Book: The Silkworm

"The Silkworm"

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days–as he has done before–and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel is published, it will ruin lives–so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him.

And when Quine is found brutally murdered in bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…

If I were to sum up my reaction to J.K. Rowling’s first novel as Robert Galbraith in one sentence, it would go something like: “the mystery is simple, but the characters and how the author writes them make the book an enjoyable read.”

I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was expecting a more elaborate mystery in the follow-up novel. But I didn’t want it to be at the expense of the characters we grew to love in the first novel.

Strike and Robin made a great partnership in The Cuckoo’s Calling. But the same cannot be said for The Silkworm because author Rowling decided to put an obstacle between them that readers are not privy to until halfway through the novel. And that’s when their partnership reboots to where it was at the end of the first novel.

Until you get to that point, you have to struggle through a number of chapters where it’s just Strike trying to make sense of things–and Robin being relegated to just a secretary. A set-up that doesn’t work for the budding detective. And it doesn’t work for me, as a reader, too.

This is not to say The Silkworm is bad. If we were to rate it by Harry Potter books, this would rank between Chamber of Secrets and Half-Blood Prince. It is a good enough book, but it’s not going to be a favorite.

Heck, the mystery itself is a lot like the aforementioned Harry Potter books. In which the author has already given the main clue that would unravel the story from the get go. And it’s up to the readers to catch up on the supporting clues before the grand reveal in the end.

Unlike Harry Potter though, or the first Cormoran Strike novel, this installment is devoid of characters you would want to root for. Cormoran is at his hard-headed best, and Robin is mostly in a snitch throughout the novel. And this saddens me because their non-romantic relationship in the first novel was what made me want to pick up a second book.

I’ll still be picking up a third book, I’m sure. I just hope that, with the Cormoran-Robin relationship back to what it was at the end of the first novel, their characters would be growing forward and not going back to what it was when they first met.

Now, these are just my thoughts. Let’s check out what other netizens are saying about the book:
Dark Readers
Mugglenet
London24

Television: Sherlock and His Last Vow

"His Last Vow"

A case of stolen letters leads Sherlock Holmes into a long conflict with Charles Augustus Magnussen, the Napoleon of blackmail, and the one man he truly hates. But how do you tackle a foe who knows the personal weakness of every person of importance in the Western world?

And so ends another series of BBC’s Sherlock. And at the end of it all, a character posits the question, “did you miss me?” A tease, if there ever was one. A tease to the fans who have to endure another long hiatus to get the next fix, the next series.

So, to respond to the question: Yes, you bastard. Yes, we missed you. And now, we’re going to miss you again.

His Last Vow caps off another great series of Sherlock. Although, if we’re going to be perfectly honest with each other, this has to be my least favorite batch of three. Which is a compliment to the series to be perfectly honest. Their least good batch of episodes are still four and a half hours (or is it six hours?) of quality television.

But why do I say that this is the least good batch?

If you remember, I was very much a fan of the premiere. I loved how Sherlock was made more accessible to the viewers. And I think I’m starting to understand why: it’s because he’s more likable now. Not that he wasn’t before. But he’s actually making an effort to be liked now.

In The Empty Hearse, it was a breath of fresh air. In The Sign of Three, it felt weird. Now, in His Last Vow, the discord in Sherlock’s character is made more pronounced because he’s back to being who he was in the first two of series of the program. He’s back to not caring.

And it feels wrong.

I mean, it’s not wrong. This is actually the Sherlock we’ve waiting for since he took that jump in Reichenbach Fall. But after being teased with the more human Sherlock… Well, it’s classic Steven Moffat, isn’t it? He gives you what you think you want, and then he takes it away.

Thing is, I think it’s good that he actually takes away the human Sherlock this time ’round. One of the reasons why I like BBC’s Sherlock is because of his inability to process the basic need of human beings to be loved, to be understood. He has his own bubble world where what other people think don’t matter.

And then it started to.

I liked Series 3. Let me be clear about that. I liked it. It’s more visual, it’s more ambitious, it has more heart. But I don’t think it lives up to what the first two series were. Genius. They were genius. Series 3, having seen all the episodes now, was just below genius.

Again, not a bad thing. It’s just that we’ve gotten used to getting the best. Settling for second best isn’t as good.

