The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

When I thought about it, the last time I did such an intense marathon read of a book was probably when the final Harry Potter book came out. I was working that day, and a kid was reading it in the corner and kept coming over to tell us what was happening and who’d just been killed. It turned out he was joking, but mindful of less hilarious and more spiteful teenagers, I went home and had it finished by the next afternoon, free to be the one who bestowed spoilers on everyone who hadn’t finished it. And now, some seven years later, J.K. Rowling has caused me another day of frenzied reading with the release of her third non-Harry Potter book, and the second under her assumed name of Robert Galbraith. It’s the second Cormoran Strike book in her series, and buying this felt like I was ordering lunch before sitting down with some of my dearest friends, so much was I looking forward to Strike and co. again.

Cormoran Strike – ex-military, now detective – has been getting a decent amount of work since finding fame as the one who solved the case of Lula Landry’s death in The Cuckoo’s Calling. This doesn’t mean he’s necessarily wealthy, though he has been able to rent a London shoebox above his office instead of actually sleeping in his place of work. He’s also been able to hire Robin Ellacott full-time, the woman who turned up as an unwanted temp thanks to an error at the agency, and who turned out to be much more useful than he had ever expected. Their friendship is one of the most delightful things about these books – they are both prone to sulking and full of Past Undisclosed Secrets, but they are also smart, funny and as fond of each other as readers are of them. Christmas is bearing down on the two when the mousy and slightly odd Leonora Quine turns up one day and says she wants her errant husband found. Owen Quine is an author of some repute and known for occasionally toddling off to hide for dramatic effect, but Leonora has had it with him and needs him back. Cormoran, pleased to be reuniting a wife with her husband for once instead of the bleak adultery cases he is usually working on, sets off to find Quine, which is when the writer’s latest manuscript comes to light: Bombyx Mori, a surreal, horrifying story where the characters are thinly-veiled, cruel and grotesque portraits of everyone Owen knows. So when Quine is finally found, not entirely alive – or whole – there are more than a few suspects who might have had reason to prevent any nastily incriminating information being published.

Cormoran Strike, at an overbearing six foot two, a touch overweight and hauling around an unwieldy, prosthetic lower leg that he does not pay proper attention to, cuts an impressive figure in any setting. He doesn’t take any crap, can dodge a knife attack, enjoys frequent pub lunches and knows who to ask and when to ask them. Robin is alarmingly capable, enthusiastic and encumbered by an obnoxious yet insecure fiancé who is unimpressed with her job being low-pay and high-maintenance. Following Strike and Robin as they interview suspects, get stalked by mysterious people and call in favours from a raft of friends you wish you had is a complete delight, albeit one that comes spattered in a liberal amount of blood. Everyone in this book is just so entertaining to read: even a few scant paragraphs can bring someone out, vivid and fully-realised. Rowling is perhaps not treading any new ground in crime fiction, but just like she shook up the children’s fiction world with young Potter, here she livens up the crime-fiction scene, hitting all the right notes, creating people you want to follow and making words such a pleasure to read – which is just what books are all about.

Fiona Hardy