The new novel from JK Rowling, written under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith, will feature a novelist who is brutally murdered after writing poison pen-portraits of nearly everyone he knows.
The Silkworm will be the second outing for Rowling's private detective and war veteran Cormoran Strike, and his "determined young assistant" Robin Ellacott, and will be published by Little, Brown on 24 June this year. It is described by the publisher as "a compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn", and will see Strike investigating the disappearance of the novelist Owen Quine.
"At first, Mrs Quine just thinks her husband 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," runs the newly released description of The Silkworm. "But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine's disappearance than his wife realises. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives – meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced. When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer."
The Silkworm is Rowling's third novel for adults, and the second she has written under her Galbraith pseudonym. The bestselling Harry Potter novelist was outed as author of the first Galbraith novel, The Cuckoo's Calling, by the Sunday Times, after a partner at her solicitors told his wife's best friend of her identity. Rowling sued and received an apology and her costs, with damages paid to the Soldiers Charity, to which Rowling also donated royalties from the novel.
The Cuckoo's Calling shot straight to the top of the bestseller lists after Rowling's identity as its author was leaked – although it had already received fulsome reviews from critics who had praised its "male" author's sensitivity to the female perspective. The novel centres on a supermodel's fall to her death – a tragedy which has been ruled a suicide by the police, a decision her brother refuses to accept. He calls on the help of Strike, a private investigator who has lost his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, who, on taking on the case, is plunged into the world of the super-rich.
It opens as the paparazzi surround the scene of the supermodel's death. "The buzz in the street was like the humming of flies," writes Rowling. "Photographers stood massed behind barriers patrolled by police, their long-snouted cameras poised, their breath rising like steam. Snow fell steadily on to hats and shoulders; gloved fingers wiped lenses clear. From time to time there came outbreaks of desultory clicking, as the watchers filled the waiting time by snapping the white canvas tent in the middle of the road, the entrance to the tall red-brick apartment block behind it, and the balcony on the top floor from which the body had fallen."
Rowling has said that she plans to write a series of books featuring Strike, the illegitimate son of a very famous man. "Strike gives me a way to talk in an objective, de-personalised way about the oddities that come with fame," she writes on Galbraith's website. "While in the army, Strike had the anonymity he craved; now that he has left, he runs into people who make a lot of assumptions about him based purely on his parentage."
His unusual surname, she said, comes "from a real (but deceased) man mentioned in a slim book about Cornwall", while his Christian name – "a gift from his flaky groupie of a mother, is unusual and a recurring irritation to him as people normally get it wrong; we sense that he would much rather be called Bob".
"Strike is a brilliant but damaged man who is still clinging tight to one or two principles that he holds sacred. He is trying to scrape a living while tolerating physical hardships that to many civilians would seem unbearable, and by maintaining a discipline that many might dispense with in his situation," wrote the author.
Rowling is to make a rare public appearance to promote the book, at the Harrogate crime-writing festival. She will be in conversation with crime bestseller Val McDermid at a special event on Friday 18 July.