of their connection with one another stiffling and off-putting. I don’t mind if characters make me out-right angry (As Robins fiancee, Matthew did) as this adds a different dimension to character relationships and future developments, but childishness from grown adults doesn’t grip me.
A decent plot-twisting murder-mystery novel that has an emphasis on the slow-burn of clue gathering. A good balance between the mystery and the drama-based elements of the novel; with enough character development from some of the main cast to keep the reader interested in future novels. Some of the main characters quirks became irritating as the novel progressed, but not enough to dismiss the series as a whole. Overall, I am glad I gave this book a chance as it’ll be interesting to see how the series continues.
I am going to try and pick up the next book in the series, Career of Evil, from the local library too as there was a lot I did like about The Silkworm and I am now used to the slower-pace of the series. I find them an easy-read and are good page-turners considering the length of them.