Once more we travel into the London world of murder mystery as written by J K Rowling under the pen name Robert Galbraith. We all know it’s her but we play along. Let’s see if the character’s can overcome their personal issues to help justice prevail once more.
This is meant to be an irreverent synopsis and commentary of the BBC’s adaption of Career of Evil. Honestly I meant to do this back when it first aired on the BBC but lost my original notes and then never got back around to it as I didn’t enjoy the experience at the time to be honest. Let’s see if time has made me feel more inclined to enjoy it.
I’ve typed this without going back to my previous entries regarding the other stories (links to which are at the bottom of this post) so I only half recall some of the more blatant points such as Strike’s circumstances and Robin being an ‘author’s self insert wish fulfilment’ figure in the narrative who can do anything.
Career of Evil: Short synopsis
First let’s have a shorter synopsis for those who just want the highlights of the storyline to refresh their memories:
Strike gets a call from a potential client so goes to a building of flats. A teenage girl also goes there too. She turns up dead later – dismembered to be more accurate. He, early on, gets framed for her murder but it soon gets dismissed as all the evidence is circumstantial; mainly focusing on a newspaper published photo of him meeting the dead girl which he proves could easily just be a set up. He argues that she could have coincidentally been asking if a seat was spare, when the photo was taken, rather than them actually knowing each other. The photo, frozen in a single fleeting moment, shows them interacting and assumptions were made. However it turns out she was a fan of his due to the news coverage he got from the previous high profile cases but he only learns of this long after the fact.
Robin is getting ready to be married at the start of the story. A severed leg turns up in the mail addressed to her. Her fiancé Matthew insists she can’t be a detective any more. Robin wants to be both married and a detective. Strike is okay with her being both but Matthew hates the idea and him especially (though it isn’t clarified why except he is a jealous, controlling, lover we must assume). So same old, same old… eventually she gets attacked when walking alone at night but proves herself more than capable and foils a paedophile later too.
Shanker throughout the story seems to play sidekick to both Strike and Robin at different points. It’s like he has nothing better to do with his time despite being involved in criminal activities like torturing a bloke in a back room of a bar when Strike goes to him for information at one point. He verges on being both the dogged deus ex machina saviour of the pair, when one or the other can’t be present for narrative reasons, and also the comic relief as if he is some sort of dogged, underclass, latter-day Sancho Panza serving naïve middle class people .
The prime suspects of the case are:
Malley: Some bloke who used to cut off legs and send them places – we never hear of him after the initial mention.
Whittingham: Dodgy musician obsessed with death and dark things who is/was Strike’s step father. He was involved in the death of Strike’s mother but got off scot free. Strike keeps trying to find a way to pin this case on him but he didn’t do it. Even if he is a dodgy, wilfully antagonistic, bastard who abuses his current girl friend, as he has others previously, he isn’t the murderer in this case.
Brockbank: Ex-army. Paedophile. Abused his own daughter years ago back when Strike was in the SIB. Strike punched him which causes him to get epileptic fits due to a pre-existing concussion from playing rugby the weekend before. Thus everyone Robin or Strike meet involved with him thinks Strike single-handedly caused the ailment. Nowadays he moves about doing bouncer work for various strip clubs. It turns out this is our B-plot where Robin and Shanker stop him abusing his new girlfriend’s daughter. He gets caught by the police off screen towards the end.
Laing: Also ex-army. Con man with a violent past. Back in the day he abused his wife and child so Strike got him imprisoned for over a decade. He has been free for a few years before the current events so counts as one of the people Strike feels has a grudge against him. Laing turns out to be the guy who sent the severed leg and stuck a cut off thumb in Robin’s kettle when Matthew was home alone. He uses theatrical make up to apply a beard and contact lens to change his appearance between his own identity as a disabled, stroller using, man living in a council flat (where he stores the body parts in numerous fridges) and ‘Ray’ the ex-fireman husband of the dead girl’s older sister. He stole the ex-fireman identity from the son of an elderly neighbour whose lawn he used to mow when living with a former girlfriend.
Back and forth we go between scenes of Robin’s emotional crises on whether to marry Matthew or not. This occurs after it’s revealed he cheated on her shortly after her rape in university (by someone wearing a gorilla mask) which leads to her reliving some of her trauma from the experience and needing to go home, near Yorkshire, instead of taking an active part in the current investigation for a while though she does re-join it later on.
Early on they go to the countryside and Robin interviews Brockbank’s sister pretending to be a solicitor in order to get some current address information about him.
Strike tracks down Laing to council flats, in London’s Elephant and Castle area, but sees him using a mobility walker thus assumes he is incapable of the murder and dismisses him from the inquiry.
Instead he wastes time trying to find some way to place the blame on Whittingham due to his own personal bias against him regarding his mother’s death. Robin meets his newest girlfriend and speaks with her but that all falls through and eventually they find out his band had a gig on the night the girl was murdered so he has an alibi.
Strike also visits the murder victim’s older sister’s home where she lived. There he meets ‘Ray’ her husband. He pretends to go to the toilet and takes photos of certificates on the wall and sees a photo of Ray and his friend on an apparently cold weather holiday next to some wild seasonal plants.
Strike goes to some strip clubs to find information about Brockbank who worked as a bouncer and finds out he is in a relationship with someone who has children.
Robin keeps going out on night time walks despite Strike telling her repeatedly not too. Eventually on one of them she goes down a street she doesn’t know and instead of turning back or getting to a populated area she presses on and is assaulted. Fortunately she has her rape alarm but still gets cut across the arm.
At the hospital Matthew and Strike turn up and as usual Matthew has a bad attitude towards Robin continuing to be a detective and especially towards Strike personally for enabling her.
Against Strike’s wishes she goes after Brockbank telling Shanker Strike had asked him to help her. She meets Brockbank’s new girlfriend with her daughters and tries to warn them about him. The girlfriend defends his honour ‘knowing’ of what happened with Strike causing his epilepsy. He comes home and becomes violent. Shanker backs Robin up but Brockbank runs off before they can detain him. On the bright side the daughter finds the courage to tell her mother what was happening which she didn’t before due to Brockbank threatening to hurt her little sister if she didn’t comply with him abusing her. Eventually he is caught off screen by the police.
The turning point in the investigation is when Strike sees a potted plant his uncle left at his mother’s grave which is similar to the wild growing plants in Ray’s photo. He makes a call and realises the plant wouldn’t be in full bloom, as in the photo, during the colder seasons of the year so the photo was staged. He also looked up the award certificate Ray had on the wall and things don’t match up. On an earlier visit to one of Laing’s former residences shared with an ex-girlfriend he had mowed the lawn of an old woman and stole the document’s of her ex-fireman son and assumed his identity as ‘Ray’.
Thus Strike goes to Laing’s council flat alone posing as a repairman and breaks in. He finds a number of fridges filled with body parts. Laing appears and they fight. Shanker also arrives to help but due to the steel door he can’t kick it down to save Strike when the fight is underway. Strike takes Laing down with a hammer eventually and calls the police to deal with him.
Afterwards Robin and Matthew have headed off into the country to get married. Strike throughout the case has recalled his mother telling him how she loves Whittingham and one day he will find someone he loves just as much (hinting, or at lease teasing, he has feelings for Robin) but he doesn’t interfere in the wedding matters Robin keeps being distracted by throughout this case.
Instead he has Shanker drive him to an off the grid commune where Brockbank’s daughter, from all those years ago when he punched him while social services took her into custody, is living. He tells her what happened and apologises as he has felt guilt ever since. She forgives him.
With that instant resolution to his long term guilt Strike has one more stop before heading back to London with Shanker – Robin and Matthew’s wedding since he was invited as a guest. Shanker jokes he is going to pull a ‘Graduate’ and stop the wedding. They get there just in time for Strike to see her say ‘I do’, but not before knocking over a flower arrangement calling attention to himself, before it all ends on a happy note.
[Spoilers: Obviously, this all gets undone in the prologue to the next book ‘Lethal White‘.]
Now for the longer, in depth, version of the synopsis. Throughout this I will insert my observations, mockery and notes written while watching it by [doing this with any such commentary text so it stands out].
Career of Evil: Detailed Synopsis and Commentary
We open on a semi detached house where a teenage girl is getting ready to head out somewhere.
Robin meets some friends at a restaurant and they joke about how her boss keeps her long every night. [How dare work impacting the lives of those with aspirations – as if it’s not Robin who insisted on being more involved. Also do all middle class dramas need to include a dining scene with friends? Just I’ve listened to a few BBC Radio Four adaptions and they all have dinner party scenes even when one wasn’t in the original work – maybe it just makes for an easy exposition dump?]. Then they have some banal dinner party chat about her work and her stating ‘money isn’t everything’ – which is something only comfortably well off people can say.
[Robin, according to the book version, has now worked a whole year for Strike. it’s been very eventful then! However it also means the detective agency has been on the brink of closure once every six months, i.e. once per story line, at least and it will be again this time too unsurprisingly though each case ended with a ‘the detective agency is saved’ happy ending.]
Robin’s friends joke about how scruffy Strike is and her fiancé jokes he could do with a second leg – because ha ha he lost one to an IED when part of the military police. [Which, you know, is a bit too on the nose. A rather heavy-handed effort to make us dislike Robin’s fiancé and friends immediately. It’s meant to imply she is morally better than them but she is humouring their questionable banter so it just adds to my view Strike is a means to an end she would, if not bound by the ‘will they, won’t they’ series long narrative, abandon once able to get a detective license and likely intentionally take business away from him.]
Strike walks the streets of London then enters a building using a code we see on his phone.
We see the teenage girl from the opening enter the same building and go to the stairwell. Tense music plays. She freshens her breath as if going to meet a date. She exits the elevator and enters a sparsely decorated flat and looks out the window. Suddenly, Dario Argento giallo style, black gloved hands use cling film to asphyxiate her…
The theme song plays. [I forgot it after all this time…]
The next day Robin runs to work with two coffees and looks through the mail in the letter box. There’s a delivery by a mute motorcycle delivery person whose helmet visor is black – almost as if they want to keep their identity secret [or to not pay for, or give credit to, an extra… no it’s obviously the killer but, in fairness, we would all just take the package without asking questions probably while thinking]. She signs for the boxed package.
In the office she discusses a new case which came in where someone wants to check if their partner is cheating. Then Robyn gets a phone call to the office about the food for her wedding reception. As she does this she opens the package and dramatically draws away from it. Strike goes to check and there’s a severed leg in the box. He slowly drags her away as she cries. Apparently as career hungry as she is she wasn’t prepared for this.
He then contacts Detective Inspector Eric Wardle with four possible suspects, three of whom he knew from his time in the SIB:
- Terrence “Digger” Malley, a member of the Haringey Crime Syndicate who has a history of mailing severed body parts and was sent to prison after Strike anonymously testified against him.
- Noel Brockbank, a Gulf War veteran and serial paedophile whom Strike had investigated and who blames Strike for taking his family away from him [In the TV adaption he is called Niall apparently.]
- Donald Laing, a former member of the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment who Strike arrested for physically abusing his wife and child, which resulted in a dishonourable discharge and a 10-year prison sentence;
- Jeff Whittaker, Strike’s stepfather and the prime suspect in Leda’s death by overdose, who Strike believes to be responsible despite the fact that Whittaker was acquitted.
[Heads up: Good luck recalling which suspect’s background is which after a while if you don’t pay attention. I spent some time confusing the backgrounds of Brockbank and Laing myself. It got to the point there was the ‘guy who abused and raped his own daughter’ as a single suspect because we only know of them from passing comments made by the characters until they appear in person for one or two scenes. Obviously Whittaker is almost immediately dismissible as Strike’s personal hopes of getting justice finally. What I found odd was the mention of Malley but he seems to never be mentioned besides this initial line up of suspects.]
Strike jokes the leg is not even in his size. Wardle says he is on his way and Strike offers Robin a tea… or a beer which he describes as ‘something stronger’ [you would think spirits would be more appropriate to rat piss but whatever – beer is ‘stout, hearty, English fare’].
Robin gets up to look at the leg again and Strike tells her not to touch it. She chides she wasn’t going to. He then looks at the leg more carefully himself seeing cuts near the ankle as if he recognises them and robin remarks he has gone white.
A little later Robin is asking him about the leg with a smile on her face [apparently having power over her employer soothes all ‘dismembered body part’ woes]. Strike says he could identify it was the leg of a teen or someone in their twenties and he had seen scarring like that before. He even goes as far as saying it might be a girl called Brittany Brockbank who was the daughter of Major Niall BrockBank who had a reputation for cruelty. She had told a school friend her father was having sex with her and she feared she might get pregnant. The friend’s dad told SIB and Strike was the investigating officer. When he interviewed her she denied everything out of fear as her father had threatened to cut her legs off if anyone found out. The scars were his idea of a warning hence why these legs remind him of it.
[In hindsight we see at the end of the story that Brittany seems to be in her early to mid twenties – but then could any of us identify a leg’s age on sight if it wasn’t attached to a body? Arguably it’s because she lives off the grid so is ‘missing’ but that is never made clear to the audience so it’s one of those cases of cutting information assuming the audience will just ‘get it’ somehow as we are never told the time frames for past events]
No charges were brought. However Strike feels Brockbank still ha good reason to hate him as he injured his reputation [and the whole epilepsy matter which they omit here though it’s clearly something he does hold a grudge over throughout the story considering how many know the story from Brockbank’s whitewashed account of it]. Aside from him the only other person who would do this is a Scot called Donald Laing who used to write him letters and should be on file somewhere. Robin chips in saying she will get cracking. [It’s not as if she wants to help but just to get some juicy gossip about him it feels.]
