The Silkworm is the second novel by Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, following The Cuckoo’s Calling which I have covered on this blog in a very half-arsed sort of way. Part One can be found HERE. It’s a rather incoherent mess, but then, so was the book, so I suppose that works out. Hopefully this coverage will be rather better, and hopefully so will the book.
To summarise very briefly, Cuckoo followed a one-legged ex-military private detective named Cormoran Strike and his new female receptionist/sidekick Robin Ellacott as they investigated the possible murder/apparent suicide of a famous fashion model. In between a lot of unnecessary racism and misogyny, Strike managed to really, really get on my nerves, and he and Robin danced around one another endlessly and tediously without ever resolving it even though they had zero chemistry, but despite far too many NPCs they managed to solve the case and find out that the murderer was the guy who hired Strike to investigate in the first place (and no, this was not explained), whereupon Strike went and beat him up using his own false leg as a weapon. There were some good bits buried in the mess, but it wasn’t a very good book.
But I’m a masochist, so here’s the sequel. It’s not helpfully split into parts this time so each post will contain as many chapters as I can be arsed to do. There are 50 chapters but most of them are only about three pages long. As is the tradition, let’s start with the official synopsis from “Robert Galbraith”‘s website:
“A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, The Silkworm is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant Robin Ellacott.
When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days – as he has done before – and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.
But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realises. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were published it would ruin lives – so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him.
And when Quine is found brutally murdered in bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any he has encountered before…”
Well, that sounds suitably melodramatic and manly and thrilling, doesn’t it. This is going to be a blind spork this time, so I don’t know if it will live up to this description… but based on previous experience of Rowling’s work, I suspect not. And as I said at the end of Cuckoo, if this turns out to be her thinly-veiled whining about how people were so unforgiving of the way she shamelessly and often cruelly butchered her acquaintances to fuel some of her worst characters, I’m going to throw the book out of the window and abandon this.
I have no idea why this is called The Silkworm, by the way. I can’t see it being someone’s nickname as the first book’s title was, and the pretentious poem at the start doesn’t involve the word, as you can see:
“…blood and vengeance the scene, death the story,
a sword imbrued with blood, the pen that writes,
and the poet a terrible buskined tragical fellow,
with a wreath about his head of burning match instead of bays.
– The Noble Spanish Soldier, Thomas Dekker.”
Yeah, I have no idea either. But it seems like this book’s going to be heavy on the angst. Goody. Well, here we go…
Last time we had a short prologue direct from a crime scene from the point of view of a random policeman who never appeared again. This time we jump straight into Chapter One with Strike himself, on the phone to someone who’s annoyed at being woken up very early, demanding to meet him at a café and refusing to explain why. No, Strike, my major issue with you all last book was that you never explained anything to anyone including the readers, you are not off to a good start. Finishing his phone call, he walks through London to said café and we get some nice descriptions of the area, interrupted for Strike to take a piss in someone’s doorway since apparently the café has no toilet and nothing else is open so early.
Rowling. One, that’s illegal. Two, that’s disgusting. Three, it’s a legal requirement for cafés and restaurants in the UK to provide toilets for customers, which took me exactly 47 seconds on Google to verify. Four, even if none of those things were true, I don’t need to read about your protagonist urinating. (I assume this is meant to parallel the equally fucked up scene at the beginning of the first book, when Robin nearly tripped down the stairs and Strike grabbed her by the breast to pull her back. I don’t know what’s wrong with Rowling but I hope it’s not contagious.)
Strike orders and eats his unnecessarily detailed breakfast, and we get the obligatory description of him as he eats. He gets a much more detailed description than most Rowling characters, actually; he’s a big guy (though never described as fat because only evil people are fat, remember?) with dark curly hair that’s starting to recede, dark eyes, a broad nose and heavy brows. I’m including this for you because I strongly suspect when Robin shows up she won’t get a description at all beyond perhaps hair colour.
The person he was talking to on the phone shows up, and turns out to be a journalist named Culpepper. He has ‘a choirboy’s complexion’, whatever that means, and ‘a strange asymmetry… stopped him being girlishly handsome.’ That makes no sense at all and I’ve no idea what he looks like, unlike Strike. I want to comment on the ‘girlishly handsome’ thing but I honestly don’t know what to say, I can’t work out if she’s trying to imply that he’s gay, noncis gender, metrosexual, bishounen or what. I want to know what the strange asymmetry is too, because all I can imagine are Picasso portraits from after he started going nuts.
