A review of Robert Galbraith’s ‘The Silkworm’

As a fan of crime fiction I was eager to get my hands on a copy of the first Cormoron Strike novel when it was first published back in 2013. As a lifelong fan of the Harry Potter series I was even more eager to get my hands on a copy when I discovered that Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym and this new detective novel had in fact been penned by J.K Rowling.

I’d always said that to create a complete world with its own sports, traditions and culture as Rowling did in the Harry Potter books, took nothing short of pure creative genius and had thus had the upmost admiration for Rowling and her writing talents. Having read Cuckoo’s Calling last summer my respect for Rowling grew even more. Yes, there are many faults with the first instalment in the series. I found Robin’s character and her relationship with fiancé Matthew an irritating distraction from the main action and I did work out the killer’s identity before I’d even reached half way, but as an avid mystery reader I find I am rarely surprised by the killer. Overall, I was astounded by the quality of the story and the writing Rowling has produced here, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been.

The popularity of Rowling’s Harry Potter series cannot be denied, but I’ll confess despite my appreciation of her writing talent I was sceptical to learn she had turned her hand to crime fiction. Crime fiction as a genre is notoriously dominated by male writers so I’m always intrigued when a new female crime writer emerges, but my intrigue here was tinged by a sense of nervousness. Crime fiction is, in my opinion, a very hard genre to get right, not to mention being so different from the magical fantasy of Harry Potter.

Nevertheless my worries were unnecessary and upon finishing Cuckoo’s Calling I had already made the decision to purchase Silkworm as soon as I got the chance. Rowling has proved that magical story telling is not confined to fantasy fiction and has reeled me into the mysterious and gritty world of Cormoron Strike.

Silkworm is, I believe, even more of a triumph than Cuckoo’s Calling. This time I was unable to tick off my list of suspects before the detective and I found myself becoming fonder of Robin. Throughout Cuckoo’s Calling I felt that Cormoron was the only compelling character in the novel, this time however that was not the case. Robin and Matthew’s relationship grew to be a point of tension within the plot and not simply a distraction from the main action. It allowed Robin’s character to grow from the whiny, love-struck young girl into the forward and exciting woman we know Rowling is capable of creating. Crucial to this change was the development of Mathew’s character. In Cuckoo’s Calling Matthew simply lingers in the background to have an omnipresent effect of Robin’s mood. In Silkworm however Matthew is given more dialogue and more thought processes. We learn what he thinks and how he feels. We don’t necessarily like him any more than we did before, but we do at least begin to grasp some understanding of his character and the dynamic of his relationship with Robin.  In using Matthew’s character more, Rowling was able to show us their relationship without having Robin constantly internally monologue about it. This then freed Robin and enabled her character to develop in a way that she couldn’t within the structure Cuckoo’s Calling.

It seems to me that Cuckoo’s Calling was Rowling’s way of easing us into the dark and gritty London underworld that she had immersed her crime series in. Silkworm was not only a big step away from Rowling’s magical Harry Potter past, but also a large step from the relatively tame Cuckoo’s Calling. That is not to say that Cuckoo’s Calling was boring, there were still plenty of twists, plenty of revelations to keep us hooked, but it was not a patch on the dark and sinister plot of Silkworm. The situation of the murder itself and the character of the victim were the driving force in this gritty plot and while I am a fan of a twisted murder plot, even I sometimes found the descriptions a little too sickening. I’d leant Cuckoo’s Calling to a number of people with no qualms and no warnings. I don’t think I’ll be loaning Silkworm out quite so frivolously. Though in my opinion it was a cut above Cuckoo’s Calling those who are not used to gore should take fair warning before embarking on this particular fictitious journey.

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