Friday, 15 September 2017


A detective series free of angst that’s reassuringly old-fashioned? 
Strike will do nicely.

"Fancy a drink, guv?" (Image copyright: BBC)

No doubt about it, JK Rowling is a modest writer. In 2012, The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first novel in her Cormoran Strike detective series, was published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, named after one of the writer’s personal heroes, Robert Kennedy, as well as a make-believe name she devised for herself when she was young, Ella Galbraith. Free of the hype that would have surrounded Rowling’s crime writing debut, the public had no preconceptions about her first foray into crime fiction, and the book was variously and positively described as “a stellar debut,” “laden with plenty of twists and distractions” with “a delightful touch for capturing London and evoking a new hero.”

That’s one of the appeals of the TV series. If Sam Spade was made for the glamour of San Francisco and Philip Marlowe couldn’t be separated from the ambience of the Los Angeles underworld, Cormoran Strike and the multi-cultural London of the 21st century are made for each other.

As played by Tom Burke, Strike is an amiable, charmingly rumpled outsider in the obligatory long coat of the PI, a former soldier who lost a leg in Afghanistan. On his return from the war he started a detective business with a loan from his rock star father (a very modern touch), but is on the verge of bankruptcy and has moved into his office as his girlfriend has thrown him out. Despite this, Strike wears his problems lightly, apart from getting really drunk after finding out his ex-girlfriend is getting married. Even then, he comes across as a mildly grumbly teddy bear. Throughout, he remains humane and empathic.

There are as many grand houses and photographers’ studios in Strike’s London as there are dingy backstreets – his investigations take him to all of these locations of high and low living – and, fittingly, like him his office sits between these two worlds, on Denmark Street in WC2H.

At the start of The Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike is joined by the knowingly first-named Robin Ellacott (the appealingly fresh-faced Holliday Granger), recently moved to London from Yorkshire, who becomes Strike’s temporary secretary, but is more interested in becoming a detective. Granger’s perky but believable performance is the ideal audience identification figure, and paired with the optimistic, if slightly world-weary Strike, the duo make an appealing double act. By the end of the first TV adaptation, they’re the sort of ideally matched duo, like Holmes and Watson, Morse and Lewis and Regan and Carter that you’ll tune in to see regardless of the quality of the story.

Away from the engaging protagonists, the emphasis in The Cuckoo’s Calling is on the question of whether the apparent suicide of a super model, Lula Landry, the ‘Cuckoo’ of the title, was in fact a murder. This allows the story to pull in suspects from all over the social spectrum, from the suave but threatening lawyer Tony Landry (immaculately played by Martin Shaw), via the model’s bad boy, on-off actor boyfriend Evan Duffield (Bronson Webb), Lula’s homeless friend Rochelle Onifade (Tezlym Senior-Sakutu) to the other super models Lula worked with. The characters are to the fore and the three-part story stays well clear of the more salacious and grisly aspects of other detective TV fiction, such as Silent Witness (1996- ), Wire in the Blood (2002-08) and Whitechapel (2009-2013). In short, Strike is the sort of thing your mum could watch and enjoy. There is violence, but it’s deployed sparingly.

By the end, it’s slightly predictable that Strike’s money problems have been solved and he’s taken on Robin as his full-time secretary, but that only adds to the promise of what cases these two will-they-won’t-they, yes-they-probably-will like-minded souls will tackle in the future.

Strike and Robin are a perfect match.

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