They bicker a bit and then Strike hands over a load of papers; the rambling explanation goes on for a couple of pages but the gist of it is that the ‘shaking, besotted, bitter‘ PA/mistress of a lord has realised he’s not going to marry her and so has handed Strike a copy of a lot of paperwork she was doing to help this lord dodge out of paying his taxes, while crying and being all silly and hysterical and emotional of course, and Strike is now passing this to his journalist friend as long as he keeps the source private.
The ‘woman scorned’ trope is getting very old and tired now, seriously, writers. Stop it. Also I can’t be bothered to spend all my time on Google verifying crap but I do believe it’s illegal to hand someone else’s tax information to anyone except that person’s accountant/solicitor/bank or the tax office unless it’s demanded under some sort of legal warrant. I don’t think private investigators are meant to pass information to the press either. And I don’t think we’re ever going to get an explanation for why the woman went through Strike instead of just contacting the newspapers directly. But since none of this has anything to do with the main plot as far as I can tell, and seems to just be here so Rowling can reference the journalistic phone hacking scandal and make digs at peers not paying expenses and taxes, I’m not going to dwell on it any further.
Chapter One, everyone. Strike has a piss and talks a load of bollocks with a weird-looking journalist about something totally irrelevant, and the first female character to feature is portrayed very negatively. I really hope there’s going to be a plot soon.
In Chapter Two Strike gets on the Tube to go home, which is certainly an improvement on last book when he insisted on walking everywhere despite that being really bloody stupid if you live in London and despite him being in pain all the time from being too much of a moron to go and get his false leg fitted properly. He angsts a bit about his father – for the benefit of those who zoned out last book, Strike’s the illegitimate son of some famous rock star who he’s only met twice, and this backstory has so far not been relevant or interesting – then gets off the Tube and goes to his office, and we learn that he’s actually renting the flat above it now instead of just sleeping in there like last book. After whining about how small the flat is and how tired he is, he takes a nap before his first client of the day is due.
He’s woken up when said client arrives, since he can’t set an alarm for himself like a grownup, by his assistant Robin. Hi Robin. Please try to become an actual character this time, you were pretty close last book and then got sidelined. And I was completely right about her description, she’s just tall and strawberry-blonde. They go downstairs to the office, where the client – a William Baker – is waiting for them, along with a woman who introduces herself as Leonora Quine, angel of the plot. William Baker proceeds to act like an arse, being sexist towards Robin and trying to order Strike around, so Strike tells Robin to sort out his bill and kicks him out. I assume he’s probably going to reappear later.
And that’s it. I did say these were short chapters.
The whole of Chapter Three consists of his conversation with Leonora, who despite her name and the fact that she has a daughter called Orlando is white and British. I don’t know why Rowling’s so opposed to common names in her books, where are all the Joes and Daves? Anyway, Leonora explains that her husband Owen, a writer, has been missing for ten days now but he’s not really missing because he often fucks off for days at a time, she’s certain he’s at a writer’s retreat his publisher Christian Fisher told him about but nobody will give her the address or take her phone calls and she really needs to get hold of her husband because of reasons. She’s quite calm and accepting of the fact that nobody’s going to talk to her and says Strike, as a man, is much more likely to get someone to listen to him. That’s a terrible thing to say, but I think I’m going to like her. Leonora speaks with bad grammar for no real reason, but we’re mercifully spared any attempt to reproduce her West Country accent, so hopefully Rowling’s learned her lesson about that. She’s also going grey and wearing very old-fashioned clothes, which clearly means we’re not meant to like her. Fuck that.
She goes on to mention rather unconcernedly that weird stuff has been happening since Owen left, there’s been dog shit put through their letterbox a couple of times (disappointingly Strike doesn’t ask just how she knows it’s dog) and a ‘dumpy red-haired woman’ (Molly Weasley?) she doesn’t know came to the door and asked her to tell Owen that Angela had died, but she doesn’t know who Angela is either, and she’s been followed a few times by a dark girl with round shoulders. And we learn that Owen fucked off after a row with his agent, Liz, who said his latest book can’t be published. He sounds like a nice totally not childishly temperamental bloke who is absolutely not going to turn out to have been involved in anything dodgy.
Robin makes a token one-sentence appearance to bring them tea. Nice. Real nice.
