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Strike: Career of Evil – how is the BBC drama different to the book?

The latest TV adaptation of JK Rowling’s crime series is probably the biggest departure from the source material yet

Tom Burke as Strike in Strike: Career of Evil
Published: Sunday, 4th March 2018 at 8:59 pm

When adapting books to TV a certain amount of change should be expected, and the BBC’s Strike series is no exception.


In the first two mysteries solved by the ex-army detective (adapted from The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm, written by JK Rowling under the penname Robert Galbraith), all sorts of characters and subplots were altered – but the new adventure for Strike (Tom Burke) and Robin (Holliday Grainger) might have the biggest changes so far.

Here are just a few fairly spoiler-free divergences that you might notice…

Inside the mind of a killer

Cormoran Strike (TOM BURKE) in Strike: Career of Evil (BBC, JG)
Cormoran Strike (TOM BURKE) in Strike: Career of Evil (BBC)

The story sees Strike stalked by a mysterious figure who kicks off the action (no pun intended) by sending him a severed leg, with the dynamic duo working hard to track down which of Strike’s former enemies the limb could have come from.

In the book we spend a great deal of time inside the killer’s head, seeing just how close he gets to offing Robin while also being drip-fed clues about his home life. In the TV adaptation this is more or less dropped, presumably due to the difficulty of depicting an interior monologue on screen.

“It’s always scary when you’re in a character’s mind-set, or if you’re aware of what they’re missing or what they’re not,” Grainger told of the changes.

“I guess there is an aspect that we have to get through the plot, and make the plot understandable.

“So when you’re reading the book, you can be in the character’s viewpoint a little bit more, which kind of adds to the suspense. But I think this is pretty much as hard-hitting as the books.”

Burke added, “Yes, that would have been a hard one to do, I guess, but it is a really interesting part of the book."

The victims

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 20/02/2018 - Programme Name: Strike - Career of Evil - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 6) - Picture Shows: Robin Ellacott (HOLLIDAY GRAINGER) - (C) Bronte Film & TV Ltd - Photographer: Steffan Hill
Holliday Grainger as Robin Ellacott in Strike: Career of Evil (BBC)

That’s not the only change when it comes to the depiction of the killer. In the books, Strike’s stalker is a serial killer with multiple victims, who removes body parts from his victims and is nicknamed the Shacklewell Ripper. By contrast, there is only one victim in the TV series, though lead actor Burke denied this was an attempt to tone down the violence.

“I never heard the words 'toning down' – there’s a lot we’ve had to cut out from all of the books just because of time,” he said.

The suspects

Strike, BBC Pictures, SL
Strike, BBC

The TV version of Career of Evil sees Strike hunting down three potential suspects for the murderer – Donald Laing, Niall Broackbank and Jeff Whittaker – but in the books there is a fourth potential baddie called Terrence “Digger” Malley, a gangster with a history of sending body parts to his enemies.

While Strike doesn’t take him that seriously as a suspect, in the book the police spend some time investigating him.

Brockbank’s name is also changed from Noel in the book to Niall in the TV series.

The conspiracy


One of the major storylines in the TV version of Career of Evil is that Strike is framed for the murder of a young woman – the press imply (via a possibly-doctored photo) that Strike knew and may have groomed the victim.

In the book, this is not part of the story – Strike is not framed or under suspicion, though he does have a connection to the murdered young woman as she’d previously written to him asking for his help in amputating her own leg.

Love is in the air

Holliday Grainger and Tom Burke, BBC Pictures, SL
Holliday Grainger and Tom Burke, BBC

Career of Evil continues to explore the relationship between Strike and Robin when the latter discovers her fiancé Matthew (Kerr Logan) has an awful secret in his past. However, in the book there's an extra spanner in the works – Strike is in a relationship with a musician and radio presenter called Elin. This character doesn't appear in the BBC version of the story.

One could imagine that Elin was removed to keep the focus on Strike and Robin’s 'will-they-won’t-they?' relationship.

The police

Ann Akin as DS Ekwensi and Killian Scott as DI Eric Wardle in Strike: Career of Evil (BBC, HF)
Ann Akin as DS Ekwensi and Killian Scott as DI Eric Wardle in Strike: Career of Evil (BBC)

As in previous adaptations, the character of Eric Wardle – the police inspector who often helps Strike with his cases – is rather different in the TV universe, tending to be a bit more sullen and suspicious than his literary counterpart.

In the Career of Evil novel, there is also a storyline where Wardle is forced to drop the case when his brother has a car accident, leading him to be replaced by Roy Carver, a detective who has an antagonistic relationship with Strike. None of this takes place in the TV version.

And what stays the same…

Holliday Grainger and Tom Burke, BBC Pictures, SL
Holliday Grainger and Tom Burke, BBC

While there are plenty more parts of the book cut or altered – for example, Strike’s trip to Edinburgh to use his army contacts for more information doesn’t make it to the TV version – one key part of the story remains pretty much unchanged.

And as you may have guessed, that part is the Robin-Matthew-Strike storyline, which sees couple Robin and Matthew grow apart after the discovery of a secret and Matthew’s growing resentment of his future wife’s friendship with Strike.

Clearly, given the limited airtime, the production team decided to focus on the characters that audiences have grown to fall in love with – and can we really blame them?


Strike: Career of Evil begins on BBC1 tonight (Sunday 25th February) at 9.00pm


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