Sometimes now I forget for five minutes, ten. Sometimes it brings me to my knees. Sometimes I’ve wanted to walk towards death, not because I think they’ll be there waiting for me––it seems wrong to say that here, but I don’t. But we flirt with death, don’t we. Fool ourselves into believing it’s a choice dressed in black, call it an event, an experience, a release. It’s not oblivion, an absence, it’s not even that. It defies words because all our words need life itself to give them meaning.
Following the bizarre and illogical The Black Tower, you’ll be happy to know that this third and final installment of Acorn-TV’s Dalgliesh, A Taste for Death, mostly delivers, pulling together Dalgliesh’s great loss, his poetry, and his skills as a detective.
A Taste for Death is set in the infamous Winter of Discontent of 1978–1979, when labor disputes plagued the Labour government and hastened the rise of Margaret Thatcher. London is littered with piles of uncollected trash bags; it’s a time when poverty and hardship are all too obvious. In the opening sequence, a man gazes at the water of the Regent’s Canal a little too long, rather as Dalgliesh hesitated on the cliff’s edge before he turns away to unlock the door of a huge, empty church and go inside.
The next visitors to the church (and it's the next day although it's not obvious) are the elderly Miss Wharton (Tilly Vosburgh) and her self-appointed shadow Darren (Sami Amber), a boy who should definitely be at school. They too unlock the door and enter the church, and Miss Wharton calls out for Fr. Barnes (Jim Morton). After giving Darren a coin for the collection box, she opens a door and screams.
Dalgliesh still has his sergeant Charles Masterson (Jeremy Irvine) who cuts corners, lies, and is now threatened by the new hire, none other than Sgt. Kate Miskin (Carlyss Peer), from Dorset. She’s his worst nightmare––calm, disciplined, a woman, and Black. She gently interviews the two witnesses, who are in shock from finding the corpses of two men lying in pools of blood. There are ashes in the grate, and, the murder weapon is a straight razor that was kept in an adjoining bathroom.
Fr. Barnes is naturally distressed that Miss Wharton and Darren were the ones to discover the bodies. He identifies one of the dead men as Sir Paul Berowne (Andrew Steele), a Tory MP who has recently resigned following a family scandal that involved the death of a young woman. Several weeks before, Berowne visited, claiming he was interested in church architecture, and then later asked for permission to occasionally sleep overnight in the church. Berowne, Fr. Barnes said, seemed haunted and unhappy.
The other corpse is that of Harry Mack, a homeless man who also occasionally slept in the church but has never been associated with violence. All three keys for the door to the church were accounted for, then, with Fr, Barnes holding the third, which means that either Berowne or Harry Mack must have opened the door to the murderer, who was someone they knew well enough to admit.
Dalgliesh and Miskin interview the Berowne family, aristocrats who live in a gigantic Georgian house. The extended family consists of Berowne’s wife Lady Barbara (Lily Sacofsky, Sanditon), and his mother Lady Lavinia (Jane Lapotaire, Rebecca, 2020). Steven Lampert (James Cartwright, Downton Abbey), Barbara’s cousin, is there for moral support, as is her brother Dominic Swayne (Fra Free). Dominic, an actor, is close to the Berowne’s housekeeper Miss Matlock (Laura Elphinstone, Game of Thrones) and is a frequent visitor. The family had no idea that Berowne stayed at the church; they thought he was staying at his constituency office, even though he is no longer an MP.
All of their alibis fit neatly together. Dominic visited Miss Matlock in her apartment for dinner; Barbara and Steven dined out together; Lavinia was home being chilly. But as Dalgliesh investigates, secrets tumble out. His first clue is that Lavinia, seemingly unmoved by her son’s death, quotes the last line of a poem by Dylan Thomas:
After the first death, there is no other.
It turns out that the first death was that of Berowne’s older brother Hugo, an officer in the Coldstream Guards, who was killed in Northern Ireland. Lavinia’s chauffeur Gordon Halliwell (Patrick Regis) who was under Hugo’s command, confirms that no one ordered the car but he had permission to drive to Suffolk to see his estranged wife and children. Cousin Steven’s maternity clinic has recently weathered a malpractice suite. And what did happen to the young woman who was killed on Berowne’s watch?––at Barbara's most recent birthday party in a pub by the river, actress Jeannie, who was a cleaner for the Berownes, drowned. She was pregnant. There was really nothing to implicate Berowne, but he resigned as a member of Parliament shortly after.
