Sue Corbett
June 12, 2014 05:00 PM

Robert Galbraith – unmasked to the world as a pseudonym for Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling – has written a second absorbing whodunit starring detective Cormoran Strike to follow last year’s stealth hit, The Cuckoo’s Calling.

In The Silkworm, Strike is hired to find Owen Quine, who has disappeared after sending his agent a roman à clef titled Bombyx Mori – the Latin name for the silkworm, a pitiable creature that must be boiled alive in order to extract its silk without damaging it.

Quine’s poisonous manuscript features barely disguised caricatures of all the well-known London publishing figures he believes have wronged him, mostly engaged in sexually deviant hijinks. In other words, there are plenty of people with motive to have Quine vanish, forever.

Astutely observed, well-paced and full of Rowling’s trademark acerbic wit, Silkworm thoroughly engages as a crime novel. But it might be even more enjoyable to read between the lines in search of what Rowling has to say about fame, publishing, and the modern writer’s life.

When Strike, culling the blog of Quine’s mistress (also a writer) for information, disgustedly concludes, “This isn’t examining a life, it’s exhibiting it,” is that really Rowling, offering her opinion? It’s a fun game to play.

Sue Corbett is the author of The Last Newspaper Boy in America and other novels for children.

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