TV review: Crime-fighting duo’s chemistry is on point in JK Rowling adaptation
PUBLISHED: 17:53 28 February 2018 | UPDATED: 17:54 28 February 2018
Strike: Career of Evil, BBC1, Sunday THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS - can JK Rowling hurry up and write the next novel in the Strike series so we can see Cormoran and Robin on TV more, please?
I really like these adaptations of JK Rowling’s detective stories and am already annoyed with the author for not having written any more books in the series (I mean surely she’s got the hang of writing books quickly now, hasn’t she? I’m prepared to queue at midnight for one if it helps) because I want this new ‘series’ to be longer than two episodes and for there to be another series just around the corner.
That’s a back-handed compliment, if you missed it. Career of Evil is the third novel in Rowling’s Strike series written under the pen name of Robert Galbraith: we’ve already seen The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm which were on BBC1 last year and introduced us to private detective Cormoran Strike and his new assistant Robin Ellacott, played respectively by Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger.
Strike could be your run-of-the-mill tortured PI with a secret sorrow – he’s the illegitimate son of a former rock star and a former Special Investigation Branch investigator who was discharged from the Army after losing half his leg in a bomb attack in Afghanistan, so there’s plenty of scope – but Rowling has created something far more interesting, a complex yet compelling character who it’s impossible not to warm to.
And while on paper the concept of a plucky PA-turned-PI sounds pretty unlikely, ridiculous and cringeworthy, Grainger’s Robin is equally well-rounded, likeable and believable - when her relationship crumbles she goes on a bender in a pub that leaves her heaving into the toilet while on the phone. Details like these, plus strong dialogue, great plots and the right amount of thrills make Strike completely on the button: it’s only when you see it in front of you that you realise how absent these qualities are from so many dramas we’re served up on TV these days.
That said, and having read the book, there’s a lot that is missing from this adaptation which has bizarrely been shoehorned into two episodes rather than the four or even six that it could have been had the print version been followed more faithfully.
Often, when a book is adapted for the screen (and if you have someone fabulous to undertake the task, like master-of-the-craft Andrew Davies) you won’t see the joins where chapters are extended, condensed or missed out entirely for the sake of a flowing TV or film drama. In this case, the absences are felt keenly by those who’ve enjoyed the book.
The episode began as Robin discussed wedding breakfast ideas with her fiancé Matthew (Kerr Logan) who doesn’t like Strike, which means we don’t like him. As the minutiae of vegetarian mains was discussed (yes, risotto is too boring an option) Robin opened a courier-delivered parcel. It was shocking: seeing someone actually receive a courier-delivered parcel rather than miss it and find out via a ‘Sorry we missed you!’ card– oh, and it contained a severed leg. Strike was furious: “It wasn’t even my size.”
Having narrowed down the search to three suspects from his past – is it the Major who abused his daughter? The squaddie who abused his wife? The rock star - Super Hans from Peep Show - who abused Strike’s mother? – Strike and Robin set out to solve the mystery and in doing so the latter splits with her fiancé when his jealousy leads to a revelation about his, not her, infidelity. Set free from boring Matthew, Robin is now free to partake in another thread, namely the ‘will they, won’t they?’ one.
On this note, the chemistry between Grainger and Burke is a true delight: Strike is tender when Robin needs him to be and we discover the traumas from the past that shadow both their lives: the sexual attack that Robin endured and the injury that ended Strike’s military career.
In comparison to the pair’s friendship and their buddy journey from London to the north east to follow leads, the actual murder case seemed far less important: and this is where the adaptation failed somewhat. Rowling’s version of Career of Evil includes entire swathes which see us inhabit the mind of the killer and begin to understand who they are and how they operate: without this, the suspects seem two-dimensional and interchangeable.
Meanwhile, back in London, a schoolgirl was found legless (and dead) and Strike found himself framed for her murder by the real killer and sender of dismembered legs and Blue Oyster Cult lyrics. I think we all fear the Reaper, especially one with a penchant for amputation.
It’s a short but sweet visit from Strike, but the good news is that Rowling has announced there could be as many as six more Strike books in the pipeline with the next being called Lethal White. I’m hoping it involves a Great White Shark in the Thames.