As surely everyone who reads bestsellers knows by now, one of the big blockbuster books last summer was a debut crime novel by Robert Galbraith --- subsequently revealed to be the pseudonym of mega-bestselling author J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame.
This summer Galbraith/Rowling published the second in what is planned to be a seven book series, featuring private investigator Cormoran Strike. Clearly few authors can command a seven book contract but Rowling is one of them. Although this is a sea change from her Harry Potter series, and very definitely aimed at the adult market, the evidence shows that Rowling has struck gold once again.
The Silkworm is a murder mystery that reveals a seamier side to the highly competitive world of contemporary publishing. One of the characters in the book complains that the problem for publishers today is that there are too many writers and not enough readers.
Cormoran Strike, having endured his brief moment of media notoriety for proving supermodel Lula Landry did not commit suicide but was murdered (The Cuckoo's Calling), has settled in to build up his business and pay off his debts. But he's still a sucker for a hard luck story, so when the long-suffering wife of Owen Quine, an author of towering ego and dwindling talent, asks him to find her errant husband and bring him home, Strike agrees to take the case. How hard can it be after all? As he soon discovers, Quine is a hard case indeed. Not only has he disappeared, but he has left behind a scandalous manuscript that venomously slanders just about everyone in his circle: his wife, his mistress, his agent, his editor, his publisher, and his former friend and literary rival. And when Strike, with the help of his assistant Robin Ellacot, finally tracks Quine to his lair he finds Quine hideously dead in circumstances that exactly imitate the final scene in his scurrilous manuscript.
Clearly someone among the limited circle of people who had access to the manuscript before Quine disappeared must be the killer. The police officer leading the murder investigation owes Strike a favor (Strike saved his life when both were serving with British Special Forces in Afghanistan, during the same attack in which Strike lost his leg), so he keeps Strike informed of progress. But the police are convinced that Quine's wife is the murderer, and they aren't interested in looking any further.
Strike instinct tells him the police are wrong. The problem is, even when he painstakingly constructs an alternate theory of the crime, he has to find the kind of hard evidence that will convince the police, and he has to do so without arousing the suspicions of an utterly ruthless and unbalanced killer.
Click HERE to see a British review of The Silkworm by crime writer Val McDermid in The Guardian.
Click HERE to see an American review of The Silkworm by mystery writer Harlan Coben in the New York Times.