In a career already filled with extraordinary statistics, JK Rowling is about to achieve another. With Strike, a BBC1 series that starts tomorrow night, the writer joins the small group of British authors who have had all of their novels adapted for cinema or TV.

Confirming that literature was far ahead of other industries in terms of gender balance, her companions in this category are mainly women – the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, George Eliot – with Charles Dickens and Graham Greene the token men. Characteristically, though, Rowling’s record within this subset is extra-exceptional. Her 11 novels to date – the Harry Potter septet, The Casual Vacancy, and three books about private eye Cormoran Strike – have been screened within 20 years, a remarkably fast turnaround in a business where books can spend decades in pre-production.

With the Strike books, what Rowling also has in common with the Brontës and Eliot is the use of a male pseudonym. The character Tom Burke plays on screen – a military policeman who sets up a detective agency after losing a leg in Afghanistan – first appeared, four years ago, in a small-run first edition that was apparently the debut of a crime writer called Robert Galbraith.

Unnerved by the Madonna-like celebrity and scrutiny imposed on her by the Potter books, Rowling hoped to hide for a while on another part of the bookshelf. However, due to a leak via a legal firm with knowledge of the secret deal, the alias was exposed with just the first book on the shelves, and the next two Strike novels – The Silkworm (2014) and Career of Evil (2015) – admitted the disguise on the dust jacket, thus selling in Rowling-loads.

There will be cynicism that a seven-part peak-time series – adapting all three books – would not have been offered to an unrumbled Galbraith, but, impressively, it turns out that BBC Drama had made an approach about The Cuckoo’s Calling when it was posing as the work of an unknown newcomer.
Strike, as the TV series is called, has been made by Brontë Film and TV, a production company set up by Rowling. Brontë turned The Casual Vacancy into a 2015 BBC mini-series that was efficient enough, but Strike is a superior effort.

In TV schedules heavy with dysfunctional detectives, the protagonist manages to be distinctive as an investigator who, though damaged and shambolic, can also be warm and charming. The series is also procedurally distinctive: the private eye genre has declined because any realistic writer or reader knows that, as soon as a murder occurs, detectives seal the scene and take over. Galbraith, though, is canny in creating scenarios that don’t at first seem to be police matters (suicides, disappearances), or in which the client has a reason not to involve the police.

A viewer who didn’t know that these are Rowling stories could still enjoy the show. But The Silkworm, Strike’s second case, has an additional fascination in the light of its publishing history. A famous novelist, Owen Quine, vanishes, leaving a manuscript, featuring disguised versions of friends and rivals, that may explain his disappearance.

There have been many mysteries set in the literary world, but this one, which Rowling began when she hoped that the Galbraith mask might stay in place, gains extra shivers by being the work of an author who was herself trying to act out a literary mystery.
One measure of Rowling’s unusual power over adaptations is that the actors chosen for her screen franchises closely match her character descriptions in a way that is not always the case. (Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, a towering giant of a guy on the page, went before the cameras as Tom Cruise.) But Burke’s Strike uncannily matches the silhouette of the private eye on the cover of hardback version of The Silkworm, published three years ago, just as Daniel Radcliffe fulfilled the drawing of the boy wizard on the front of the pre-Hollywood Potter books.

A fourth Strike novel, Lethal White, is expected next year, and, given Rowling’s track record, Burke can expect a call to film that, as long as Strike performs decently in the ratings.
The only obstacle for Rowling in that respect is that her crime series has been scheduled by the BBC against the second series of ITV’s already proven Sunday night blockbuster, Victoria, setting up a fight between the Queen of Fiction and the Empress of India.

In broadcasting terms, this is as tough as Potter v Voldemort but – on the evidence of the acting, writing and production values in The Cuckoo’s Calling – the show should have enough to maintain the screen power of the Rowling name, even when hidden behind a false identity.

Strike begins on BBC1 at 9pm on Sunday.