Meanwhile Masterson, to his disgust, is tasked with taking Darren home. Traditionally in the police this would have been a job assigned to a woman, but times are changing and Dalgliesh ignores his attitude. Darren’s mother isn’t home. All Darren has said so far is that he didn’t do anything, and Masterson doesn’t try to comfort or encourage him to try and remember, although he does pour a bowl of cornflakes. Despite orders to talk to Darren’s mother, Masterson leaves his card, and implies to Dalgliesh that she was home but had nothing to add. Later that night, Darren lies awake listening to his mother having sex. The general squalor of the area and of the flat implies that his mother is a prostitute.
Miskin accepts an offer of a drink with Masterson, probably as a gesture of goodwill, but he makes it known that he and the other cops have been placing bets on whether she’s sleeping with Dalgliesh. She does not stay around to be further insulted.
Dalgliesh learns from the pathologist that it was definitely two murders staged to look like murder-suicide. The razor was in Berowne’s hand, and the ashes in the grate were his desk diary. The doctor offers condolences on Dalgliesh’s loss; it’s an awkward moment.
Dalgliesh re-checks the family’s alibis. First, a visit to Steven Lampert’s clinic reveals that he and Barbara went to dinner the night of the murders at the same riverside pub where Jeanne died (how insensitive and weird can this family be?). The doorman will confirm. Similarly, Dominic confirms his alibi––and gives some interesting background on Miss Matlock. Before his brother’s death, and his inheritance of the title and property, Berowne practiced as a barrister, and one of his clients was Miss Matlock’s father. Matlock was found guilty of murder and died in prison. As reparation, Berowne hired her as a housekeeper but she apparently bears no grudge. He offers further speculation on who was where when Jeannie drowned and possibly, for no good reason, that Halliwell was the father of her child.
Finally, there’s a piece of real evidence (maybe): a black Mercedes, similar to the Berownes,’ was sighted outside the church. Dalgliesh decides Halliwell is a person of interest, and Lavinia wants to summon her lawyer for no particular reason. She is particularly outraged that the burnt paper in the grate was identified as Berowne’s desk diary, because that was always––always!––kept in the house.
It is quite a relief to spend a few quiet minutes with Masterson and Miskin insulting each other, but then Halliwell drives off and Dalgliesh follows. And, it’s back to the riverside pub, where we learn that doorman Henry Yates (Kieran O’Reilly, Vikings) was also in Hugo’s regiment; he was a much-loved officer, “one of us.” The two of them were gathering evidence to prove that Berowne killed his first wife to marry Barbara, regarded as a gold-digger, who had been dating Hugo. It’s a bit inconclusive, to say the least. And now Berowne is dead, what do they intend?
The first episode ends when, alone in the church, Fr. Barnes hears someone rattling the doorknob. Off-camera, we hear that he recognizes whoever it is, followed by the sounds of a fight.
After Fr. Barnes’s attack, Dalgliesh orders a full search of the church and checks out the family members again. He interviews Steven at the police station, where he declares his passionate love for Barbara, with whom he spent the night. Barbara confirms all of it. Dominic loves to spill the dirt and tells Dalgliesh that he was with his roommatef last night, dinner followed by the pub, and riffs a bit on how he swam with Jeannie that fateful night; they were both drunk, and her foot was caught in some weeds. He gets very emotional when he discusses if Berowne wanted to divorce his sister. Barbara had worked so hard to get where she was (what sort of work was that, exactly?) from their rough beginnings with a drunk mother in Walthamstow. (What’s so bad about Walthamstow?)
Dalgliesh remembers that Berowne first dropped by the church when he was in the area to visit a sick friend. The friend had not survived, but Dalgliesh visits his widow, who tells him that she had called the Berowne’s house in the early evening of the night he was murdered and Lavinia had consulted the desk diary during their conversation. This implies that the family was lying when they said he had left in the morning and they had not seen him since––he must have returned to the house.
