Mulholland Books, 464 pages, $28
Raise your hand if you don’t know that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J. K. Rowling. Really? No hands?
I liked “The Cuckoo’s Calling" without knowing Galbraith’s secret identity. It didn’t feel like a book written by a first-time author. I remember thinking what a great job Galbraith had done with his female protagonist, Robin Ellacott, a difficult feat for a male author. Well, duh.
I like “The Silkworm,” with the same cast of central characters, even more, but not because the author is J. K. Rowling. I think the same reason both of her series are so readable is that Rowling really knows how to pace and balance her stories. She also gives us an old-fashioned good versus evil theme.
Cormoran Strike is a private eye. He used to be a brilliant Army investigator, but an IED blew off part of one leg, and he has been returned to civilian life. For someone who was used to having his commands obeyed, his questions answered, and his metaphorical dogs let loose, civilian life is a twilight land.
"The Silkworm" picks up right after the events of "The Cuckoo's Calling." Cormoran has recently broken up with his long-time girlfriend, a disturbed, high society, beautiful, high-maintenance wreck of a woman. But it’s been long enough that Charlotte has turned right around, grabbed an old flame, a dissolute wastrel who is from her stratum, unlike Cormoran, and is scheduled to marry him soon.
“The Cuckoo’s Calling” began with the serendipitous addition of Robin Ellacott to Cormoran’s office. She had just moved to London to be with her po-faced fiancé and needed a job. She has secretly harbored a desire to be a private eye and Cormoran may be her entrée. Or maybe not.
It’s a great pairing, although it's not Holmes and Watson. Not Poirot and Hastings. Not Wolfe and Goodwin. Cormoran is meticulous and clean, but not fussy. Robin is sincere and smart, but not servile. They often don’t talk the same language, but they eventually work around that. Cormoran is ex-Army and imposing. Robin is polite and pretty.
Here is the plot, but you need to read the book for the joy of meeting Cormoran and Robin.
An unsuccessful author, Owen Quine, has written what he knows will be the greatest novel ever written. “Bombyx Mori,” a pretentious use of the Latin name for a silkworm, has shaken up a small part of London’s literary world. Using thinly disguised versions of many people in the book world, "Bombyx" spills all the nasty secrets of both people who disliked Quine and people who were kind to him. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but the passion behind it is often red-hot. Then Quine disappears.
Leonora Quine, Owen’s wife, needs money. She needs Cormoran to find her husband, dead or alive. Leonora has only one reason to live: to take care of their disabled daughter, Orlando. Unfortunately, she herself creates some of the more difficult hazards Cormoran must navigate to find Owen.
In the process, Cormoran meets Owen’s agent, publisher, editor, girlfriend, and assorted industry types, none of whom have any joy in their lives, all of whom may have had good reason to see that Owen stays lost forever.
As a bonus we get to meet several of Cormoran’s personal friends and his half-brother. Cormoran is the illegitimate son of a famous rockstar. Alexander is the star’s legitimate son. Al’s brief appearance is towards the end but it’s entertaining. (More, please.)
Robin is due to marry Matthew soon, but she has not broken the news to Cormoran. And she has not told Matthew the truth about what she hopes to accomplish working for Cormoran. This is also Robin’s coming-of-age story.
Loved this book. Can’t wait for more.