Anyone surprised by the huge success of BBC detective drama Strike really wasn’t paying attention. Coming from the pen of JK Rowling (someone who has a bit of experience in making popular imaginary worlds) and starring appealing leads like Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger, the series launched on BBC1 last year and quickly became a hit over five episodes.
Now Strike is back for another two-part mystery called Career of Evil, an adaptation of the last novel JK Rowling has published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. While the Harry Potter author is currently writing another (called Lethal White) and plans several more, it seems likely that this will be the last BBC adaptation we’ll have for a while.
So, is Career of Evil a good note on which the series can hit “pause” for a year or two?
The short answer is, yes. Burke and Grainger’s chemistry is as great as ever, and the new storyline throws them closer together as Strike and his work partner Robin receive a severed leg in the post and find themselves stalked by an old foe.
This time, though, it’s Strike in the police’s sights after a strange connection between him and victim is discovered, forcing the ex-army cop to go back through his old rogues’ gallery to track down the real killer. Could it be the Major who abused his daughter? The squaddie who tied his wife to a radiator? Or maybe even Strike’s old stepdad, who may or may not have been the one to murder his mother years before?
Over the course of a two-part story, we follow along as Strike and Robin try to solve the case – but it’s here where the adaptation shows its weaker side. Quite a lot of the story from the Career of Evil novel is cut out of the TV version, and in the end this makes the central investigation feel much more anaemic compared with its print sibling.
In particular, the absence of the extended sequences from the novel where we inhabit the mysterious killer’s mind, giving us clues as to who he might be, are dropped. While this would be difficult to televise – it was more or less an entire inner monologue, something this series hasn’t previously depicted – it does make the final denouement in episode two a lot less satisfying.
There was a similar issue in the previous two-part Strike mystery, The Silkworm, which felt less like a whodunit than a relationship/workplace drama that happened to have some murder in it. In truth, it’s only the first Strike adaptation (the Cuckoo’s Calling) that has successfully transferred the intrigue of the central mystery to the screen.
Perhaps that’s because in that case the story was told over three hours; since then, equally long (or even longer) novels have been compressed into two-part stories.
But this presents another question: does it really matter? For years, the BBC’s Sherlock has become less about the mysteries and more about the relationship between the central characters, and Strike operates in a similar fashion.
Pretty much the only thing from the book that’s not cut down in any way during the adaptation is the storyline involving Robin, Strike and her fiancé Matthew (Logan Kerr), which sees the latter grow increasingly resentful of Robin’s new job just as she discovers a terrible secret from Matthew’s past. Meanwhile, Strike and Robin grow closer as she shares a shocking detail from her own life.
The interaction between Strike and Robin is always fun, compelling and entertaining, and here it works well enough to help you forget that the central mystery doesn’t have much going for it. And honestly, most of the viewers tuning in seem more invested in Strike and Robin’s friendship than a mystery killer, so it’s hard to argue with the series’ priorities.
The character-driven drama at the heart of Strike more than makes up for its less-than-perfect central mystery – though when JK Rowling’s next novel is finally ready, perhaps the BBC could stretch to a few extra episodes.
Strike: Career of Evil begins on Sunday 25th February at 9.00pm