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TV Review: Strike - The Cuckoo's Calling (Episode 1)

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With an amiable new detective duo and an intriguing case, the first chapter of J.K. Rowling's latest adaptation, Strike - The Cuckoo's Calling, gets off to a promising start.

Based on Rowling's 2013 novel of the same name - written under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith - this new BBC crime drama follows the investigative exploits of Cormoran Strike (Tom Burke) as he delves deeper into a suspicious high profile suicide. 

The episode's opening scene, which instigates the case at the heart of this three-part drama, certainly does well to set the mood of the series. Lula Landry is a glamourous supermodel, adorned with fame and beauty. After emerging from a high profile event, Lula sets for home - stalked by a man in a wolf mask.

Though this could very well be a red herring, Lula's final moments are littered with peculiar happenings and small clues that seem queer to an inquisitive eye. This, along with Adrian Johnston's chilling four-note piano motif and the leering tracking of the camera, creates an exquisitely tense atmosphere, laced with intrigue and suspicion as Lula heads towards her inevitable doom. A sudden cut to her lifeless body, splayed across a sheet of fresh snow, only begs more questions - and so begins the show.

In present day, the newly engaged Robin Ellacott (Holliday Grainger) seems content as she travels for a new temp job. Wide-eyed and optimistic, she heads for Cormoran Strike's office with a pep in her step - only to have a dramatic first encounter with her new employer.

In the aftermath of a loud, passionate argument with a woman, Strike bounds forcefully through the door just as Robin reaches the top of the stairs - leaving her teetering over the edge. Though Strike is quick to save her from a nasty fall, this first meeting is certainly distinctive - as is the eponymous detective himself.

Robin's productive search on Bing (yes, that popular search engine) as she settles into Strike's office hold several points of interest about this seemingly gruff character. The estranged son of a rockstar and the (ex) fiancée of a beautiful socialite, Strike is a military police war veteran who lost a leg in Afghanistan. Certainly, as far as interesting backgrounds go, Cormoran Strike hits the jackpot.

Though a little rough around the edges, it soon becomes clear that Strike is a fairly mild-mannered detective, prone to going "down the boozer" to ponder on cases and talking to his prosthetic leg when he's alone. In a genre currently saturated by darker, more eccentric personalities like Sherlock and Luther, it's relatively nice - and refreshing - to have an everyman like Strike on the scene. 

Following a desperate visit from Lula's brother, Strike begins to delve into the circumstances leading to her death. Though certain figures - like DI Wardle and Lula's uncle, Tony (Martin Shaw) - seem intent on leading the detective astray or putting him off the case entirely, Strike's easygoing investigation leads him to discover traces of new evidence.

A few brief visits to Lula's swanky penthouse suite introduce us to her neighbours - the Bestigui's - who seem to know more than they're letting on. The suggestion of an argument, accompanied by Strike and Robin's perusal of the conveniently sound-proofed balcony from which Lula fell, implies foul play of some sort. After finding a video of her online, Lula's friend and "little rock", Rochelle, soon becomes a person of interest.

Following amusing ploys by both Strike and Robin in order to seek Rochelle out, it soon emerges that Rochelle is just as evasive as everyone else. Clearly distressed and spooked by Strike's sudden arrival, Rochelle makes a run for it and, in what is perhaps a first for the genre, we have an investigator unable to really give chase. Don't expect any fast-paced chase scenes in Strike - his "bastard, bastard leg" provides interesting obstacles.

Having discovered her home address, Strike pays Rochelle a visit at her flat - only to find the young woman unconscious and submerged in a bathtub of boiling hot water. As closing scenes go, it's certainly dramatic - and adds a jolt to the system following Strike's otherwise very amiable pace. With Rochelle's fate - and Strike's biggest lead - in the balance, the episode comes to a gripping climax which leaves us wanting more. 

Burke and Grainger both give subtle, yet brilliant performances as Strike and Robin, with a strong sense of humour and familiar charm forming the backbone of their on-screen chemistry. Though the plot is interesting, it could (to those of us unfamiliar with the book's plot) be seen as somewhat clichéd/predictable. A high profile murder-suicide certainly isn't anything new in this genre - and neither is the ever-reliable trope of a detective duo - but if anything is sure to keep people invested for all three episodes, it is the growing dynamic between Strike and Robin.

Well-made and impeccably stylised, the first instalment of The Cuckoo's Calling shows promise and, thanks to the Bank Holiday, we need only wait a day for answers to its suspenseful cliffhanger...

Strike - The Cuckoo's Calling is available to watch on BBC iPlayer. Episode 2 airs tomorrow at 9pm on BBC One.




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