And we are settling, aren’t we? After two years of no Sherlock, we lapped up the three episodes like the world was ending this month. We didn’t care that most of what we watched seemed to have come from the need to service the fans more than the story.

I get that the fans are important. Without the fervent clamor for new Sherlock episodes, there wouldn’t be more Sherlock episodes. But didn’t we come for the stories? Didn’t we come for the smarts? The last minute unraveling of a mystery?

I like that they tried to bring Sherlock a notch down. But a stumped Sherlock is not a fun Sherlock. I want his glee. I want his superiority. Because we watch Sherlock not because we want realism. We watch Sherlock because we want to see this fictional character be brilliant.

So Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and Steve Thompson? Make Sherlock brilliant again. Make him shine.

Please.

Television: Sherlock and the Sign of Three

"The Sign of Three"

Sherlock faces his biggest challenge of all – delivering a Best Man’s speech on John’s wedding day! But all isn’t quite as it seems. Mortal danger stalks the reception – and someone might not make it to the happy couple’s first dance. Sherlock must thank the bridesmaids, solve the case and stop a killer!

As is always the case with Sherlock, the second episode doesn’t match the intensity of the premiere. But that’s not to say that The Sign of Three was bad. It wasn’t. It was brilliant, funny, and poignant. It just wasn’t as good as the first off the series. Not for me. And I can attribute this to two things:

Number one is the storytelling. Whilst I completely enjoyed Sherlock’s discomfort at having to give a best man speech, the digression towards The Bloody Guardsman and the MayFly cases were what really hooked me in this episode. So much so that whenever we would go back to the wedding, I would feel a tinge of disappointment. The entire episode was brilliant, some parts were just more brilliant than the others. Which isn’t, I’m guessing, how you want viewers to remember the episode. The sum should be equal the parts.

But, spoiler alert, what really made this episode less enjoyable for me, was how neatly the puzzle pieces fit together in the end. How convenient was it for Sherlock to remember the two cases that would lead to the mystery in the wedding? I mean, really. Out of all the cases he can use to highlight John, he uses the two unsolved ones that would pinpoint a murderer in their midst? And the murderer was there. He was listening to the anecdotes. He should’ve realized that he had to start making an escape plan, and not just a hasty exit after the reception. I understand the need to keep cover, but his escape could’ve been smarter. After all, in the two unsolved cases Sherlock presented, he was ingenious with his means. Why suddenly be an ordinary-thinking criminal with something to hide?

And then there’s number two: Sherlock Holmes. Two people living together as long as Sherlock and Watson have are bound to become more acclimatized to one another. They show each other sides that they normally hide from the public. But there was something off about how Sherlock was written in this episode. I mean, for the most part it’s the Sherlock we know and love, but there would be lines of dialogue that were funny but doesn’t feel right coming from him.

Sherlock is socially awkward, we get it. But he is a high-functioning sociopath, as he likes to remind us. Getting a crowd to listen to him be smart should’ve have silenced him in the beginning. Wouldn’t getting a captive audience invigorated him? And then his admittance at not solving a case? Two cases? Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes might do that. Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes might do that. But the BBC version hasn’t shown us that he is capable of being humble, even for just the span of a second, that it feels off when he does do it.

But these are just nit-pickings. The Sign of Three is a solid episode. It… It’s just not for me.

Book: The Cuckoo’s Calling

"The Cuckoo's Calling"

When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts, and calls in private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into the case.

Strike is a war veteran – wounded both physically and psychologically – and his life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline, but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model’s complex world, the darker things get – and the closer he gets to terrible danger . . .

It took me days, but I finally finished the debut novel from detective novelist Robert Galbraith. I liked it. I loved it near the end, yes. But for the purposes of this post? I’m sticking with ‘I liked it.’

Before we begin, yes I do know that Robert Galbraith is really J K Rowling. Truth be told, the reason why I bought the really long novel (and ploughed through it an hour a day) was because of that fact. Finishing the book though, it would be a disservice to the book if I write about it in relation to Rowling–or her other more famous series.

I would, of course, get to that later. First, I just want to talk about the book.

