The next HP post will be up soon, folks, it’s just being tweaked a bit.
I’m informed in the comments that this book is a significant improvement over The Cuckoo’s Calling. I certainly hope so, because so far it really isn’t, and it’s about to get worse.
Chapter Five opens inside Strike’s head again, which is my least favourite place in the series right now, and this post would have been up much sooner had I not made the mistake last time of glancing at this chapter and deciding that I couldn’t face it. We start with some pointless rambling about football for some reason – Strike supports Arsenal, because his uncle supported Arsenal, and I couldn’t care less – and transition very clunkily (via some whining that despite his nap during business hours he’s still exhausted but refusing to go to sleep because I don’t know, apparently he’s five years old) back to the edges of the plot: Robin somehow managed to track down Publisher Fisher, who insists on meeting Strike face to face tomorrow morning, and Strike doesn’t want to.
He’s annoyed at himself for giving in to ‘temper‘ because of exhaustion and kicking William Baker out earlier, when the man could have provided more work for him. Okay, Strike, but that wasn’t temper. That was actually a very good reaction to some nasty sexist assholery that was upsetting your receptionist/business partner/whatever. Please don’t spoil it by telling yourself that you weren’t being reasonable and actually what he was saying was fine. Please. He’s also annoyed at himself for taking Leonora Quine on as a client, because more work means he has less free time and it’s ‘quixotic and irresponsible‘ of him to… do his job. In the same paragraph he’s complaining about losing work and about gaining work. You know, Strike, you’re coming close to being as irritating as Harry right now. Be careful.
Nope, he really has turned into Harry. He goes back to wondering why Fisher wants to meet with him instead of just giving him the address of this writer’s retreat, and decides that it’s obviously because Fisher thinks he’s awesome, because he’s still famous for the Lula Landry case from last book. Sigh.
Under the note about his meeting with Fisher, Robin has pointedly written the date and time of her latest attempt to get him to meet Matthew. Cue two pages of awfulness as Strike tells himself that he’s super grateful for Matthew’s existence (and for Robin’s shiny engagement ring), because ‘he imposed a useful barrier between Strike and a girl who might otherwise disturb his equilibrium.‘ He goes on to explain to the readers that he has ‘warm feelings‘ for Robin and thinks she’s very good looking and that her engagement is blocking a persistent draft that would otherwise cause him discomfort. You see, he considers himself to be ‘in recovery’ after his last relationship which was so awful and full of lies, and he wants to stay single because bitches be crazy and you can’t trust women. Okay, I’m paraphrasing a little, but seriously, he spends an entire page rambling about how he wants to avoid relationships and the only way he can possibly achieve that is by making sure he only spends time with a woman who already belongs to someone because otherwise Robin might lure him to his doom with her evil feminine wiles.
We never actually saw his ex-fiancée Charlotte in the previous book, but we were told that she grew hysterical and assaulted him when he ended the relationship. He did this, we eventually learn, because she got pregnant and had an abortion and he didn’t believe the child was his, though we were never told why he thought that or whether there was any attempt to discuss things. She became engaged to someone else and attempted numerous times to let him know but he spent most of the book refusing to reply to or even acknowledge her messages despite not knowing what she wanted to tell him. Basically the book insisted repeatedly that she was the Whore of Babylon but refused to actually show her onscreen in case the readers would realise that she wasn’t.
Anyway, Strike is vaguely worried that once Robin and Matthew get married her husband/owner will use his status to make Robin leave her job, but since Robin hasn’t mentioned a wedding date yet Strike’s sure that’s nothing to worry about at the moment, so he’ll still have her around to look at and occasionally blame for tempting him or whatever it is he’s blathering about. With that settled, he changes the subject to describe to us that he’s watching the news, in excruciating detail, before whining a bit more about how small his flat is and then going to sleep.
Thankfully Chapter Six takes us back to the plot, as Strike goes to meet Fisher at the publishing house and we get some more nice descriptions of parts of London – Exmouth Market this time, if that means anything to anyone reading this. Fisher is a slight, ‘dandyish‘ man in his thirties with long wavy hair and a bit of frill on his shirt cuffs, so he’s probably supposed to be gay, but unlike last book he’s not mincing or lisping so let’s hope Rowling’s learned not to do that. They talk a bit about Strike’s name since Fisher actually knows Cormoran is the giant from Cornish myth, before Fisher tries to guess who’s hired Strike and names two men, Daniel Chard or Michael Fancourt. The latter is apparently a (fictional) famous author, but Strike doesn’t comment on the former.
Strike says nope, it’s Owen Quine’s wife, which confuses Fisher. He’s further confused to learn that Owen’s disappeared, he had no idea. Strike asks about the writer’s retreat and Fisher says Owen can’t possibly be there, they’d never let him in because he’s a ‘born shit-stirrer‘ and the woman who runs the place hates him for giving her first novel a bad review once. He then proves it by phoning the place and putting Strike on speaker to listen in as the woman in question says nope, no sign of him and he’ll not be welcome if he ever does show up.