Strike could ask for more details about any of this, but he doesn’t. Instead he tells her that his services aren’t cheap. Yes, Strike, we know, private investigators aren’t cheap, so why the hell do you never have any money? Anyway, Leonora says Agent Liz will pay since it’s her fault Owen’s gone off in a sulk, and then says she has to leave because of her daughter. Strike has been half asleep throughout this conversation, by the way, but rallies enough to take contact details and ask for a photo, which Leonora says he doesn’t need because all he has to do is call Publisher Fisher and ask where the fuck Owen is. She swans off, thanking Robin for the tea on the way out, and ends the chapter.
This all feels like Rowling’s trying to set up a scenario where the reader is left wondering which of the three cases we’ve seen is going to provide the plot and she’s just forgotten that there’s a synopsis on the back cover…
Strike opens Chapter Four by going out into the main office and flopping down on his excessively described sofa, and provides us with the rest of Robin’s description, surprisingly. She’s curvaceous, she has a clear, brilliant complexion (complexion seems to be Rowling’s new favourite word), and she has bright blue-grey eyes. Good to know, I spent an entire book not knowing anything about her except that she was blonde. Strike talks to her a bit about the cheating lord from the first chapter, then falls asleep complete with snoring and drooling, leaving Robin to answer the phone like a good little office girly.
It turns out to be her fiancé Matthew, who appeared for exactly one and a half pages of being a shit in the first book and seems set to continue the trend. Why he’s calling the office and not Robin’s mobile, I don’t know. He’s calling to reschedule something – turns out Robin has spent literally eight months (the length of time between last book and this) trying to arrange for herself, Matthew and Strike to meet for a drink and both men have constantly made excuses to cancel because apparently they hate each other even though they have never actually met. Because they’re both really bloody childish and refuse to make any kind of effort over something small and simple that she clearly really wants to happen and that wouldn’t cost either of them anything.
Between each sentence of what is apparently a very long slow-paced phone call, Robin’s thoughts explain that Matthew has taken Strike’s excuses to mean that Strike thinks he’s too good to meet him, that Matthew looks down on Strike for being poor and thinks Robin could do better somewhere else, that Matthew doesn’t like not being an expert on topics concerning Strike like his military background (reading between the lines, Matthew doesn’t like Robin never shutting up about how awesome Strike is), and Matthew doesn’t like that Strike is apparently famous for solving the murder case last book.
Oh God not more stupid inexplicable fame, please. Think of every solved murder case you’ve ever heard about on the news. Now name a single person involved in catching said murderers.
Yeah, I can’t name any either. Nobody knows shit like this. Policemen don’t earn national fame by catching murderers. Damnit, Rowling.
Matthew also doesn’t like that Strike bought Robin a really clingy revealing designer dress after the events of the last book. Well, honestly, I can see his point there, that’s not exactly a ‘friendship’ present.
Anyway, he’s making excuses to cancel their meeting again, and like a good little doormat Robin says it’s fine and she’ll see him later and hangs up to stare at Strike sleeping and think to herself that even though it’s been Strike making excuses far more often, and on one occasion just not bothering to turn up, it’s totally just Matthew making this so difficult and why can’t he like the guy she clearly hasn’t shut up about for months.
Strike wakes up and she asks if they can reschedule to the day Matthew suggested. He’s far too tired to pay attention to something as unimportant and mundane as meeting his friend’s fiancé, a meeting the poor girl is clearly desperate to arrange since she really wants them to like each other, and acts as though he can’t understand what she’s talking about before asking her to call Publisher Fisher for him since he’s sooooo tired. Since he neglected to find out which publishing firm Fisher works for she’ll need to track him down first. In the meantime, he’s going back to bed.
He leaves before she can ask him yet again to stop being a dick and just meet her fiancé for one fucking drink, and she pouts while thinking about how she hasn’t told him that she and Matthew have set a wedding date and are making plans, nor has she told Matthew that she wants to invite Strike, and that’s how the chapter ends. Bye plot, it was nice to get a fleeting glimpse of you last chapter.
Yes, we have spent an entire chapter focusing entirely on Robin’s man troubles, and said troubles are one part her not shutting up about her obvious crush and two parts the men in her life being arseholes. Because Robin is a female main character and therefore can only be defined in terms of her relationship with male characters. And her sole contribution to the plot so far has been to make the tea.
Damnit. I’m done for today. (I fucking hate love triangles. Particularly ones where none of the characters will acknowledge the situation even to themselves and where all of them are honestly just bad people who do not deserve relationships.)