The Great British Bake Off

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Despite considerable effort, I’ve never been able to see this show regularly in the US. It’s a huge hit in the UK, top ratings every season, but not available in the US. I occasionally catch a single episode or two on YouTube, but this was the first time I was able to see a full season. Yay, up-to-date on the cultural zeitgeist.

So, for the Americans, here’s a primer. It’s a reality show. They pick amateur/home bakers from around the UK to all come to do a series of baking challenges. Each weekend, they film, and then the contestants go home until the next weekend. They don’t live in some incestuous mansion, thank god. They still are normal people, taking care of their families and working. Each episode, one baker is sent home, in traditional reality show fashion, and at the end you have one winner.

The whole show takes place in a large tent on some aristocratic estate (Welford Park, this year)in the country. It’s so English in that way. The focus on rural locations, the aristocracy, history, agrarian life. B-roll always features buzzing bees in flowerbeds and horses and sheep grazing in paddocks. And the whole idea of a baking competition is reminiscent of the sort of village bazaars, bake shows, etc. that would have taken place 100+ years ago throughout England, and probably still do in some places.

Apparently there was an American version last year, called the American Baking Competition. Most boring name for any show in history. Worse, the host was Jeff Foxworthy.  Okay, the American equivalent of Sue and Mel is not Jeff Foxworthy. Jeff Foxworthy…really?!? Why didn’t they just get Larry the Cable Guy as expert judge? Shockingly, it got terrible ratings. I never even heard about it. Ugh.

Here’s what I really enjoy about GBBO: It’s nice. I never watch reality shows because everyone on them is a terrible person. Even the nice ones are terrible, or else they wouldn’t be on the show in the first place. But GBBO has nice people, and they’re baking, and you’re rooting for them to do well at baking. That’s it. And Mel and Sue, the hosts, are nice and funny. I love Sue Perkins.

Great British Bake-offOf course, you also have your slightly evil judges, Paul and Mary. Paul is the only truly evil one, but Mary has a glare reminiscent of an unhappy schoolteacher.

So, to this season in particular. Everyone was really likeable (except that first girl. She had zero competence and I’m glad she was gone immediately). And I wanted everyone to do well. Particularly Norman, who was adorable.

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I mean how often do you have a reality show where you actually are sad to see the contestants go? Never. I’ve never liked anyone who has been on reality TV. And I think the reason might be that there’s no prize on this show, really. You get a trophy thing, rather than the thousands of dollars/pounds other reality shows throw around. So you’re only going to enter if you really just want to bake and show that you’re a good baker. Worth noting that the American version gave $250,000 to the winner.

Of course, this season had a large scandal (‘bingate’), but I won’t go into that. Selective editing means we can’t know the real story, so I’m not going to blame a sweet old lady for anything without more information, no matter how guilty they made her appear. And I can’t say I care that much. Iain, despite his lovely accent and fantastic beard, was never going to win anyway.

So…if you’re wondering what they actually make on GBBO, I can tell you that it’s a bunch of stuff that Americans have never heard of. I understood a few words (bread, eclairs, cake), but it seems that we bake very different things on our side of the pond. If you’re American, you’ll spend a lot of time wondering what the fuck a Victoria Sponge is.  It’s sponge/pound cake, apparently. I’m not a baker, so maybe some of these things are more known to Americans who bake. But we don’t do Battenburg, swiss roll, or toffee pudding in the US.  I mean, not your average home baker, that’s for sure. We do chocolate cake or yellow cake. If you’re fancy, you call them Angel’s food or Devil’s food cakes. If you’re really fancy, you do a red velvet.  That’s it for most cakes, even bought at shops.

And I’d never even heard of most of the technicals. Swedish Princess cake? Schichttorte??? It did make me feel better that the contestants hadn’t heard of it either. A look at what the contestants baked on the American version backs me up on this–we don’t do any of the same desserts. The American version had (non-savory) pies, doughnuts, meringues, souffles. All things I would recognize. Even the technicals in the US were mostly things I’d heard of.  So…who knew? Apparently baking is very very different in our two countries. Here’s a gallery of the bakes from the British version, if you want to look at all the things you’ve never heard of. Also the metric system leads to further confusion when I try to comprehend what they’re doing.  God I wish I had learned the metric system and could comprehend 99% of the rest of the world when they measure things.

I digress

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This year’s winner was Nancy, who made a very beautiful recreation of the Moulin Rouge, complete with spinning sugar blades on the windmill.

