The magic continues…

“‘Someone bloody famous,’ said the hoarse voice on the end of the line, ‘better’ve died, Strike.'”

The literary world was taken by storm and surprise last year when a decent but not-great-selling novel turned out to be written by none other than J. K. Rowling, an author that everyone can name, whether they read or not. She returned to the bestseller lists with new characters Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, a private detective and his secretary, each hiding secrets from one another and trying to track down the murderer of a famous model.

This year, Galbraith/Rowling released The Silkworm, and the literary world was once again taken by storm, although this time fictionally…

In the sequel to the brilliant first novel, author Owen Quine has gone missing and Strike is hired by his wife to find him. She says that sometimes he does just disappear, but this time he’s been missing ten days and she’s starting to get worried. It turns out, though, that just before his disappearance he was trying to publish his newest book, Bombyx Mori, which contains grotesque, thinly-veiled attacks on everyone he knows, from his wife and his mistress, to his editor and agent. While the literary world attempts to keep the novel hushed up, Strike continues his search for anyone who might have last seen Quine.

But then Strike finds Quine dead, killed in the exact same manner as the hero of Bombyx Mori, leading to the obvious suggestion that the murderer is someone who has read the manuscript and, even more likely, is depicted horribily within its pages. Suddenly everyone in literary London wants to talk to Strike, to explain that they couldn’t have done it, but to be equally sure that he knows how hated Quine was. Everyone has an ulterior motive to try and expose someone else, but Strike and Robin are smarter than that, and they soldier on to an explosive showdown…

The book seems to draw much inspiration from Rowling’s experiences within the world of publishing, although I’d imagine she hasn’t been involved in many gory murders therein. However, Strike is scathing of this world in which everyone wants to write. As one character says, the world needs more readers and less writers. Like last time, the novel is populated not only by excellent characters (Cormoran and Robin are two of my favourite characters from the last few years) both big and small, but also by locations in London that I’m now itching to go and visit. Clubs, bars and restaurants are described in great detail as we are invited into literary London. In the first novel we entered the world of models and fashion, and once again we are thrust into a world that most of us will never experience first hand. As Strike notes, London becomes very small once you reach a certain altitude.

Strike is, ultimately, a wonderfully likeable man who obviously has dealt with many struggles in his life, not least the loss of half is leg in Afghanistan, but also problems of the heart, such as his manic ex-girlfriend Charlotte, who he finds out in this novel is just about to get married. Seeing him deal with this turn of events is almost heart-breaking. And on the subject of relationships, Robin’s other half Matthew is never painted in a particularly favourable light; he’s a man who doesn’t understand why Robin would want to do what she does. Robin herself, however, is another brilliant creation, instantly warm and a woman who doesn’t take shit from anybody, as particularly evidenced in a scene where she is harrassed by youths on a council estate.

If I have a complaint, it is the same one as I had in The Cuckoo’s Calling, and that’s just simply that I’d like to spend more page time with Robin. Like I say, Strike is a fascinating character and I enjoy him hugely, but I would like the Holmes/Watson relationship to become a little more balanced, although by the end there are hints that in future books this will be the case. Strike relies on his network of friends and colleagues, and Robin has definitely proven herself to be capable of holding her own among them.

There’s no denying that Rowling can write (and I take back any time I said she couldn’t) and I think it’s brave of her to go for a subject that she clearly knows a lot about (publishing, not murder) because given the topic under discussion, I bet there are a few publishers and editors scouring the pages for mentions of themselves. There are some tongue-in-cheek conversations about writers being odd or vain, and I guess as a writer myself, it’s hard to deny them, but they’re quite funny.

Despite being set in the 2010 winter that froze us all to the bone, the book has a considerable amount of warmth, mostly coming from the easy relationship between the two heroes, and as a continuation of the series it is anything but a disappointment. I remain excited to see what else there is to come from Cormoran and Robin, as Rowling is proving once more that she is better when it comes to a series and she has many more pages to play with.