Wardle and his partner arrive while arranging for forensics to turn up. [You would expect they would be required to be the first on the scene before the detectives if there’s the chance in case of contamination but what do I know…]
Strike goes down the stairs and opens it to Wardle saying ‘a fucking leg?’
Thus the office is being covered by the forensics people taking photos and such as Robin gives a statement about the delivery person. ‘A black Honda, big, 600cc at least’ she states.
[She, unsurprisingly for her, randomly knows a lot about motorcycles if she can identify them on sight. To be honest it isn’t something you expect unless they’re into motor sports or such. We’ve been given no hint of that about Robin – maybe an ex-boyfriend was a petrol head or some other lame excuse like the running joke that whenever Strike needs a new skill set to overcome some obstacle she coincidentally did a weekend course on the topic.]
She notes how there was nothing identifiable about the courier. He looked big but the jacket could have been padding him out. Strike comments ‘not a fat bastard like the boss’/ Robin notes the package was addressed to her and Strike suggests it could just demonstrate they’ve done their homework. Suddenly Wardle’s partner calls over to them that there was a note underneath the leg:
“A harvest of limbs, of arms and of legs, the toes that crawl…”
Strike chips in to finish it “- the knees that jerk, the necks like swans that seem to turn, as if inclined to gasp or pray. Last verse of Mistress Of The Salmon Salt by Blue Oyster Cult”
It was Strike’s mother’s favourite band. She had that specific song title tattooed. However she is interred in Whitechapel Cemetery. Her second husband Jeff Whittaker, as far as Strike is concerned, killed her but was never charged with it. In a flashback we see an ominous silhouetted hand approach a sleeping figure with syringe in hand. She was already dead and spread out across the bed like a painting. We cut to her grave which is in the shape of an electric guitar. Eccentric. Leda Strike 1952 – 1994 it reads. [Leda like the swan… swan song… it sort of makes sense I guess…]
At night Strike and Shanker [his salt-of-the-earth, bit-of-a cheeky-chappy, non-standard English speaking, criminal-friend-whose-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-law but ‘not in a bad way as he works with Strike’ associate i.e. plot convenience when a deus ex machina is required, for revealing relevant investigation information such as the location of persons of interest, when Rowling isn’t sure how to have the characters obtain it via other methods] go to the graveyard to visit Leda’s grave. Shanker asks who left the pot plant and Strike says it was probably Uncle Ted. It’s an Erica carnea – or at least it was before winter in Whitechapel as he grows them. [Heads up this is the critical clue of the entire investigation apparently]. Shanker lays some flowers down joking ‘Dunno what those are. Garage had ’em on sale’. He asks about the stump i.e. Strike’s leg and Strike says it’s not like an old relative, you don’t have to ask after it. Then they have a drink while sat on someone else’s grave. Shanker chirps ‘top girl your mum’.
At home Robin is reading up about Jeff Whittaker and Strike’s mother. Her fiancé brings her food and she thanks him but doesn’t take her eyes off the screen as she reads about Leda Strike. He pushes down the laptop and she apologises. They discuss the leg being sent to her and he chimes in ‘and for what? Slightly less than the minimum wage?’ She remarks back ‘would it be alright if I was on £100 grand? How many share options make a girl’s severed limb worth me dealing with?’ in a tone of self righteous indignation. She declares she has work to do.
Shanker asks if Strike is up for killing Whittaker yet? Strike says no – but he needs him to find him. He tells him about the severed leg and lyrics ‘he holds grudges. This feels like him. The police are looking but they won’t find him’ Shanker suggests he is probably squatting somewhere in a shitty band.’ Strike notes it was addressed to his partner (Robin). Shanker says she is a pretty girl. Strike agrees hence why he wants him to work fast.
Robin sleeps next to her fiancé. She begins to whimper in her sleep so he wakes her. He tells her it’s a sound she used to do (after the rape presumably). He says being in that state isn’t good for her as they’re getting married. She says she is fine. He remarks he is sure strike is delighted. He then insinuates she is infatuated with Strike and wouldn’t mind if he grabbed her. They have a tiff. He says she is naïve. She says Strike is her colleague and friend as ‘Sarah’ is to him… except she realises he and Sarah had a fling in the past. It comes out it was when they were having a split (or she went home to recover from the rape/trial convicting her rapist) so it wasn’t an affair, as she first speculated, but something occurred during the overall course of their relationship. She runs off sobbing and locks herself in another room.
The next morning she is sat on a park bench surrounded by pigeons. She listens to a voice mail left by her fiancé of him admitting he has messed up. She stoically deletes it as she stares into the middle distance. Then there is a message from Strike saying he is trying to get in touch with her. She deletes that too [which, let’s be honest, would cause Strike to contact the police to find her for fear something has happened to her – but this entire series is wish fulfilment and Robin is untouchable as it’s real protagonist]. There are more messages from both men which she deletes without listening to them. We see the blurred silhouette of someone observing her and then following her.
She is following a young blonde woman wearing a furry blue coat – those ones that look like they’re actually part of a novelty fancy dress shop’s gorilla costume. They are walking past the entrance to Spearmint Rhino when Robin photos the girl entering the establishment after greeting the security guard [Maybe it’s Brockbank? At this point you really would need to be paying close attention to realise that]. Her phone rings and it’s Strike. He is furious she just disappeared off the grid the day after a severed leg was sent to her in the mail. He tells her to keep her phone on and to answer it when he calls. She says she will try. Then he tells her to meet him in the office at five.
In the office he is reading up about Laing’s reputation as a champion and his discharge from the forces.
Robin is in the pub drinking alone at the bar.
Strike reads up about Whittaker.
Robin goes to the toilet […apparently we needed to be aware of that].
Strike finds a modern photo of Whittaker [… it’s Super Hans from Peepshow!]
Robin, still sat in the pub but in a cubicle now gets a call. It’s Strike telling her it’s ten past six. He asks if she is okay and she, addressing him as Cormoran, says she’s not sure if she is up to this today.
Still in the pub alone a guy approaches Robin asking if she is alone. She says she is waiting for someone. He asks if he can wait with her just as Strike walks up behind him and says ‘no you can’t’. The man walks away. [cock block or ‘Strike saved her’? It depends on your perspective but it was a meaningless moment].
Strike wants to know what’s going on. She asked how he found her. He drily jokes that he is a detective. Also that pub is always playing the Pogues which he heard in the background when he called her.
[That’s a bit… coincidental. I mean it’s not unthinkable a pub has a limited play list but I don’t they would play a single band that much to the point he would be certain of it. I like to think he actually went to a few pubs walking in dramatically as he did and found no one there before slowly exiting. Then again I think this is the same pub as featured in the other stories thus it’s ‘their local’ as it were so he probably would have gone there Pogues or no Pogues.].
She asks what he needs. He wants to know what’s going on. She denies anything is. He says not to give him that – there clearly is. She is welling up with tears. He mocks he has never seen her look so bad with a smile on his face and she laughs saying ‘morale duly boosted’ as she sips her white wine. He asks where her engagement ring is and she tells him to put two and two together since he is the detective.
[Also I will note it’s been years since I last watched any of the Strike series and it’s notable they assume you’re familiar with the secondary or tertiary characters immediately here so no names really come up to aid people who are jumping in late if there are passing references].
She says Matthew, her fiancé, cheated on her. Strike calls him a moron. She says it was a long time ago but it was with one of the most annoying women [wow… so she knows it’s in the past and doesn’t affect her engagement now but is acting like it happened only a brief time ago… she is overreacting immaturely depending on your own views – not that we should be surprised as she seems to have led a life wrapped in cotton wool and little is going to happen to change that opinion]. In fact she was one of the people at the dinner party last night.
She cries some more before saying Matthew and Sarah started up shortly after Robin left university. Strike is surprised he admitted to it but she corrects him that Matthew didn’t – she just knew [very deductive reasoning befitting a detective then… relying on hunches rather than facts but it’s that kind of story considering Strike spends far too much time trying to tie it to Whittaker since he dislikes him]. She says he looked ashamed of himself.
She relays that she dropped out of university because something happened to her [she was raped… the series kept teasing this in previous stories but that’s what happened and it all but hammers with it in all but name after the first two ‘cases’ but here we finally get an explanation for all the skill sets she had accumulated previously as if to be prepared for any circumstance that might occur hence her off road driving skills etc previously].
She was coming back from a friends halls, not even late in the night, when it happened. There had been a warning and the guy had tried to attack someone earlier. She played dead and he ran. That’s how she survived. He was wearing a rubber gorilla mask but had a patch of white skin behind the ear. [That’s such an oddly specific thing to mention. I secretly want there to be some ridiculously sensationalist old school twist in a later novel revealing they looked for and convicted a white guy but it was actually a black man with vitiligo or even albinism like the model Shaun Ross. Then we can all discuss how it’s a stereotype depicting black people as excessively violent criminals especially one with some form of skin condition to ‘other’ them further. Rowling will say she thought it would honestly be a great twist in the most ignorant way possible. However these days it wouldn’t be as shocking to people as back when this storyline originally aired now she has made clear her stance on transgender people despite all her lip service towards progressive views prior].
Her evidence got him put away for rape and attempted murder. She claims it was 20 bad minutes out of an entire life and she is still the same person. Strike assured her of that but it’s still a horrible thing to have happened to her. After it happened she couldn’t leave her room so she had to go home to her mum and dad. That is apparently when Matthew cheated on her.
[Sorry, but in all seriousness, she is still considering marrying this guy? You can sort of insinuate due to the ‘affair’ that he probably wasn’t there to be supportive of her in other ways too during that period and yet she continued dating him and is now going to marry him. That’s a lot of convenience with this character. Then again it does seem people marry because ‘it’s the right time’ in life to tick the box before it’s too late. Everything is done for convenience. A marriage of apparent convenience. An employer who conveniently allows her to become his partner in a detective agency though he has many years of being a military police investigator to have honed his skills… It’s just Robin is a character around which the narrative is formed not one formed by the narrative writing wise. If there is something needed it’s likely she has access to it. It’s a very middle class fantasy.]
They leave the pub and Strike asks where she is staying. She says everyone she knows in London is Matthew’s friend. She’ll get a youth hostel or YMCA [not to digress but are there hostels non ‘youths’ can use too? Presumably so. I just don’t know the details to be honest but Robin doesn’t strike me as someone who would even consider sleeping in one to begin with considering everything we know about her].
Strike says he’ll find her somewhere proper. She says she is skint and he quips that is probably his fault. He will pay and they can call it a wedding cancellation present. We see the same person from earlier following them [I’ll be honest we all suspect it’s the ex-army buddy following her since Strike more or less asked him to but – uh oh – maybe it’s the leg man? In fact it turned out to be no one apparently unless I missed something but at least it foreshadows the later complacency she has when the assault occurs in fairness].
She arrive at a hotel Hazlitts which has a blue plaque on it’s wall [so it’s somewhere of historical note… but those are ten a penny in London from my experiences if you’re in the centre]. Strike notices the person following them. [We never know who it is. Journalists? The murderer? It could be Matthew for all we know.]
The room is very luxurious. Bijou hotel level. 5 stars. Robin knows he can’t afford this as she does his books. He smiles telling her check out is at 11 and to keep the door locked. Also to stay away from the mini-bar.
When exiting and striking up a cigarette Strike sees the hooded figure sitting in the window of the bar across the road [would any establishment not be a bit concerned about someone obscuring their face to that degree? At least that is what I would have said back at the time of broadcast but we are in COVID-19 days as I write this…]. Strike gives chase with an inevitable lurching run due to his false leg through the crowded bar. The rush out the back door and down an alleyway. Strike tries to keep up but eventually loses steam and loses the suspect in Chinatown. After sitting down outside a supermarket he is next seen using a folded lawn chair as a crutch. [Where had he get it from? We don’t know and, honestly, I assume he stole it]. Outside his office are a number of journalists with voice recorders question him if he knows where the leg is from.
Inside we get the obligatory special effects and camera tricks visualisation to confirm that the character has a false leg. He makes a call to the detective asking about who leaked the information about the leg as it’s not good for business. The detective says ‘you know how it is’ which irritates Strike asking not to play their game before cutting the call short before rubbing slave onto the stump of his leg.
The next day Wardle and his partner arrive on the scene where the body of a young girl has had its hands and legs sawn off. Caucasian, maybe 16. Found by a cleaner. There was also a phone but no bag or wallet. Nothing to identify her with and the phone has gone to forensics. CCTV camera footage from the lobby. They’re checking the tapes so they might get lucky.
Strike opens the street door to his office and there are journalists with cameras and questions prepared piling on top of one another to ask him about the developments. As he closes the door one white guy with an afro breaks away. He looks like the guy from the bar. [maybe it’s a coincidence… maybe he has a part to play… who knows? Well you will if you read further on. Spoilers: No it seems to just be a coincidence but I swear it was the same guy. Maybe he is a character in the book omitted from the teleplay?]
