After reading Cuckoo’s Calling, I couldn’t wait for the next installment in the life and foibles of the wonderfully named ex Special Branch Operative, PI Cormoran Strike and his eager and quite adorable side-kick, Robin Ellacourt.
Well, The Silkworm didn’t disappoint. It opens with Cormoran dealing with the influx of clients (wealthy) he’s attracted as a consequence of the fame his last case brought him – tracking down infidelities, finding proof of betrayal, things that he does because they keep the till ticking over but are not very fulfilling. When he’s asked by a worn down and quite ordinary woman who arouses his sympathy and protective streak to track down her missing author husband, Owen Quine, and with a fairly obscure promise of payment, Cormoran (much to his surprise) agrees.
Flung into the literary world where egos reign and revenge is lexically bitter-sweet (the adage, don’t piss of a writer, you may well appear in his or her next book rings so true here), Strike cannot find the narcissistic and selfish Quine, though he does discover that the man has written a book set to turn the publishing world upside down. Taking the notion of the “poison pen” literally, Quine has written a terrible expose of all those who ever wronged him in his long and with one exception, not very successful career.
Learning the limits of this unattractive (in terms of personality) and flamboyant writer, both through his unpublished manuscript and anecdotes from those who knew him, Cormoran also discovers many people with a motive to kill him. When a horrendously brutalised body is discovered, what was once a sick literary fantasy fast becomes a shocking reality and Cormoran understands he’s dealing with a psychopath who will do anything to protect their identity…
Wonderfully paced, filled with fabulously drawn characters who are flawed, angst-ridden, funny, acerbic and also naive, The Silkworm is a terrific sequel to Cuckoo’s Calling. While Quine’s book is filled with metaphor and allusion based around Pilgrim’s Progress, there’s a sense in which Strike undergoes his own progress – him and Robin who is keener than ever to establish her credentials as not just Strike’s PA, but a professional partner. Encountering the bizarre people who populate the literary landscape, fiendish personalities and some very gory and weird scenarios, Strike has to deal with egos, intellect and lexical word games, dissembling and lies (or are they simply versions of the truth?) in order to uncover the killer.
As in the first novel, Strike’s personal life and his awareness of own weaknesses feature and this makes him such an attractive character. His self-reflections, his understanding that he occasionally uses people and the way this pricks his conscience, are beautifully drawn. You feel Strike’s physical and emotional pain, but also his stoicness in the face of forces beyond his control. Thus, you engage with him even when you don’t necessarily approve of his decisions – how can you not when the most critical judge of Strike’s choices is himself?
Robin really comes into her own in this novel as her personal life throws up questions and challenges and she’s forced to make some clear cut choices. You can feel the relationship between her and Strike grow – but it’s also organic, respectful and extremely gratifying, even when the lines of communication fail.
Found this book very hard to put down – clever, eminently readable, and for a genre that’s well trod, highly original as well.