Strike: The Cuckoo's Calling, screened last night, opened a new seven-part private eye series based on the books of Robert Galbraith. As all the world now knows, Galbraith is a pen-name, and it conceals the identity of J. K. Rowling. But the secret was kept, not only until publication day, but for weeks thereafter, until an incautious leak revealed the truth.
Rowling has long been a detective fiction fan, and she's been quoted expressing admiration for predecessors such as Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham. And there are plenty of parallels between her hero, Cormoran Strike, and Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey - and not just the fact they both have odd names. Both are sons of the rich, both attended Oxford, both have fought in war, and suffered because of it. Wimsey was shell-shocked; Strike lost his leg in Afghanistan.
The cleverness of this BBC version of Rowling's first novel, lies in the casting of Tom Burke as Strike. He captures the character superbly, on the evidence of this first episode, just the right mix of scruffiness and that dogged determination displayed by all the best detectives. There was a classic scene in this episode, when a suave lawyer (the always dependable Martin Shaw) tries to warn Strike off. We've seen this kind of thing a thousand times before, but these two actors handled the situation in compelling fashion.
When I read the book, I thought that it was enjoyable but over-long, and the early signs are that the discipline of TV adaptation will be good for it. The mystery concerns the apparent suicide of a supermodel, and the scenario of a supposed suicide that may just be murder is again very familiar to fans of the genre. But Burke, and Holliday Grainger, who plays his newly arrived assistant, make a very likeable team, and I'm looking forward to episode two.