Strike calls Robin to tell her about the scrum of parasites on his doorstep and that they need to find him before he puts them out of business. Robin vomits into the toilet of her hotel room. He notes she vomited and she assures him she can work. He says he never doubted her. [Honestly so far this story has been about glorifying her more than developing the events of the case. I get it that we want to be invested in our protagonists but this is slowly becoming more a low key comedy-drama about an office romance than a detective mystery]. He jokes that she should have them send her up a bacon sandwich.
He gives her Nick and Ilsa’s address on 80 Octavia Street. Then he remembers to tell her to be careful exiting the hotel as they were followed last night.
Strike is then at Nick and Ilsa’s. She is making a smoothie with a blender [wow, remember the fad for those back a few years ago? It seems a lifetime ago but it’s only been a few years…]
Strike complains he is down to two clients while the rest have run screaming to the hills. [I don’t think that’s how it would really work to be honest considering the financial investment by clients but this happens every book/series to the point you could argue it’s an annual thing for him to lose clients, solve a high profile case and get an influx of new clients and then lose them at the start of the next scandal due to a case he has taken on or has some connection to. Rowling loves her formulae… but then I recall what I said at the start of this synopsis and it’s not just annually but at least biannual which makes it all the worse! He can’t afford a partner under the best of circumstances let alone with these constant threats of closure/bankruptcy.]
They’re a healthy, clearly affluent if their fashionable stark décor is anything to go by, couple. Strike notes if the guy wanted to kill him he is a big enough target to which Nick quips ‘that reminds me we need to talk about your cholesterol. [ha ha – funny joke as Master Splinter would say at the end of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live action films back in the 90s… the issue being Tom Burke who plays Strike is well built with a rounded face not at all overweight due to physical inactivity like the character is in the books is apparently].
Strike remarks on the effort to get into his head due to the leg and lyrics used so far. Ilsa says it’s Robin that he is concerned about. [Yes, for Robin is the centre of the universe…]. Strike mockingly quotes Robin who has ‘a certificate for a three day self defence course’. Ilsa says she likes Robin with a ‘hint hint you and her together’ gesture which Strike doesn’t register and says blankly ‘well so do I’ in a friendly manner. He admits he just doesn’t want to add her to the list of dead and/or maimed women he carries around with him in his head [like James Bond].
Elsewhere Wardle and his partner are watching the CCTV footage from the start of the episode making notes of time stamps. They note that Strike entered the murder scene building 18 minutes before the girl. [the post-it note has a 2019 date on it. Has it really only been about a year? It seems much longer than that…]. They’ll have to bring him in.
At the hotel, which Robin still hasn’t left though it must be past 11AM now, her phone rings. It’s Matthew. She doesn’t answer it.
Strike is on the phone at Nick and Ilsa’s home. Robin arrives and they offer her coffee. She thanks them and says she feels awful. Strike, finishing his call, says it’s because she drank every bottle of wine in London. She tells him another client cancelled their job with them and he calls over to his friends that they only have one client now. She gives him the reasons but he says it’s fine and he gets it as he takes a drag on a cigarette.
Later in his office he has another address for Brockbank’s sister Holly in Barrow-In-Furness. It’s the only solid lead they’ve got and business isn’t thriving he reflects so he will go there. Robin remarks she will go with him. He says she would be more help in the office. She retorts she can do the research work from anywhere [the unspoken caveat being she needs a decent internet connection but apparently no one in this series suffers that even in rural areas]. Also she has a land rover she borrowed from her father and Strike can’t drive so it’ll save them time and money – also so she has money before the company goes bust. She believes she will be safer outside of London. Strike asks what Matthew will think and Robin replies he can shove his thoughts up his own arse. [Why she says ‘his own arse’ instead of ‘his arse’ I don’t know. It sounds awkward.]
Next Robin is packing up to leave and Matthew pleads with her not to to which she tells him not to touch her. She loads the land rover and drives off as he watches.
Elsewhere Wardle takes Strike to the station for questioning in the back of his car.
Robin gets to the home of Strike’s friends only for Nick to tell her ‘Oggy’ (Strike) had to nip off to see the police. He then asks her if she fancies some lunch and she graciously asks for just a glass of water [wow, being fed by Strike’s friends too – what a blessed existence].
[I know what you’re asking: When does the murder mystery investigation part of the story really start? Well… congratulations it finally starts now after all this personal stories set up!]
The detectives, Wardle and his partner, asks if Strike has been in Whitechapel recently. Yes due to a message from a client called Valley who he never met [almost like, you know, it was a set up]. They found the building and murder scene with the cut up body and a phone which had her finger prints on it [almost as if, shockingly, a young girl might own a mobile phone] where apparently Strike had invited her.
[In reality that wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny if it was done with mobile phones these days. It’s not like it was a hand written invitation with his handwriting, on his personalised stationary which no one else has access too, someone saw him write the letter and speak about the meeting and all those other ‘proof’ contrivances that would work in a story set 30 or more years prior to today. The CCTV would show him not enter anywhere or spend the minimal amount of time when first entering and never returning nor having something hidden, i.e. legs and hands, under his coat when leaving… but then that gets in the way of a classic ‘accused of a crime he did not commit’ trope based story. Watch now as the already overly worshiped Robin gets to prove his innocence so he owes her one… or not as he quickly proves his innocence by stating things the police would have asked themselves i.e. if the photo was staged by the photographer.]
Back at the friends’ home Robin is drinking an abomination of a ‘healthy’ drink Nick made in med school to ‘prove your the hardest bastard in the room’. [Yes, rigor mortis does make you that I suppose]. Strike walks in telling then he was interviewed under caution, drinks the concoction saying he needed that and drags Robin out onto adventure.
While getting in the land rover we are told Wardle at least believes Strike isn’t going around carving up teenage girls and Robin will have to actually do some work sending all they’ve got on the ‘Valley’ client to the detective. [which, really, would be the phone number and a brief description of why he wanted to meet… which is nothing barring ‘he sounded like [accent], [age] and [pure speculative guessing with no solid proof you’re not lying]’ speculation].
Why the leg? Asks Robin. ‘So I never work again because of scandal’ more or less Strike tells her after walking through the bloody obvious which she herself was aware of already.
[Got to make sure the stupid audience is treated like children as if getting a leg in the mail wouldn’t drive people off which already was indicated by the ‘I’ve lost all but one of my clients’ information earlier].
They drive to the country with some wide shots to sell the series to the foreign market.
So they’ve three suspects [apparently the TV series cut them down or the ‘sends limbs in the post’ guy is instantly dismissed for one reason or another though I don’t recall them doing so.]
Whittaker: got away with murder twice.
Laing: charmed everyone while he kept his wife terrified.
Brockbank: was a child rapist who managed to convince everyone he was the injured party.
Robin asks if Brockbank is capable of cutting off his own daughter’s leg. Strike doesn’t know what to think but knows he wants revenge on him for the past.
More countryside scenery porn for foreign market trailers.
We get a little flashback of Brockbank being approached by Strike in his SIB days. Brockbank tells his daughter to get back inside while getting an empty bottle to attack with. More countryside scenery porn.
Why are they out in the country? Brockbank’s army pension goes out to his sister living in Barrow every month and she is their only lead.
[It might just be me but surely the police would contact him or make a note of his whereabouts immediately and have already contacted his sister if they couldn’t trace him. But again it’s another contrivance for the sake of drama. Otherwise, without them, the entire ‘Strike is a murderer’ story thread would be ‘Strike entered the building, we found out it was a weak set up, we found the body and, very likely due to forensic evidence, it was someone else and due to their pre-existing record we know exactly who did it. We then caught/did not catch the killer/had to wait until they resurfaced before detaining them. Meanwhile Strike has gone off on other adventures after his name was cleared after a day or two.’]
Also Strike had Brockbank’s old photo in his military uniform on his phone. [Surely a closer photo of his face would be better for identifying him but whatever…]
Strike asks how Robin is doing and she says a bit shit [the middle class love a bit of casual swearing for emphasis but hypocritically look down on the working class assuming they do it all the time] and that Matthew keeps texting. To this Strike asks if she wants to hear about the migratory pattern of the black marlin… [because he could not give less of a shit and because they’ve two hours to go and no one wants to listen to the self pity of someone as self glorifying as Robin for two hours. Really he should have faked taking a nap. Much easier.]
They arrive as the sun sets and park in a residential street which has a massive nuclear power station looming over it.
Both are asleep in the land rover as a female bobby-on-the-beat approaches and knocks on the window. The land rover belongs to Robin’s father Michael. The police officer tells them they’re on a double yellow and there is no loitering near a nuclear facility. [um, they have housing that close to such a place?! That’s far more interesting…]. She checks Robin’s driving license and then is used to give some exposition regarding ‘shipyard’ the nuclear facility. [side note: the police officer actress barely moves her mouth to the point she looks like someone doing a really bad ventriloquist act]. Strike jokes does anyone come up to Barrow-In-Furness on holiday? The officer gives a slight smirk saying the abbey and nature reserves are popular… apparently Strike is that charming. Robin lies about hoping to catch up with a friend on the way to Scotland. Strike asks where they can get a half decent coffee. The officer, losing interest, tells them there’s a no photography rule in the area and leaves [so… does that include residents? The scene almost makes it sound like one of the locked off Russian industrial cities like Norilsk].
Bit of banter between our protagonists and Robin goes off to enquire about Brockbank not two seconds after the officer has gone and will see her going door to door inquiring. She goes to ask an old woman ‘who looks the sort to enjoy gossiping’. [again we get more of Rowling’s biased stereotypical image of the working classes and those who don’t live in the gentrified areas of a city…]
Later while clothes shopping Robin tells Strike she has to be the one to approach as the sister will recognise Strike and tell her brother he is being looked for. [The only time they may have encountered each other was at a trial if he was giving evidence and she was present which likely wouldn’t be the case in a military trial so… where would she recognise him from? Perhaps the papers I suppose if the old cases and murder accusation got into the national press]. He doesn’t like it but she insists it’s a good idea and there’s a moment suggesting she thinks he will watch her change as he lingers a moment to long but then he goes outside the shop. Afterwards, at another shop, she gets a call off her mother regarding the break up. She is at work etc etc.
So they drive to the pub Holly Brockbank is in every lunch time and Strike hopes she is nicer than her brother. Wearing a brand new navy trouser suit Robin goes into the pub. [That doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb at all. Rowling has spent too much time in London and such affluent areas where that look might pass without note but in the rest of the country outside cities you would get noted.]
Inside the Crow’s Nest pub Robin walks up to the bar lady asking for Holly and is directed to a side room where Holly is playing snooker by herself. Holly is of course overweight, tattooed, wearing rings and chunky gold jewellery, a hoodie and has somewhat disheveled hair.
[‘Oh J K Rowling you’ve done it again – how do you come up with these incredibly accurate depictions of the working class?’ ask the London based newspaper literary column reviewers who’ve never set foot outside the city except for the Cotswolds or to go abroad. Thus they believe the broad stroke stereotypes Rowling has of anyone not middle class. Archetypes which wouldn’t feel out of place in an Enid Blyton book. Meanwhile they also happily patronising which ever group polite society deemed worthy of pity this season in order to stay on the right side of history and their dinner party connections.]
As a bonus Holly has a bit of a lisp too apparently.
[Kick ’em while they’re down Joanne! Why not give her some ‘James Bond villain’ scars too and maybe a full blown disability – not a ‘noble’ one like Strike who lost his leg in military service but something humiliating to mock like… IBS… Yeah, she’d like to mock that no doubt. She already questionably did in the previous case The Silkworm regarding learning difficulties and mental illness.]
Robin introduces herself as ‘Venetia Hall’ and she is a lawyer/solicitor specialising in claims. [So she did go with a James Bond like naming aspect then. It’s Robin’s middle name but it sounds one of those wordplay code names femme fatales from Ian Fleming’s works have. Based on ‘Venetian Hall’ in Robin’s case. ‘Hello my names Roma Column, Georgia Facade, Russi Caravan, India Summer, etc…’ I would say it’s an odd middle name but a lot of people have middle names far more interesting than their first name it seems – just to be a little special but not stick out too much they get persecuted for it if they need to fit in]
[Robin wouldn’t be seen dead being anything below a professional career even as a cover story (oh except her over the top cartoonish accents we keep enduring in each story when she is digging for information). She must have been such an obnoxious child…]
She pretends Niall is owed money and presents it like one of those ‘were you in an accident and could seek compensation’ adverts that used to be on the TV constantly [again showing this story has already aged since you rarely hear from those ambulance chaser sorts these days]. Robin claims she represents servicemen who could get reparations for injuries outside of combat operations. She then can’t help herself but to simplify it to ‘I’d like to help you to make a lot of money off the government’ speaking down to Holly. [Just because someone acknowledges what you’re saying doesn’t mean you get to act like they’re stupid. Rowling bias is really shining through with the dialogue.]
Strike, sat outside in the land rover calls Wardle. He only now tells the detective about Laing who he got put down for 16 years but would be released around now. [um, why not mention him earlier? Maybe because he was under interview and this all needs to be done clandestinely I guess.]
