The Short Version: Things have been going well, on the whole, for Cormoran Strike and his PI business. But when Robin Ellacott, his intrepid partner/secretary, receives a woman’s severed leg in the mail, he’s plunged into a case that won’t pay and might not even pay off – and the villain has it out, not just for Cormoran but for Robin too…
The Review: Robert Galbraith’s alter-ego recently gave an interview in which she stated that Galbraith is her private playground – and in this, the third of a still-somewhat-unexpected (or at least unanticipated) series, there couldn’t be a better description of what this book is like. There’ve been lots of things going on during the last year or so of Rowling’s life (Fantastic Beasts, this Potter-play, a new children’s book she’s started on…) and Galbraith seems to afford her an opportunity to just go off and have some fun.
The question, of course, is whether or not that fun transfers to the reader. Your mileage will vary, of course – those who don’t like mysteries probably won’t like this book – but the general answer is “pretty much.” Robin and Cormoran continue to prove themselves two of the author’s greatest creations (a high bar indeed) and the general readability of Rowling’s work has not changed, even as her abilities as a writer have grown. I could pick up this book and race through a hundred pages, put it down for a day and a half, then come back like I’d been away for only a second.
But this was, interestingly, not really due to the plot – but, rather, the aforementioned characters. As interesting as the serial killer plot was on paper (someone from Cormoran’s past taking aim at him, taunting him with the severed leg and targeting Robin), it never seemed to truly hold Galbraith’s attention as an author. Instead, we got loads of character development and an increasingly complex relationship between our two leads. To my mind, the case (not even a real “case”, seeing as they weren’t being paid in anything other than shifting unsavory attention away from the company) was a sideshow for a) a revelation about Robin’s past and b) a bold and ultimately frustrating (in a good way) lead-up to her wedding. The case felt, if I daresay, ancillary and the details could’ve changed perhaps even rather significantly while still affording the author the same opportunity to breathe even more life into these characters.
Put another way, I am already having to remind myself of the killer’s relationship to Cormoran – but I have no trouble recalling the conversations between Cormoran and Robin on the various journeys they take around the British Isles. Although this is not to say that the killer is entirely unmemorable: Galbraith has a flair for the unexpectedly horrifying and the gross-out moments of murder that come from the villain’s POV (we dip into it now and again throughout) are definitely unexpected. But the ultimate payoff feels rushed, especially when you realize how long the book has been leading up to it.
Although, I should be honest: I was hoping the denouement would be over with so that we could get on with the much-more-tense relationship stuff. It’s no spoiler to Galbraith’s readers that the relationship between Robin and her fiancée is a rocky one – but we learn so much about it and see the relationship go through its roughest spell (just in time for the Royal Wedding, incidentally) that you can’t help but want to see more. The ending-ending of the novel made me sit up and groan, texting a message to a friend that read “ughhhh JKR stop playing with my heartttt”. I’m clearly onboard with these characters, no matter where Galbraith decides to take them.
One other note: Galbraith has perhaps too much fun (although it’s surprising how it works throughout the book) tying Blue Oyster Cult into the novel. Sometimes it’s with a chapter-preceding epigraph, sometimes it’s with something directly involved in the story, and I wonder if Strike’s family history (his dad, after all, was a rock star and his mom the groupie of legend) is going to play a greater role down the line. In the same way that it was exciting as hell to discover Craig Ferguson once played in a band with Peter Capaldi, I think it’d be tremendous to really bring music to the fore of one of these books. Although I’m sure Strike would hate it…
Rating: 4 out of 5. I really loved The Silkworm because it balanced a great crime novel (as outlandish as that plot also might’ve been) with amazing character development. It’s no secret that Robin & Strike are the reason anyone keeps coming back to these books. But the scales tipped almost too far with this book and the crime plot left something to be desired. It’s not that it was bad, just that it seemed like an afterthought at times. While the wonderfully over-stuffed writing and the exceptional characters made up for it, it still wasn’t quite up to par – because I know Galbraith has a truly excellent crime novel waiting for us. A writer of such skill, it’s impossible that we won’t get it some day. I’ll be there in time for the next one (and the one after that, and after that, and…)