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Onyx reviews: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 07/05/2014
It starts out as a simple missing persons investigation. Leonora Quine hires
Cormoran Strike to track down her errant husband. She's certain that Owen
Quine, a struggling author who had one modest success, has gone off to a retreat,
but his agent and publisher refuse to cooperate with her. This isn't the first
time Quine has vanished, leaving Leonora to look after their adult special needs
daughter, and he's had a habit of cheating on her, too. There may not be much
money in the case, depending upon the wife's resources, but something about the
situation intrigues Strike, who is also juggling several other clients.
successful resolution of the Lula Landry murder (related in The
Cuckoo's Calling), originally written off by the
police as a suicide, has brought him fame, but no great fortune as yet, and he
still has debts to repay. He's not
lacking for clients, though, most of them looking to prove that their spouses
are philanderers. His personal assistant, Robin Ellacott, is champing at the bit
to be given more investigative responsibilities; meanwhile, Strike is making
disturbing rumblings that he may need to hire an assistant.
Before Quine disappeared, he launched a bombshell at London's
literary establishment. He delivered the manuscript for a book titled Bombyx
Mori, a roman à clef that lampoons many of the people in Quine's inner
circle, including his wife, lover, rival, editor, agent, and publisher. The book
is supposedly libelous and people are trying to keep the manuscript under wraps,
but copies keep popping up all over. Its title is the Latin term for the
silkworm, a creature that is boiled alive during the extraction process, which
is Quine's metaphor for the process of writing, especially from the perspective
of the tortured artist who has never garnered the type of acclaim and respect
that he feels is his due.
Following a clue that most people see as grasping at straws, Strike discovers
a gruesome scene at a house co-owned by Quine and his rival, Michael
Fancourt. Fancourt's wife committed suicide after the publication of a vicious parody of
her only novel, and most people suspect Quine of being behind the work. Strike
finds Quine not only dead but disemboweled and posed in a humiliating position.
When he manages to get his hands on a copy of Bombyx Mori, he discovers
that Quine's final book contains a description of his death scene. Though it's
difficult to estimate exactly when the author was murdered, most indicators
point to a date when very few people had had access to his manuscript, which
limits the list of potential killers significantly. The police home in on the
wife—Strike's client—as the most likely candidate, and evidence
begins to mount up against her, even though Strike is fairly certain she's
innocent. The murder required months, if not years, of meticulous planning and
Leonora Quine simply isn't smart enough to have carried it out.
In addition to dealing with this high profile murder case, Strike has some
personal issues. His former fiancée is engaged to be married and Robin has
scheduled her own wedding for a few weeks hence. Robin's fiancé, Matthew, makes
no secret of the fact that he thinks Robin could do much better (i.e. earn much
more) in another position in the City, and he's somewhat jealous of the time she
spends with Strike and her obvious affection for his skills. Robin wants the two
men in her lives to get to know each other and to get along, but their first
(and oft-rescheduled) meeting goes poorly and Matthew applies increasing
pressure on her to change positions.
Strike is also having a hard time with his prosthesis. The lower part of one
leg was blown off during his tour of duty in Afghanistan, and he injures and
abuses his knee several times over the course of the book, twice while pursuing
a mystery woman who seems to be shadowing him. The fact that it is one of
London's harshest winters in recent memory adds to the strain on his sensitive
limb. He doesn't have sufficient resources to take taxis everywhere, and public
transportation puts increased stress on him.
Strike is the illegitimate (and for a long while, unacknowledged) son of a
famous rocker. His mother, a groupie, conceived him during a one-night stand.
Strike has preferred to remain distant from his father, though over the course
of this book he meets with his half-brother on a number of occasions. Though
this sibling had all of the benefits of being the son of fame and wealth, he
seems to envy Strike for succeeding without their father's assistance. That's
not to say that Strike is beyond using other people to further his
investigations. The cavalier way he takes advantage of friends and acquaintances
comes straight from the Thomas Magnum school of private investigation.
Rowling / Galbraith has a lot to say about the literary establishment in this
book, not much of it positive. The author pokes fun at those on the fringes who
self-publish because traditional publishers don't understand their brilliance.
Strike is forced to attend tedious parties and events where self-absorbed
authors drink too much and talk at length about themselves and their works. He
learns of bickering and petty tiffs, as well as long-running feuds.
At it's heart, though, The Silkworm is a classic murder mystery, in
which most of the clues are doled out in plain sight, along with more than a
smattering of red herrings. Once Strike comes up with his theory of the crime,
though, Galbraith is less forthcoming. Strike and Robin put together a plan to
uncover the evidence that will prove his theory, but their actions are
deliberately hidden from readers to maintain suspense and keep the secret until
the surprising—but eminently logical and credible—reveal at the end.
This is okay, though, because the solution of the crime isn't as interesting as
Strike is himself, and his interplay with Robin and the other fascinating
characters who populate the book.
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