Literature / The Silkworm
is the second crime novel in the Cormoran Strike series
by Robert Galbraith
.Eight months after solving the Lula Landry case
, Hardboiled Detective Cormoran Strike
has become a minor celebrity and is doing rather well for himself. His Hypercompetent Sidekick
Robin Ellacott is set to marry the man of her dreams in a few months, but secretly feels she is unappreciated
by her fiancé, who deplores her job, and her boss, who she believes fails to see her potential.
This tension is put to the test when Leonora Quine arrives at Strike's door, imploring him to find her husband, author Owen Quine, who has been missing for almost two weeks. Shortly before he disappeared, Quine was all set to publish what he believed
was his Magnum Opus
- Bombyx Mori
, Latin for silkworm
. There's just one problem: his publishers refused to release the book, which uses facsimiles of real people
in his World of Symbolism
, and his portrayal of said individuals was spiteful at best
, and at worst could potentially constitute libel. With excerpts of the manuscript circulating among Britain's literary elite, it's up to Cormoran and Robin to find Quine before someone takes violent umbrage to his work...
The Silkworm contains examples of:
- Accidental Misnaming: Despite his new-found (and unwelcome) fame in the light of the Lula Landry case, most people still call Strike "Cameron Strick" or some variant thereon.
- Animal Motifs: Subverted. Owen Quine tries to use the silkworm as his motif, "because you have to go through agonies to get at the good stuff", but nobody really pays it any attention beyond brief curiosity about whatever the hell "Bombyx Mori" means. At the end, however, his attempt to do so gives Strike a vital clue: the Bombyx Mori of the book had acid poured all over him to access his "good stuff", when in reality silkworms are boiled—a pretty major sign that Quine, who knew this, did not write the book..
- Black Comedy: Like the first novel, not so much but it's there.
- Running Gag: the impressive-looking leather sofa which turned out to be one giant whoopee cushion. Though the farting is noticeably omitted during the tense scene where Cormoran and Robin corner Pippa in his office.
- Similarly to the first book, where "over the edge" was used several times in reference to Lula's mental state, two characters refer to Owen as a "gutless bastard".
- Chekhov's Gun: Elizabeth Tassel's wheezing cough is actually a side of effect of inhaling acidic fumes.
- Chekhov's Skill: Subverted: When Robin and Strike are stuck in traffic, Strike instructs Robin with some tricks he learned from his friend Nick's dad who is a cabbie. Three guesses to where Strike acquires a taxicab from later, that Robin uses to intercept a fleeing Liz Tassel.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Along with The Cuckoo's Calling, though not to the same degree as The Casual Vacancy, Rowling isn't afraid to depict realistic speech.
- Complexity Addiction: Lampshaded by Strike, and causes the downfall of the villain: the plot was so elaborate and precisely organized that once a single detail was discovered, the rest of the plan quickly becomes obvious to Strike and is rather easy to prove.
- Conviction by Contradiction: Strike proves that Fancourt must have read Bombyx Mori before he claims he did, because in a TV interview with a known date, he slipped and starts to refer to his wife by the name her symbolic counterpart in the book is called by. Technically an aversion, as Fancourt is not the perpetrator of the crime.
- Country Matters: See "Cluster F-Bomb" above.
- Deuteragonist: Robin Ellacott returns in this novel.
- Epigraph: Like the first book, there's one before every chapter. This time however they're all quotes from Elizabethan-era playwrights such as William Congreve, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson, John Webster and, yes, the Bard himself (although the play she references is one of his more obscure works).
- Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: Invoked. Quine and Fancourt actually write novels geared toward the people who analyze in this fashion.
- Foil: Leonora Quine is an excellent foil for Cormoran's previous client, John Bristow. John is an unusually extroverted man; fiercely protective of his surviving family; convinced that his sister's death was a murder rather than a suicide; flies under the radar of both the police and Strike for the entire case and is ultimately revealed to be Lula's killer. Leonora is an unusually introverted woman; shows subtle but devoted concern about her daughter's health at all times, even ahead of her own well-being; shows little to no interest in her husband's whereabouts following his disappearance and takes his death with an unusual amount of grace. She is immediately tagged as a suspect in his murder, and is even arrested at one point. Unlike Bristow, however, she is completely innocent.
- Robin is also turning into a good foil for Charlotte, particularly in the way that both women have found themselves lying to their future husbands. While Charlotte had lied to Cormoran compulsively seemingly for kicks, Robin is using her lies to protect what she feels is a crumbling relationship between herself and Matthew.
- Freudian Slip: Played for Drama. See Conviction by Contradiction above.
- Gender-Blender Name: Orlando is a...unique name for a girl.
- Not entirely unique - nor surprising for the daughter of a writer known for gender-blending themes.