Lavinia trumpets that this is all Berowne family business and she never intended it to be made public (by which she means vulgar police involvement) and we turn once more into soap opera territory as she and Barbara confront each other. Barbara is not going to inherit because Berowne made a new will, leaving it all to Lavinia, and he wanted Barbara and her freeloading brother out of the house. Barbara claims that the will is invalid because she’s pregnant (this is the aristocracy, so the title and wealth would go to the son, and she seems awfully sure of her baby’s gender. Details). But it’s not Berowne’s child, claims Lavinia, who has been on bed watch, it’s Steven’s (I’m not sure that would make any difference, but ...). Halliwell drove Lavinia over to the church earlier that evening, and he and Harry Mack were witnesses to the new will.
The inquest on Berowne and Harry is held, and afterward Miss Walton and Miskin chat, and they both praise Darren for speaking so clearly. Miskin notices a young woman who approaches them but then turns away. She’s been looking at Dominic, and Miskin’s curiosity is aroused. She catches up with her, and finds that she was formerly a nurse at Steven’s clinic. She took a private live-in position as a nurse to Lavinia after a fall. She and Berowne got on well, but Dominic pursued and raped her. She told Berowne, who confronted Dominic at the river on that fateful night but Dominic denied it and laughed. Miskin begs her to press charges, but she refuses. Miss Matlock, Dominic’s ally and alibi, denies the rape took place and affirms her loyalty to the Berownes.
But Miss Walton has noticed something. Dominic is wearing a jacket with some fancy buttons, one of which is missing, and which she found in a collection box in the church. The detectives work out the time when the button was dropped in, and pinpoint it to the day after the murder. And didn’t we see Darren buy fish and chips with the collection money she’d given him? Miss Walton has arranged to go to the church with Darren again, but he doesn’t show up. As she walks along the canal, she suspects she’s being followed. By this time she’s rattled enough to call the police and unfortunately she reaches Masterson, who dismisses her worries. When Miskin comes into the office, he tells her that Dalgliesh wants her to go to the church to meet Miss Walton. Dalgliesh, however, has instructed him to tell Miskin to meet at the Berownes’ house, and Masterson wants to be where he thinks the real action will be.
Where is Darren? Dominic has intercepted him on the canal path and accuses him of stealing a very special button. Although he’s smart enough to claim he doesn’t know what Dominic is talking about, he’s overpowered. And so Miskin and Miss Walton, at the church, are confronted with Dominic, furious and out of control, holding a knife against the child’s throat. Miskin bluffs that the church is surrounded by police, which Dominic doesn’t believe. She offers herself as a hostage in place of Darren––a police officer is a far more powerful bargaining chip. He seems to agree and then hits her.
Dalgliesh arrives and tries to reason with Dominic. There are marksmen outside, he tells him. What’s his plan? He gets him to talk about killing Jeanne, and of course, Dominic loves to talk. Dominic confesses how angry he was when Jeanne laughed at him. He found out that she was pregnant. He implies that she wanted an abortion and he became angry.
Dalgliesh then tells him that once he had a wife and child, a son who was very much wanted. He lost them a year ago. He gives a manifesto on grief, loss, and the purpose of words (the quotation at the beginning of this recap). We’ve never heard him talk like that before.
He continues, in a clever appeal to Dominic’s vanity:
You’re young, Dom, you’re just a young man. Go to prison but you’ll be alive, you’ll heal. You’ll be notorious, powerful. There is only life.
Dominic capitulates and is arrested. After this debacle, it’s fairly clear, without anyone saying anything, that Masterson will be getting a transfer soon, possibly to that pit of depravity, Walthamstow.
Berowne and poor Harry Mack (unloved, homeless, and whose life counted for little by way of police investigation) were killed because Dominic and his sister could not bear to give up their luxurious lifestyle with the Berownes. And what will happen to Darren? And which of the Berowne family won't Dalgliesh arrest?
Dalgliesh goes home. In the nursery he packs up the toys and clothes so lovingly prepared for his son; it's time.
Despite the plot holes in this two-parter, it was a solid drama with emotional punch and some strong characters. What did you think? Did you enjoy the series as a whole and would you like to see more?