Striking out for the truth:
Harry Potter creator weaves her magic with TV detective.
As an author, JK Rowling can do no wrong. After the immense success of her Harry Potter cycle of novels, films and plays, she went on to produce a highly regarded series of detective stories under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.
Those books, which focus on the investigations of private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott, have now been turned into CB Strike, a British drama screening on SoHo and featuring the novels The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm and Career Of Evil.
Strike, played by Tom Burke, is a war veteran who became a private detective on leaving the Army. He now works out of a shoebox-sized office in Denmark Street in central London.
This former Special Investigations Branch worker has suffered serious psychological and physical wounds – his mother was murdered and he lost a leg in combat in Afghanistan.
However, this has not impaired his uncanny abilities as a private detective as he steps in to solve cases that have foxed the police.
Robin is portrayed by Holliday Grainger (Great Expectations, The Borgias). At the outset, she is Strike’s temporary secretary, trying to bring order to his shambolic life.
But she soon demonstrates her talents as an investigator and begins to help him with his caseload.
Burke, who also had starring roles in The Musketeers and War And Peace, underscores that Strike is such a good private detective because of his sense of curiosity.
“I feel with Strike that he has grown up witness to, and has encountered, evil,” says Burke.
“He does know what it looks like and smells like and he’s ready to act on it if it needs to be confronted. He’s always an individual and he doesn’t pretend to know why. He tries to find out and is curious.”
The actor says that Strike is also effective in his work because he is always independent-minded.
“We’re living in a time where people are pointing at a lot of groups and going, ‘It’s the left, it’s the right, it’s the Leavers, it’s the Remainers, it’s the UK, it’s the other lot.’
“I don’t think Strike creates those monoliths. I think there’s this almost ancient Greek sense in Strike – and I don’t think he’d even put it in these words – that if the Gods are not against us necessarily, they’re certainly messing with us.”
Strike also manifests a powerful trait that is crucial in any good detective: compassion.
According to Burke, “Life is tricky for most people – it certainly is for him. It’s not just tricky because he lost the bottom third of his leg, it’s not tricky just because his mother was murdered, or just because of what happened to him in his childhood – it’s just tricky.”
The other intriguing side to Strike is that, unlike many TV detectives, he is far from infallible.
Burke, 36, reflects that, “I really like the fact that sometimes he gets it half right, but not completely right. In The Cuckoo’s Calling, for instance, he believes he knows this particular person is the killer.
“But he honestly feels that if he presents them with the facts, they’ll crumble – and they might even be relieved. There’s a slightly older brother quality to it.
“Whilst he has got the right person, that is absolutely not how they react, so he’s completely taken by surprise by that.”
The actor adds, “That to me is much more interesting than somebody who absolutely knows how everything is going to play out. I like the fact this is a bit different. It’s a bit more human.”
But the core of this series’ appeal is the unacknowledged love that is growing between Strike and Robin. Their feelings sneak up on them unawares.
Burke says, “The interesting thing with Robin and Strike initially is that they’re continually taken by surprise by each other. ‘Who is this person? Oh, they’re quite nice, they’re quite intelligent.’ I think because they both have a bit of a blind spot about the idea that this might be more than what it is, it gives them a certain freedom to enjoy all of the other things that it is.
“So when Robin suddenly says, ‘I’ve got a job interview’, Strike is taken aback. It’s that sense that you don’t realise what you’ve got till it’s gone. The idea that they don’t really know what’s going on is what’s fun about it. That’s the charm of it.”
“I feel with Strike that he has grown up witness to, and has encountered, evil.”
– Tom Burke
Holliday Grainger as Robin Ellacott