The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

★★★★★ (5/5)

A clear picture of the killer was emerging out of the mass of disconnected evidence, and the image was stark and terrifying: a case of obsession, of violent rage, of a calculating, brilliant but profoundly disturbed mind.

Literary conceit, distrusting authors, solicitous publishers, and an unpublished book full of riddles and metaphors at the core, topped with a gruesome murder followed by a thrilling chase for the truth and you have Robert Galbraith’s sensational “The Silkworm”. Much like the title, the innards of the story are cocooned by a myriad of suspicious characters, each with cryptic skeletons in their closets.

Running away was her life’s blood and he had been her favourite destination, freedom and safety combined; she had said it to him over and over again after fights that would have killed them both if emotional wounds could bleed.

I very much enjoyed the multiple threads of subplots, some adding more drama to the pivotal mystery, others being loose ends but without any digression. As a reader, this complemented my own inquiries into who the killer might be. The ending reveals the most unlikeliest of characters as the murderer, but in retrospect all minor details leads up to it. Galbraith has employed deliberate misdirection in proportion, where the reader isn’t misled at all. It is remarkable how throughout my reading of this book, I was tethered to the edge of my seat, eagerly waiting for the importance of clues to be deciphered.

He ought to have proceeded with finesse, eased himself into her confidence the way he had done with Lord Parker’s PA, so that he could extract confessions like teeth under the influence of concerned sympathy, instead of jack-booting to her door like a bailiff.

Cormoran Strike appears more grounded as a private detective in this novel. His personal and business life entwines is a very sensible fashion – neither being unnecessary to the events which unravel in due course of time, nor weighing needlessly upon the other. He acknowledges his own physical and mental handicaps, which makes him distantly endearing. His mercenary attitude is balanced by an innate kindness directed at those who need it most. Even side characters enjoy their much deserved limelight, abetting the main mystery all the while inhabiting their own private lives.

He thought Anstis competent but unimaginative, an efficient recogniser of patterns, a reliable pursuer of the obvious. Strike did not despise these traits– the obvious was usually the answer and the methodical ticking of boxes the way to prove it– but this murder was elaborate, strange, sadistic and grotesque, literary in inspiration and ruthless in execution. Was Anstis capable of comprehending the mind that had nurtured a plan of murder in the fetid soil of Quine’s own imagination?

The methodical unraveling of plots and characters, exhilarating dénouement along with a writing style reminiscent of crime noir made this murder-mystery an electrifying read. It was devoid of glamour and stifling descriptions that haunted The Cuckoo’s Calling. I now look forward to reading Career of Evil and Lethal White.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

Wise Gems

  • Experience had taught Strike that there was a certain type of woman to whom he was unusually attractive. Their common characteristics were intelligence and the flickering intensity of badly wired lamps.
  • Strike had always marvelled at the strange sanctity conferred upon celebrities by the public, even while the newspapers denigrated, hunted or hounded them. No matter how many famous people were convicted of rape or murder, still the belief persisted, almost pagan in its intensity: not him. It couldn’t be him. He’s famous.
  • ‘We don’t love each other; we love the idea we have of each other. Very few humans understand this or can bear to contemplate it. They have blind faith in their own powers of creation. All love, ultimately, is self-love.’
  • They had come because they wanted a spy, a weapon, a means of redressing some balance in their favour or of divesting themselves of inconvenient connections. They came because they sought an advantage, because they felt they were owed retribution or compensation. Because overwhelmingly, they wanted more money.
  • …difficile est longum subito deponere amoren, difficile est, uerum hoc qua lubet efficias… it is hard to throw off long-established love: Hard, but this you must manage somehow…

Vivid Descriptions

  • A strange asymmetry, as though somebody had given his face a counterclockwise twist, stopped him being girlishly handsome.
  • He viewed her engagement as the means by which a thin, persistent draught is blocked up, something that might, if allowed to flow untrammelled, start to seriously disturb his comfort.
  • Having put away his provisions and cooked himself pasta, Strike stretched out on his bed as night pressed dense, dark and cold at his windows, and opened the missing man’s book.
  • Strike had met men like Matthew in the army: always officer class, but with that little pocket of insecurity just beneath the smooth surface that made them overcompensate, and sometimes overreach.
  • A respectful little distance had been left around the head of the company, like the flattened circle of corn that surrounds a rising helicopter,
  • The cab was stuffy and smelled of stale tobacco, ingrained dirt and ancient leather. The windscreen wipers swished like muffled metronomes, rhythmically clearing the blurry view of broad,
  • Both of them, Robin could tell, had suddenly remembered that all the time Quine had been showering them with effusive encouragement, interest and praise, the characters of Harpy and Epicoene had been taking obscene shape on an old electric typewriter hidden from their eager gazes.

Beautifully Constructed Sentences

  • With a hundred million sperm swimming blindly through the darkness, the odds against a person becoming themselves were staggering. How many of this Tube-full had been planned, he wondered, light-headed with tiredness. And how many, like him, were accidents?
  • After this, she and Matthew felt that squabbling about Strike was in bad taste, so they went to bed in an unsatisfactory state of theoretical reconciliation, both, Robin knew, still seething.
  • And a faint glow of hero worship, almost extinguished by years of neglect and unhappiness, of putting up with his airs and tantrums, of trying to pay the bills and care for their daughter in this shabby little house, flickered again behind her tired eyes.
  • Strike could barely feel his knee now. He had become six foot three of highly concentrated potential. This time she had no advantage; she would not be taking him by surprise. If she had a plan at all, he guessed that it was to profit from any available opportunity.
  • She had once before used the plural pronoun when Strike’s faith in himself had been at a low ebb. He appreciated the moral support, but a feeling of impotence was swamping his thought processes. Strike hated paddling on the periphery of the case, forced to watch as others dived for clues, leads and information.
  • ‘She’s happy there,’ he says. ‘She has an enviable capacity for enjoying the familiar.’

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