Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Put It In Writing: The Silkworm a novel by Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling)

 The Silkworm is the second novel in the British detective series featuring Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott by Robert Galbraith. After critical acclaim for volume 1, J. K. Rowling acknowledged that she is the writer behind the Galbraith nom de plume. Rowling explained that she wanted the freedom to publish novels without being judged against her history of international success writing the Harry Potter books. This judgment was harsh, in my opinion, when Rowling published her Potter breakaway novel, The Casual Vacancy. That was an excellent stand-alone novel and I wondered what direction her writing would take. I hoped some of the criticism would not cause her to abandon writing fiction for adult readers.

Well, it did not. The Casual Vacancy, published in Rowling's own name, is a British village story with great character development and interaction that involves elements of mystery. The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm are excellent beginnings of a detective/mystery series in the British tradition of Robert Barnard  and Simon Brett, two of my favorites. The plots are complicated but realistic in that Rowling uses Cormoran's perspective to reveal clues to murders, withholding information causing the reader to puzzle over the guilt of several suspects. Cormoran is a large, gruff, disabled British Army veteran of the current war in Afghanistan. He was a military detective, Special Investigation Division, and he now uses the systematic investigative skills he learned in the military in his private detective work. Cormoran has an interesting and challenging personal history that influences his current social relationships and work life. One fairly stable relationship is with Robin who has become a partner (at her insistence). She does not want to remain a secretary in his office. The pair make a good team, but it is a complicated situation; there is only one undisputed boss.

In The Silkworm, a well-known British writer is missing, and his widow seeks out the detective to find him even though the woman cannot pay him. Cormoran finds the author's mutilated body in a London mansion, and he and Robin make room in the office caseload to solve the crime. The "Bombyx Mori" (the Latin term for Silkworm) is the name of a novel written by the murdered author. It is a metaphor for a private cocoon of obsessive resentment, guilt, envy, and retribution enclosing the perpetrator of the murder. The novel starts with a recap of Cormoran and Robin's activities including the prior case described in The Cuckoo's Calling, so readers can begin the series at volume two with enough information to understand the general detective situation. Because the action takes place in the context of novel writing and publishing, it is interesting to hear Rowlings voice as she criticizes electronic self-publishing that may make anyone feel like a readable author.

I was happy to read that Rowling plans to write "many" more novels in the Cormoran Strike series, and she is half way through volume three with an idea for volume four. What makes this series so good is the wonderful writing style of J. K. Rowling and her ability to encourage readers to identify with and like the key people in her mystery stories. I am hooked for sure.

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