A Guide to Adam Dalgliesh – From Page to Screen

Andrew Buckle,

The first season of Dalgliesh, which stars Bertie Carvel (Babylon and Doctor Foster) as the titular detective inspector created by novelist P.D. James, is now available on streaming service Acorn TV. If you’d like to own the series, you can also now buy it in the TV Store on Fetch.

Acorn TV curates a world-class library of captivating crime thrillers, addictive dramas, and intriguing mysteries including Foyle’s War, London Kills, The Chelsea Detective and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Subscribe for just $6.99 per month through your Fetch box.

The 6-episode first season of Dalgliesh features three of James’ classic cases – Shroud for a Nightingale, The Black Tower and A Taste For Death – each split into two-part episodes. Fans of the character and the series will be pleased to know that it has been renewed for a second season.

Dalgliesh has been billed as an in-depth study of James’ creation – who appeared in fourteen of her mystery novels – with each baffling case revealing more layers of his character. He is introduced in Shroud for a Nightingale as a recent widower and, uniquely, a published poet.

Throughout his career Dalgliesh uses his empathy and insight to analyse the darker depths of the human psyche, adopting a calm and methodical approach. In this series, which is set in mid-1970s England, Dalgliesh is accompanied on two of the cases by DS Charles Masterson (Jeremy Irvine, War Horse). Carlyss Peer (The Feed) also appears in two cases as DS Kate Miskin.

If you’re interested in enhancing your Dalgliesh knowledge, or loved the series and are looking for more cases to obsess over, here are five of P.D. James’ novels that we recommend scrounging through your local book shop for.


Death in Holy Orders (2001) – This “locked room” mystery features one of Dalgliesh’s most perplexing cases, and it is a marvelous feat from James to bring all the nuances and intricacies of this mystery into a resolve. After initially being called in to investigate the death of a student at a coastal Church of England theological school – the novel explores how the Church trains it’s students, known as ordinands, for religious ministry – Dalgliesh largely operates outside of his official capacity. During his initial consultation a visiting archdeacon is murdered, and the mounting body count and shocking revelations that ensue threaten the proud tranquility of the college.

Bertie Carvel in The Black Tower

The Black Tower (1975) – In one of the slower-paced stories in the Dalgliesh series – but it comes together in a tense and rather stressful finale – the detective is weary of being surrounded by death. After recovering from a serious illness, which put him as close to death as he had ever been, he visits Toynton Grange care home to see an old friend. He learns not only that they had recently died – of apparent natural causes – but there had been another death in the community. A suicide. Dalgliesh is driven by his detective instincts, against his will and better judgment, to see whether all is as it seems in this supposedly innocent care home.

Cover Her Face (1962) – James’ debut novel is a great place to start if you wish to familiarise yourself with Dalgliesh’s methodical ways, as well as his penchant for poetry-writing. It not a particularly innovative whodunit – very much following Agatha Christie’s successful formula – but the story is gripping. The victim here is Sally Jupp, an ambitious maid with a desire for power and a knack for getting into the business of others. She finds herself surrounded by a family who each have reasons for wanting her dead. In true whodunit fashion each shady suspect has motive and opportunity, while the victim is rather unpleasant herself.

Jeremy Irvine in Shroud for a Nightingale

Shroud for a Nightingale (1971) – A sinister story with ties to Nazi atrocities during World War II, this twisty thriller is set at the hospital and nursing school of Nightingale House. Dalgiesh, accompanied by DS Masterson, is sent to investigate the grisly poisoning death of a student during a training demonstration. After another student dies under similarly suspicious circumstances, Dalgliesh questions the other students and their fearful superiors, finding himself in mortal danger as he uncovers cases of blackmail and sexual activity within the closed community.

Original Sin (1994) – In this story Dalgiesh takes readers into the literary circle, and a publishing house located in a dramatic mock-Venetian palace on the Thames. The murder of Peverell Press’s managing director, the ambitious and brilliant Gerard Etienne, seems to be the horrible end of a series of malicious pranks in the company headquarters. When Dalgliesh is called to the scene to solve the murder, he learns that Etienne has created a number of enemies – including a discarded mistress and a rejected and humiliated author – and finds out that the killer does not intend to stop with Etienne.

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