Thursday, August 12, 2021

Book 297: The Silkworm


"Pain and fear were making him angry: fear that he would have to give up the prosthesis and resort to crutches again, his trouser leg pinned up, staring eyes, pity. He hated hard plastic chairs in disinfected corridors; hated his voluminous notes being unearthed and pored over, murmurs about changes to his prosthesis, advice from calm medical men to rest, to mollycoddle his leg as though it were a sick child he had to carry everywhere with him. In his dreams he was not one-legged; in his dreams he was whole."

Dates read: February 28-24, 2019

Rating: 7/10

Like any people pleaser, I'm always both desperately curious about and deeply afraid of learning what other people really think of me. I try to be a person that I myself would like, but you never know how it's coming off. Do people think I'm fake? Irritating? A disastrous social experience my freshman year of college made it hard for me to trust my own perceptions of how I'm actually thought of by others. It's one of the reasons they say you shouldn't snoop: you might not like what you find.

In Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling's second entry in the Cormoran Strike mystery series, The Silkworm, private detective Strike is hired to investigate the disappearance of small-time novelist Owen Quine. Quine seemed right on the verge of potentially making it big: he'd written a "poison pen" novel revealing the secrets of all his acquaintances, including the ones much more famous than he. But as Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott, are busier than ever in the wake of solving the Lula Landry murder, Owen's wife Leonora approaches him to help find her husband. He's always been mercurial and has disappeared before, but she needs him to come back home, and blithely assures them that his agent, Elizabeth Tassel, will pay for the investigation. Intrigued despite himself (and despite the fact that Tassel does not in fact want to pay him), Strike digs in.

What he finds is first the body of Owen Quine, and then, as the investigation continues, the remnants of the life of a very unhappy man. Quine was unfaithful and often cruel to his wife, and bitter about the success his former friend Michael Fancourt had experienced as a writer. The manuscript of his latest work, the "poison pen" one (called Bombyx Mori, the silkworm of the title), is utterly rife with contemptuous portraits of others. And perhaps that is why his body is grotesquely disfigured, the result of a certainly painful death. As Strike and Ellacott get closer to tracking down who might have killed Quine, they find themselves increasingly in danger.

If you liked The Cuckoo's Calling, you'll also enjoy this. They proceed in a similar way: interview-by-interview investigation, with occasional indulgences of the writing "hiding" the answers from the reader in a trope that I tend to find highly irritating. Because we did a lot of the introductory work in the previous entry in the series, Rowling is able to better flesh out the characters: both Cormoran and his family and Robin and her fiance Matthew get more layers to them this time. I particularly enjoyed that Rowling gives Robin stunt-driving skills, as they play against the "spunky but ultimately passive" type I thought the character was starting to fall into.

I have liked reading both of the books in this series, but not enthusiastically. Part of it is that the genre doesn't especially appeal to me. I'm just not big into mysteries. Part of it is the way she characterizes Cormoran as someone who thinks of himself as ugly but has no problem attracting attention from women, which is something I do not care when either men or woman are written that way. The prose and plot are mostly fine, though I did think this had a few too many characters. There's obviously plenty good here, as you can tell by my rating, but I don't know that this is going to be a series that I feel compelled to closely follow. I do recommend it, but be prepared for some gruesomeness in the text.

One year ago, I was reading: Ivanhoe

Two years ago, I was reading: Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams

Three years ago, I was reading: The Informant

Four years ago, I was reading: The Sense of An Ending

Five years ago, I was reading: A Passage to India

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