Book review: a brilliant crime thriller in ‘The Silkworm’

As you may know, J.K. Rowling has branched out somewhat since the Harry Potter series. Aside from The Casual Vacancy (which received lukewarm reviews), she has developed the highly popular Cormoran Strike series under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith. The series has been well received, and is soon to be dramatised by the BBC. Having read the first and third books in the series (The Cuckoo’s Calling and Career of Evil respectively), I was eagerly awaiting reading the second book, The Silkworm – and I was not disappointed.

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Ex-army (Special Investigative Branch to be specific) Cormoran Strike became one of the best known detectives in London following his investigations in The Silkworm. The tide of publicity from the case has faded, when Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacot are hired on another life and death case. Controversial minor novelist Owen Quine has vanished, and the pair are hired by his wife to locate him. What begins as a routine investigation rapidly escalates thanks to the novel Quine completed before disappearing – Bombyx Mori (the silkworm). The book contained a series of demeaning and horrific pen portraits of notable characters in Quine’s life, and the investigating duo soon discover there is more to the case than first appears…

One of the first things I will say about Galbraith’s books is that they are ridiculously readable. Although they are chunky (this novel was north of 570 pages), I found myself getting through it at a ridiculously breakneck pace. I devoured it within a matter of days, and it probably would have been fewer if I did not have exams looming! Rowling has form on creating series which grab the reader and don’t let go, and it is an art which she has most definitely perfected – The Silkworm is no exception.

Perhaps one of the few gripes it is possible to have about the novel is that, to be honest, it is pretty much impossible to figure out who committed the crime. Although this is a well-established formula within the detective genre, it might have been nice to have a few more clues. Having said that however, the denouement is wonderfully crafted, full of twists and turns guaranteed to keep the reader on their toes.

The narration is expertly balanced between the case and the private lives of Strike and Ellacot to ensure that neither begins to drag in any way. Indeed, even when (in retrospect) there is not a significant amount of action ongoing, Galbraith maintains the reader’s interest with pithy scenes and rapid development of the plot.

The Silkworm certainly lives up to the standards of my expectations. It works well both as a standalone or as part of the series, and will certainly be enjoyed by those who enjoy thrillers or crime fiction. Although a little far-fetched in reality, The Silkworm is a gripping and carefully crafted novel which will delight the reader – ★★★★½

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