Strike: The Silkworm review – necrophilia, cannibalism and literary London – The Guardian

An unhappy-looking woman reads a magazine at the kitchen table. She pauses, looks up, deep in thought, then she gets up to go and fetch a pair of scissors from a drawer. Oh God, she’s not going to do something awful, is she? No, she’s just cutting out an article from the mag. It seems to have affected her deeply.

But then she does do something awful: with a big safety pin, she pins the cutting to her chest, actually through the flesh. And it gets worse still, as she heads over to the oven … A very literary suicide, and the start of Strike: The Silkworm (BBC1), the second adaptation of the detective novels by Robert Galbraith (AKA JK Rowling).

Cormoran Strike – the first fictional detective whose name sounds like the cause of a plane crash, a low-flying plane, over the sea … Anyway, the lugubrious gumshoe has become a feature of Sunday evenings. A welcome one and very compelling, too, as played by Tom Burke.

After Strike’s success in the first series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, things are looking up at his Denmark Street offices. People are actually turning up, wanting his services. Holliday Grainger’s character, Robin Venetia Ellacott, PA/PI-in-training, has been retained. Clients can even be turned away; they take on only the cases that interest them, such as that of Leonora Quine. (Leonora is played – brilliantly, as ever – by Monica Dolan. I don’t know why Dolan isn’t more of a household name; maybe it’s because she’s too good, her range so great, she’s such a human chameleon, that people simply don’t realise it’s her.)

Anyway, Leonora’s husband, Owen Quine, a novelist who never lived up to the potential of his first book, has disappeared. This has happened at the same time as a manuscript for his latest work, Bombyx Mori, a thinly disguised and savage attack on everyone Owen sees as being responsible for the downward spiral of his career, lands like a turd on the well-tended lawn of literary London. A turd that stinks of bitterness and vengeance, splat. Still, Leonora would like her husband found, even if he does serially cheat on her.

Strike does find him, though sadly dead. Horribly so, too – tied up, gutted, laid out to be eaten, an exact reenactment of a scene from Bombyx Mori, as it happens. Yes, it’s also that kind of book – full of sadomasochism, necrophilia, cannibalism, as well as slander. Nasty. Still, that narrows down the fields of suspects a bit. And No 1 is Leonora.

What! Why would she go to a detective if she dunnit herself? To which you shout: did you not see The Cuckoo’s Calling, in which exactly that happened, rather unsatisfactorily? (It’s better in the book to be fair, why the brother went to Strike, it was to do with framing someone else, but that was lost in the adaptation.)

I like this one better. The scene, the people, publishers and agents, rivalry, snarky literary feuds, all ring so true. And the bitter writer, once the next big thing, now increasingly forgotten, he could be so many people. It’s almost a shame there isn’t the opposite, a book that is rejected by lots – 12, say – publishing houses, before going on to be quite a successful series … although that could look like gloating.

Cormoran and Robin’s relationship gets more interesting, professionally and personally. She’s still with the dullest man on the planet, Matthew, they have a date set for the wedding, only eight weeks away. Don’t do it, you’re (I’m) shouting. Hey, and if you married Strike, took his name (I know, not cool) and continued up the ladder professionally, you could be the second detective whose name could be the cause of a plane crash – a small plane, flying around a garden …

For now, though, Robin gets to show off her driving skills rather thrillingly, across a west country field. Fiat could extract that section, as is, and put it out as an advert for the Panda. I know about these things, I used to be a renowned motoring journalist, you might remember. You don’t? Oh well, next I’ll be found tied up and disemboweled.

The sad lady at the beginning? Another writer, the wife of Owen Quine’s great rival, whose career has been going rather better than his. And the piece she read, before pinning it to herself and heading to the oven? A cruel parody of her own novel, possibly written by her own husband. Ouch.

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