Nancy_great_british_bake_off_winner_-_moulin_rouge_showstopper_-_star_baker_final_-_good_housekeepingBut I don’t really watch it for the baking. Partially because I have no idea what the fuck they are making half the time. I just like that they all get together and try really hard to make something lovely to eat. And they’re nice. And Mel and Sue give them hugs at the end. Mel and Sue are a national treasure, btw, and I am jealous we don’t have them in the US. They deserve to be an international treasure.

In short, it’s a wonderfully simple and pleasant show. It’s small in scope and importance, but its existence does something to counterbalance the fact that Big Brother is still on the air.

 

 

 

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The Making of Harry Potter – Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Harry_Potter_Leavesden_entranceYes, I finally made it to the Harry Potter Studio Tour!  And yes, this post will contain 5000 pictures.

First, a few notes on getting there, tickets, etc.  Get tickets early–at least a few days during the off-peak times, and possibly a week or two during holiday weekends and tourist times of year. I would recommend getting the digital guide along with the admission–you can get this ahead of time, with your tickets, or pay for it when you get there.

Speaking of getting there. Their website lists the ways it can be done. Coming from London, you can either take a coach straight from Victoria station, or take a train to Watford Junction and catch a special bus from there to the studio. I did the latter. When you exit the station, turn left toward the group of bus stops. You’ll know when you find the right bus.6879219692_c39133f9fd_z

 

Tickets are timed, so you may have to wait just a bit from arrival before you can go in. They have a Starbucks and you can access the gift shop while you wait.

You’ll be able to see Harry’s cupboard as you queue. Then you’ll be shown into a room and told to stand there–they’ll talk and show a video.  I recommend standing all the way at the far end of the room, next to one of the three doors. Then you’ll be the first out.

…into another room where they’ll show a video. You get to sit down for this one! I recommend finding a seat in the front row, or very close to an aisle. But they will force you to move all the way down each row, so that may not be possible.

The reason you may want to pick a good seat is because of what you’ll see next.  The Great Hall!

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For the rest of the tour, you have as much time as you like, but in this room you are limited, so make sure you see everything you want to see.  The house tables, the goblets and plates.  The costumes!

DSC_2762 DSC_2755 DSC_2746 DSC_2765They display them on slightly creepy mannequin things, but they are the real costumes. House robes, including the wee ones Dan Radcliffe wore in the first movie.  Most of the staff are up near the head table, including Hagrid, Dumbledore, Filch, McGonagall, Snape, Flitwick, and Trelawney.

So make sure you get a good look around before they usher you into the next room.  Also, note for photos: the whole place is pretty dimly lit. If your camera has a mode good for candlelight or low light, you may want to use that. I hate using flash when I’m in a space like this, but it is almost necessary for the photos to turn out.

The rest of the tour is just you wandering–this is when the digital guide comes in handy. You can hear about the specifics of different props or costumes, from the actors that used them or the people that made them. Quite cool.

You wander around a room with sets dispersed within it, as well as small nooks displaying more costumes, props, wigs, architecture. All of it just stuffed in a big space, like the room of requirement with all the junk in it. And it’s all wonderful. There are the Hogwarts gates with the 2 boars:

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Then its straight to the familiar Gryffindor common room and boys dormitory, complete with some more costumes, some comfy armchairs by the fire, and personalized bunks for each of the boys. Dean’s has a West Ham blanket; Ron’s cubby area is covered in Chudley Cannons posters.

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The next sets you’ll see are the Potions classroom, Hagrid’s Hut, and the Burrow.

DSC_2829 DSC_2852Can I say how much I want to live in the Burrow? I wish you could actually walk in, be in the space, but I understand why you can’t.DSC_2864

DSC_2869I did, however, find out the answer to a very important question. If you’re wondering what wizards eat for breakfast, look no further:DSC_2862

Cheeriowls. Of course.

You can sort of walk into Dumbledore’s office, a little, but the upper portion (with all the cool stuff) is roped off. DSC_2843

But you can see the pensieve up close.

In between all of these sets there is just a cornucopia of props, costumes, everything you’ve ever wanted to see. Here are just a few pictures of what is nestled in every corner.DSC_2778 Ron’s dress robes. The robes of prominent and terrifying death eaters, and some of the Order of the Phoenix.

DSC_2901 DSC_2819Muggles in their rightful place, the Black family tree tapestry, Lupin’s trunkDSC_2898 DSC_2876 DSC_2929

There are just tons of things, all over the room.