For once being reasonable, Strike asks why on earth Fisher didn’t just tell Leonora that when she phoned him. Cue astonishment from Fisher, who apparently didn’t even bother finding out what the poor woman wanted before brushing her off and refusing to take her calls; he thought Owen was making her call him, to nag him to publish his latest book. (It’s called Bombyx Mori, which explains our title, that’s the scientific name for the silk moth and thus the silkworm. It’s also apparently a male aphrodisiac drug, which amuses me far more than it should. And it’s a bloody stupid name for a book, Owen must be a terrible writer.)
Strike asks how long Fisher’s been Owen’s publisher. As it turns out, he hasn’t. He’s never published Owen’s work, but he did tell Agent Liz at a party that he’d be willing to look at the next book since Owen’s apparently fairly hot stuff at the moment. Agent Liz gave him a copy, before reading it herself, and called him in a panic a few hours later telling him not to read it – too late, naturally.
(I’m making this sound a lot smoother than it is. Strike is annoyed with himself for not questioning Leonora properly, he’s spending this interview not knowing what the fuck is going on and asking stupid questions, and the readers are getting this information in little scraps over several pages.)
When Strike eventually asks the logical question of what the book is about, Fisher says he’s been advised by top-end lawyers not to say anything about it. Strike asks who hired the lawyers, was it Chard or Fancourt, and since Fisher apparently has all the guile of a spring lamb he promptly starts talking and says it’s just Chard – CEO of Roper Chard, the publishers who actually handle Owen’s books – but Fancourt’s the one Owen should really be worrying about, an evil bastard who never forgets a grudge. He goes on to helpfully tell us that Owen’s an arrogant, deluded bastard – apparently Fisher’s world is just full of bastards – before cutting himself off midsentence in a Hagrid-esque ‘I shouldn’t be telling you this’ moment and ending by saying that maybe Owen’s realised what an idiot he’s been and that’s why he’s done a runner.
Strike asks if the book is libellous and Fisher waffles about how that’s a grey area (no, it really isn’t) but that Owen’s ‘done over‘ quite a few people in a very clever way that reminds him a bit of Fancourt’s early books, and drops a few references Strike doesn’t get, before saying he’s surprised Leonora didn’t tell Strike any of this since he’s sure Owen’s the type to lecture his family every mealtime about what he’s been doing.. Strike asks why Fisher thought Chard or Fancourt would hire a private detective if he didn’t know Owen was missing and Fisher is vague, saying he doesn’t know, maybe it was the next step after the lawyers, maybe they wanted some dirt on Owen, he only agreed to meet Strike because he wanted to know what was going on.
The meeting ends with Fisher finally recognising Strike’s name as ‘the Lula Landry guy‘ (no seriously Rowling, stop it. Law enforcement are never named when cases are solved. Literally nobody not directly connected with the case knows Strike was involved. For fuck’s sake.) and Strike nobly resisting the urge to sit down and wallow in his celebrity status for an hour or two. Dude, he recognised your name, that doesn’t mean he’s an undying fan.
That was extremely boring. I remember that from the first book, the initial interviews and information gathering and so on were all very dry and very dull and involved a lot of names that it was hard to keep straight until later on when the readers had actually met most of them.
On to Chapter Seven, and Strike phones Leonora to let her know what’s going on. The narrative tries very hard over the next couple of pages to make us hate the woman. Her poor grammar is worse than it was previously, she ends almost every sentence by shouting at her daughter Orlando, she constantly interrupts Strike and snaps at his questions, and is finally described as talking ‘pettishly’, which I was surprised to learn was even a word. The gist of the conversation is that yes, she still wants Strike to look for her husband (that was the point, Strike, you weren’t meeting the publisher for a cozy chat, you were meant to be finding Owen and you didn’t, you moron) and Agent Liz will probably know where he is, and she doesn’t want the police involved because she called them once after Owen had been gone for a week, they found him ‘at his lady friend’s‘ and weren’t happy with Leonora because apparently she should have just psychically known that and Owen will be angry if she does that again.
Yeah, sorry, Rowling, I refuse to hate a woman who’s already being shat on by pretty much every character in the book when all she’s done is ask for help finding her husband. Frankly, I hope it turns out that she’s the one who murdered him, and that she makes a clean getaway.
She hangs up midsentence while yelling at her daughter again, and Strike isn’t sure if it was deliberate or not. Naturally, he doesn’t bother trying to call back to find out. He tells Robin to find a photo of Owen online and to call Agent Liz to set up an appointment, and asks her to look up ‘bombyx mori’ and tell him what it means. I’m pretty sure half the point of last book was that Robin started out as a receptionist from a temp agency and became Strike’s partner helping to do shit and solve stuff, but she’s been relegated to office girly again apparently and sadly doesn’t respond with asking why he can’t spare ten seconds to Google it.
