This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling’s) “Cormoran Strike” books. As we both like mysteries, especially when they are combined with thriller-like components, we’ve each been avidly reading the series since the first book released in 2013. And like other fans, we’ve just been dying during the horrendous 3-year wait that has come between the last book and the most recent entry, “Lethal White,” which released this last September. This past week we’ve reviewed all four books in the series thus far, and now we move on to the BBC Show “Strike”. We’re going to review “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, “The Silkworm”, and “Career of Evil”. All three series can be found for purchase on Amazon, and in the U.S. “Strike” is known as “C.B. Strike” and is shown on Cinemax.
Series 1: “The Cuckoo’s Calling”
Kate’s Thoughts: I’ll admit that the first thing I noticed about this series was how damn gorgeous Tom Burke is. Cormoran Strike in the books is described as being kind of an awkward looking dude. I mean, his hair is described as ‘pube-like’ for God’s sake, and his gait is lumbering and he is a large guy. When you look at Tom Burke, he doesn’t really fit that, so perhaps the casting felt a little bit more on the “Hollywood Awkward” side. Am I complaining? Hell NO I’m not, because
But my thirst aside, I really was impressed by our first dive into a TV adaptation of the “Strike” books. “The Cuckoo’s Calling” is the one that not only has to pull together a mystery with all its twists and turns, it also has to introduce us as the audience to our main characters and get us to invest in them. And, just like in the book, you start to love the characters right away. Burke and Holliday Grainger, who plays Robin, have a sparkling chemistry right off the bat, with Strike and Robin quipping and bantering their way through the Lula Landry case. The mystery itself was well paced, and the additional third episode (as opposed to the seemingly usual two) made it so the mystery could be given the proper amount of screen time without butting into the exposition needed to flesh out the characters within this first foray into the world they live and operate in. Everyone did a fabulous job with their characters, and the tension was well placed without feeling overwrought.
Serena’s Thoughts: First things first: I completely agree on the hotness of Tom Burke not aligning with the character as described in the books; I also agree that I don’t care in the least. But as for our other main character, Holliday Grainger (can we take a moment to highlight the weirdness that it must be to be an actress with the last name of Grainger playing a character written by J.K. Rowling who has been compared to an adult Hermione?) is almost pitch-perfect for how I imagined Robin. Everything about her look and portrayal of the character line up perfectly with how I read Robin: beautiful, looks sweet enough that others easily underestimate her, all while masking hidden depths of smarts and capability. As Kate said, the two actors also have great chemistry, and it takes practically no time at all to be fully bought into following them as both a potential romantic couple and as crime-solving partners.
I also liked the way the mystery was lain out. This first series was given three full episodes, one more than the following two which must condense more complicated mysteries into a shorter run time. But I think it balances this extended time well with introducing our main characters and fleshing out the characters at the heart of the Lula Landry case.
Lastly, there’s also the fun game of “spot the British actor” to be played with this entire series. And now, knowing what we do about “Lethal White,” I think the pay off for their casting of Charlotte in particular with payoff well down the road.
Series 2: “The Silkworm”
Kate’s Thoughts: I was a bit worried when I saw that they had condensed the length of “The Silkworm” into two episodes as opposed to three, but my worries were immediately alleviated by the time we got into the nitty gritty of the story. This show did a good job of setting up the premise of the plot right in the very first scene, in which a suicide of a mystery woman plays out in a rather disturbing and upsetting way. This doesn’t become apparent as to its relevance until a little further into the story, but I really liked how it set the scene to tell us that we’re getting into something a bit more dour than “The Cuckoo’s Calling.”
We got to see a bit more of the interactions between various suspects and important players outside of their time with Cormoran and Robin, and what I liked the most about that was that it made it feel almost more sinister. We can see bitterness and sour grapes when their defenses are down, and it made for a more intriguing follow through. I will admit that I hadn’t re-read/skimmed the book before watching this adaptation, and while I KNEW who the culprit was, I still liked seeing all of the potential red herrings being laid out. It felt a bit like an Agatha Christie cast of characters, who all have motive but aren’t all guilty (“Murder on the Orient Express” notwithstanding). Each character was brought to life by fantastic performances especially from Lia Williams as Liz Tassel, Quine’s old friend and colleague.
And I’d be completely out of character to not mention the adorableness is that Cormoran and Robin. Burke and Grainger still have awesome chemistry, and their banter and interactions are really just the BEST. I also love that their body language exudes the friendly tension between them. Be it a knowing look from Cormoran or a glance to the side from Robin, they clearly are well matched in these roles. They really do bring the joy of these characters from page to screen. Plus, Kerr Logan plays Matthew like a complete lunkhead who is easy to hate, which is EXACTLY how I want to see him. All in all “The Silkworm” was well done even with the shortened adaptation, and it made for a truly enjoyable ‘whodunnit’.