Back with Robin and the sister we see Robin is drinking a white wine while the sister drinks a pint. [I’m not saying this is also a bit cliché of the differences between the classes but… come on… it’s being laid on with a trowel in this contrast of Robin and Holly. It’s the brother who was dodgy but they’re implying it’s a thing all people of the family have so you can never rise above the circumstances of your birth not be deserving of the common, courteous, respect automatically given to people of equal, or better, social rank…]
Robin says she knows Niall had some troubles in the army. To which the sister replies ‘Problems? Some fuckin’ police copper smashed his head in!’ [Now see it’s okay when the middle class character swears for emphasis but not you… even if you’ve every motivation to be indignant over the understatement regarding a life altering injury someone close to you suffered. Rowling wants us to judge her but I doubt many would feel differently even if they bit their tongue in the moment.] The sister recalls Comoran Strike’s name as the one who caused the injury. She goes as far as calling him a ‘fucking gadgee’ [whatever that means]. This caused her brother to have fits and be unable to work again.
He would go to her house and smash things up and attack her too. She points out her nose as one that’s been ‘hit hard’ [but the actress has a button nose – the worst you could say is there are some subdermal bumps on it from blocked pores but… they really didn’t consider how that line doesn’t work with her features despite the costume etc trying to give a ‘look how rough and working class she is compared to Robin in her pristine suit and perfect hair despite sleeping in a vehicle last night’ image.]
Then the sister recounts how she has had a shit life, as had her brother, but he got to be a major in the army which was ‘good money and good respect’ which all went after Strike bashed his head in. Apparently Niall works ‘shit jobs in rubbish strip joints’ as a bouncer but it doesn’t last long and he is in London now as there is more work there.
[‘Entering the army gives you prospects’. That’s the message in all their marketing material. It’s a bit odd to hear it casually implied here to be honest especially with Strike missing a leg, PTSD and other mental issues clearly being alluded to with other ex-forces characters and such… They apparently want their cake and to eat it too it seems regarding their stance on the armed forces.]
Robin gets back to the land rover where Strike is doing a crossword. She has a number for Niall now. She suggests they leave it a day or two to ‘let the story bed in’ before contacting him. She jokes if they lose the business she might try personal injury claims. Strike asks what she could get him for his missing leg? ‘Packet of crisps and a pint’. [A bit callous? Gallows humour I guess].
[Robin goes upsetting a relative of a suspect who isn’t involved. Gives her false hope about justice and tells her employer she has options if his business collapses – which is very likely under the circumstances and would leave him legally liable for all the costings… This is the central protagonist of the story ladies and gentlemen. ‘Feed the rich and fuck the poor’ as the lyrics go… the working classes are animals who do not deserve the respect of being depicted as equal human being but patronised and stereotyped as ever on the brink of destitution and criminality because they are lesser creatures… one more needless stereotypical depiction of the working classes for the Strike series to chalk up. It’s no surprise though to anyone who saw the ‘give you a blow job for a fiver’ girl from ‘The Cuckoo’s Call’ though.]
Strike gets a pint and wine at a country pub while inquiring about a place to stay. [Which immediately brings to mind Al Murray’s Pub Owner character’s catchphrase ‘a pint for the men and a wine for the ladies’.]
Robin asks about the attack Holly told her of.
He says the interview with Brittany he saw back then ‘may have’ framed his response when encountering her father. So we see him in the flashback give a brutal right hook to Niall when Niall raises a bottle at him. Niall goes down and begins to foam at the mouth while spasming in a fit as his daughter is led away by police.
Strike recounts he had a pre-existing concussion from playing rugby that week, got epileptic fits and was invalided out of the armed services. Between the fits he would tell anyone who listened he was going to destroy Strike. ‘Perks of the job’ Strike jokes as he takes a swig of his beer.
Niall’s wife believed Brittany was ‘telling tales, a naughty little liar’ as she though Niall was a good man and a good father. But Brittany knew no help was coming and that’s what Strike finds hard to live with.
Robin says they have to catch him. Strike interrupts ‘- if he is our killer’ and Robin indignant declares ‘he’s a child rapist’. Strike says the army did their job properly and there wasn’t enough evidence for a case. Then we get a little ‘its hard but what can we do, we can’t hunt them all down’ spiel with Robin saying she will tell British Gas that’s what they’ve decided to do when Strike comments they can’t catch them all and also pay off the utility bill too. [Optimism versus pessimism].
They get to the hotel in the pouring rain and Robin rings the front desk bell immediately [because how dare they have minimal reception staff at night so the lone person manning the reception is also likely doing other tasks at the same time in a side room].
Strike asks for two single rooms immediately. Then clarifies two single rooms not one room with two single beds. [wouldn’t that be more costly considering how tight their finances are?]
Walking down the corridor Robin asks if his leg is okay and offers to give Strike a piggyback due to all the gymkhanas she used to do. They have rooms next to each other and Strike tells her if she needs anything he is in the room next door. Then through the window we see both getting ready for bed. A moment later Strike knocks at Robin’s door to tell her Wardle has found an old address of Laing’s where he was living with someone in Corby so they’ll go check it out tomorrow. He assures her he was telling her now in case she was making other plans for tomorrow. [I mean… she is on the work clock as part of a ‘work’s trip’ so she shouldn’t be even considering that to be honest yet he assumed it was the case]. They return to their rooms and close their curtains. [It’s a nicely framed scene.]
The next day they’re driving down a country road when Robin asks Strike to give her one. A mint that is. Then they stop off at a roadside cafe so Strike can recount his backstory with Laing.
He was on a drugs case in Cyprus, undercover, buying grass off a guy who dealt with a lot of local soldiers. This guy told him about a squaddie who claimed to have chained his wife up after she threatened to leave him. Though it sounded like grandstanding he checked it out anyway. When he went to investigate no one answered. There was a terrible smell and then he went to check the bedroom.
Laing said she was kinky and liked to be tied up. She had broken her wrist and dislocated her shoulder trying to get free and there were internal injuries. [at which point we see her from behind and she too has tattoos – so either this show is being very modern or tattoos are given their historical association of only being worn by deviants/lower classes and since we never see non-crime involved characters with tattoos it seems the latter association]. Laing went down for 16 years but probably only did 8 so he would have been out a while now.
They drive to a housing estate and ask Lorraine McNaughton about Laing as she used to live with him at her address. She called Laing Donnie and asks what he’s done now. She lets them in to ask a few questions. Inside she has lots of ornaments and such littering the walls and every surface. Laing robbed her when he left taking jewellery including her mum’s ring. Robin half heartedly says ‘I’m sorry, that’s terrible’ in the manner of someone who doesn’t really care but obeys the social script for such circumstances.
Lorraine met Laing at the pub where he was very charming. She acknowledges it sound stupid. He had his own company in Scotland but got ill apparently with Psoriatic arthritis so some days he couldn’t even move. Robin carries the teas for Lorraine having hovered in the doorway until now. Lorraine and ‘Donnie’ were together for less than a year after her mother died. He did some work for Mrs Williams at number 37 across the road. Cutting grass. Also he raised money for charity. Despite it all she misses him and confirms, when Strike asks, he was never violent. She told the police that when Mrs Williams was attacked and robbed. She had passed away since then. [Hint: this was one of the clue scenes you needed to pick up on if you wanted to play along and try and solve the mystery before the answer was revealed].
After they left Strike believes Laing cases Mrs Williams home to prepare for the robbery when mowing her lawn. ‘[For] Men like Laing and Brockbank and Whittaker – women are things to be used.’ [I’m sure Rowling felt she was doing a great service to the Feminist cause writing that but considering what we have been shown already it seems obvious. But then you’ve got to spell it out to the audience so they get it I suppose it was done for the trailer.] He laments even after it all Lorraine still missing Laing not seeing him for what he really is.
While driving Strike looks up Laing’s charity fund raising and it’s £40 for psoriatic arthritis. [getting good reception in the countryside?! What kind of service do they have? His mobile data rates must drain his pockets so no wonder his detective agency is always on the brink of closure!] He reflects Laing only set it up to dissuade anyone recognising him as a leech.
Strike asks her where she is going to stay and she says the flat as Matthew will be away. [How does she know he will be? Even then you might think she might not want to go there now anyway.] Then more countryside views and cityscapes.
Strike walks the damp streets of London alone as Robin goes to bed. He wakes up at his beer bottle and pot noodle covered desk when the phone rings. It’s Shanker. Apparently Shanker is wearing a suit instead of jeans and his green waterproof coat we always see him in. He has found Whittaker.
Strike walks into the back room of a pool hall where Shanker and his colleagues have someone tied up and he is apparently torturing the guy. Strike wordlessly gives Shanker money in a brown envelope, which he counts, and Shanker gives him a slip of paper with the information on. Happy with the payment he says see you later and goes back to his business. [This scene serves to show Shanker is actually a member of the criminal world and not just some jobless guy who seems to be Strike’s informant when he needs one. It’s well done but a bit pointlessly extravagant too really when you figure out the costs and everything for a 1 minute long scene with the rental fees, extras’ ages, etc.]
The next day Strike is stood presumably near the address Shanker has given him for Whittaker while having ‘imagined flashbacks’ to someone approaching his prone mother with a syringe. In case you’ve forgotten Whittaker is the guy Leda Strike was involved with at the time of her death. So all of this is a side plot really.
Whittaker and his group are loading up a van. He greets Strike as ‘Sherlock fucking Holmes as I live and breathe’. He then tells a young groupie ‘I was banging his mummy back in the day, for a while. I gave her a kid [Strike’s half sister who was encountered in the first story line The Cuckoo’s Call]. Now, she… she was a juicy old tart’ Strike interrupts him saying ‘this man kills women’. To which Whittaker retorts ‘you think this one gives a shit? She barely knows where she is half the time, bless her.
He then recounts how Leda used to like to ‘suck him off’ after he sang to her. ‘Sing her a song and then down she’d go – Pavlovian response.’. Strike punches him and tells the girl he can find her somewhere to stay. Whittaker tells her to get in the van and calls Strike a mother fucker as he does a ‘slit the throat’ gesture while Strike walks away.
At night Robin is on her phone. Zahara answers the phone – she is Brockbank’s ‘daughter’ (actually the daughter of his current girlfriend Alyssa). She is playing the next part in her ‘Ventia Hall – personal claims solicitor’ gambit while drinking a glass of red wine. [how often do people drink these days? I thought that was more of an older generations thing? As much as I talk of stereotyping working class people the whole ‘dinner parties and glasses of wine’ is one for the middle classes too]. She wants to arrange a meeting and he suggests Shoreditch. She asks for a home address to send paperwork to which he asks ‘do I know you little girl? She says she is sure they’ve never met and he puts the phone down on her [so she scuppered a meeting for the sake of over reaching for a home address. Bad detective work…] She takes a swig of her wine.
Meanwhile Strike has a nightmare about his mother’s corpse and hearing her say how she loves ‘him’, by which she means Whittaker, and that one day Strike will feel like that about somebody. [cough-Robin-cough].
Elsewhere Robin lays in bed recalling her rape. [Due to the weird close up on the rubber gorilla mask it’s not as intense as it should feel.]
The door bell rings for Strike asleep in his chair without his leg on. He hops to the phone and opens it for Wardle. The press are outside. He, with his partner, shows Strike a school portrait photo of the dead girl. He insists he have a longer look and again Strike says he doesn’t know her. Then he is shown the autopsy photo and told it was the girl found in Whitechapel. The partner reveals it took the morning papers to help them piece it all together.
They show him the front page of a paper depicting the girl meeting Strike in the window of a cafe. The partner asks him to confirm he has never met Kelsey Platt, the dead girl. [Ah, ah, were you expecting the name of someone else’s daughter? Cough-Brittany or Zahara-cough… Yeah, there’s a lot of overlapping here if you are not ever vigilantly keeping tabs on everything.]
We see the footage or both Strike and Kelsey getting into the elevator separately on the CCTV footage and the episode ends.
A brief recounting of the important bits from the last episode. Most of which apparently concern Robin’s relationship status and a brief reminder of who the suspects are before the last moments of the episode where Strike is going to be interviewed under caution by the police.
Theme tune time! Let’s alter the lyrics a bit: ‘You and me. Me and you. We’re all in this together. Watching a show. Following all the tropes. Easy watching – no matter the weather. Strike’s mama’s dead. So’s his leg. Robin’s dilemma – Matthew or Comoran: safe life or adventure? I wonder where she’ll end up?’
Strike is taken in for interview by the partner detective [who never gets named in the show. Maybe she does but seriously do you recall her name – no, no running off to Wikipedia or IMDB now! They barely if ever mention it as far as I recall.]
[The character’s name is DS Ekwensi. I think it is mentioned once very briefly in passing so it’s very much a case of ‘blink and you miss it’.]
They speculate if the photo is doctored as it was sent in by ‘a concerned friend’. He demonstrates how asking ‘is this seat taken’ can easily lead to a photo taken at the exact right moment gives the illusion of association between people otherwise unconnected. He then notes the details of the photo such as someone in the background wearing a vest [a minor hint to the turning point of the mystery here] so it must have been warm weather and they were reading a magazine so if the papers were sent a high resolution image they’ll be able to track that. He concludes if they find who took the photo they’ll find Kelsey’s killer.
He also notes Kelsey is holding a bottle of water and asks who goes to a coffee shop to sit and drink a bottle of water [actually quite a few people from my own experience… it is a bit odd I suppose but no cafe is going to turn away customers and most sell bottled water. It’s like if you go to a steakhouse and don’t eat steak – they won’t refuse you service for snubbing their specialty.]