Robin actually gets a point of view in the next scene, though this turns out to be solely because another client’s there, a woman getting divorced who wanted Strike to find out where the soon to be ex husband was hiding his money, and Robin’s required to be catty and mentally snipe at her looks and choice of perfume and unnecessary bitchy things of that nature. Once this woman leaves – this paragraph was totally unnecessary, she wasn’t even given a name and is clearly not going to feature again – Robin gives Strike a photo of Owen.
He’s fat. Imagine my surprise. And he’s blond. Again, imagine my surprise. We’re also told he has different coloured eyes without the narrative telling us what colours, which is just pointless; let’s assume one blue and one brown, since I believe that’s the most common form of heterochromia. And Strike’s reaction on seeing his photograph is to say “Jesus Christ almighty“, which was hardly necessary. He asks Robin to make some copies of the photo to pass around and to start ringing hotels. Robin says Agent Liz actually called her before she could call, Fisher told her about the earlier meeting, and she wants to meet Strike tomorrow; she’s apparently very bossy. Fuck off, book, you’ve been negative about every single woman so far except Robin herself and I’m getting really tired of it.
Robin goes on to say that Bombyx mori is the silkworm – no, Robin, I said this earlier, it’s the silk moth; this is not how you do Meaningful Titles, Rowling – and then tells us all how they actually make silk from silkworms. By boiling the larvae alive, because the silk comes from the cocoons and if you kill the larvae that way they won’t damage them. This is completely true. See, Rowling, you are capable of researching things sometimes. Though how you managed to research that without realising that the Latin name refers to the moth and not the worm, I don’t know. (I’m going to call this The Baby Silk Moth from now on.) She asks why Strike wanted to know, since he apparently hasn’t bothered telling her anything that’s happened so far, and he says he was trying to work out why Owen called his book that and is still none the wiser. Me neither, frankly, but I’m sure it’ll be very Meaningful and Symbolic. I’m still holding out for a reference to the aphrodisiac drug, personally.
That’s the end of Robin’s point of view. We jump back to Strike without a scene break and get a long and tedious description of him going to the supermarket for groceries in the rain and stopping at a second hand bookshop to try and find one of Owen’s books. He finds one, and it’s crap, and he gives up fifty pages in and goes to sleep. Sounds like a good idea to me, Strike, but sadly this isn’t the end of the chapter or even the end of the scene. The transitions in this book are really clumsy.
It’s still raining when he wakes up, and he sees on the news that Cornwall’s been hit by bad floods. In a frankly out of character moment of concern, he calls his aunt and uncle, who live there (I don’t believe they were mentioned at all last book, though we met a half-sister) and then reverts back to his usual arsehole self by getting annoyed that his aunt actually wants to, you know, talk to him.
The scene ends and we jump back to Robin’s point of view so she can comment that Strike’s wearing a suit and wonder to herself whether he’s meeting the nameless almost-divorced woman from a few pages ago after seeing Agent Liz. Oh, shut up. She saw the news too, but because she’s a girl she ignored the floods and wants to talk to Strike about Prince William and Kate Middleton getting engaged. Shut up. Strike turns sarcastic and grouchy and generally acts like an arse because ew, girly things, and reflects on his ex-fiancée being engaged again and how he’s totally not anticipating it ending horribly. Seriously, shut up.
Robin tells Strike his half-sister Lucy called to remind him about his birthday dinner at her place and ask if he was bringing a plus-one, then asks when Strike’s birthday actually is. He’s reluctant to tell her, but eventually does so, and after a pause realises there’s more to being a social human than that and asks when hers is – I mean, they’ve only known each other eight months, why would this topic have come up before? – and it turns out he’s missed it. Whew, eh?
This is all a very clumsy way of leading up to Strike learning that Robin and Matthew have in fact set a date for their wedding, and Robin gives him the invitation despite not having checked with Matthew that it’s okay. Yes, she does get to invite who she wants, but it’s his wedding too and he deserves some input. It’s the eighth of January, which is apparently seven weeks away, meaning we get to suffer through Christmas in this book. Yay.
Strike’s brain has flatlined on learning this and it takes him a moment to remember what’s going on, when he asks how the hotel search is going; unsurprisingly Robin hasn’t found Owen yet. Since I think she’s only had an hour or so at the end of the last working day to start phoning around, I’m not surprised, particularly since the man could be anywhere in Britain. Leonora said he stayed at a Hilton once. Apparently this is enough for Strike to have Robin phoning around Hilton branches in the belief that this will somehow work. According to Google they have 70 or so in the UK, so yeah, good fucking luck.
Robin asks oh so casually what he’s up to after he meets Liz, and he says he’s going to be pretending he wants to buy a flat because someone’s soon to be ex husband is trying to raise some capital and move it offshore. I don’t care, book. If you want me to care, give the woman a name and stop sniping at her. He makes a point of shoving the wedding invitation into his coat pocket without opening it, and the chapter mercifully ends.
I’m stopping here. I suspect next chapter is going to involve a lot of wedding angst and I’m really not in the mood for it. Are you lot sure this ends up better than Cuckoo?