The first thing I want to say about the book is this: I want a second one. If that’s good, I’ll want a third one too. I really, really like Cormoran Strike and his plucky assistant Robin. They’re exceptionally well-written, very concrete. So much so that I can actually envision them in my head while reading the novel.

I really like how the other characters are written too. There’s a sense of realness to them that isn’t always present in book characters. And this is just one of the reasons why I really enjoyed reading The Cuckoo’s Calling. Why I made sure to clock in an hour of reading amidst the deadlines I had to meet.

Although I’m not a fan of the book’s length, I don’t think I would take any part of it out. Every single part of the narrative played a part in the mystery we were unraveling. A mystery that was truly–

How do I say this?

The resolution of the mystery wasn’t shocking. It’s not original (and our main protagonist even says so himself). But it is so well-handled that it feels fresh. The story was written in such a way that we are not being pushed from plot point to plot point. We progressed through the story with our main characters.

I’m normally a stickler for jumping perspectives. I hate it. But with this novel, I found it charming. I wanted to know what was going on with Robin just as much as I wanted to find out what’s happening next in Strike’s investigation. And you can tell that there is care in the way the two are being handled. That there is love.

You can’t help but love the two characters. And that’s half of the battle right there. Because when you care about the characters, when you’re hooked and wanting to find out what happens to them, then it doesn’t matter if the story’s rubbish.

Thank goodness it’s not though. The story is stellar. And this is where I relate The Cuckoo’s Calling to Rowling’s more famous series.

I grew up with Harry Potter. And when you’re following a series (and you end up with a lot of time), you can’t help but read way too much between the lines. You want to see if the author has written clues as to what will happen next. And Harry Potter did not disappoint. There are plot points in the second book that becomes very important in the sixth installment.

This, I think, has made Rowling very adept at crafting an amazing mystery novel. As soon as the mystery is introduced, clues are being planted. As we go from one story to another, we also gain a bigger understanding of what’s happening and what happened. And by the time we solve the mystery, you know it couldn’t have ended any other way.

J K Rowling, or Robert Galbraith, has given us a wonderful new world to play in. I hope she continues with it, because I want to see more of the world that Cormoran Strike and Robin inhabits. And I want to know what happens next for the two.

Check out what other people have said about the book:
GMA News Online
‘Ow Am Yau?
The Boar

And other interesting reads from:
The New York Times
New Statesman

Book: The Sign of Four

"The Sign of Four"

Sherlock Holmes is roused from drug-induced depression by a beautiful young woman. Her name is Mary Morstan and every year since the mysterious disappearance of her father, she has received a lustrous pearl. Now her anonymous benefactor has requested a meeting and she wants Holmes and Watson to accompany her. Together they uncover a story that began in far-off India with unimaginable treasures and terrible betrayal.

I’ve gone and read another Sherlock Holmes novel!

All right, confession time. I didn’t really pick this book up because I was intrigued with the story. All I know of this story was that Watson meets the woman he will eventually marry. The real reason I picked up this book was because it featured a nice cover–and an introduction by Martin Freeman.

The introduction is actually just the actor talking about being a fan of the fictional detective, of being asked to audition for the modern adaptation by BBC, and his initial hesitation at accepting the part of John Watson. That’s actually more interesting than The Sign of Four.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoiled by the modern adaptation, with its mile-a-minute exposition that really dazzles, or maybe it’s just because The Sign of Four isn’t as engaging as any of the other Sherlock Holmes stories. This one bored me a little.

But, I must say, the synopsis is really well-written. It does lead you on into thinking that this book is about the mystery of the pearls that Mary Morstan receives. Well, it is–and yet, it also isn’t. How do I say this? The mystery Mary Morstan introduces is not the actual mystery that we need to solve. In fact, Miss Morstan’s mystery is no mystery at all.

I do wonder why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle thought it was necessary to include the character of Miss Morstan. Was it really his plan to have Watson fall in love with the woman? If so, for what purpose? In most of the novels I’ve read where Watson is already married, Mary rarely ever plays a big part.

But how do you question an author long dead? I guess this will have to remain a mystery for me–unless someone out there knows the story behind the creation of Mary Morstan.

While me mull that over, let’s go around the ‘net and see what other people have written about The Sign of Four.
The Beauty of Eclecticism
Scott D Parker
Teen Ink