Thus he concludes she came expressly to see him not to drink there. [But that doesn’t mean he didn’t make her acquaintance there which led to the later events. I’m obviously overthinking how his argument only proves he didn’t know her before that meeting not that he didn’t know her afterwards as he claims.]
He asks if they’ve found the three men he informed Wardle about. She says she can’t discuss that with him to which he interrupts before she can say it ‘- because it’s part of a murder investigation’. He begins to strike up a cigarette and she says she has asthma blankly. [I assume that is meant to be humorous?]
[On a side note: is the actress bad or was she directly to deliver her lines staring blankly and speaking in a monotone? It doesn’t serve her well for future roles as this is the biggest scene she has had in this show so far. It’s meant to come across as cold and ‘by the book’ but it reads more like a 9 year old told to recite lines and not thinking they also have to act at the same time. Not that she is at fault but the direction of the scene feels like they wanted a contrast between Strike’s disheveled and instinctive style against her more regimented and systemic manner but didn’t give her space to have some subtle characterisation too. Or the character is under written and they were told to ‘play it safe’ in case it contrasts with later descriptions of the character in the book series. Who knows? It just came across really badly sad to say.]
Afterwards Strike goes and buys a copy of every paper he can get his hands on. [I know it’s London but I’m sure some would be sold out by the time he got around to collecting them.]
In a park he sits on a bench causing a large group of pigeons to fly off. [from bizarrely amateurish acting in one scene to sheer trailer fodder in the next… I half wonder if there was a B-roll director who outdid themselves there honestly because it was a great shot with the pigeons flying up]. He begins to read one paper focusing on a story saying the Strata building in London is one of Britain’s ugliest buildings. But that doesn’t matter as we quickly cut to him walking down the road on the phone to Robin asking if they’ve got a print out of Laing’s fundraising page. He jokes he just had a social down at the station. Robin asks if they have a lead and Strike says yes, him, so they better get a move on as he approaches the front door to his office.
They look at a blown up image of Laing’s fund raising page and see the Strata building in Elephant and Castle, an area of London, in the background. They can use it to guess which block of flats he lived in. Robin tells Strike she contacted Brockbank and the exchange they had and that he may be living with a little girl. Strike tells her to head to Elephant and Castle. If she sees Laing to keep her distance, no working after dark and to keep on busy routes. She chimes in she knows as she has done counter surveillance. Strike retorts if it was up to him she would stay in Yorkshire until he is caught and reminds her of the pattern of sending the leg to her that already exists. She assures him she will be careful. While she is checking out for Laing he will look for Brockbank.
Strike goes into a strip club where a performer is on the pole. He shows the barman the military uniform photo of Brockbank asking he he knows him and the man says no. [presumably he does this a few more times elsewhere but they didn’t want to spend too much time on that so the second place he goes proves fruitful.] Meanwhile Robin is at the base of the Strata building trying to guess the angle from which Laing’s photo was taken.
Strike enters another establishment which clearly is meant to be closed as the performers are in silk night gowns looking at the phones in some of the pub like booths near the stage. One with blood red hair approaches him and asks ‘have you been here before darling’ in a foreign accent.
Robins walking the streets around the Elephant and Castle area.
The dancer offers Strike a private dance. He says he is looking for a friend and she says she will be his friend and kisses him on the cheek. [… I mean… Rowling’s views of women from certain backgrounds or circumstances again comes to the forefront… is it even worth commenting on?] to which he retorts ‘not that kind of friend, sadly’.
Robin crosses someone on a road she turns back to take a second look at.
Strike asks about Brockbank and is told he was fired as he was no use as a bouncer if he was having a fit and pissing himself [Rowling’s view of how certain businesses conduct themselves as if inhumane towards their employees, also rearing it’s head. I half wonder if she has actually been anywhere near to these places herself or just uses stereotypes]. He asks if anyone might know where he is and shows his wallet which the dancer takes some notes from saying probably with Alyssa as she has the worst taste in men. She was a dancer who was fired as well. They have a flat over in Bow. Apparently Alyssa bitches about the flat but likes the nursery her child is in. They are served two… jack and cokes I assume… and he asks if she can introduce him to Des but she says ‘thanks for the drink, darling, but I reckon you’re trouble. Normally I like trouble.’ after which she returns to her booth. [in hindsight it looks like a normal, if oddly lit on one side, pub except for the unnamed dancer and her friend. Maybe they had issues finding a shooting location and had to make do? Also I’m not sure what was going on with the end of that conversation to be honest.]
Robin calls him to say it could be one of a hundred flats. He tells her to be back home before nightfall. She asks how the strip clubs were and he retorts ‘expensive’ which makes her snort. He tells her to get in a cab but she quickly tells him to stop treating her like part of the problem. She will be having dinner with her mother around the corner from work so she will be perfectly safe. Strike agrees in an unconvincing tone.
Later at her dinner date she says Matthew shouldn’t have called her mother. Her mother says she is happy he did. Robin immediately becomes defensive saying she isn’t going to stop doing her job. Her mother says she will always have her mother and father’s full support but the wedding day is ‘nearly here’. [Okay, no worries your daughter got a severed leg in the post or anything. So… yeah. Marriage is still a defining thing you must do by a certain age for some people in society I guess even if it’s not a good fit. Honestly the number of red flags waving in her face and the marriage to Matthew is still on the cards is ridiculous. The writing from day one has depicted him poorly and yet the narrative insists it’s still viable. I’m not sure what issues Rowling has been working through with these characters but it really does seem like she felt obliged to marry due to social pressure at some point in her life… it all comes across incredibly archaic that marriage is the be all and end all of things to some degree].
At night Strike goes wandering door to door in a council flats building asking if people have seen Laing. [I’m not making a point of it but… the first two people are non-Caucasian looking. We hardly see any non-white people in other scenes except as token characters like the detective partner or on other stories where it’s made out as a bit ‘forward thinking’ but adds nothing to the plot. Here with so many in a brief time in council flats it seems again a certain stereotyping is being used…]
Robin’s mother asks if she wants to come back to Masham for a bit to be looked after. Robin refuses concerned she would feel like she did before – as if she was shutting out the world when she wants to stay in it.
As Strike is continuing his rounds to each and every door of the council flats a man in a wheeled walking frame comes out of his door. It’s Laing who recognises Strike and who recognises him in return. Laing has a Scottish accent [I don’t know if it’s exaggerated or not but due to the character’s theatrical skills I do half wonder what the descriptions in the book were like considering the Manchester accent in other scenes also feeling a bit over the top too potentially]. Strike tells him he is a private investigator now and had spoke to a woman in Corby. Laing asks if it was Lorraine and says he never hit her as ‘lesson learned the first fucking time’. Strike asks if he stole her jewellery. Laing said it was years ago so the stuff is long gone. It’s the truth he says and he didn’t feel good about it. Strike says he will tell her and steps aside to let Laing pass using his walking frame. Laing asks if that’s it. Strike agrees. Laing mocks him for tracking down old bits of tat. Strike then goes down a stairwell.
Robin’s mother gives her an envelope containing £500. ‘It could be the deposit on renting a flat of your own. Or it can be a pair of really beautiful wedding shoes’. [I have to admit I apparently live in a parallel universe. Getting money like that. The idea a flat in London would have a deposit of only £500. That shoes can cost stupid money like that if not basically intended for collectors never to be worn but as a financial investment. None of it makes sense. Most of all how wishy-washy her parents are on the whole marriage thing. Either they want her to marry or they don’t. They like Matthew or they don’t. Yes giving her space to make her own decisions is fine but… the narrative all leads to one conclusion really. Robin does what Robin wants and the universe bends to her will.]
Afterwards Robin walks down the road checking over her shoulder if she is being followed and ends up in Strike’s office. She takes a file out of the filing cabinet and calls his name to see if he is there. [well he lives there so… it would be likely. Also on a side note again what is with the red neon lighting around his window? It’s not part of a sign but just there for aesthetics apparently]. She finds him asleep in his chair and drapes his coat over him which wakes him. He thanks her and she says she came back for some files. She then offers him the money, to pay bills so they can continue working there, which she was given. He chides that as someone is trying to destroy him he makes a bad prospect for investment so would be better off putting it on a horse. She says she is better off here. She wants to do it for them.
He looks at his watch and realises he missed a date. Who asks Robin. Swedish, pretty, doesn’t give a fuck. [the dancer from earlier? Who knows. It’s a throw away line or Strike is lying he has stuff going on in his life other than the detective work.] Robin says ‘sounds perfect’. He says he should go to bed and thanks her for Donald Laing but it was a dead end as the guy is ‘even more crippled than I am’. Then he again reiterates her doesn’t like her being out after dark and she should get a cab. [Is ‘cripple’ still an acceptable terms for disabled people? I thought it was deemed a bit of a slur these days.]
She heads home and finds candles and such set up at her little desk. Matthew is there with more candles around him and she asks ‘what’s all this?’ [Master detective in the making]. He made her ‘that Nigel Slater salmon thing you like’. She tells him she ate with her mum, he asks how she is, Robin says fine, he says good. Robin pours herself some white wine [and due to the editing of the shows scenes she actually has a glass in her hand in most scenes during this case.]
Matthew says he has something to say to her. She sits down. He kneels by her and collects his words. He says what he did to her was unforgivable. He was 21. In so much pain. He was incredibly lonely and he made a mistake. He tells her she is the love of his life and he wants to marry her. More than anything that’s what he wants. But he leaves it for her to decide.
He takes his engagement ring off (or was it hers? It had a gem on it and I’m not familiar with what men’s engagement rings look like or if it’s even a thing). He says he is asking her again to marry him and if she says no he’ll accept it and he’ll leave the flat in the morning. She sheds a lone tear.
[Okay so this all sounds like it’s heavy handed manipulation and emotional blackmailing doesn’t it? The series doesn’t seem like it’s sure it wants it to come across like that or as sincere. Also if she refused him wouldn’t he leave immediately – just me but that’s not a ‘well sleep on it’ ultimatum he gave her there.]
Meanwhile Strike sleeps in his small attic conversion bedroom staring out of the skylight. He is recalling being stood at the side of the stage with his mother as a band performs and she tells him she loves him and tells him one day he’ll feel like that about somebody as we saw before. In a nice bit of editing he gets out of bed as Matthew gets into bed with Robin who presumably said yes to the marriage proposal.
Strike gets a beer from the fridge hopping along without his artificial leg and sits down in a chair. Robin turns to Matthew, strokes his face and kisses him. Strike is (crying?) alone drinking his beer. Robin snuggles up to Matthew.
The next morning Strike enters the back garden of Matthew and Robin’s home. He looks at her through the back window as she prepares coffee. Hearing someone opening the door she grabs a knife ready to strike. Strike looks at her and compliments her on going for it. He tells her he was just checking the locks and notes they’re not adequate while noticing she has her engagement ring back on.
She tells him she has to go back to Masham for a few days for dress fittings and stuff.
[I know this probably doesn’t need to be said but for foreign readers ‘Masham’ is a small market town and civil parish in the Harrogate district of North Yorkshire, England not a country estate of landed gentry like something out of a Georgian era novel. It does sound like it due to the name but it isn’t. Also at no point does Robin have the slightest inflection of a Yorkshire area accent unless I’m missing something].
She asks if that’s okay and Strike agrees as it’ll keep her out of harm’s way. He changes the subject saying he’ll put a padlock on the back gate. She seems mildly pleased with how everything is turning out. [Because everything basically is. She’s getting married and has ensured the detective agency survives so she can carry on the job.]
So it is we get more countryside eye porn watching the land rover drive parallel to a large river and through country lanes to a converted farm steam like home where all her family are waiting for her arrival. [so she is basically the modern literary version of lower level gentry… it’s no surprise considering the resources she seems able to call on at a moments notice but still…].
It’s the return of the prodigal daughter in the truest sense.
Then we get a daytime montage of the dress fitting contrasting with Strike at night looking over the suspects in the case including Whittingham who he still is considering though he has no real connection. He reflects on what the partner detective said in the interview about whether he had ever met Kelsey Platt before.
The next day he walks up a residential street to a house we have seen before. A woman distraught and in tears answers recognising him. He says he needs to ask about her sister as a man’s voice calls asking who it is. She tells him it’s Comoran Strike. The man asks why he is here and tells her to close the door. She asks him to wait as they discuss seeing the pictures of him and her sister Kelsey. The wife argues the police believe he was set up [how she was informed of that is left to guessing…] and her husband, Ray, has a Manchester accent [ a very strong one – almost like someone doing a broad impression of one and we never get a clear look at his face nor Laing’s earlier hint hint].
Apparently Kelsey looked up to Strike [yeah, the whole ‘superstar detective’ thing is a bit of a contrivance as if he really is the Sherlock Homes of the twenty-first century – which is similar to how they depicted the character with Benedict Cumberbatch]. The husband concludes she can talk to him if she wants but he won’t. Thus she invites him in.
Inside is a dimly lit living room despite the curtains being open and a lamp on. The table is covered in newspapers and other documents. The décor is arguably a few decades out of fashion when contrasted with the minimalist design of the home of Strike’s friends.
