Top Ten Moments from The Silkworm

Posted on 25 Jun 2024

It’s the tenth anniversary of the publication of The Silkworm! To mark the occasion, here are ten favourite moments when events and people came together to cast new light on the investigation into the disappearance of Owen Quine, or onto the lives and relationships of Robin Ellacott, now a permanent employee of the agency, and her boss, Cormoran Strike.

A sleepless night, an old client, and a new one

Strike might never have got involved with the case of Owen Quine if it wasn’t for William Baker. After missing a night’s sleep on another case, Strike is late for their appointment and finds another client, a slight middle-aged woman called Leonora Quine, waiting for him in the office. Baker’s high-handed attitude and rudeness to Robin irritate the sleep-deprived Strike, so he ends up sacking him as a client and inviting Leonora into his office without any idea what the woman wants.

Once Baker leaves, Strike finds Leonora just wants him to make a phone call. She’s sure her husband, the writer Owen Quine who has been missing for ten days, is at a writers’ retreat and publisher Christian Fletcher knows where it is. Leonora and her daughter Orlando need him home. While Strike sleeps, Robin finds where Christian Fletcher works, but he insists Strike comes to see him in person.

A publisher, a phone-call and a scandal 

On a foggy morning in Exmouth Market in North London, Strike visits Christian Fletcher, the man who knows where Owen is according to Leonora. Too shattered to have questioned Leonora properly, Strike is on the back foot during the interview, and after Christian confirms with a quick call Owen has not gone to a writing retreat as Leonora thought, Strike discovers that Owen Quine has recently completed a novel called Bombyx Mori. Quine, Fletcher tells him, is an ‘arrogant and deluded bastard’, who is wearing out his welcome with his current publisher, Roper Chard, so his agent, Liz, sent Christian Fletcher the manuscript to see if he’d be interested in publishing it. Intrigued when Liz tried to get it back from him almost immediately, Christian read it. He tells Strike it is grotesque, full of gore, and that characters are recognisably based on real people, including the CEO of Quine’s current publisher Daniel Chard and Michael Fancourt, a writer far more famous than Owen. Strike leaves with no good opinion of his client’s husband, and a lot more questions.

An invitation, a meeting, and a new perspective

Robin and her fiancé Matthew Cunliffe’s wedding is only seven weeks away. Robin is hopeful that meeting Strike will help Matthew get over his jealousy of her boss, his resentment of her new career, and his disappointment she didn’t take the sensible, higher-paying job in HR she was offered during the Lula Landry investigation (The Cuckoo’s Calling). Robin gives Strike the wedding invitation after carrying it around for some weeks, prompted by the announcement of the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

The three of them meet finally at a pub near Waterloo, and the evening doesn’t start well when Strike arrives late and dishevelled after an afternoon with a dangerous character on another case. Though Robin gives Matthew every opportunity to appear at his best, he does not make a good impression. Strike thinks he’s an idiot and recognises his type from the army. Always officer class but with a pocket of insecurity just beneath the smooth surface, which makes them overcompensate and sometimes overreach.

Strike makes conversation, but Matthew is unsettled and intimidated, arrogant and assertive. Robin is irritated by both of them and upset by the light cast on her soon-to-be husband’s character by Strike’s polite questions.

A meeting, a view and a manuscript

Strike attends a party celebrating Roper Chard’s 100th anniversary to meet some of the people Owen Quine has written about. He gets in thanks to Nina Lascelles, a cousin of a contact, and she is delighted to help. At the party all anyone can talk about is Owen’s scandalous Bombyx Mori. While drinking champagne and admiring the view, Jerry Waldegrave, Owen’s editor, confesses he’s worried, saying the new novel is a sign Owen is cracking up. No rational person could have thought it would be published, he says, and he is also sure Owen’s agent, Liz, knew exactly what she was doing when she sent it out.

In an awkward speech Daniel Chard announces they have succeeded in getting Michael Fancourt to return to his publishing house, and under the cover of the celebrations, Nina helps Strike steal a copy of the manuscript itself. Realising she likes him, and that he owes her something for her help, but too tired to take her out tonight, Strike impulsively invites her to the birthday supper his sister Lucy has arranged for the following day.  