- Funny Background Event: While in a public train, Strike and Robin discuss a witness who reported seeing a woman in burka, and start speculating on how someone in that outfit could have carried out the very grisly murder without detection. A quiet woman wearing a hijab is mentioned just before the conversation starts, and she gets out as soon as possible, having presumably assumed the worst. Whoops.
- Gorn: Bombyx Mori, the novel-within-a-novel which is one of the hinges of the plot, is pretty gruesome. As is the murder of Quine, which exactly echoes the ending of his (or rather Tassel's version of his) book.
- Heel–Face Turn: Kathryn Kent and Pippa become, if not exactly friends, then at least cordial towards Cormoran and Robin, despite the former's unfortunate first encounter with Strike and the latter spending the better portion of the novel trying to stalk and then stab him.
- Hypercompetent Sidekick:
- Amongst her many talents, Robin turns out to be an expert driver who has taken advanced driving courses and has practiced those skills.
- Lampshaded at the end of the book: Strike mentions that he will have to get another temp to stand-in for Robin while she goes on the surveillance course Strike bought her as a Christmas present, and Robin half-jokingly replies "I hope she's rubbish."
- Liz Tassel points out that Michael Fancourt is one. He is furious at both Liz and Owen for the anonymous parody believed to be written by Owen of his wife's work that drove her to suicide. Tassel point out that Fancourt had made a career out of similar writings. And then it really gets thrown back in Liz's face when it turns out she wrote the parody in the first place.
- Robin silently starts believing that her fiancé Matthew is this for complaining about Robin working long hours, when he himself does as well.
- Hypocritical Humor: Kathryn Kent's blog is rife with misspellings and grammatical errors, yet she has a tongue-in-cheek "Keep Clam and Proofread" coffee mug.
- Irony: Owen Quine is said to be an excellent literary mimic, writing spot-on parodies of his friend Joe North for their own amusement while North was trying to finish his first novel; on a less amusing note, he also wrote the parody that led to Michael Fancourt's first wife's suicide. He is killed in a complicated scheme which, among other things, involved Elizabeth Tassel becoming an excellent literary mimic of her own, imitating his early style to create a fake Bombyx Mori. It also turns out she wrote the parody of Fancourt's wife's work.
- Late-Arrival Spoiler: Zig-zagged. It is mentioned that Lula Landry's suicide was actually a murder (though that should have been obvious from the start), but her killer is never identified by name.
- Most Writers Are Writers: The book is built around a literary scandal and most of the supporting cast are novelists or publishers. They're pretty uniformly depicted as neurotic, praise-hungry, self-hating narcissists. One character even quips that if you want a sense of camaraderie in your profession, you should join the army and train to kill people.
- Most Writers Are Male:
- Liz Tassel complains about this trope. Men like Owen and Fancourt are happy enough to have women review their work, and are especially happy with their female fans, but Lord forbid a woman actually dare to write a book herself.
- Fancourt actually provides a rather distasteful explanation for this: women with children simply cannot write good literature, apparently.
- Mythology Gag:
- A magazine cover featuring Emma Watson is mentioned at one point.
- Strike visits a used book store on Charing Cross Road. A used book store on Charing Cross Road was previously mentioned in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone right next to the Leaky Cauldron, which Muggles cannot see.
- Robin was rushing to catch an 11 o'clock train at King's Cross like the Hogwarts students on the first day of school.
- Not My Driver: Manages to feature a heroic example.
- Paparazzi: This time, Strike himself comes in for that treatment at one point.
- Prison Rape: Strike reminds Pippa of this as part of a (probably not serious) threat.
- Red Herring: More so than The Cuckoo's Calling (and reminiscent of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), there are clues suggesting at least four or five plausible suspects.
- Shout-Out: "Cormoran" turns out to be the name of the Cornish giant who is the villain of the classic tale Jack the Giant Killer. Appropriate, given how tall Strike is. It also becomes more appropriate in this novel, when he takes down one of the "giants" of the British literature industry, Elizabeth Tassel.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Owen Quine definitely fits the bill. While his first novel Hobart's Sin was critically praised, his later novels were panned and he never enjoyed much commercial success or fame. This doesn't stop him from believing himself to be a misunderstood genius.
- Take That!: When Strike meets with Culpepper, he cracks some snark about phone hacking and even threatens to inform the police that Culpepper had expected him to do it. Culpepper is a journalist for News of the World, which of course was shut down for just that. (The book takes place in 2010, just under a year before the scandal became public.)
- Textual Celebrity Resemblance: Owen Quine's wife Leonora is compared to a long-haired Rose West by the British press when she is first arrested for Quine's murder.
- True Art: In-Universe, a subject of much discussion, as Bombyx Mori fits two parameters:
- 20 Minutes into the Past: Follows eight months on from The Cuckoo's Calling and is therefore set in November-December 2010, with some contemporary political stories being mentioned such as Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announcing cuts to the legal aid budget.
- Writers Suck: The London literary community is apparently an absolute cesspit of grudges and affairs.