Also in this room, you can wait in line for a go on the CGI broom experience. I did not feel like waiting in line to make an idiot of myself, so I skipped this. If you don’t mind looking an idiot, it’s probably pretty fun.

The section of this room that I actually loved was all the print media and products that were produced. Books, the Daily Prophet, the Quibbler, anything with text. This one case was one of my favorite parts–these little props have so much detail, for minor use during the films. DSC_2912 DSC_2911 DSC_2907 DSC_2904

Leave me alone and I could read those entire issues of the Daily Prophet. I’d probably enjoy reading the test booklet as well.

After the first building, you can proceed into the courtyard outside. This was home to some of the larger sets. You can walk across the Hogwarts bridge, take a look inside the Knight Bus, and knock on the door of 4 Privet Drive. And you can get some Butterbeer at the cafe. I really like Butterbeer.DSC_2937 DSC_2942 DSC_2941

They also have the chess pieces from Philosopher’s Stone, the ruined home of the Potter’s in Godric’s Hollow, and some of the other vehicles (motorbike, Ford Anglia) that you can sit in/on.

From here, you enter the second building. This one is more devoted to how they made things happen. The creature shop is a mix of CGI and lifelike models that is filled with extremely creepy things.

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You get to walk through a life-size version of Diagon Alley, though this experience may be dwarfed if you’ve been to the expansion at the Wizarding World in Orlando. I haven’t yet, so it was pretty exciting for me.DSC_2975 DSC_2977

And now you can start to see how Hogwarts was created, from drawings, and small models, to filmable miniatures. I found it really fascinating and would love to own some of the concept art they had on display. DSC_2984 DSC_2987 DSC_2988 DSC_2994 DSC_2999

And the big finale.

The final room you’ll see (before the obligatory stop at the gift shop) is a massive miniature of Hogwarts, in its entirety. It’s stupid large, and I would pay a lot of money to be shrunk down small enough to wander through it. The detail is too difficult to see from the viewing area, but apparently they made little torches to line the halls and everything perfectly to scale. Why hasn’t science invented that shrinking thing yet? Rick Moranis, where are you when we need you? The room also cycles through lighting changes, so that you can see the castle during daylight and at night, lit up by the many torches. It’s really lovely and hit me right in the feels, to be honest.DSC_3003 DSC_3010

I really enjoyed the tour, and I loved seeing all of the little details that went into creating the movies, and making these worlds believable. Especially the real costumes. I’d highly recommend it to any HP fan within a 500 hundred miles of London.

That being said, I preferred my trip to the Wizarding World (and would probably prefer it even more now that it has expanded). The thing about this studio tour is that it is showing you exactly how everything was created to look good on camera. That’s very fascinating and I’m glad to see it. But, the Orlando Wizarding World is sort of saying ‘yes, it’s real, and here it is, and you can come in and have a look around’.  And that’s preferable to the part of my brain that will never quite give up believing that it is really real.

 

 

Happy Valley

MV5BMTQzODQ3OTA3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzUyNzI0MjE@._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_AL_Yes, another police procedural. But, I really liked this one. Netflix suggested it to me because I liked the Fall. I can see why (police, strong female protagonist, evil man to catch), but they’re actually really different. Gillian Anderson in the Fall is very upper class, very separate from the common officers on the street. In Happy Valley, the whole show takes place at a working class level in a fairly working class area of Yorkshire.

It aired in April on BBC One, and was put on Netflix last month in the US. It has been renewed for a second season.

The show stars Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood. And oh boy does she have a life I wouldn’t want.  About 8 years ago, her daughter was raped and became pregnant. She delivered the baby, but hanged herself shortly thereafter. Catherine decided to keep and raise her grandson, against the objections of her husband and their son. Divorce and ostracism followed. The men of the family couldn’t look at the baby without seeing the rape and the suicide.

Now, Catherine still wonders if she made the right decision. Catherine and her recovering addict sister Clare (played by Downton Abbey’s Siobhan Finneran), and the two of them can barely handle the boy, Ryan, and their hectic lives.

Siobhan Finneran as Clare and Sarah Lancashire as Catherine in Happy Valley

Ryan has a bad temper, and you can’t hear that without wondering how much of his father is inside him.

Speaking of his father.  He was just released from prison. Not for rape. He was never caught for what he did to Catherine’s daughter, so you can imagine that revenge on him is just about the only thing Cahterine cares about when she hears he is released.  And, I can’t blame her, because he’s a sick and disgusting villain.

