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.
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