Strike – Career of Evil, adapted from Robert Galbraith’s third Cormoran Strike mystery, pits our shabby private eye and his assistant Robin Ellacott against a misogynistic killer with a personal grudge. The themes of this latest adventure, chime with the current Time’s Up movement: male violence, sexual perversion and domestic abuse.
The story begins with Strike asked to meet a potential client in a serviced office building. Cormoran arrives to an empty building and a no-show. He does not see a young girl who walks into the office minutes behind him.
The next morning Robin takes delivery of a package addressed to her. To her horror, it contains a severed human leg. Police examine the package and find a note of transcribed Blue Oyster Cult lyrics. The song, ‘Mistress of the Salmon Salt’, was a favourite of Cormoran’s late mother – so much so that she had the lyrics tattooed on her body. What message is being delivered?
When the body of a murdered girl is found at the office Strike had visited the preceding evening, CCTV footage places him at the scene. This and the macabre postal delivery create a media scrum that scares away his paying customers.
With a killer circling, Cormoran and Robin decide to get ahead of the police and use their own skills of detection to find the antagonist. Who has a grudge has against Strike? Suspects include: ex-stepfather Jeff Whittaker, who Cormoran believes killed his mother; Donald Laing, a squaddie that sent down for domestic abuse; Noel Brockbank, a paedophile who blames Strike for his physical and mental decline after he injured him during an arrest.
Career of Evil may have benefited from being told over three episodes rather than two. The three suspects are introduced rather too quickly in expositional flashbacks and it’s easy to get confused between them, especially as two share a military background. This isn’t helped by the gap of months since the broadcast of The Silkworm. The return of secondary characters such as Strike’s shifty buddy Shanker could have benefited from just a little bit of a recap. In the novel there are actually four suspects, but even streamlined to three this episode was a little more confusing than it needed to be.
However, the real pleasure of this series is less in the (still ingenious) plotting and more in the relationship between Cormoran and Robin and the chemistry between actors Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger. They have a classic ‘are they or aren’t they’ relationship. It isn’t quite romantic, staying on the right side of professional, but there are hints that it could go there. There is no concrete reason for Robin’s dull, middle-class fiancé Matthew’s jealousy, but her immersion in her role and fascination with Strike’s shady profession does suggest that Matthew and the comfortable life he represents simply do not hold enough of a fascination. Ironically it is one of Matthew’s passive-aggressive attempts to undermine Strike that finally gets him in serious trouble as he unconsciously reveals an indiscretion of his own.
Ellacot is too nuanced a character, and Robert Galbraith too clever a writer to have made the pull of the detective’s existence to her simply an attraction to a boy. There have been hints that Robin has a darkness in her past. This trauma pulling her towards the darkness is finally revealed in this story.
Strike – Career of Evil episode 1 could have unfolded at a more leisurely pace, but it has set up an exciting and suspenseful part two.
Did you tune in for Strike – Career of Evil episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
WARNING: spoilers for Career of Evil episode 2 below. Still catching up? Read Stuart’s review of episode 1 here.
The concluding episode of Strike – Career of Evil found Cormoran Strike in a tough spot: implicated in the murder of a young woman; under police and press scrutiny; his clients deserting him due to the bad publicity. With money running out, he won’t be able to pay the next month’s rent or his assistant Robin Ellacott’s wages. Robin’s life is equally chaotic. Having discovered fiancé Matthew cheated on her years before she has moved out and their upcoming wedding is in doubt.
Career of Evil takes some risks with the formula put in place in the previous two Strike mysteries, The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm. Revealing that Robin has been a victim of sexual assault years before could have turned this strong, independent character into a victim. The story flirts with this in a sequence where Robin is stalked through the mean streets of Catford. But Ellacott isn’t content to be defined as a victim, even if her independence means that she makes some poor choices (being engaged to the jealous and patronising Matthew being the most egregious).
The ‘Will they? Won’t they?’ chemistry between Cormoran and Robin generates so many sparks in this episode the screen threatens to ignite. This is as much owing to the interplay between actors Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger as it is in the writing. As much as we may want these characters to finally get together, we also know that to do so would instantly destroy their alchemy. So the plot always finds new ways of keeping them apart.
Career of Evil had to balance the simmering unspoken promise of romance with its mystery/thriller plot. Frustratingly it didn’t get this quite right and the thriller part of this story felt rushed. The perils of literary adaptation were laid bare in an uninspired use of flashbacks as an easy way to set out character and plot exposition. The story’s three suspects were under characterised with too little screen time to become properly threatening. Neil Maskell and Matt King are both interesting actors, but their respective roles were too short to make much impact. A big twist revealing the killer was based on an assumed identity ruse that can work well in a novel but requires an immense amount of skill to pull off visually. Disguises and funny accents work much better on the page than on the screen.
This was a dark story, much more so than previous adventures in the series. A more expansive three-episode adaptation might have been more impactful by allowing more time to find an equilibrium between the ongoing relationship triangle between Cormoran, Robin, and Matthew that is the series’ over-arching narrative, and the self-contained plot of Career of Evil which pitted our heroes against a maniac. This concluding episode managed to include two superb jump scares and a truly gruesome moment involving a kettle, but its final showdown felt rushed and perfunctory. Some more action would have been welcome.
In the end Career of Evil was a three-star thriller, but a four-star character drama. If only it had been given a little more space to breathe.
Did you tune in for Strike – Career of Evil episode 2? Let us know in the comments below!