BBC1 Career of Evil: Synopses and Clips Will ‘Strike’ Viewers Become Readers?

I thought that the point of the BBC1 teevee adaptations of the Cormoran Strike mysteries was to create sufficient interest in the story and the characters that ‘viewers’ would become ‘readers.’ I was able to see the first two adaptations via a pirated posting of the episodes by an Iraqi on YouTube; I have not seen the ‘Career of Evil’ adaptations.

I have watched the two film clips of Strike 3’s adaptation and read the synopses of each episode that the BBC has posted online. Here they all are:

Episode 1 Synopsis:

Robin arrives at the office to accept a package from a courier in a rush. When she opens it, she is horrified to discover a severed leg inside.

Strike begins to pull together a list of potential suspects from his past, all of whom have vendettas against him. One of the names, Jeff Whittaker, relates directly to Strike’s dead mother Leda. He brings in Shanker to help him, while Robin begins to research all three suspects.

Strike and Robin’s close working relationship begins to rile Robin’s fiance Matthew, and the couple descend into rows. Adding pressure to the relationship, the investigation takes Robin away to Barrow-in-Furness with Strike overnight.

Episode 2 Synopsis:

Strike visits several London strip clubs in order to find out more about one of the murder suspects, Niall Brockbank.

Robin’s relationship with Matthew has hit a low point, and she questions her commitment to marriage. Her mother arrives in London to talk her round, convincing Robin to spend some time at home in Masham.

Strike begins to narrow his list of suspicions – but, according to an angry Wardle, his investigating is ‘meddling’ with police business.

The killer continues to taunt them, with Matthew finding a severed human thumb in the kettle. Robin returns to comfort Matthew and provides Strike with Brockbank’s address.

Without Strike’s knowledge Robin allies herself with Shanker, paying him to take her to Brockbank’s home to question his girlfriend Alyssa – inadvertently putting herself in danger.

I’m guessing, in my bemused condition, that this is the nature of the adaptation-for-small-screen beast. We get story elements that are not in the novel, most notably a picture of Strike and the first murder victim and a consequent interrogation about it at the Met by Detective Sergeant Ekwensi. We have scenes that are abridged, cut or otherwise transformed to collapse a long, violent, and tortuous story into a form fit for prime time. Strike and Robin sleeping in the Land Rover? Why change the spelling of Brockbank’s first name? A “thumb in the kettle“?!

The real problem here is that, unlike the Warner Brothers adaptations of Rowling’s Harry Potter novels (and Beasts screenplays), a sausage making process in which her input is only, in her words, “at the beginning stages,” these BBC1 adaptations are by Bronte Studios, a company Rowling owns. I’m obliged to think she has much more extensive creative input in the creation of these programs from her work. They’ve cleaned up the three mistakes in the print version of Cuckoo’s Calling, for instance, and added scenes we’d expect in later episodes (Rowling has said Ekwensi plays a larger role in Lethal White, for instance, and the IED explosion shown in the Silkworm adaptation includes details not in any of the first three novels).

I guess I am obliged because of Rowling’s hand in this process — e.g., she has Strike quote Yeats’ poem about Leda and the Swan in a conversation touching on his relationship with his biological father, “a shuddrr in the loins,” an allusion not in the books and not one the teevee writer thought up, I’m sure — to break down and buy a set of the DVDs. $36 is a small price to pay relative to the lifetime of non-viewing I’ve enjoyed since forsaking teevee in 1979. But still!

Let me know what you think, especially if you have seen the Career of Evil adaptation on either BBC1 or CineMax cable in the US. Do you think the dumbing down and re-writing, re-ordering of the story will move viewers to become readers? I’m skeptical but look forward to your teaching me how and why I’m wrong!


  1. Mr. Granger,

    You’re observations in this post might just have open an interesting line of thought. For the longest time I’ve been content to view the BBC adaptations as little more than poorly written Cliffnote versions of the novels. This thinking still holds true for me when it comes to “Cuckoo” and “Silkworm”. However, I also shared in private communication that “COE” was the first book that had an underwhelming effect.

    The quality of the first two books were polished to such an extent that it was almost nostalgic. They harkened back to an earlier form of storytelling, and both showed a mind that clearly enjoying taking a walk on the wild side of things. She also said somewhere that researching for Book 3 gave a bit of restless sleep.

    Perhaps this effected the finished product? I don’t know, really. That’s all just theory. What I do know is that compared to the first and second volumes, there was just something lacking in the third Strike novel compared to the others that came before.

    What’s interesting is that Michiko Kakutani felt something like the same way. In her New York Times review she notes:

    “ Strike and Robin are just as magnetic as ever in “Career of Evil,” but Ms. Rowling, alas, has plopped them into a story line that feels like a halfhearted recycling of episodes from “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” The result is a lurid and predictable novel — not as disappointing as Ms. Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter venture, “The Casual Vacancy,” but only because of Robin and Strike”.

    She also notes something I also felt about the villains of that book:

    “Each of these men could be said to have a “career of evil,” but they’re all a lot less interesting than Voldemort in “Harry Potter.” (The song “Career of Evil” was reportedly inspired by a 19th-century poem, “Les Chants de Maldoror,” about a Voldemort-like figure opposed to God and humanity.) These three suspects represent no existential challenge, no larger-than-life threat. They’re not even interesting as case studies in Muggle psychology, since their evil deeds have less to do with circumstances or choices they’ve made than with the fact that they’re all sickos. As a consequence, the suspense that powers this novel stems not from the mystery of the killer’s identity but from Ms. Rowling’s instinctive sense of storytelling and her wise decision to give readers frequent glimpses into Strike and Robin’s inner lives”.

    It could be that she was more focused on fleshing out the main characters than anything else. If so, it should probably stand as a lesson that maybe neither characters, nor events can exist without the other, unless we’re talking about a form such as the short story (and here H.P. Lovecraft does serve as a good example).

    I was pretty vocal once about the need for the writer to get the story exactly right as possible. Maybe, based on what you note about the changes made based on the official summary descriptions (I haven’t seen the adaptation of “COE” either) all that’s happened is that Ms. Rowling has recognized the work still need a bit of fine-tuning. If so, then she’s in good company.

    I’ve heard of one other case where an author admitted the book still wasn’t as finished as it should have been. Stephen King released a book called “Under the Dome” a long while back, and read like a very inexpert parody of the kind of books he usually writes. King apparently felt the same way, because when talk of adapting the novel to television happened, King went on record as saying he looked on it as an opportunity to correct the book wholesale. In the same way, Ray Bradbury was always at work trying to perfect his work with constant revisions. The net result is that I wish his TV adaptation of “The Halloween Tree” had incorporated more from the book into the film, while also maintain the latter’s better character driven dynamic. Welcome creative writing 101, folks.

    My point is maybe JKR is subtly acknowledging creative missteps big and small in the books, and is using the TV series as a way of fixing whatever needs repair. Of course, if this should turn out to be the case, I have to admit I’m inclined to wish she would just come out with a completely revised edition of the “COE” at some point down the line. Bradbury did the same thing with the original “Halloween Tree” book after all. Either way, this is just an interesting avenue of thought, nothing more.

    The Kakutani article can be found here:

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