It might just be the most anticipated detective novel of the summer. “The Silkworm” hits shelves later this week, and readers are as excited about the release of the second Cormoran Strike novel as they are about its author – Robert Galbraith, a.ka. J.K. Rowling, whose identity was leaked last year.
A sequel to “The Cuckoo’s Calling," which focused on the stratospheric world of supermodels, rock stars, and movie producers, “The Silkworm” turns its focus on Rowling’s ilk – literary London, with its bloated egos, haughty snobbery, and bloodthirsty competition.
The novel centers around the disappearance of star novelist Owen Quine, whose gruesome death, revealed later in one of the goriest scenes Rowling has ever written, has London’s literary scene stunned. Quine leaves behind a scandalous manuscript, a roman à clef skewering his closest intimates and many in the book world with libelous caricatures – and possibly clues. One-legged detective Cormoran Strike and his sidekick Robin use those clues to exonerate their client, whom the authorities have singled out as Quine’s killer.
While it’s unlikely to garner any literary prizes, Rowling’s second detective novel will be well-received, if early reviews are any indication.
The New York Times calls it “an entertaining novel in which the most compelling characters are not the killer or the victim, but the detectives charged with solving the crime.”
And although reviewer Michiko Kakutani says “Ms. Rowling has some difficulty in the opening chapters of 'Silkworm' establishing the personalities and peccadilloes of the chief suspects,” she praises Rowling’s “instinctive sense of storytelling and her ability to make the reader sympathize with Strike and Robin.”
USA Today calls it “a great detective novel: sharp, immensely readable, warm-hearted but cool-headed, with a solution worthy of the immaculately plotted Harry Potter series.”
The newspaper also has high praise for Rowling, which it compares to Charles Dickens. “[L]ike him, she has prodigious, otherworldly gifts of invention, and like him she has a fierce satirical instinct….”
For Washington Post reviewer Louis Bayard, "likable” was the first word that came to mind after completing the novel; Bayard says Rowling’s pleasure in her newly chosen genre is “palpable.”
Like many reviewers, Bayard says Rowling particularly shines within the confines of genre, where she seems to embrace the rules of the literary category to great effect.
Rowling “crafts a plot as well as anyone alive,” writes the Daily Beast, adding “she’s not too shabby in the character department either.” It calls “The Silkworm” “a genuine mystery with an altogether satisfying resolution.”
“The Silkworm” hits shelves June 19.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.