Publish and Perish: A Book Review of The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith


I picked up The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith a couple weeks ago as a bit of light reading to break up the chapters of Les Miserables, which I have been slowly working through for quite a while, now. The Silkworm is the second of the Cormoran Strike novels – the series of private detective books written by J.K. Rowling under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym. I wanted to read something quick, something I knew I would devour in a weekend, and The Silkworm delivered. By the time I reached the halfway point, I didn’t put the book down and continued to read until the very end.

The Silkworm begins with Cormoran agreeing to find an author named Owen Quine who’s gone missing. There’s nothing unusual in this, his wife insists, he does this all the time. She just needs help taking care of their disabled daughter and he’s been gone long enough this time. Before long, though, Cormoran finds Quine gruesomely murdered in the same manner as one of his own characters from his unpublished book. Cormoran must discover which people have read the manuscript in order to find the killer.

Cormoran infiltrates the perilous world of publishing (not a phrase I ever thought I’d write,) to find who would have had access to the book and to Quine himself. The difficulty is that Quine’s final, unpublished novel seems to insult and vilify every single person he’s known, which means it was secretly passed around to a lot of people and just about everyone has a motive. I found myself wondering how much of Cormoran’s experience in the publishing world was drawn from Rowling’s own experiences, or if the level of cut-throat competition and personal and professional drama was exaggerated for the purpose of story. I did find it very interesting that Rowling chose to meditate on the effects of wealth and fame for the first Cormoran Strike novel and on the trials of publishing for the second, since both are realms in which Rowling herself would be very familiar.

This book follows the same formula as The Cuckoo’s Calling – Cormoran goes around talking to people who may have known the victim, his assistant Robin sets up the meetings for him at bars and restaurants around London, and shadowy figures pursue him with intent to injure or kill… When reading the first book, I felt that all these meetings and interrogations went slowly and were a little repetitive. This time, the pace of the novel seemed to go at a hard march; it moved forward quickly and unrelentingly, but without much variation of speed. (Or maybe that was just how I read it.) During the first book, I remember thinking “is this book just going to be a sequence of a lot of lunch meetings?” In The Silkworm, Rowling has gotten better at making the set-up for the multiple interviews feel more interesting and organic, but I did feel there was an excessive amount of description of every street Cormoran walks down and every pub he enters – at times, it almost feels like a travel brochure for London disguised as a novel.

I find that I am getting attached to Cormoran and Robin and want to see them successful and happy as I continue to read the books. This is a little unusual for me, as I’m usually more invested in a good tale than in the happiness of individual characters. It’s fun to read a detective novel in the same way that playing a game or solving a puzzle is fun, and Rowling is enough of an engaging writer to make the Cormoran Strike novels a little addicting. Although I wouldn’t classify this as a “must read,” I will definitely pick up the next novel in the series – and I’ll probably read it just as quickly.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2

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