Readers are introduced to Cormoran Strike in a moment of need. His.
“A double fee. Strike’s conscience, once firm and inelastic, had been weakened by repeated blows of fate; this was the knockout punch. His baser self was already gamboling off into the realms of happy speculation: a month’s work would give him enough to pay off the temp and some of the rent arrears; two months, the more pressing debts…three months, a chunk of the overdraft gone…four months….” (TCC)
Strike is an ordinary investigator who wants to make a living; he sets aside his instinct to turn down a case — based on the unlikelihood that he will unearth anything new that the other investigators have not previously discovered — accepts the double fee and, eventually, solves the mystery. This is the stuff that crime novels are made of.
But a successful crime series is based on readers’ ongoing investment in a character.
Robert Galbraith’s description of London adds to readers’ understanding of Cormoran Strike as well.
“This was the hour when he found London most lovable; the working day over, her pub windows were warm and jewel-like, her streets thrummed with life, and the indefatigable permanence of her aged buildings, softened by the street lights, became strangely reassuring. We have seen plenty like you, they seemed to murmur soothingly, as he limped along Oxford Street carrying a boxed-up camp bed. Seven and a half million hearts were beating in close proximity in this heaving old city, and many, after all, would be aching far worse than his. Walking wearily past closing shops, while the heavens turned indigo above him, Strike found solace in vastness and anonymity.” (TCC)
Ditched, aching, and alone, he is a sympathetic character. He stops short of pitiful because he is capable professionally, a skilled and sensitive observer, and he consistently operates according to a strict code of honour.
Robert Galbraith’s storytelling affords a degree of layering; passages which are descriptive in nature can also serve to illuminate aspects of character, and thematic elements in regards to the case sometimes echo in the lives of main and recurring series’ characters as well.
Stylistically, the prose is dotted with abrupt and unusual descriptors and bursts of figurative detail. Sometimes this is effective and evocative. (“She looked away from him, drawing hard on her Rothman’s; when her mouth puckered into hard little lines around the cigarette, it looked like a cat’s anus.”) Other times, say with “chrysoberyl eyes” or a “frozen moment of mutual mortification”, there is a degree of awkwardness. (TCC)
Overall, the writing may seem overly wordy by readers accustomed to leaner prose in mystery novels. Rather than simply express Cormoran’s feelings about a recurring secondary character in The Silkworm via his repeated rescheduling of a meeting, his response is explained and explored. And rather than allowing readers to gather their own impressions of a character from the scenes, in which their dialogue is particularly revealing, declarative statements abound.
“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. They were often attractive and usually, as his very oldest friend Dave Polworth liked to put it, ‘total fucking flakes.’ Precisely what it was about him that attracted the type, Strike had never taken the time to consider, although Polworth, a man of many pithy theories, took the view that such women (‘nervy, overbred’) were subconsciously looking for what he called ‘carthorse blood.’” (TS)
Readers have had ample opportunity to draw their own conclusions about Cormoran’s encounters with women to whom he is “unusually attractive”. If Dave Polworth, “very oldest friend”, was a pivotal character, this description could be important as much in revealing his worldview as an observation about either the women or Cormoran.
Instead, passages like these, while they contribute to displaying the storyteller’s voice and the series’ tone, might snarl up those readers who are expecting a quintessentially sleek mystery style and simultaneously also put off those readers who are accustomed to wordy literary novels but do not require/appreciate expository statements about characterization.
Nonetheless, and despite the fact that I don’t believe I fit into the group Dave Polworth describes, I do find Cormoran Strike an unusually attractive character. Readers who enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling and who are interested in the publishing industry likely will find The Silkworm even more satisfying from an entertainment perspective. Even though the flourishes (such as the chapter epigraphs from classic English revenge plays) and the prose style might not tickle my fancy, Cormoran’s character has a solid pull (whether carthorse like or not).