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On the other side of town, in a little bit better neighborhood, lives Kevin Weatherill. And if he isn’t the world’s biggest asshole, I don’t know who is.  Yes, I do, it’s Rupert Murdoch. But still. This guy is a douche.

p01xkx77He wants to send his daughter to private school, but he doesn’t have the money. So he asks his boss, Nevison, who he feels owes him something.  His boss says no, because if he did it for Kevin, he’d have to do it for everyone.

You can see Kevin’s big flaw in just this little bit of information. He has a problem, and he wants someone to solve it for him. When the boss says no, Kevin sees it as all the boss’s fault. Some people would take a second job, or cut back on vacations, but not Kevin. Kevin thinks the world owes him. He’s angry, so, naturally, he suggests to a criminal he knows that maybe the boss’s daughter could get kidnapped and he could get a cut of the money. That’s his solution.

So the criminal, Ashley, gets together his two workers, Lewis and Tommy Lee Royce. Tommy Lee Royce, by the way, is the guy who raped Catherine’s daughter. And together they organize and carry out the kidnapping.

As you can imagine, these two sides of the story meet in the end. And it’s superbly done. Dramatic, tense, disturbing, sad. Enraging.  By the end of the show, the person I was most angry with was Kevin. Even after it’s all said and done, and he’s dragged down his whole family in his ruin and disgrace, he still blames his boss. If his boss had just given him the raise, then the daughter would never have been kidnapped/raped/almost killed.  He’s a complete loon.

Here’s what’s great about this show: The women. They are tough. Smart. Capable. Most importantly, they are survivors. We see the men commit mistake after mistake, miscalculate, break down, cry. We see the women push forward and do what they think is right. Not just Catherine. Ann, the kidnapped girl, is an absolute survivor. Catherine saves her life, and Ann saves her right back. The men cannot be depended upon, and none of them prove anything other than a disappointment.

Before you cry misandry, let me remind you how many shows feature an almost entirely male cast. How many shows feature women as victims, women unable to do more than cry? Even Broadchurch, which had a female co-star and smart detective, left us with the question of how could she be so stupid as not to know about her husband. Happy Valley leaves us with no doubt that Catherine will continue her work, will take down drug dealers and murderers, rapists and kidnappers, and whomever else she needs to. It’s great to see her on television. And it’s rare. So…deal with the tables being turned for once.

Derek, season 2

Ricky Gervais as DerekRicky Gervais returned for a second season of Derek on Channel 4 in the UK, and on Netflix in the US. As with the first season, the show focuses on an elderly home, its workers, and its residents.  Derek, played by Gervais, is a slow, but kind-hearted.  The whole point of the show is that being kind is better than being smart, and that it will make you happier than money or accomplishment.  So our heroes and heroines are humble people. Derek, and especially Hannah, who runs the nursing home.

slide_277704_2042720_freeOne big absence this season is Karl Pilkington’s Dougie, who was my favorite part of season one.

Dougie-setups-083_A2Ricky Gervais said that acting made Karl way too nervous, and Karl has admitted he really disliked it.  Compared to An Idiot Abroad, where he traveled and saw new things, he did not enjoy sitting in a small trailer in Uxbridge between scenes.  Understandable.  I don’t even know where Uxbridge is, but I don’t think I’d fancy spending time in a trailer there.

Taking up a larger chunk of time, to make up for Dougie’s absence, is Kev.  The foul-mouthed slob accepted at the nursing home because he makes Derek laugh.  I have to wonder why Derek gets nearly whatever he wants in life. Kev, in season one, is pretty awful. With Dougie gone in season 2, he is slowly and haltingly redeemed.  Not all the way to normalcy, but to a place where we can hope good things happen to him.

Here’s the problem with Derek.  The world it presents is just too simple.  Everyone is too good.  For me, since I’m an emotional and optimistic person, this isn’t such a big deal.  It doesn’t bother me too much while I’m watching the show, but afterwards it gnaws at me when I think back. Because even if everyone were inherently good, all the different ways people think they are doing ‘good’ means there will always be opposition to one thing in favor of another. There will always be conflict.

So the show is unrealistic, to the point of being hard to swallow.  I cry in every episode.

But one episode nearly killed me, after what I went through earlier this year.

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In one episode, Ivor the dog has to be put down. He’s quite old and very sick, so it’s not as tragic as it might be.  But, the subject matter hit so close to home that we (my bf and I) had to stop the show and weep for a good 10 minutes before we could continue. I’m crying a little just thinking about it. So I can’t be too cynical about this show, because there are moments in life that bring out true and unadulterated emotions, and Derek is good about showing these moments. Since most TV shows don’t give death much weight at all, it’s good to have a counterpoint. Something uncynical.  It’s too simple, but I’d rather watch a show that is too simple and promotes kindness and unmaterialistic goodness, than watch a show that is too simple and promotes violence, tawdry affairs, and materialistic bullshit.