He is sorry for their loss and is sure the police have asked a lot of questions. She says they asked if she ‘…was working, signed statements from colleagues and payslips. Ray, the husband, had to print off photos of himself fishing with Ritchie (a friend?), boat receipts, the lot’. [why the payslips? The others for an alibi I could understand… just for more confirmation of things I guess but it actually raises a lot of questions towards the end when we have to question the whole boat trip aspect which was falsified as there would be dates on there which would have given away the inaccuracy of the photo time wise without needing to resort to knowing the annual life cycle of plant life as Strike eventually does.] They were away in Wales and so they lost her. She sobs. Strike asks if it’s okay to photo the photos.
He asks if they’ve any idea who might have got close to Kelsey. No, as she had no friends and came to live with them once their mother died. She mentions there was the age gap between them as sisters but trails off into more sobbing. Strike asks to use their toilet and is told it’s upstairs.
He pretends to go into the toilet by slamming the door shut before skulking around to find Kelsey’s bedroom. He photos some pots of medical salves in the couple’s bedroom [I don’t think anything comes of that afterwards] before finding Kelsey’s room. Without any hesitation he sticks his hand in a draw partially blocked by the bed before noticing the cork board covered with newspaper articles featuring the model Lulu Landry from the Cuckoo case, some probably from the second case regardin the Solk Worm and other pieces about him too. [One article features the headline ‘why we’re obsessed with Comoran Strike’ – I mean I’ve seen that for ‘young professionals’ magazines but for a random, if socially connected, private detective it’s a bit weird anyone wrote that for a publication]. Apparently a fashion magazine announcing him their newest crush. Also some print offs of forums pages with how to say his name and photos of him. He photos the cork board and tears off the forum print off before going back to the toilet and flushing it to create his alibi. He also photos a certificate on the wall acknowledging Ray’s ‘bravery and meritorious conduct’. [A clue].
Downstairs Kelsey’s sister [who I don’t think is addressed by surname – perhaps to not tip their hat too soon regarding the stolen identity part of the story] writes information out for Strike and asks him ‘you didn’t do it, did you?’ ‘No, I didn’t’ he responds. Whether that puts her mind at rest or not is up to you. It’s something at least.
Meanwhile Robin gets a knock at the door to her room from her mother asking if she is alright. Robin tells her she should redecorate the room. Her mother says ‘it’ll always be your room, love’ before leaving her alone again.
[I suppose her mother is overly protective, understandably considering what happened, but at the same time I always get the impression Robin was a character always wrapped in cotton wool and given whatever she wanted even before the rape. She is hard to identify with I feel. We are watching a wish fulfilment character living an idealised existence with little consequences to anything. Yes, there was the rape in university but what other trials has she faced save those she created herself by wanting things that are not readily available to her like a career as a private detective. Having every skill set under the sun to provide and protect herself is understandable after what she endured but, and it’s key to why I disconnect I think, by making her near Batman levels of prepared for all eventualities, with no real flaws, she doesn’t come across as a character I can invest in. In the first book we needed someone to help us enter the life of Comoran Strike but now we are familiar with him her part in the narrative feels extraneous and prone to detracting from the potential risks in the story even with Strike repeatedly seeming to foreshadow her being accosted at night. The image of her in a preserved room, like a caged bird, really relies on the reader feeling she is in circumstances which deny her development but everyone has left those options open to her to choose herself be they to go home, to marry and otherwise. It’s like being told someone’s lucid dream where they decide nothing bad will happen. There are no stakes and thus it becomes tedious unintentionally no matter how fantastical the tale. You can wake up from a bad dream, Robin can go home to her privileged life.]
Strike goes past the guitar and drums pub wearing his enormous scarf and encounters the two detectives outside his front door. Wardle calls him a stupid bastard and they all enter together. Wardle relays that Ray felt like he was attacking Hazel, Kelsey’s sister, and asks Strike to imagine if he had gone to the papers instead of them. He scolds Strike and Strike asks him what he thinks he should do. ‘Stay out of it, work your own cases’. Strike informs him no one wants to hire a detective accused of being a paedophile and murderer. Due to that he can’t afford the rent on the office property and will have to make his partner redundant while she is on her honeymoon. He asks them what they suggest while someone is cutting up little girls on his account. The partner detective says in the projected monotone of a small child in a school play on bullying ‘we need you to trust us to do our job’. [I honestly feel sorry for her if she wasn’t being given good direction on how to deliver her lines].
Strike asks what they’ve done with the three names he gave them. They’re still making enquiries. Strike tells them ‘…Whittaker’s in Catford, Laing was in Corby but is now in Elephant and Castle, and Brockbank just got fired from a strip club in Shoreditch’ he is insulted their suggestion is he should just sit back and ‘…wait for London’s finest to plod along to the finish line?’ He declares by the time they’re finished he’ll be on the street and Robin will be dead. ‘We’re on your side you idiot’ Wardle tells him with a smile. Strike apologises and says he doesn’t know what else to say.
Meanwhile Robin is online doing research as usual. She is looking at a site titled ‘Sally’s Nursery Bowl’ which is the nursery mentioned by Alyssa, the stripper/dancer’s former work colleague to Strike last episode. She calls the nursery using an over the top East London accent with her brother sat next to her in the living room while she is on her laptop.
[I’m going to mention again that the work colleague had a foreign accent so in my mind wouldn’t it be possible Alyssa might also be a foreign accented person as they only really have her name (even if Zahara has a London accent as a small child who might have been born here or picked it up quickly). So this ploy could immediately raise alarm bells at the nursery? Then again all these ploys might be Rowling playing the long game and a few books from now on of them will get her in deep trouble when the people she is called track back to her considering she is using her own mobile phone when doing these ‘comical’ cold calls].
Her brother laughs at it and she gestures him to be quiet. She pretends she hasn’t been getting any letters regarding Zahara, Alyssa’s daughter, from them for a while so they will give her the home address [in reality they’d ask her to confirm her own home address in order to avoid that sort of information being released]. It turns out she called the wrong place.
Meanwhile Strike stares at a photograph of the cork board from Kelsey’s room.
Robin tries another nursery using the exact same ploy but adding they might be using the old address.
Strike looks over various newspaper articles online although they’re formatted like the printed editions so maybe it’s images of them and not newspaper websites.
Robin finally strikes it lucky with her telephone calls.
Accompanied by some tense, threatening, music a hooded figure goes around the back of a house with a bag of tool and a flash light. Matthew is alone at the house he shares with Robin, Meanwhile, up Yorkshire way, Robin and her mother are cooking a roast dinner. The hooded man breaks the security light with a random bit of plastic piping [it could be iron but… those lights are quite sturdy so wouldn’t break as easily as depicted]. Strike is in a bar somewhere looking through the photos on his phone when he decides to zoom in and read Ray’s award he noticed earlier. The hooded figure unscrews the last security light and…
… it’s the next morning. Nothing happened it seems.
Matthew is cheerily making himself some coffee.
Elsewhere Robin’s mother rushes into her bedroom announcing Matthew is on the phone for her… apparently a finger was left in their see through glass kettle.
Next forensics have been and done their work and Strike walks up to the property. He introduces himself as ‘…a friend of Matthew’s here to check he’s alright’ and is let straight through by the office standing guard as if it was all prearranged. [Police detectives can do that in other murder mystery dramas because they’re police – it wouldn’t be that easy to gain access otherwise so that felt like a bit of a contivance. ‘Only residents, family…. oh and people who claim to be friends without us confirming it can enter’.] Strike goes past a forensics person carrying wrapped containers and sees the kitchen being swabbed down.
Matthew is sat upstairs, in shirt and tie, on his laptop ready for work. [He didn’t see it until after his coffee? Or he changed after noticing it and intends to go to work still? Um, interesting…] Strike enters saying Robin asked him to check in on Matthew. ‘I’m fine thanks, the police have everything covered’ Matthew says spitefully. Strike tells him Robin is driving down – but he should know that already obviously.
Matthew angrily asks him what it would take Strike to let her go? She’s been followed, had body parts sent to her, she has had her flat broken into by someone who butchers women – Matthew wonders if Strike is just waiting to see what happens to her next. Strike tells him calmly he understands he is having a difficult morning but is cut off when Matthew tells him to piss off. Strike ignores it and continues saying ‘Robin’s good at what she does. She’s very good. She manages the risks. If she ever decides to hand in her notice, that’ll be her decision but I would try to persuade her to stay. The police will watch the flat at night I don’t think he’ll try anything again. Matthew says he doesn’t really know anything though. Strike says ‘it’s proving challenging’ then leaves.
Strike walks down the densely populated streets of London. Robin walks down more sparsely populated ones. She arrives in the office where Strike awaits. He asks how Matthew is and she says he went to work eventually. He asks how she is. She admits she spent an hour checking over the flat and leaching everything [also she probably lost the deposit too though that is not mentioned].
She tells him she got an exact address for Brockbank and of the phone calls she was making. He tells her she is very clever. She stoically says ‘let’s just find this guy.’ Strike says he can’t go back to Whittaker as he knows him but the person they’re looking for is careful and deliberate – doesn’t feel like Whittaker. She says she will watch Whittaker. She insists and then offers Strike some tea.
The next day Robin is buying something off a market stall while observing the entrance to Whittaker’s flat and sees the groupie girl exit. Coincidentally she drops the coins form her pocket and Robin rushes over to be a good Samaritan. Robin helps to pick up the coins and offers to buy her some lunch because she looks like she is ‘just having one of those days’. She says she can order what she wants and Robin will pay. [Incredibly suspicious. And the playful ‘just having one of those days’ would make it all the more questionable a gesture.]
They go to the Stage Door cafe. The girl eats a dish of chips, beans and eggs while Robin observes. Robin asks if she has a sore tooth to which the girl grunts agreement as she eats with her hands. [It’s like a middle class human zoo no doubt or the thrill of Bedlam was to people back in the Victorian era looking at the mentally ill and judging them]. She asks if the girl’s boyfriend did this but that is denied and she is told he is going away. She didn’t want him to but that’s why he did it. She thinks he has someone else though he says he is only going back with the band though she doesn’t believe him. Robin asks what sort of music he plays and is told ‘metal’ and that the band is called Death Cult in which he is the lead guitar. Robin gives the look of the middle classes when they are involved in a conversation they don’t want to be part of but continue to humour as it serves some purpose to them. She asks the girl if she goes to all their gigs and the girl says ‘yeah, they’re good’.
Whittaker appears asking ‘what’s this’ and asks Robin for her name. He jokes to the girl she has made a little friend which she denies. Robin says ‘actually I was just leaving’. He says it seems such a shame. Robin says it was nice to meet Stephanie but it told to fuck off in return which amuses Whittaker as he comments ‘obviously not such good friends after all. You’ve obviously tried very hard. He follows her outside enquiring ‘just being kind, were you?’ Robin retorts she was just concerned and looked a bit beaten up. He says he wouldn’t worry too much about her ‘she can be a clumsy little bitch at times’. Robin calls to Stephanie, stood in the cafe’s doorway to get help with her tooth before walking away as Whittaker goes and kisses Stephanie. [Again if you read the books you know who these minor characters are but for people following the TV adaption we rely on dialogue to actually tell us their names and we only learn Stephanie’s in her final moments in the episode. Admittedly it’s not important to know he name as she is a minor character but still.]
Some time later it is night and Robin is walking through the Catford area of London. She phones Strike who asks if she is okay and if she is out as it is late. She tells him she is heading back and she had spoken with Stephanie telling him all about Death Cult and the other things she learned. [Just in case the audience nipped out of the room for five minutes to make a cup of tea – that’s the one downside of the BBC not having advert breaks so sometimes shows do this sort of ‘repeating what we just learned’ moments if there is an opportunity]. She realises she has taken a wrong turn suddenly having just gone under the shopping precinct. [why didn’t she stop and reorient herself while by the brightly lit shops we will never know… okay it was yet another narrative convenience which we are about to witness. For all those courses she went on she is far too confident and for once it actually serves, rather than undermines, the narrative]. Strike asks if she has said something but she says now she is just being a bit jumpy.
He asks for her exact location with the street name. She admits she isn’t quite sure it has a name actually. Suddenly a masked man leaps out and puts a bag over her head and drags her to one side to stab her. However she luckily blindly kicks at him with enough force he drops the knife and she can run away. Strike calls for her over the phone but she dropped it during the initial attack. Also she didn’t/couldn’t remove the bag from her head so the assailant catches up to her knife in hand. The bag/large bobble hat [no really it looks like that once you’ve time to see it clearly] is half way up her face as she struggles. Some young guys are walking to the passage and see the dropped phone. She activates a rape alarm she has at her side and the buzzing calls the attention of the youths who have her phone. The assailant runs away and she deactivates the alarm. [Presumably the youths return her phone which… might happen I suppose. More importantly was the assailant a random chancer or was it Laing? If the latter how did he know what route she would take? It’s also possible it was Brockbank I suppose as he seems to know of her injured arm. Who knows. She was attacked after Strike repeatedly warning her but she did, barely, defend herself. That’s all we can take away from this.]
Next Strike is walking through white corridors and meets Robin in the A & E ward of a hospital. She is holding her arm up and putting pressure on it and says ‘he cut me’. She apologises for messing up. Strike says he isn’t there to tell her off. He asks her how she managed to… but she cuts him off and reminds him she did a self-defence course. He grabbed her from behind so she did what they taught her – kneed him in the groin she says amused and somewhat pleased with herself.