Serena’s Thoughts: I, too, had my concerns when I saw the shortened run time. However, I was more concerned for how “Career of Evil” would fare, which we’ll get to shortly. As it turned out, I felt like the show did a good job of condensing a complicated mystery into only two hours without leaving the story feeling rushed or unrealized.
Instead, there was even the inclusion of some favorite scenes from the book that weren’t even strictly necessary for this story, like Robin’s badass driving skills. However, growing up in the country, I will say that the method they used to try and highlight her ability here was a bit lackluster since anyone who has driven off pavement even a little could recognize how little skill it really takes to pull off what she was doing here. Whereas, in the book, her quick reaction to a sudden crash ahead was much more visceral and true to the abilities of a very talented driver. That being said though, I liked that the show didn’t cut out moments like this that really help build up our characters as more than just your run-of-the-mill British detectives.
I, too, hadn’t re-read the book before watching this, so it was fun piecing together the clues presented on the show with my vague memories of who the killer was and how they pulled it off. I also very much enjoyed the scenes that dealt with Quine’s wife and daughter who has special needs. Amidst a large cast of suspects, all of whom are very unlikeable, and a murder victim who himself isn’t the best guy, it was nice to see this strong bond between mother and daughter. Some of the strongest emotions in the show dealt with the fallout and challenges that came with Quine’s wife being arrested as a suspect, leaving her daughter in the care of strangers.
Series 3: “Career of Evil”
Kate’s Thoughts: If I referred to “The Silkworm” as channeling Agatha Christie, “Career of Evil” goes into straight up Jo Nesbø territory: it’s bleak, it’s creepy, and it’s black as night. I was happy to see that the show didn’t shy away from the grim themes of the book, from sexual abuse to spousal abuse to child predators, but while it did tackle said themes it never made them feel seedy, and never made the viewer feel voyeuristic. I enjoyed seeing some of the parallels that the show drew between the Shacklewell Ripper and Jack the Ripper (it was especially eerie seeing the first victim lit up against a backdrop of an illuminated ‘Whitechapel’ sign. Shivers), and while the show couldn’t really do the perspective of the killer as much as the book could, there was still the tension of their ‘hunt’ through the moments we did get.
This was also very much Holliday Grainger’s time to shine. Robin goes through it in this book for many reasons, and boy did Grainger really portray the pain, determination, and near frenzy that Robin experiences within the narrative. I’m not like Serena in the sense that Grainger was exactly what I imagined when I first read Robin (not to say that she’s bad of course), but in “Career of Evil” she absolutely nails the character and claims her as her own. It also becomes quite clear in this performance that Robin is destined for so much more than what those around her expect of her, and I think that Grainger nailed that aspect of her character. I also MUST mention the casting decision for Shanker. Y’all, it’s Ben Crompton, aka Eddison Tollett, Lord Commander of The Night’s Watch on “Game of Thrones”, and he is EXCELLENT as the snarky and morally ambiguous pal of Strike and Robin.
“Career of Evil” was another great adaptation, and I have high hopes that “Lethal White” will be another exercise in excellence. So how long do we have to wait on that one, BBC?
Serena’s Thoughts: Like I said above, I was more concerned about the truncated length of this season because of the added portion of the killer’s perspective that we had in the book. And, as Kate said, while that had to be adjusted here, I was still, overall, pleased with how they managed to keep elements of that storyline intact.
This story was by far the most dark of all the mysteries so far. But I feel like the show did a good job of not shying away from the gruesome aspects of the crimes involved while avoiding reveling or glorifying in its own darkness. We still got a good look into the dark psyches of all the potential killers and their own terrible histories with violence towards women. And, as Kate said, Grainger really came into her own with her nuanced and layered portrayal of Robin’s reaction to these crimes.
My one criticism for this season (and kind of the entire run of series so far) is that without background knowledge of the books, there are a few scenes here and there that are ultimately left dangling. In this season, for example, we have a brief flashback to Charlotte mentioning a pregnancy to Cormoron. Fans of the book will recognize this moment as part of what lead to Cormoron’s eventual, final split with Charlotte. But if you’re only watching the show, this scene goes unexplained and disconnected to any of the events leading up to it or following it. Instead, it kind of just dangles there, weirdly out of sync with the rest of the plot.
Hopefully, whenever they get around to “Lethal White,” showrunners will again extend the run time so that some of these loose threads are given the proper attention. Not to mention, that book is almost twice as long as the others, so you sure as heck need more than two episodes to properly cover it! Never fear, Kate and I will be all over it the moment it drops and a review will be sure to follow!