WARNING: spoliers 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The crux of the investigation is an unpublished manuscript sent unread out by Liz Tassell (Lia Williams), Quine’s former agent.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!