[okay, for once I am happy to admit we finally get some pay off with all these random courses she has been endlessly mentioning she does. It’s just someone who did such a course wouldn’t have been as foolish as she was not to double back to an area she knew with a lot of people passing by so she still is too foolhardy really but it at least feels natural here compared to many other occasions.]
Strike tells her Whittaker has disappeared and they’re looking for him. She says Whittaker is thin and the guy who attacked her had a different build. She also, at some point either before or after the attack looked up Whittaker’s band and they had a gig the night Kelsey was killed [which isn’t a guaranteed alibi if he dropped out and they had someone stand in for him to be honest…] but Robin doesn’t think it was him. Strike nods silently in agreement no doubt somewhat annoyed he has to eliminate Whittaker from the line of enquiry once and for all – at least this time.
Matthew bursts into the ward as she is telling Strike she still wants to work. Flatly Strike tells her she has her wedding to think about as Matthew draws up to the bedside. She, annoyed, tells Strike not to patronise her. Matthew, not even looking at Strike, tells him bluntly ‘you can leave us alone now. Robin needs her rest’. Strike agrees with him. She asks what they are doing about Brockbank. Strike says the police are watching him. She says it’s not where he goes but what he does in the flat that is the issue. Strike bluntly says ‘we can’t save everyone’. [Why is he repeating that phrase a lot during this story?] Matthew adds ‘you were nearly killed tonight. Let someone else take this one on’. She tells Strike they can’t leave him with children. Both men stare at her and she concedes she needs to rest. Strike tries to placate her by saying he knows why she wants to help but she cuts him off reiterating she needs to rest.
[I keep forgetting to note she gradually calls Strike by his first name, Cormoran, but it’s just easier to keep track using his surname. It shows they’ve grown closer I suppose but the tone she uses is like a teacher scolding a schoolboy more often than not].
Matthew and Strike walk out of the ward and Matthew tells him ‘Cormoran, this has to end. She’s barely trained and you sent her out, with no support. You’re a sociopath’. Strike leaves without a word.
Next we see him sat on the floor of his office with the photos, documents and the laptop. Some inspirational sounding music plays as he reads through the forums discussing him that Kelsey was posting on. The posts praise him and note his office is somewhere Tottenham Court Road. It seems to bemuse him a bit.
He phones Ray telling him his name and asking for Hazel and himself to look at some photos or suspects – not great pictures but they might jog their memory. Ray insists ‘Hazel needs some space. Don’t you understand that, fella?’ before hanging up.
Next we see Robin getting her cut and styled as she gets a phone call. It’s a call from Shanker. Apparently he is calling back because, according to her Strike asked her to give him a call. She tells him she needs some help.
A red mini pulls up to a terrace house where a man in a black mac and leather gloves meets Shanker who was driving the car. Shanker says ‘Taking the girl to get her stitches out innit.’ the man tells him to wait a minute and goes off.
Ray tells Hazel that if Cormoran Strike calls while he is away she should hang up as he doesn’t trust him. Hazel runs her fingers through his hair and beard and they hold hands sadly.
Robin announces she is just popping out. Matthew asks where she is going and she claims to a police interview. He asks if they can’t come to her but she claims they want her to look at some stuff they can’t take off site. He asks if she is sure she is okay and she assures him she is and won’t use the arm.
Ray begins to walk down the road with a limp (which isn’t alluded to earlier and is very ‘blink and you miss it’ though the beard removal makes it clear ‘Ray’ is an act by Laing) but begins to walk more assertively and swing the sports bag over his shoulder once presumably out of line of sight of Hazel at home.
Shanker runs down a road to Robin to tell her ‘she’ is coming. Robin asks if they’re sure it’s her. Shanker responds ‘fit black girl, two kids.’ He asks if Robin is positive she doesn’t want him in there and she asks him to keep an eye out for ‘him’. Then Robin follows the mother into some new build social housing. [again… non-Caucasians only live in council houses in Rowling’s London apparently – unless adopted by well off white families like Lulu was in ‘The Cuckoo’s Call].
There’s a knock at the door and Alyssa opens the door where Robin asks to have a word about Niall. She pretty much insists on coming inside for a chat so Alyssa sends her daughters upstairs.
[Niall is actually Brockbank – I’m not sure if I got the name wrong, they changed it for the adaption or we are meant to immediately realise it’s an alias of Brockbank’s].
[Please contrast the exaggerated voice Robin did as ‘Alyssa’ and the actual voice of the character… considering staff likely spoke to her at the school I’m not sure how they believed Robin’s voice over the phone to be honest except the adaption embellished it for comic effect. Maybe you can argue they would hear so many voices they wouldn’t be able to keep track of them.]
Robin hesitates and Alyssa tells her to spit it out. Robin trips over her words introducing herself and saying she is a detective before gesturing to sit. She begins to explain ‘we’ have come across information in the course of our investigation. Alyssa cuts her off asking who ‘we’ is. Robin mentions she works for an agency run by Cormoran Strike and they had been looking into Niall.
Alyssa, irritated, tells her she can get out now. She is angry as Strike ‘gave my boyfriend epilepsy, ruined his marriage etc. she claims she knows ‘all about you lot’ as Robin struggles to regain control of the situation as she is being kicked out. She tells Alyssa bluntly he abuses young girls as Alyssa screams at her to get out ‘before I give you a proper smack’. Robin, ever the wise one, decided to add ‘he’s been doing it for a long time – ask your daughters’.
Alyssa grabs Robin’s bad arm when telling her to get out and Robin crumples to the floor. One of the daughters upstairs says ‘mum’ and we cut to Niall coming home. Shanker sees him and intercepts. Inside Robin asks Alyssa ‘just ask her’ to which Alyssa goes to her daughter , Angel, telling her to go upstairs now having apparently accepted what Robin said. Niall enters and slams the door behind him.
[He is wearing a hoodie under a light leather jacket – so again the ‘uniform’ of working class people in this series. Alyssa also was wearing one I forgot to mention. Either they’re described as wearing them in the book or the costume designer for the series hasn’t got much of an imagination on these things or was told to ‘code’ people via their clothing. Looking at his jacket later I swear I’ve seen that exact design on the arms in other series so it must be from the wardrobe department and been used in multiple productions. So it likely is, unspoken, the ‘uniform’ for working class thuggish characters amongst the staff… meanwhile respectable characters all wear woollen coats or Shanker, to denote being lower class than the main characters, wears a generic wind breaker but never a hoodie. ‘The good guys don’t have to cover their heads in shame’ or some weird concept like that. Also how many people do you see wearing leather jackets daily? These sort of productions make it seem like it’s every other person when I barely see one or two when in a city let alone elsewhere.]
Niall asks what is going on and if Angel is alright. Alyssa tells him ‘…this bitch is telling lies about you’ and that she is with Cormoran Strike. Robin has run to a rear room and tries to escape through some French windows but they are locked. Shanker approaches the front door. Niall tells Alyssa to look after Angel as he approaches Robin. He slaps the phone out of her hand telling her she’s ‘…not phoning anyone.’
Upstairs Alyssa tells Angel to stay sat on her bed. Angel quietly says ‘He done it to me’ which causes Alyssa to sit by her daughter to listen to her. Niall asks ‘what’s the idea, barging into people’s houses, upsetting their kids, eh?’ before grabbing her bad arm [did he know it was injured or was he just fortunate? Maybe he saw her nursing it?]. While Angel tells her mother the truth Niall is downstairs taunting Robin about her injured arm.
Robin screams out for Shanker who begins to kick the front door down. As soon as he gets in he squares up to ‘Niall’ saying ‘you dirty nonce, I’ll skin ya!’ as he pulls out a flick knife. Robin tells him not to stab Niall but as she does Niall rams into her knocking the two down and runs out the front door. Shanker gives chase initially but he is running far too fast down the road to catch up to.
Meanwhile Alyssa and Angel are crying upstairs. She asks her daughter ‘why didn’t you say anything, darling?’ to which Angel replies ‘because he said he’d hurt Zahara.’ They sob together.
Later on Strike is ringing the bell and knocking the door urgently at Robin and Matthew’s flat. Matthew opens it and tells him ‘… we’re actually packing to go to…’ but Strike doesn’t let him finish telling him ‘I don’t care.’ Robin walks in from another room and he says ‘I told you we were leaving Brockbank to the police. She tells him she knew and he scolds her that she went in anyway. She justifies it by saying he was raping Alyssa’s daughter. Strike informs her that Wardle thinks he had sent her in there and thanks to her Brockbank’s vanished. Angry Robin tells him not to dare put that on her. He does. She tells him if he hadn’t messed up Brockbank would have been in prison years ago. [Actually he likely would be dead, unless kept in a secured section away from the general prison populace, as child molesters are deemed unforgivable, immoral, scum by inmates. No one would help him if he were attacked and some might actually join in because it’s so reprehensible even for them.].
Strike reminds her of their findings: ‘Laing is a cripple, [she] ruled out Whittaker, that means that Brockbank is our number-one suspect, and now he’s off the radar. We’re finished.’ She says he doesn’t mean that incredulously but he assures her he will send her her last salary. ‘Quick and clean, gross misconduct’ he tells her then leaves silently. Matthew enters the room and tells her ‘it’s probably for the best love’ but she leaves the room. He then takes the opportunity to block Strike’s contact on her phone while muttering ‘Goodbye forever, Cormoran Strike’.
Strike goes to his mother’s grave again with a bouquet of flowers to lay on it. He looks over the pot plant left by his uncle Ted and recalls Ray’s holiday photo with his friend Ritchie. He realises something. [Cash in your detective bets right now as this realisation is apparently what the whole case hinges on…] On his mobile phone he calls his uncle who is in his shed potting some plants. He asks if Ted was at Leda’s grave recently but is told he wasn’t but he had a friend pop something on the grave for the anniversary. Strike asks if it’s sea holly. His uncle says ‘it’s not much to look at now but come June it’ll be rather special’. Strike, smiling, tells him to call him next time he’s up that way and they say their goodbyes to each other. Then Strike mutters to himself ‘gotcha’.
We see flash backs about ‘Donnie’ doing the lawn mowing, Ray telling Hazel to close the door and Laing on his wheeled stroller encountering him in the corridor of the council flats. But if Donald Laing was disabled enough to need a stroller how did he do the lawn mowing for the neighbour? [As for the certificate… it’s not clear what the relevance was… yet].
Strike calls the directory for the number for the fire service – not the emergency number but for the one for the people who hire firemen.
We finally get the reveal of Laing taking out his contact lens and removing the glued on beard of his Ray disguise.
In a hardware shop Strike calls Shanker who immediately says ‘let me guess – you want a favour.’ Strike asks him to watch his back and meet him at Elephant at eight. Shanker agrees and Strike says he will text him the address.
Strike arrives back at the council flats where he encountered Laing on his stroller. He is dressed up like a handyman and opens the nozzle on his gas blowtorch before knocking the door. He uses a lock pick to open the door to the empty flat. A neighbour, a black man, comes from next door and smells the gas so asks if Donnie is okay as the door is open. Strike comes to the door saying it is gas and he is there as they got a call from upstairs so it was probably coming from that property. The man asks ‘we’re not going to get blown up are we?’ to which Strike drily jokes ‘well don’t light up any cigarettes’. The man mutters ‘shit’ then asks if Donnie is in there as he owes him ‘forty quid’. Strike says ‘afraid I can’t help you mate’ noting yet another person Laing swingled out of money. Then with the door closed again he inspects the flat.
[So again people of non-white ethnicities are in council housing. In reality many are in London in fairness, Grenfell Tower making people all too aware of that, but it’s how naïve they’re presented be they Alyssa or this neighbour which makes their depiction a bit questionable…]
Weirdly the flat has stairs. [It honestly makes no sense…]. Strike comes into a blue lit room with numerous knifes and other blades. He looks in a glass fronted fridge and sees dismembered body parts wrapped in plastic. Plastered on the walls are pornographic images of women but some have his face plastered on top of theirs. There are some cuttings of Lulu and voyeuristic photos of Robin walking down the street. The kitchen has abandoned cartons of food and Strike finds a small mirror with a selection of spectacle glasses, medication and a toupee/wig. He wanders up some more stairs [Are there multilevel flats in London? Because I’ve never heard of such a think unless these are all service rooms meant for maintenance staff that Laing has been using somehow…] Strike comes across another fridge filled with body parts.
Suddenly he gets attacked from behind by a bald man. It’s Laing! He stamps on Laing’s foot but gets pushed back. They slam each other into the walls and Laing bites into his collar. Strike gets thrown down a staircase.
Shanker is walking down the corridor of flats checking his phone wondering where Bunsen (his nickname for Strike) is.
Laing shouts as he descends the stairs but Strike kicks him in the groin.
At the door Shanker calls to ‘Bunsen’. Strike gets kicked into one of the blue lit rooms as Shanker calls to him through the letterbox. Laing is kicking Strike as Shanker begins trying to kick the door down. Laing grabs a knife but while he is distracted Strike, splayed on the floor, grabs a hammer and swings successfully at Laing knocking him off his feet. As Shanker continues to call for him he handcuffs Laing to the frame of the counter top.
Strike, still having not left the flat nor opened the door for Shanker yet, tries to call Robin but gets an automated message saying ‘messages to this number have been blocked’.
[first: he has bad priorities. Second: Does it actually do that to blocked numbers? I assumed it just leaves it ringing until it either automatically cuts off or you give up. Otherwise people know you’ve blocked them and that would lead to trouble for many people surely.]
