Elizabeth “Liz” Tassel is Owen Quine’s literary agent, who has quite the reputation in publishing society. Christian Fisher describes her as a “very scary woman usually. Makes grown men cower.” The foul-tempered, often rude but brilliant character plays prominently throughout The Silkworm.
Physically, she’s described as “a tall, thick-set woman of around sixty, with large, uncompromisingly plain features. The geometrically perfect steel-gray bob, a black suit of severe cut and a slash of crimson lipstick gave her a certain dash. She emanated that aura of grandeur that replaces sexual allure in the successful older woman.”
Strike muses that Tassel is “a bully in a familiar mold: one of those older women who capitalized, whether consciously or not, on the fact that they awoke in those who were susceptible childhood memories of demanding and all-powerful mothers. Strike was immune to such intimidation” due to his experience of having a loving mother. Plus, he immediately senses in Tassel “vulnerability in this apparent dragon. The chain-smoking, the fading photographs and the old dog basket suggested a more sentimental, less self-assured woman.”
Strike meets Tassel for the first time at her agency off Gower Street. He has several encounters with her throughout the book, including lunch at Pescatori. A persistent, nasty cough plagues Tassel in every meeting she has with Strike. As it turns out, she has a long history with Quine as well as Michael Fancourt. In Quine’s infamous last novel, Bombyx Mori, Tassel is depicted as The Tick — “square-jawed, deep-voiced and frightening” — a creature that attacks and violates Bombyx, and then sucks from him until he is thin and weak.