Thursday, November 13, 2014

#56 (2014/CBR6) "The Silkworm" by Robert Galbraith a/k/a J.K. Rowling

I read the first Cormoran Strike novel for book club. I picked up the second Cormoran Strike novel because I'd already become attached to the characters, and I needed to find out what J.K. Rowling was going to do to with them. The Silkworm (2014) by "Robert Galbraith" follows the continuing story of Cormoran Strike, London private detective, and his assistant Robin.

When a dowdy, desperate woman walks into Cormoran's office looking for her missing, semi-famous, author husband, Cormoran takes her case despite his concerns about her ability to pay him. Almost immediately, he is thrown into a world of famous authors and their publishers. When the author comes up murdered in a grisly fashion that follows a disturbing scene from his latest manuscript, even more questions follow. Cormoran is sure that the author's wife is not the murderer, but the police are eager to find a killer, and the unsophisticated woman isn't adept at looking innocent.

With a great number of fascinating suspects and motives and a number of unraveling questions, I was impressed by what Rowling cooked up. My only complaint regarding the mystery of this novel is that Cormoran figures everything out way before the rest of us. And even though we are privy to his thoughts and conversations throughout the book, suddenly Rowling blacks out parts or whole conversations to keep us in the dark. It was manipulative and irritating, and I wish that Rowling could figure out a way for us to know what Cormoran knows without losing the tension of the mystery.

One fascinating aspect of this novel is that Rowling chose to place it in a world of authors and publishers. "If you want lifelong friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels." (397) The egos, games, and intricate relationships between the authors and publishers, as well as their disdain for amateurs, was a large part of the mystery. I couldn't help but think of Rowling's personal experiences in this world and how she might fit in.

In addition, Rowling had one of her writers say, "...that the greatest female writers, with almost no exceptions, have been childless. A fact. And I have said that women generally, by virtue of their desire to mother, are incapable of the necessarily single-minded focus anyone must bring to the creation of literature, true literature." (298) I certainly don't think this is true, but it did make me wonder how many famous women authors are mothers. And it also made me wonder what J.K. Rowling thought of this statement, why she included it, and whether someone had ever said it to her.

Even with an intriguing mystery, what keeps me reading these books are the developing characters of Cormoran Strike and Robin. Cormoran is an injured war hero, tough and independent, but after losing his leg, sometimes completely helpless. He can be thoughtless, rude, and sexist, and he's still messed up from a long-term dysfunctional relationship. Being overweight and a smoker, he doesn't really appeal to me, and I have a hard time understanding how he ends up with all of these gorgeous women. However, I could read about him all day, and being imperfect makes him much more realistic.

Robin, for her part, continues to grow more useful and confident as Cormoran's assistant, and her character is probably my favorite in the book. In a lot of ways, Robin has the most room for growth, depending on what choices she makes in the near future. There is definitely some sexual tension between Robin and Cormoran, and part of the appeal of the books is to see how their relationship develops. Right now, I don't want to see Robin with Cormoran. He appreciates Robin, but the way he treats women as throwaway objects without feelings is disturbing. "He did not much like the reflection of himself he saw in her large mouse-like eyes. There was no denying that he had used her repeatedly. It had become cheap, shameful, and she deserved better." (431) At least he seems to becoming more aware of his actions, but she can still do better.

To sum up, I like these novels. They are entertaining, they are well-written, and the characters are unforgettable. I will be reading all the Cormoran Strike novels that J.K. Rowling chooses to write.

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