That Chiswell family gathering might have been set in the modern day, but it paid homage to a long history of Poirot and Marple mysteries. A monstrous family of back-stabbing aristos simmering with resentment over inheritance snubs and casting aspersions on deceased papa’s much younger second wife? It’s the very stuff of the cosy detective genre. Had a snooty butler walked in carrying a tray of bonbons, they wouldn’t have felt out of place.
The vibe was very different back in London, where Robin unveiled her second undercover persona of the series. Farewell to Venetia the snooty toff, hiya to Becca the friendly Goth. Robin’s sketch show characters are always good value, and Becca was fun. She was also efficient, sneaking around Flick’s flat under cover of party and finding the incriminating evidence that puts Flick and Jimmy Knight inside Jasper Chiswell’s house before his murder. So, is Flick the ‘Polish’ cleaner with the spare key, and is Jimmy having an affair with Kimvara, and did they plot the great orange juice swap together? Next week’s finale will reveal all.
As they’ve gone on, the Strike books have grown progressively longer, with larger casts of characters. Lethal White is the longest book by far, and this four-parter is the longest series. Thank heavens the BBC allowed the extra episode, because it’s packed to the gills as it is. Strike and Robin are no longer investigating just one murder, but two. There’s backstory upon backstory to keep straight, with dead characters like Rhiannon Winn and Freddie Chiswell as important as the living. Any less time to tell it and this story would have been incomprehensible instead of the Generation Game conveyor belt it is. (Key, horse, blackmail, Polish cleaner, orange juice, blanc de blanc, cuddly toy!)
With so much to cover, episode three struggled to balance the flurry of developments and new case theories with Cormoran and Robin’s more important personal business. In terms of romantic attachments, it’s all change: ta-ra Matthew, see-ya Lorelei, our two leads are newly single. The imminent danger of the case will doubtless eclipse any running-into-each-others’-arms moments those two are due, but it’s a big step forward.
It was an episode of wronged women telling their men where to stick it. Lorelei took Cormoran to task for taking her for granted, while Robin finally stumbled – literally – on a reason to walk out the door in the form of Sarah’s carefully planted diamond earring. Holliday Grainger did terrific work in that confrontation scene. She showed Robin’s strength and vulnerability in tandem, making the audience root for her every move and proving why hers is a TV character we’ve come to love. More than Strike’s, this has been Robin’s series. In the investigation and in her personal life, she’s been centre stage. Sidekick no longer.