WARNING: spoliers for Strike – The Silkworm episode 1 below
After his success in the Lula Landry case (in the three-part Strike – The Cuckoo’s Calling) private investigator Cormoran Strike, played by Tom Burke, is on the up. He has more cases than he can handle and has hired assistant Robin Ellacott (Holliday Grainger) on a permanent basis. Investigating extra-marital affairs might not be exciting, but it pays the bills.
Then Leonora Quine (Monica Dolan) walks into the office. At first sight, she does not shout ‘excitement’. A dowdy middle aged woman in shabby clothes. Her husband Owen, a novelist, has gone missing. Not an uncommon occurrence – he has a history of affairs, but a cursory investigation uncovers deceit, revenge, and murder.
The crux of the investigation is an unpublished manuscript sent unread out by Liz Tassell (Lia Williams), Quine’s former agent. The book ‘Bombyx Mori’ is a vicious and violent satire whose characters are thinly disguised versions of Quine’s literary peers and it may have been controversial enough to provide a killer with their justification.
In addition to creating an absorbing murder puzzle to unravel, episode one of The Silkworm revealed more about Robin Ellacott, Strike’s superficially light and bubbly Dr Watson. Strike finally met her fiancé Matthew Cunliffe (Kerr Logan) and the pair did not exactly hit it off.
When Cunliffe’s mother dies, he not unreasonably asks Ellacott to take a day off. She instead chooses to accompany her boss on a trip to interview a suspect. This is despite Strike, on hearing of the death, telling her to take as much time as she needed.
The first story hinted at a personal fascination with mystery and detective workl; this confirms how strong this compulsion is, nearly causing her to miss the funeral. Robin is not being honest with her fiancé about how important the detective work is to her. Another secret she has been hiding is the ability to drive a hire car like a pro rally driver.
The Silkworm synopsis sounds like a slightly dusty literary mystery. However by opening with a depiction of suicide, screenwriter Tom Edge and director Kieron Hawkes – both new to the series – made it clear it was not a cosy drawing room mystery that was about to unfold. While not graphic, the suicide scene showing a weeping woman cutting out and pinning a book clipping to her own flesh before putting her head into an oven was powerful. Early in his investigation, Strike discovers a bizarre and gory murder scene that would have made Inspector Morse heave.
With a grisly tableau of carnage and literary satire – given edge by the prestigious status of the story’s original author – this could have been a hollow exercise in grotesquery, but the beating heart in this episode came from a brilliant performance by Dolan as the missing author’s wife, and by Sarah Gordy – an actress with Downs Syndrome – as his daughter. Dolan won a BAFTA for playing Rosemary West in the 2011 ITV drama Appropriate Adult. Leonora becomes a police suspect and faces the possibility of being taken from her disabled daughter. Dolan and Gordy’s scene’s together felt harrowingly real.
Did you tune in for Strike – The Silkworm episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
WARNING: spoilers for Strike – The Silkworm episode 2 below. Still catching up? Read Stuart’s review of episode 1 here.
The concluding episode of Strike – The Silkworm found Cormoran Strike’s investigation into the murder of failed author Owen Quine given urgency by the arrest of his wife Leonora. Strike is certain that she is innocent, and concerned for the well-being of her learning disabled daughter.
The solution to the mystery hinges on the true authorship of unpublished manuscript ‘Bombyx Mori’, a vicious and violent satire purported to be written by the murdered novelist. The book’s characters are thinly veiled caricatures of people close to Quine who had wronged him in some way. From the grotesque visualizations of passages from the work, it appears to be in the style of The Marquis De Sade with much flagellation and branding of flesh.
In addition to this repellant Juvenalian satire, another key piece of literary evidence is a brutal parody of a book by rival novelist Andrew Fancourt’s wife, a piece that had led her to commit suicide. Where Quine’s career had declined after an early success, Fancourt recovered from a poorly received debut to become one of the most successful novelists of his generation. Because the parody was attributed to Quine, Fancourt has a motive for his murder.
Much of this final episode involved Strike hiring a literary expert to analyse the works. You might think the question of whether an oxford comma was consistently applied would not be the most exciting plot device, but the discussions of punctuation were surprisingly gripping.
After Strike injures himself he is unable to tail Fancourt as planned. Despite being untrained, Ellacourt enthusiastically offers to take on the task, leading to an enjoyably tense sequence as she followed him to a graveyard. Would her clumsy attempts to look like someone wandering aimlessly whilst taking a phone call fool him?
After the gruesome conclusion to the first half of the story, this concluding episode dialled down the gore and returned the series to comfortable drawing room mystery territory as Strike and Ellacott got busy sleuthing before gathering all the suspects together in a room – or more accurately crashing a literary dinner – for a grand revelation.
It is a testament to Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling’s sure-handed plotting and skill with misdirection that the final revelation came as a genuine surprise, but also made perfect sense when explained by Strike. Screenwriter Tom Edge and director Kieron Hawkes have perfectly adapted Rowling’s novel into a tight two-part story.
As interesting as the mysteries are, the true success of Strike lies in the characters of Cormoran and Robin, and especially in the chemistry between actors Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger. Despite only the slightest of hints at any romantic entanglement between the pair, sparks undeniably fly when both are onscreen together. Both have complicated lives of their own, and the slow development of their relationship and revelations of their back stories are the marrow running through the series’ bones. There is still much to be discovered about both characters.
It will be a long winter waiting for the third Strike mystery, Career of Evil, due to air on the BBC in 2018.
Did you tune in for Strike – The Silkworm episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!