Whether you caught all seven (slightly rushed) episodes of the BBC’s recent detective show, or read the original books by JK Rowling (The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm), you may feel stuck finding something similar that scratches a similar itch until the show returns sometime next year.
What made Strike a more enjoyable piece of detective fiction was the way that it spent less time fussing over solving the crime, and more time letting you get to know the characters.
I’m not a huge fan of the detective genre as a whole, but I do like a well-told story with characters I care about. If you’re looking for something that fits that mold to read (or watch) next, here are my top recommendations:
The Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson
The Jackson Brodie series is somewhat interesting — not just because it’s good, but also because its author, Kate Atkinson, is typically associated with ‘high brow’, Man Booker-style fiction (including her two latest interconnected releases, Life After Life and A God in Ruins). While the Brodie novels were her biggest hits commercially, it did seem like a strange departure for a lauded author to delve into a genre many people consider to be ‘lesser than’. It might be snobbish to say that Atkinson elevates the genre in how she approaches it, the truth is that the mysteries themselves are still pretty solid — so both a regular fan of her work, and someone just looking for a good detective story, should both feel satisfied.
With four novels in total (Case Histories; One Good Turn; When Will There Be Good News; and Started Early, Took My Dog) Atkinson spends significant time both letting you get to know her detective — a surly single Dad with demons (although he never comes across that clichéd on the page). But where the books really shine is that she also digs deeply into the lives of the people surrounding the mysteries or crimes themselves. People are important or essential not just because of how they may relate to the mystery, but just in watching how they contend with their everyday lives following an episode of enormous grief — even decades after the original incident.
The best book is probably the first, but all four are worth a read. The TV series (called Case Histories), starring Jason Isaacs, wasn’t a huge hit critically or commercially, but serves as a decent companion to the books.
The Dumb House by John Burnside
I had the enormous pleasure of seeing John Burnside speak at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year. While meeting people you admire is always risky (I also saw Ali Smith and acted like a complete idiot), Burnside was genuinely kind, funny, smart, and incredibly knowledgeable. His panel was fantastic, but most of what I came away with was the strange feeling that the big teddybearish Scotsman in front of me seemed completely at odds with the weird, beautiful, disgusting fiction he tends to produce. Among my favourites are The Dumb House and Glister — both creepy, creaky horror novels.
There’s no real detective story here, but if you liked some of the more gruesome elements of The Silkworm, you’ll very much enjoy The Dumb House. Giving away the plot feels like cheating, so dive right in and expect to feel very, very uncomfortable.
A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark
If, instead, what you really liked about Strike was the kind of warm, funny human elements, Muriel Spark is a great next stop. A Far Cry from Kensington is a little lesser known than Spark’s big blockbuster, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and it has a similar sense of can-do camaraderie that I feel towards and from Robin’s character.
Spark’s writing is quick, funny, and very accessible. She’s quickly becoming one of my favourite authors.
And that’s it for now. If you want to agree, disagree, or just yell — you can scroll down and let it out below.
Links provided do not put any money in my pocket. They’re just for convenience, and lead you to a site I like that’s not Amazon.