The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

In this book about Cormoran Strike, beleaguered amputee veteran turned private eye, an egotistical novelist has gone missing, and all signs point to a literary puzzle with potentially deadly consequences.

Listen, writing mysteries is harder than it seems. The best writers (Barbara Vine) conceal the works so deftly that you forget how necessary machinations and contrivance are to the genre.

So don’t think I’m picking on The Silkworm just because I want to take JK Rowling down a peg (I don’t) when I point out a major disappointment in the storytelling.

Galbraith/Rowling chooses to use the third person to write the stories, but limited to what Strike himself perceives and knows. Occasionally we get a section from the point of view of Robin, his assistant. We know what they know. Rowling presents the POV as reliable–that is, we never get the sense that either Strike or Robin are obfuscating or dissembling. Compare this to the POV in the magnificent Never Let Me Go, where Cathy, the narrator, holds back critical pieces of information in order to build suspense. The brilliance of Ishiguro’s construction is that we’re never aware that we’re being manipulated by the author. It’s as if Cathy assumes that we know everything that she knows; hence, there is no reason for her to spell things out for us. She believes we know what she knows.

In The Silkworm, we are discovering information right alongside Strike and Robin. We are putting the pieces together with them. And the story lets us down in a major way. (No worries, I won’t give any spoilers.) At a critical moment, Strike shares with Robin a theory for the solution to the murder. Then he tells her what their plan is to bring the murderer to light. The big problem is that Galbraith/Rowling doesn’t share their conversation with us. Obviously she can’t, because that would ruin the whole climax of the book. But it’s a cheap trick. We’ve been side-by-side with the detectives until now, and suddenly we’re shunted to the spectator’s booth. It really took the fun out of the book, and I’d been greatly enjoying it up until that point, because she’d crafted such a wickedly Jacobean situation, and I loved all the literary allusions.

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