The Thick of It

In preparation for the new season of Doctor Who, complete with Peter Capaldi, I decided to get acquainted with his most well-known character–Malcolm Tucker.

10938The Thick of It is one of those backstage looks at politics. Like the West Wing, if everyone was terrible. It’s very similar to Veep, an American show currently on HBO, which is hilarious and similarly cynical and foul-mouthed. Veep is loosely based on The Thick of It. The show aired sporadically in the UK, with a new series every ~2 years from 2005-2012.  I watched it on Hulu, where you can see every episode.

Capaldi’s Tucker is the scheming, profane, morally-bankrupt spindoctor/slavedriver for the PM. Technically, I think he’s a director of communications, but they all see him as an enforcer. He keeps everyone in line. It’s his job to fire people when it’s good for the PM, or convince them to jump on a grenade to save the government, or to yell at them until they correct their colossal errors. He’s a truly terrible person. But Capaldi is brilliant. I love everything about him in this show. I mean, I love to swear, so anyone that can swear that much, and in a Glaswegian accent, has won my heart forever.

He’s delightful to watch, but I wouldn’t last one day working for him. I don’t mind swearing, but the constant insults and threats of violence..and occasional actual violence…I’d quit after our first conversation. He’s terrifying.

thickofitThey really are attack eyebrows!

To be fair, he’s surrounded by idiots. There’s Glen, Terri, and Ollie. timthumb

Ollie is a dreadful soulless human being. Glen is a good person, but he’s old and seems to become more useless each season. Terri is a civil servant, and isn’t really invested in the policy decisions or outcomes.

There are also the ministers of this department (the fictional DoSac). These alternate between an old man, a guy that looks like a deflated Muppet,

The Thick Of Itand a woman, who is said to be the inspiration for Julia-Louis Dreyfus’ character on Veep.

You’ve got a good mix of civil servants and party-specific staff.  This is something most Americans may not pick up on. Civil servants in the UK (generally) keep their job even when the government switches parties. The advisers to the ministers have to leave when the majority party switches, and they may lose their jobs completely. Some will keep working for (what is now) the opposition party, in the ‘Shadow’ government. In America, some jobs are generally replaced when a new administration comes in, but the majority of them are not. Also something that is not common in American politics: the reshuffle.  Sometimes a PM will decide to just re-assign the ministers in the Cabinet. The Foreign Secretary could become the Home Secretary, the Home Secretary could become the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the US, the president has to get congressional approval of Cabinet appointments (and a lot of other positions), so wholesale reshuffles are very rare. People are usually replaced on a case-by-case basis. Also in the US, not all positions are filled by persons in the same political party, and US Cabinet members are not legislators.

I digress.  If you enjoy watching swearing and bureaucracy, you’ll like this show. It’s funny, it’s cynical, sarcastic, clever.  But…I found myself feeling a bit tired by the end. Tired of the idea that the government is run entirely by idiots, egomaniacs, and the morally-bankrupt. I get the same feeling when I watch Veep or Scandal for too long. House of Cards would completely destroy any faith I have in government, so I’m avoiding it. Both the British and US versions. You do start to wonder–are these the best employees the government can get? Are these the best leaders?! Not a good sign for modern civilization.

The cynicism fatigue aside, it’s a good show. It gives you a great look at Capaldi and what he can do. I will say it might leave you wondering why he doesn’t just threaten and swear at the Daleks to get them to fuck off. So be warned about that kind of bleed through.

 

Coriolanus with Ralph Fiennes

coriolanusRalph Fiennes (aka Voldemort) directed this version of the Shakespeare play Coriolanus. It’s a modern day retelling of a story about the early days of Rome. He retains the Shakespearean dialogue, which is always a must in my opinion.  Instead of fighting with swords and horses, there are guns and bombs in this one. But the play easily converts to a modern ‘Place Calling itself Rome’.

Coriolanus takes place in the days of the Roman senate, and that idea is easily transported to a modern-day Rome, that looks more like an old communist city than a world capital. The peasants are starving while the rich withhold grain to maximize their profits. Rome is under attack from the Volsci. Caius Martius (Fiennes) is a military hero, spurred to constantly prove his worth in battle by his mother, who considers military heroics to be the only honorable quality. The leader of the Volsci, Aufidius, is played by Gerard Butler.

