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As a lifelong Harry Potter fan I was excited to see J K take on a whole different genre in 2013 – murder mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling, and couldn’t wait for the next instalment in the adventures of Detective Cormoran Strike and his young, determined sidekick Robin Ellacott. Luckily, the second instalment The Silkworm exceeded my expectations and easily built on and expanded everything that was so wonderful about the first.
Rowling is a natural at the crime genre, which isn’t surprising seeing as most of the Harry Potter books are high-school/fantasy ‘who-dunnits’. Similarly to a lot of the Potter books, The Cuckoo’s Calling had quite a slow starting pace. I didn’t mind this too much as Rowling introduced her characters so vividly that you don’t mind spending time with them, but sometimes it came at the expense of the action. After multiple pages of exposition and dialogue sometimes you could forget you’re reading a murder-mystery and think it’s a romantic drama. However, The Silkworm doesn’t have this problem. The main characters have already been established and Rowling plunges the reader straight into the story.
The narrative revolves around an author, Owen Quine, who has been gruesomely murdered in suspicious circumstances. Strike and Robin investigate further and discover Quine had written a manuscript publicly condemning all those closest to him which, if published, would totally ruin their lives and careers. This immediately gives the killer a strong motive and Rowling spends the rest of the novel interviewing each possible suspect in the style of Miss Marple or Poirot. Each of the suspects unravels pieces of the puzzle which further adds to the mystery (I changed my mind five times about who I thought the killer was and I still got it wrong!). Rowling describes the physical and psychological traits of the suspects distinctly while giving each of them clear potential motivations for carrying out the murder. None of the characters are truly good or evil; they are deeply flawed and morally ambiguous which allows the reader to understand and empathise with even the most unsavoury of them.
The novel revolves around the sometimes unpleasant world of publishing; something Rowling knows all about. She lays bare the backstabbing attitudes and petty conflicts that occur in the industry, meaning the book is a social commentary on top of everything else. The Silkworm grips you from the first page and doesn’t let go due to the immense likeability of the two protagonists – Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott (although the regular reminders that Strike finds Robin attractive do get repetitive and slightly creepy after a while). Rowling has already said that the number of books in the Cormoran Strike detective series will exceed the Harry Potter series and I for one cannot wait for the next adventure!