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Strike - The Silkworm, part one, review - an entertaining and disturbing peek into the darker side of JK Rowling’s imagination

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 10/09/2017 By Ed Power
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We’ve only just been introduced but already the small-screen incarnation of JK Rowling ’s slouching detective Cormoran Strike Tom Burke) feels like an old friend. Having untangled the enjoyably implausible mystery of the Cuckoo’s Calling – in which the hero’s dour charm compensated for multiple plot holes – the sulky sleuth sloped back for a second adventure in the Silkworm (BBC One). 

Yet, where the earlier three-parter was Inspector Morse with a pinch of Agatha Christie, the latest test of Strike’s crime-solving was in the more contemporary and grisly tradition of True Detective and David Fincher’s Seven. A controversial author, Owen Quine, had vanished from his London home – after posting manuscripts of his debauched latest novel to acquaintances whose dirty laundry the book was set to expose via thinly disguised caricatures. 

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Enter pithy PI Cormoran. He was earning a decent living rumbling cheating spouses but yearned for a challenge worthy of a formidable intellect concealed beneath layers of grumpy indifference.

He got that and more as he tracked down the missing Quine – or what was left of him – to a dilapidated house. A partially dismembered corpse testified to the gruesome skills of the BBC special effects department.

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It will also have given Harry Potter fans a disturbing peek into the darker side of Rowling’s imagination. Who knew that, alongside broomsticks and talking hats, she was a sucker for flayed torsos, acid scalding and ritual disembowelling?   

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As with the Cuckoo’s Calling, the story plodded along and ultimately descended into a game of big-budget Cluedo. The murder was a copy-cat of a killing at the conclusion of Quine’s unpublished manuscript. The guilty party was therefore one of the rogue’s gallery savaged by the novel. Was it the Icy Agent? The Bitter Literary Foe? The Doormat Wife?

More interesting by far was the interaction of Strike and assistant Robin Ellacott (Holliday Grainger). The spark between the two threatened to become properly combustible as Cormoran reacted badly to Robin’s engagement to boring Matthew (Kerr Logan). 

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She was, in turn, stung by Strike’s plans to hire a fully equal partner – having rather fancied that job herself. As a display of loyalty, Robin thus continued the chase with Cormoran rather than accompanying Matthew directly home after the sudden death of his mother  – a flash of cruelty that the episode pushed past with uncharacteristic glibness. 

Strike is that rare television detective not to come with a pre-packaged gimmick – no quirky car, scene-stealing mullet or "mind palace" – and Burke gets the mix of rumpled magnetism and between-the-cracks soulfulness absolutely right. Despite the guts and gore, catching up with him for his latest excursion was as comfortable as slipping on your favourite tatty slippers. 

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