120119_MOV_coriolanus.jpg.CROP.article568-largeThe two absolutely loathe each other. As Coriolanus says, ‘there is the man of my soul’s hate’.  They meet in battle, but neither has been able to finish the other. But you know they will try each time they meet.

But what gets in the way of all this is politics. Caius Martius is offered a place as a Senator, because of his noble sacrifices and injuries in war. In order to obtain this position (which his friends and his mother want him to have), Martius must debase himself by asking for the people’s’ approval. He must pander to them, showing off his war wounds and recounting his brave deeds in battle. His disposition is such that he can’t even stay in a room when others discuss his heroics. He also actively and completely disdains the plebeian masses.  So it doesn’t go well at all. It’s a tragedy play, after all.

I think Ralph Fiennes did an excellent job taking a play set in the B.C.E. and converting it to a realistic and comprehensible modern world. There’s something really brutal about the stark setting (it was shot in Serbia), the utilitarian violence, and the colors used, all of which gives you some insight into both of these military men. They exist, they thrive, in this harsh world, and they falter when confronted with a more nuanced and colorful and compromising world. Martius, brought up to believe only in the valor of military service and sacrifice, cannot comprehend the value of anyone who has not served and who does not perform to his best. He warns his fellow soldiers, before proceeding into battle, that if they try to retreat, he will ‘leave the foe/ And make my wars on you’.  So…go ahead and don’t sign me up for that regiment.

Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, and Gerard Butler all put in great performances. They cajole, soothe, spur, spurn, and force Caius Martius to do things their way.  It is this combined influence that leads him inexorably toward his tragic end.  But, it’s all about Ralph Fiennes. He is the focal point, almost to a fault. I remember more of the other characters in the play, and they don’t shine as brightly in this version. But it’s definitely worth watching. And worth remembering and considering, whenever the government trots out a war vet for a photo-op.

The Silkworm by J.K. Rowling

thesilkwormYep, another JKR mystery novel, written under the nom de plume of Robert Galbraith. Her main character, Cormoran Strike, continues his work as a private detective around London.  Though his usual cases involve the shady sides of the capital, he’s gained a bit of fame since the last book, following the Lulu Landry case. He also continues to work with Robin, his temporary-turned-permanent assistant, who is smart and very eager to learn about the business.

The Silkworm takes Strike and Robin into the publishing industry for a case, which is very interesting to me.  And obviously it’s an industry of which JKR has a unique (not insider, not totally outsider) viewpoint.

Strike is approached by a woman whose unfaithful, egotistical, mediocre husband is missing. He’s just submitted his newest novel, and Strike soon learns that this novel contains enough that is slanderous and hideous to make almost all of his friends and associates want to hurt or kill him.  It’s a long list of suspects.

And she takes us all through the publishing industry.  From the old-school agents with smoker’s cough and very little profits, up to the slick publishing houses in Soho. Owen Quine, the missing man, showed promise early on, but hasn’t impressed anyone in the industry for a while. On the other end of the spectrum, Michael Fancourt is a literary darling, akin to Will Self or Salman Rushdie.  He is egotistical and pompous, as you might expect.

JKR’s tour of the publishing industry is not particularly flattering, but probably fairly accurate. Cormoran’s search for the killer (yeah, it turns into a murder investigation) is hindered by the fact that almost everyone seems to have a reason to have killed him. He was a pretty shit person, and nearly everyone hated him.

These books are not challenging to read, but they are fun. JKR has a good mix of the methodical approach to solving a mystery, and a leap of intuition that takes Strike to the solution. I like Strike and Robin, though I do find myself comparing them to Harry Potter characters.  I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same amount of affection for anyone in these books as I do for even minor characters in Harry Potter. But that’s true for almost every book that’s not Harry Potter.

My only real complaint about these books is that there were a few too many characters. I had a hard time keeping everyone straight, particularly when most of them are involved in the same industry. But, on the other hand, we learned more about Robin and Cormoran, and I continue to like them both and want to learn more about them. On the other hand, I really hope that they don’t end up together.

My other complaint isn’t a real complaint, just a …preference.  I’d rather she as writing more in the Harry Potter universe.  I like reading these books; I liked this one even more than the last one.  But…it’s not Harry Potter. I believe I said the same thing when I reviewed The Cuckoo’s Calling. But if you’re looking for a light and quick read, this is a much better choice than Dan Brown or …whoever else people read when they want quick stuff.