From Pot­ter to pri­vate eye

Plenty of magic in Rowl­ing’s crime novel

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS -

IN 2013, Robert Gal­braith’s first crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Call­ing, was pub­lished to some crit­i­cal ac­claim. The in­tro­duc­tion of grisled pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor Cor­moran Strike, a Corn­wall na­tive who lost his leg in the Afghan War, her­alded a new voice in the crime novel genre. Only the voice wasn’t quite so new — shortly af­ter The Cuckoo’s Call­ing was pub­lished, it was re­vealed Robert Gal­braith is, in fact, a pen name of Harry Pot­ter au­thor J.K. Rowl­ing. And while adult Pot­ter fans will find plenty fa­mil­iar (and to their lik­ing) in the way The Silk­worm is told, Rowl­ing’s crime nov­els demon­strate her prow­ess as a writer with­out the shack­les of Dum­ble­dore, Snape, quid­ditchd and Hog­wart’s. One need not have read ei­ther The Cuckoo’s Call­ing or the Harry Pot­ter se­ries to en­joy this grip­ping page­turner; once fa­mil­iar with Strike and as­sis­tant Robin El­la­cott, how­ever, the temp­ta­tionte to jump back in the se­ries to check out The Cuckoo’s Call­ing will be strong. In The Silk­worm, Strike and Robin find them­selves plenty busy fol­low­ing their solv­ing of the Lula Landry case (thet ba­sis for The Cuckoo’s Call­ing) whenw a distraught Leonora Quine pops by their of­fice. Leonora’s hus­band Owen, a writer, has dis­ap­peared — not for the first time — and Leonora en­lists Strike to help her find him. It’s not long be­fore Strike dis­cov­ers Owen’s body, the vic­tim of a grisly mur­der that par­rots one in his yet-to-be-pub­lished man­u­script called Bom­byx Mori that has made the rounds among his agent, pub­lish­ers, fel­low writ­ers, lovers, and so forth. The man­u­script is ex­tremely un­flat­ter­ing of pretty much ev­ery­one in Owen’s life; as a re­sult, it’s not long be­fore Strike is off ques­tion­ing these folks in the hopes of get­ting to the bot­tom of who­dunit. Know­ing just who re­ally wrote The Silk­worm cer­tainly adds a bit of juici­ness to the whole writ­ing-and-pub­lish­ing side of things, and it’s easy to won­der whether Rowl­ing is de­liv­er­ing a bit of bit­ing com­men­tary of her own on the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try and her peers. The evo­lu­tion of Strike and Robin’s re­la­tion­ship through­out the novel works well. Whereas Robin was a temp in The Cuckoo’s Call­ing, her de­ci­sion to stay on with Strike both­ered fi­ancée Matthew to no end, cre­at­ing a ten­sion be­tween the three. Robin is de­ter­mined to hone her own in­ves­tiga­tive skills, but Strike ini­tially holds her back from delv­ing into the twist­ing plot line. Gal­braith — oh heck, who are we kid­ding, Rowl­ing — de­vel­ops this sto­ry­line through the story nicely. But the meat of the story is the un­rav­el­ing of the crime it­self, and Rowl­ing di­rects Strike through 400+ pages of well­paced ac­tion en route to solv­ing just what hap­pened. De­spite The Silk­worm’s size, the book plugs along nicely, slowed down only by Strike’s laboured gait — his for­mer leg and pros­the­sis act up through­out — en route to nu­mer­ous lunches with ev­ery pos­si­ble sus­pect or wit­ness. Rowl­ing’s abil­ity to de­scribe people or places in a way that’s both re­mark­ably vivid and de­cid­edly un­der­stated will be fa­mil­iar to Harry Pot­ter read­ers — it’s one of the au­thor’s real strong suits. Lon­don in win­ter comes alive in The Silk­worm: “[Strike] made his way out of a ticket hall tiled in Vic­to­rian pea green, plac­ing his feet with care on the floor cov­ered in grimy wet prints. Too soon had he left the dry shel­ter of the small jewel of a sta­tion, with its art nou­veau let­ter­ing and stone ped­i­ments, and pro­ceeded to­wards the rum­bling dual car­riage­way that lay close by.” The oc­ca­sional chap­ter-end­ing cliffhanger never feels forced; rather, the qual­ity of the sto­ry­telling it­self pro­pels the reader through chap­ters or­gan­i­cally (and quickly). Be­fore J.K. Rowl­ing started cramp­ing his style last year, Robert Gal­braith had al­ready es­tab­lished him­self as a savvy writer of well-paced, well-writ­ten crime nov­els. Here’s hop­ing Cor­moran Strike’s still got a few cases to be shared. Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson is the Free Press lit­er­ary edi­tor, and is

pretty sure the Sort­ing Hat would place him in Gryffindor.

The Silk­worm

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