A birthday, a blind date, and a conversation

Lucy, Strike’s half-sister, has put the unpredictable life they shared with their mother Leda behind her, and now lives a rigidly conventional existence in the suburbs with her husband and three young sons. She thinks birthdays should be celebrated in a conventional manner too with cards, presents and cake. She has even arranged a blind date for Strike so is put out when he arrives with Nina. Marguerite, the woman Lucy has invited, makes Strike wish his sister understood him better. Still, she has remembered he needs a new watch, provided a cake with thirty-six candles, and invited his friends Nick and Ilsa Herbert. The couple met at Nick and Strike’s joint eighteenth birthday party in London when Ilsa came up from Cornwall to celebrate. At dinner, during the slight sparring between Nina and Marguerite, Strike learns that Owen Quine and Nicholas Fancourt jointly own a house, which was left to them by a third writer, Joe North, and never sold. Both wrote books based on the time they spent there. Fancourt’s won the Booker Prize, and Owen’s was panned by the critics. Strike decides, after spending the night at Nina’s, to check the house for himself, despite Leonora’s assertions he should never go there.

An ending, an arrival and a death

After Strike’s horrific discovery at Quine and Fancourt’s house on Talgarth Road, the search for Owen becomes the search for a killer. On Monday morning he gets up early to finish reading the stolen manuscript in the office and Robin arrives, eager to hear about Strike’s discovery. The contrast between the sight of her as she comes in, and the horrors in his mind and on the page is stark. As he finishes reading, he realises the manuscript contains a dark and morbid surprise beyond the caricatures and slanders of the people Owen knew.

Matthew calls while Strike shows Robin what he has found, but after spending the previous day fighting with him, Robin ignores it. Only when he calls the third time does she pick up.

An accident, a burger, and a fight

The day before the funeral of Matthew’s mother, Robin drives Strike to Tiverton to see Daniel Chard. In the snow, a lorry jackknifes in front of their car and only Robin’s quick reactions and advanced driving skills save them from becoming part of a pileup. Strike realises she has abilities far beyond what he knows already.

Before heading back from the interview so Robin can get the train to North Yorkshire for Matthew’s mother’s funeral, Strike insists on stopping for something to eat and Robin’s frustrations with her boss lead to an outburst over their burgers. Strike is honest with her, and Robin is forced to face the fact there is a conflict between her vocation for investigative work and her relationship with Matthew.

A church, a funeral, and a phone call

The funeral of Matthew’s mother means a return for Robin to Masham, the market town in North Yorkshire where she and Matthew grew up. Sitting in the church of St Mary the Virgin, where she had been planning to marry in a few weeks, Robin feels her perennial curiosity sparking as usual, distracting her from Mrs Cunliffe’s funeral service.

After the funeral, Matthew spends the night at Robin’s family home, and with Linda, Robin’s mother, they watch a TV interview given by Michael Fancourt, Owen Quine’s former friend and rival. Matthew, Robin suspects, would much rather be in the pub with her brothers. She avoids discussing the case, but an accidental dial from Strike means she has to call him back and as she does, Matthew watches her with undisguised displeasure. Then Matthew works out she spent the day before the funeral driving Strike to Devon and back.

A magazine, a wedding and a photograph

Thanks to policeman Richard Anstis’s wife, Strike discovers the date of his ex-fiancée, Charlotte Campbell’s upcoming marriage to the Honourable Jago Ross at his family’s home, the Castle of Croy. Reading the long article in Tatler about the approaching wedding, Strike is sure that Charlotte’s words are designed to cause him maximum pain, and that she expects him to storm into the wedding and save her. Thoughts of her wedding distract and distress him, but Strike refuses the bait. On the day Charlotte marries, he calls Nina and spends the night with her.

Charlotte sends Strike an email which Robin opens, and attached is a stunning but disturbing picture of the bride on the wedding day looking bereft and haunted. Robin recognises at once the beautiful woman who almost ran into her on the first day she arrived at Strike’s agency. Strike tells her to delete it and explains to Robin his theory of the case. He is sure now who killed Owen Quine and why, but they need proof.

A favour, a conversation and a crash

Strike asks his half-brother, Al Rokeby, to get him into the eccentric and exclusive Chelsea Arts Club where another literary party is being held. The silent beauty of the garden, shrouded in the still falling snow, provides the backdrop for the Strike’s revelations about the mysterious nature of the manuscript, and the killer of Owen Quine. The killer flees in the snow, and Strike and Al follow. After a chase through one of the most exclusive parts of London, the killer is surrounded. Shocked and relieved, Strike staggers to Robin who was in the front of an old taxi, which had crashed through a plate glass window. Once he knows Robin is OK, and their theory of the case has been proved, Strike begins to laugh as the snow pours down on the gathering, curious crowd.