The Silkworm, the second installment of the Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) detective novels, came out last week, and we’re beginning to see a pattern. Critics have noted that Rowling largely writes these novels to form. Even her brooding, war-injured private eye, Cormoran Strike, reads as a recognizable type. But Rowling also makes a significant—and surprisingly overlooked—deviation in her update to the detective genre. Unlike most crime narratives, which unfold in generalized settings—city, countryside, or geopolitical struggle—the Galbraith novels are embedded in niche contemporary subcultures.
Take The Cuckoo’s Calling. The death of supermodel Lula Landry immerses Strike in the world of modern celebrity: paparazzi, coked-up rockers, flamboyant designers, and tabloid nightmares. In The Silkworm, the disappearance of Owen Quine, an eccentric, third-rate writer, unearths the bizarre underworld of the publishing industry. In both novels, solving the murder involves a kind of anthropological investigation of the characters and practices that comprise each subculture. It’s cultural commentary through genre fiction, and since Rowling is one of the most famous and successful writers of our time, it’s hard not to feel like we’re getting the inside scoop.