Roush Review: A Classic Detective Returns in Acorn’s ‘Dalgliesh’

Bertie Carvel in Dalgliesh


Matt's Rating: rating: 3.5 stars

Much like Agatha Christie, the classic literary mysteries by the late P.D. James stand the test of time. And reinterpretation.

Tony-winning actor Bertie Carvel is the third to tackle the introspective role of Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh for TV — the first, and most enduring, was Roy Marsden in the 1980s and ’90s, and more briefly in the 2000s, Martin Shaw (all previously shown on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery!). In Dalgliesh, Carvel brings a quietly dashing tone of pensive authority to this multilayered and tragically romantic character: detective, poet, and recent widower, who’s also grieving a lost child.

In “Shroud for a Nightingale,” the first of three feature-length, two-part whodunits set in the 1970s and streaming weekly on Acorn TV, Dalgliesh travels to a nursing school with an insolent sergeant (Jeremy Irvine) as not-much-help backup to investigate a grisly murder that occurred during a student training demonstration. He soon discovers blackmail is also on the curriculum, unsettling suspects young and old with a piercing gaze that projects empathy as well as skepticism.

“You see the underneath … our souls,” observes one suspect, perhaps admiringly. Which could be why Dalgliesh, like Christie’s Poirot and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes, endures. But not everyone’s a fan. His sergeant growls behind his back, “He’s not into human frailty. Thinks he’s a saint, but he’s not. He’s an arrogant snob.” And in next week’s second installment, “The Black Tower,” a dubious clergyman declares, “You see evil where there is none. That’s a cold world to live in.”

And yet evil has a way of finding Dalgliesh wherever he goes, including on a personal holiday to the rustic Dorset countryside, where “Tower” is set as he visits Toynton Grange, site of a home for the disabled. Mysterious deaths ruled as suicide by the local constabulary make the off-duty detective naturally suspicious, and the formula goes like this: Eventually another victim will convince Dalgleish to investigate further, and before it’s over, our hero will find himself in peril as he comes face to face with the culprit who’s been in plain sight all along.

Viewing this new series of Dalgliesh movies is as satisfying as cracking the spine of a well-traveled mystery novel for yet another read. There are plenty more stories in the P.D. James canon, and I hope Carvel gets a chance to tackle them all.

Dalgliesh, Series Premiere, Monday, November 1, Acorn TV