A good book doesn’t always make a great television show, but a good television show almost always has a good story to tell. Case in point: BBC One’s detective series Strike, which aired its first episode on August 10.
Adapted from the first of JK Rowling’s Strike Detective series, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling is a three-part series. And as anything else penned by Rowling, the series delivers something that is different from any other detective show on air at the moment.
At the centre of The Cuckoo’s Calling is Cormoran Strike (Tom Burke), the estranged son of rock star Jonny Rokeby and a groupie named Leda Strike, who died of a drug overdose when Cormoran was 20 years old. An ex-Special Investigation Branch investigator who served in Afghanistan, Strike now runs a detective agency, stalking cheating spouses for a little money. Soon enough, he is visited by a childhood acquaintance, John Bristow, the adoptive brother of supermodel Lula Landry, who was found lying in a pool of her blood on a snowy pavement outside her apartment.
The police and the media are quick to write off the incident as suicide, but the brother isn’t convinced. He employs Strike to prove that Lula was murdered, and after a quick round of interviews, research, and a barrage of inconsistent alibis from about half a dozen distinctive potential suspects, Strike is ready to look for the murderer.
Strike is joined in this search by his assistant Robin Ellacott, played masterfully by Holliday Grainger. As she learns more about Strike’s family history and is introduced to the thrill of a chase and detection, Robin is smitten by her new occupation, turning down a more stable and traditional job for her position at Strike’s.
Detectives like Strike are hard to come by these days. He is an investigator from a time gone by. He prefers to walk, talk, and reconstruct instead of creating mind palaces and arriving on the scene with a slew of gadgets up his sleeve. Strike is gruff and wears the same old big overcoat on top of his shirts he dishes out of his duffle bag in his Soho office, where he has been living since his breakup. Thriving on beer and pizzas as he watches the telly at night, Strike is a rarity on today’s TV, where the good guy invariably comes with a shade of grey. His complications are a consequence of his life and not a product of arrogance or pent-up rage. He is unkempt, unorganised, limps on a prosthetic leg, bleeds when he gets into a fight, actually cares about his sister, and drinks himself into a stupor when he finds that his on-and-off socialite ex-girlfriend is engaged to someone else.
Compared to the book series, Robin has a smaller role in the three-episode installment, but Grainger shines in the limited airtime, setting the stage up for the sequels to follow. Her burgeoning kinship with Strike is at the centre of the plot, as much as the murder of Lula Landry. While the Strike novels are a crime series, the books are never too far from such topical themes as relationships, class, and personal identity – just like while the Harry Potter series is about a boy wizard, the books are brimming with lessons on friendship, loyalty, goodness, courage and love.
There is something retro and old-worldly about the characters and the show, which offers a refreshing change of pace from the usual dark, brutal and twist-obsessed mystery series.
The show tries to repackage a 450-page murder mystery, full of different characters and back stories into three one-hour episodes – and does so to a good degree of success. For those who have read the book, the missing parts can be found in the rest of the series, when Strike returns with the adaptation of the second book, The Silkworm.