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TV Review: Strike - Career of Evil (Episode 1)

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Several months since the case of The Silkworm was wrapped up nice and neatly, Cormoran Strike is back to face a new case that hits very close to home.

Having established a comfortable new rhythm with his former PA turned partner, Robin Ellacott, Strike's private investigation business is thriving - that is, until he becomes the catalyst of a gruesome game of vengeance and murder. 

From the very offset of the episode, as in previous instalments, the mood of the case is established immediately. Having left Robin to catch up with friends, Strike goes to meet a potential client at a very shady building in Whitechapel. At the same time, a young girl heads for the same location, seemingly there to meet with Strike.

Our suspicion lingers as we follow the CCTV footage of both figures entering the building, which is dark and empty - just to add to the ominous atmosphere. We lose track of Strike, only to watch as the young woman quite literally step into her own murder scene before the opening credits. If there's one thing that has been consistent in the run of these adaptations based on the Robert Galbraith novels, it's that each story has opened with the tension raised high. 

The next day, Robin and Strike's easy workflow is abruptly shaken by an unexpected parcel, addressed to Robin, containing a severed human leg. As the police are called in to investigate, a note is found containing the lyrics of a Blue Oyster Cult song which, creepily enough, was a favourite of Strike's mother. The detective is further spooked by a scar on the leg that is eerily reminiscent of something he saw in a previous case. 

For much of the episode, there is a sense that Strike and Robin are constantly being followed, adding to our sense of unease. Picking up on the attentive clues pertaining to his own history, Strike determines a list of suspects with a grudge against him, whilst also having to deal with a sudden decline in business, interest from the press and the ever-obtuse investigations led by DI Wardle.

The first suspect, Noel Brockbank, is a paedophile who abused his own daughter and threatened to cut her legs off if she told anyone - the scar replicated on the severed leg echoes the 'warning' Noel branded on her. During his military investigation, Strike had a tumultuous encounter with Brockbank which led to the latter vowing revenge on the detective. The second suspect, Donald Laing, is an ex-squaddie who Strike sent to jail after uncovering the extent of his physical abuse towards his wife and child. The third, Jeff Whittaker, holds a particularly personal (and mutual) grudge with Strike, as the man who seemingly (despite his acquittal) played a hand in the death of Strike's mother. 

Meanwhile, the strain between Robin and her fiancée Matthew finally reaches breaking point, after the relentless jealousy he harbours towards Strike leads him to inadvertently reveal an unfaithful encounter he had with one of their mutual friends. To add to the betrayal, we also learn that Robin was once a victim of sexual assault, having barely escaped with her life after an attack in her uni days, and that it was during this time that Matthew was unfaithful. 

Aggrieved and shaken by the disturbing developments at work, Robin goes on a slight bender before Strike finds her. The warm-hearted chemistry between Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger only percolates further in this episode, as Strike and Robin grow closer in the face of such troubling reminders of the past. Sexual assault and abuse towards women seems to be the thread with which all of Strike's suspects are stringed together, but the way in which the episode deals with the subject matter is, thankfully, quite sensitive. 

Having faced off with Whittaker and tracked down clues on the whereabouts of Laing and Brockbank, the duo's investigation begins to take traction, only to be impeded by the police's own discoveries. The episode ends on an uneasy note as DI Wardle reveals the identity of the young women who was murdered in the Whitechapel building and the increasing 'evidence' that frames Strike as a culprit...

Once again leaving us at a tempting and all too worrisome cliffhanger, it's good to have Strike back - even if his good name hangs in the balance. 

Strike - Career of Evil continues next Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.

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