He finally opens the door for Shanker and asks ‘what kept you?’ to which an out of breathe Shanker says ‘that’s a steel door’.
[… you know I realise this was made before Grenfell wasn’t it? That’s unfortunate timing to be showing such a dismissively low opinion of those who live in council flats…]
Matthew drives the land rover through the night to get to… where ever it is he and Robin are getting married.
Strike is in the office speaking to Wardle detailing how the forensics team believe there was more than one body there [i.e. the production team were a bit overzealous and put too many body parts in because there were clearly multiple torsos in those fridges thus it makes the team sound like they’re stating the bloody obvious]. Wardle asks Strike ‘what made you think Ray and Laing were the same person?’ Strike tells him ‘the photo of Ray gave the police has him on the beach next to sea holly in full bloom, supposedly in April. It was like the coffee shop photo. It was staged.’
Wardle asks if he is sure he is alright and Strike mutters ‘yeah’ before continuing ‘sea holly doesn’t flower in the wild until June. If you find the other bloke, Ritchie, I’m sure he’ll tell you they were taken last year. Height of summer, but they put coats on to try and look cold. Ritchie probably thought he was taking part in a benefits scam or something. I’m imagining Ritchie’s none too clever. [That’s a presumption as he might have aided Laing knowing who he really is. Strike just assumes he was a patsy.] There was a certificate for bravery hanging in Kelsey’s sister’s house. I called the fire service. The real Ray Williams, Mrs Williams’ son, retired to Spain six years ago. Laing stole his identity. He was good at accents and he spent a lot of money disguising his appearance. He even managed to find a girl who’d made the mistake of having a crush on me.’ [Presumably Laing was one of the people posting on the online forums which Kelsey was on.].
Wardle smiles and Strike, leading him out, says he will come down to the station tomorrow morning. Wardle’s mobile phone vibrates and he tells Strike that they’ve picked up Brockbank before telling him to get some sleep. [When this aired I swear there was a shot of them finding him in a homeless shelter. Was that in another case?]
Strike returns to his desk and leafs through various newspaper cutting and print offs. One speaks of communes featuring a photo of Brittany Brockbank. He recalls her words as she was led away when they came into the house back then: ‘Daddy wouldn’t do that. I didn’t mean any of it’ he recalls her saying. [Which doesn’t match what we were told about her informing on him earlier.]
He is driven to a commune in the country by Shanker and introduces himself to a member as a friend of Brittany. We hear a baby cry. The commune, composed of quasi-hipsters dressed in a manner not really suited to the lifestyle, is mostly VW beetle vans and some marquee tents with random pieces of furniture and such strewn about. Here he meets Brittany who is older now and a member of the commune.
She asks what will happen to her father now. ‘Nothing that involves you’ Strike tells her. ‘He’ll be put away for a very long time, and when he’s released he’ll be on the sex offenders register for life.’ She says that’s good before he continues ‘I wanted you to know before, you know… He should have been put in prison a long time ago. We failed you there, Brittany. I failed you.’ She reassured him by saying ‘you believed me, though. And you tried. That helped a lot.’ She hesitates a moment before asking ‘was it you who caught him?’ Strike tells her no, it was his partner. ‘For a case you were doing?’ ‘No’ he replies. ‘But she did it anyway?’ Brittany asks. He confirms it and she asks if she is alright. ‘She’s a bit bruised, but she’ll live.’ Brittany asks ‘will you thank her for us?’ Strike nods. ‘What’s her name? Your partner.’ He tells her it’s Robin. There stare at each other a moment then he heads back to Shanker. [So that was for his closure not hers really.]
Strike tells Shanker they’ve got a second stop in Yorkshire. Shanker asks ‘where’s that?’ Strike bemused responds ‘Yorkshire! The county. You know.’ then imitates the accent saying ‘Yorkshire!’ then tells Shanker to just keep going north until he tells him to stop.
Some whimsical music plays.
Strike buys a suit from somewhere. [With him and Robin in this story it’s as if people are constantly just going in and buying formal wear casually according to Rowling… what makes it amusing here is we see him exist a petrol station as if he bought it there.]
More countryside scenery porn for the foreign markets.
Robin with her hair in rollers.
Strike tells Shanker to put his foot down and Shanker tells him it is but Strike wants him to put it down further to which he responses ‘I am not having this for the next hundred miles. Humour.
A newspaper article has a headline reading ‘Killer Strikes Out: Strike no longer suspect in Kelsey Platt murder’. Shanker mocks ‘that’s you sorted out then. Back to being the hero of the hour. Strike laments there’s not fixing everything and Shanker says ‘…Nah, there’s not. That’s just life, innit, mate?’ which cheers Strike up a little.
[So they repeated that sentiment throughout and try to play it off as a positive note? That is a bit bizarre to he honest. Hard fought for survival I guess. ‘You don’t always win – you just survive and that’s good enough’.]
We see Robin exiting the car to her wedding ceremony.
Shanker, in voice over, asks ‘what’s the deal, then, Bunsen, you going to go full-on Graduate? Elaine! Elaine! What about me?’ he mocks pretending to bang on glass like the scene in the film of The Graduate laughing. Strike tells him ‘No, I was invited. I’m a friend, a guest.’ Shanker mocks him being a friend as he sacked her, ‘not exactly a friend where I come from’ he jokes.
We see Robin in her wedding dress with her father.
Shanker comments ‘reminds me of your mum.’ Who asks Strike. ‘Who?! Your Robin. She’s kind, isn’t she? Like the way she wanted to save that kid. Strike says he is going to try and get her back but next time if she calls Shanker – Shanker cuts him off agreeing that he’ll call Strike first to check as he just took her word it was at his behest she was asking for Shanker’s help.
The marriage ceremony is underway as Strike pulls up and runs, as best he can with his leg, inside. The grooms-men hand him an order of service and although he is offered a seat he decides to stand at the back instead. At which point he accidentally knocks over one of the flower arrangement on a stand. Robin and Matthew look back at the noise. He apologises in the echoing silence. Matthew scowls. Robin smiles to see him there and says ‘I do’ while still looking at Strike.
The happy couple walk down the aisle being wished well by people as they go. Both smile at Strike and all ends well.
I recall why I never came back to this until now – it just seems to dawdle along for so long feeding only fleeting suggestions of what the evidence will lead to while seeming to focus more on Robin’s back and forth feelings on her marriage. In theory you could skip most of episode one except for one or two scenes involving early pieces of evidence.
It’s not that there are no developments at all but it also doesn’t really feel like there is much steady progression to the murder side of the story when we keep having to address Robin’s emotional situation. Remove the parts about her upcoming marriage, finding out about Matthew’s cheating, running off home to her parents, making up with him and returning to London and about a third of the run time could easily be cut out at least.
It’s pleasant to watch but isn’t satisfying due to how the clues are dealt with leaving the twist both a bit obvious but at the same time coming out of the blue that it really came down to that.
Not that gradual character developments over the run of the whole series isn’t nice but we can all see where it will end up going so it might as well get there a bit quicker so we can get on with the more interesting murder case investigations. However I can easily imagine we will just keep getting teased along about whether Strike and Robin end up together until near the end, if not at the very end, of the entire run of novels. I’d like to think this ‘will they/won’t they’ aspect will get resolved within a book or two then they get together, then there’s a marriage one and then we get to deal with their married life and all the consequences that would bring eventually instead.
Robin wants to be a detective and married. Matthew says she can’t be a detective for her own sake. Strike is happy for her to be both. She wants to be both. Instead of trying to address Matthew’s disdain for the job they just kind of trundle along. Her constant Batman like ability to have prepared for every eventuality is addressed but also her fore-rightness in not practising caution also ends up with her comeuppance not once by twice. So as much as I felt this story line dragged I did like how it addressed issues with the characters while leaving room for future developments.
Strike spends too long wanting Whittaker to be involved and getting distracted by him. You can easily argue it shows a flaw in Strike’s character that, as good a detective as he could be, he lets sentimental bias cloud his judgement. However in his case with his focus on Whittingham it becomes a bit laboured.
Matthew just keeps coming up as little more than an obstacle and ineffectual antagonist towards Strike. Honestly he is in the list of ‘introduced characters who will eventually become a murder victim later in the series’. Probably it’ll involve Robin suddenly claiming Strike never liked him when the animosity all seems very one sided. From the first moment of this character’s scene time in the first story line he has had the sword of Damocles over his head it seems and we get little if any reason to like him – even the chirpy light hearted breakfast scene interrupted by the thumb in the kettle does nothing to make him more sympathetic.
Shanker is a fun character. I wan to know more about him but at the same time he seems to be limited to being a sidekick with a few quips to serve as Strike’s criminal class muscle and informant when he needs it. He serves as a bit too easy a plot device to be honest. I half wonder if further down the line he and Strike will be on opposite sides of events. It’s a potential storyline if there is a criminal murder and Shanker has to choose who he is loyal too. That or he will die too.
As for our suspects: They all feel one dimensional to be honest. One is only mentioned due to his MO then instantly forgotten about. One is more based on Strike’s grudge than evidence. The last two are both child abusers albeit one goes to the extent of murder. On an initial, casual, viewing it was easy to confuse the details of their backstories due to the similarities.
The bookendings regarding Brittany really feels forced as if to give Strike some catharsis over an incident in his past. The character with his stated ethos of ‘you can’t save everyone’ might have been better served by Brittany telling him to piss off – just as everyone had told Robin to do so just for being associated with him.
The second time watching the story I followed it better but that twist about Laing posing as Ray comes so suddenly, even with the clues being scattered throughout, it still feels a bit like a contrivance. I assume we get less hints in the TV adaption that someone reading the book. So it could be an issue with the adaption distilling the novel into two episodes when perhaps it needed more as a lot of subtlety was lost and then even some important parts were too as well.
It was enjoyable but you definitely shouldn’t actually sit and think about it as you suddenly see a lot of issues arise. Admittedly in my commentary I focused on how certain people were depicted as stereotypes but there also feels to be a lot of contrivance too.
This feels more of an adventure-mystery series than crime one. It’s more in the mould of something like Tintin or the works of Wilkie Collins than truly belonging to the modern crime genre or the grand British tradition of detective literature. If J K Rowling aspires to join such luminaries as Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and others she really needs to focus more on the integrity of her mysteries than being distracted by the personal lives of her characters. As a mystery solving adventure, in the style of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or Secret Seven who solved mysteries as adventures, this is good fun but I can only imagine for people who enjoy murder mysteries this comes across as infuriatingly light on substance.
On the technical side every thing is great. There’s good cinematography, lighting, the sound is always crisp so you don’t miss any dialogue. In terms of locations the only time I got lost was the layout of Laing’s council flat. Something was off there and it needed to be explained about how there were multiple floors of rooms, up numerous staircases, for what was apparently a normal council flat.
The acting by the returning cast is great as always even if I’m somewhat questioning of the writing choices and how secondary characters are depicted. Praise should go to the actors of Niall Brockbank (Andrew Brooke) and Alyssa (Emanuella Cole) for the intense scenes they had to perform in. The actor for Donald Laing (Neil Maskell) goes above and beyond having to portray three distinct versions of his character. Admittedly there were some weak performances but personally I feel that might be due to not having much flexibility to explore then as they tend to be one note characters sadly. I have no doubt the actors in those roles have given excellent performances elsewhere.
Predictions regarding the future of the series
If she writes the number of books she wants for the series, having stated there are at least ten more she wants to do, then this will be her longest running project by far but amusingly it’ll not be under her own name.
Everyone besides Strike and Robin are potential murderers or murder victims as we have now been introduced to so many extraneous character like Strike’s half sister, Nick and Ilsa who serve no real purpose except as potential case fodder. I suppose it’s to avoid the classic issue Christie often had of her characters wandering from place to place to meet ‘old friends’ who we had never met before (or perhaps you don’t recall as you’ve seen TV adaptions out of order or with the role played by distinctly different actors).
Honestly we should all go put down bets that one of the future books will be a case where Whittaker is already murdered before the start so Strike has to confront his mother and stepfather’s past with it revealed that, although a complete arsehole, it wasn’t Whittaker who fatally overdosed Leda (though due to the nature of the series it won’t be a case she herself overdosed which would be far more realistic). In that case I expect some sort of bittersweet story involving Shanker who has been like a brother to him. That and Strike’s half-sister might be murdered.
Strike’s university friends Nick and Ilsa getting murdered is a possibility.
Shanker being murdered by criminals or being on the opposite side of an investigation and having his loyalties tested seems very likely.
Strike’s ex who we encountered at the start of ‘Cuckoo’s Calling’ no doubt will come back somehow.
Due to the number of tertiary characters I can imagine probably all of them will get killed off eventually if there are over ten more books left to write.
Another I feel is a certainty is we will have some contrivance where it turns out the gorilla mask rapist wasn’t the guy who was charged with Robin’s rape. As much as that latter one would require some issue with forensics evidence to occur it feels like that is being set up to be dealt with as a cold case or somehow be brought up due to a similar MO by someone who wasn’t the convicted guy.
You can just tell how the frequently referenced past event story lines deeply connected to Robin and Strike are inevitable full novel investigations we will have in depth explorations of because Rowling likes following preconceived narrative structures so much and ten books pretty makes addressing them inevitable…