Owen Quine

There’s much fuss made in The Silkworm over this character. After all, Owen Quine is the victim — a role he would have probably relished, had he not been dead.

Strike and Robin first become acquainted with Quine through his wife, Leonora, who has come to the detective agency for their help in finding him. He was known to occasionally disappear for days at a time, so Leonora didn’t want to bother the authorities — something she’d done previously.

Strike’s reaction to first seeing Quine in a photograph is “Jesus Christ almighty.” Understandably so. Quine is “a large, pale and portly man of around sixty [he’s 58], with straggly yellow-white hair and a pointed Van Dyke beard,” known to wear a Tyrolean cape and feather-trimmed trilby, with eyes that are noticeably of different colors. (In the 1980s, however, Quine apparently sported a spiky mullet, a photo of him with such reminding Strike of “a fat David Bowie.”)

Quine was an author whose best work is considered to be his first novel, Hobart’s Sin. His other work, including The Balzac Brothers, is regarded by critics and many of his colleagues as being so bad it’s good, with a style that’s “ornate and florid” and stories that are “gothic and surreal” — of which Bombyx Mori is a prime example. However, Bombyx Mori is far cruder, grotesque, violent, pornographic and gory, “the product of a diseased mind,” as Strike describes it.

As a person and professional, Quine was regarded as an egotistical, arrogant, self-important, deluded, philandering, spendthrift, selfish show-off. However, he very much loved and took great care to spend quality time with his developmentally disabled daughter, Orlando, so “he wasn’t all bad,” as his agent, Elizabeth Tassel, says. He could also be charming, fun, enthusiastic and engaging. “There was a pathos, a funny fragility about him, that made people feel protective. Jerry Waldegrave felt it. Women felt it.”

As far as Strike can tell, Quine is last seen in the midst of a public row with Tassel, while having dinner at The River Cafe on the Thames. He’s next discovered at a house he partly owns, murdered and disemboweled.