Killer Plot: ‘The Silkworm’ by J. K. Rowling, as Robert Galbraith

Harlan Coben in The New York Times:

Corben-master675During a cocktail party in Robert Galbraith’s (a.k.a. J. K. Rowling’s) endlessly entertaining detective novel “The Silkworm,” the publisher Daniel Chard gives a toast in which he observes that “publishing is currently undergoing a period of rapid changes and fresh challenges, but one thing remains as true today as it was a century ago: Content is king.” Coming from an obscure, midlist, mystery author named Robert Galbraith such a statement might go unnoticed. But when the same passage is written by J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series and one of the most successful authors of all time, the words cannot help having a far greater impact. Therein lies the problem and the great joy of this book. You want to judge “The Silkworm” on its own merit, author be damned. It is, in fact, this critic’s job to do so. But writing that type of blind review in this case, while a noble goal, is inauthentic if not downright disingenuous. If an author’s biography always casts some shadow on the work, here, the author is comparatively a total solar eclipse coupled with a supermassive black hole.

…Some will also argue that while Harry Potter altered the landscape in a way no children’s novel ever has, here Rowling does the opposite: She plays to form. “The Silkworm” is a very well-written, wonderfully entertaining take on the traditional British crime novel, but it breaks no new ground, and Rowling seems to know that. Robert Galbraith may proudly join the ranks of English, Scottish and Irish crime writers such as Tana French, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, John Connolly, Kate Atkinson and Peter Robinson, but she wouldn’t overshadow them. Still, to put any author on that list is very high praise. The upside of being as well known as Rowling is obvious — sales, money, attention. That’s not what she’s after here. The downside — and her reason for using the pseudonym — is that telling a story needs a little bit of anonymity. Rowling deserves that chance, even if she can’t entirely have it. We can’t unring that bell, but in a larger sense, we readers get more. We get the wry observations when we can’t ignore the author’s identity and we get the escapist mystery when we can. In the end, the fictional publisher Daniel Chard got it right: “Content is king,” and on that score, both J. K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith triumph.

More here.