"Silkworm" is a novel released in May of 2014, and written by Robert Galbraith, a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. It is the second book in a series of mystery novels featuring Cormorant Strike, who first appeared in The Cuckoo's Calling.
Cormorant Strike is a disabled Afghanistan War veteran who works as a private investigator in London, accompanied by his assistant Robin Ellacott. After the last book's events, he is successful, but chooses to take on the case of a destitute woman whose husband, a man named Owen Quine, an author of surreal literary fiction, has disappeared. Right before disappearing, the author had written a libelous roman a clef that was full of incriminating material on a number of people in London's literary world: authors, editors, publishers and others. The surreal and violent manuscript becomes the key to discovering where Quine has disappeared to, and what his associates may know about it. Along the way, the book also covers the developing relationship between Cormorant and Robin, as well as painting a more detailed picture of the London they live in.
Shortly before starting this book, I had a interesting to me but obvious revelation about the appeal of mystery novels: a mystery novel is a type of game, and can actively engage the reader's attention because the reader is in a way "competing" with the author to see if they can solve the puzzle. Although they didn't follow the usual rules of the genre, the Harry Potter books were mystery novels. The Casual Vacancy was not, which is perhaps why it seems atypical of Rowling's work. With this book, slightly before the final climax, I suddenly "snapped" into a revelation about what was going on, based on a relatively minor clue that I had earlier overlooked, and indeed, I felt like a winner when my suspicions were confirmed.
What this set-up has also allowed Galbraith to do is write a piece of metafiction that isn't wankery. Every mystery novel has two conflicts going on at the same time: between the detective and the criminal, and between the reader and the author. What Galbraith has done here is taken that second conflict and put it into the book: just as we are examining and competing with Galbraith's text to find out what is happening, Strike is examining and competing with the the text of Quine's book. Quine's book has a theme of people switching gender and identities, and there is a question raised about whether Quine really wrote it. All of this seems to be a sly (but not overly self-referential) allusion to the fact that the identity of Robert Galbraith was established to be J.K. Rowling through a similar series of textual interrogations.
Perhaps because of all these layers, I found the book somewhat slower going than I had other Rowling books: it took me two full days to read, because I would often pause after each chapter and try to find out what was going on. In some ways, this book represents a stylistic evolution for Rowling, and I am interested in seeing what direction her writing will go.