The final episode of Acorn TV's The Chelsea Detective opens as murder victim Oliver Cowie (Clarence Smith), Head of Humanities at the elite International School of Chelsea, leaves work for the day. He has a quick exchange with fellow teacher Saskia Turner (Pippa Nixon) that indicates some sort of secret. His wife Lyn (Mina Andala) discovers his body in his study at home the next morning and calls 999.
Max and Priya learn from forensic expert Ashley Wilton that the death, caused by multiple head wounds from a heavy object with a square edge, occurred sometime late the previous night. There’s no murder weapon or sign of a break, yet the severity of the attack suggests that it was motivated by rage. Lyn, a yoga teacher, came in late after a night class and, realizing that Oliver was in his study, didn’t disturb him.
It seems unlikely that Lyn was the murderer, even though neighbors had called the police a few days ago when she and Oliver were arguing loudly. She thought he was having an affair, and she was also deeply upset that Oliver had accepted a position in Japan, starting at the end of the academic year. He had promised they would stay in London, which she loves. But he won’t let their daughter Flo (Tia May Watts) stay for her final year at the school with her best friend Petal Fisk (Libby Mai). Flo was sleeping over at Petal’s house the night of the murder.
The other two members of Max’s team are outside the house, dealing with curious neighbors and passers-by, and Connor deftly intercepts the Cowies’ housekeeper Carmel Fry (Tilly Vosburgh). She’s been close to the family for the eight years they’d been in London, and distressed at the upcoming move to Japan. The forensic team have examined dust on the study mantelpiece and it looks as though something is missing. Carmel identifies the missing object as a debating team trophy.
There are no CCTV cameras capturing evidence outside the house, and the only piece of evidence from interviewing neighbors is that a bicycle was parked against the outside wall that night.
Max, being Max, is pondering the latest early morning visit on a slim pretext from his ex-wife Astrid, who berated him for letting a plant she’d given him die, and accused him of living in student-like squalor. Does he? He asks Priya, not a fan of the houseboat, who looks at him with incredulity and tries to produce a kind answer.
Their investigation continues with a visit to the school to meet with Head Teacher James Green (Alexander Hanson) who’s just come back from a visit to Brussels. Everyone liked Oliver, he assures them. James makes a derogatory comment about “estate kids,” referring to low-income families in public housing, which does not endear him to Priya at all. They can’t help but notice a skillfully executed graffiti of a large, multicolored rooster on the outside of the school, signed by Deadwood Price, and featuring the motif of a dangling spider. Max, used to untangling letters and words, sees the signature as an anagram of “Drop Dead Cowie.” So it seems Oliver did have enemies, despite James’s assurances.
According to Oliver’s phone, he had deleted an apology from Saskia Turner, the last person to see him alive as he left work. She was home marking students’ work the night of the murder, and tells them that Oliver had driven her home when she was drunk recently and she’d tried to kiss him. Oliver was her ally in a sexual harassment case against James.
Although Oliver’s office has been blocked with police tape, Max and Priya find James has broken the tape and is rummaging around inside. He’s defiant, but his confidence is shaken when they tell him they know about the sexual harassment case, and that he lied about his return from Brussels. He admits he was searching Oliver’s office for information that would help in the sexual harassment case. Last night he walked, went to a pub and sat outside to enjoy a pint. And although the timing of his pub visit checks out, there’s no outside CCTV. They conclude he probably wouldn’t have had enough time to travel to the Cowies’ house and commit a murder and then leave, covered with blood, undetected. James’s next interview with the police will take place at the station and he will be lawyered up!
Max and Priya widen their net, with help from the school’s Pastoral Care department, which focusses on student wellbeing. Student Eric Heidegger (Jeremias Amoore) had clashed with Oliver, resulting in a pending suspension issued the day of the murder. He had spray painted “Cowie is a cock” on a school door.
They visit Eric’s house and speak with his father, but when Eric comes home, he sees the police there and runs. Connor chases him on foot, and Jess chases him with by car, neatly cornering him.
In an interview with Max, Eric claims Oliver stitched him up, planting the can of paint in his backpack, knowing that he was “Deadwood Price.” Max is inclined to believe him, but why would Oliver risk his career by framing a student? Easy, Eric says. Oliver had found out that he and his daughter Flo were back together. They’d dated for some time, until Oliver had accused Eric of buying cocaine, and banned him from the house. Eric says he was home the night of the murder, but his mother had gone to bed early and his father went out for a run.
Examination of Oliver’s computer reveals an anonymous, encrypted email with a photograph of Eric and Flo hanging out together at school. It doesn’t take Max’s skilled team much time to find out it was James who took and sent the photo, a very unsavory action for the Head Teacher of a posh school, to say the least, and that’s what he’d been searching Oliver’s office for.
The team also interview Petal’s father, widowed Rory Fisk (Richard Harrington, Hinterland), a hospital worker who is clearly an atypical International School parent. Large sums of money have been regularly transferred to his account from Oliver. Is it blackmail? Rory admits that Oliver was paying for Petal’s attendance at the school after her scholarship had expired; Oliver felt that Petal was a good influence on his daughter. Rory, however, felt that Flo’s chaotic behavior was not the best for Petal, and was secretly relieved the family would be leaving London. Rory works nights, but when the team finds he took a two-hour break the night of the murder, he reveals he was with his girlfriend. He was keeping it secret from Petal, who is already stressed and overly emotional.
And then a helpful neighbor, who’d been walking his dog that night, tells the police that he’d seen Oliver answer the door to a tall, white man wearing a sweatshirt with a cross symbol on the back. Max and Priya interview Eric’s father, Alex Heidegger (Peter Stark) who freely admits he had gone there to negotiate with Oliver. If Eric is expelled, he will not be able to sit his all-important final exams. It was an emotional, if civilized, discussion and Alex had stopped at a corner shop after, where the CCTV and credit card receipts back up his story, and––possibly the most significant piece of evidence––he wasn’t covered in blood. He also mentions passing a girl on a bicycle, going in the direction of the Cowies’ house, on his way home.
Eric passionately defends his father when Max talks to him again. He was out tagging with Flo the night of the murder while Petal covered for her. He has ambitions for art school, and Max, who admires his work, encourages him.
Housekeeper Carmel is interviewed again. She was deeply hurt that Oliver did not want her to accompany them to Japan, claiming it was a matter of Carmel qualifying for a visa. They are her family, she feels, and she has realized that she is disposable. But this doesn’t make her a murderer.
Once again, Flo and Petal are doing their homework at Flo’s house. Petal is doing homework, at any rate, but Flo is restless and wants to go out. She starts pulling items out of Petal’s closet and a shoebox falls open to reveal the missing murder weapon. Max and Priya, who have a suspicion that Petal was the girl on the bicycle, show up as the two young women stare at the bloodied trophy. Petal had gone to see Oliver to beg him to let Flo stay with her, to keep her out of trouble and complete her final year at school. But Oliver had told her to go home and leave his family alone, and she had killed him in a fit of violent rage. Priya calls the duty officer to arrest Petal.
Priya goes home to take over baby care from Nitin––yes, kind, patient Nitin is becoming frustrated at always being the one at home. But he agrees to cook dinner while Priya settles Poppy down for the night.
Max returns home to his houseboat, which he has finally cleared up, and calls Astrid. He needs her help, but it’s to advise Eric on his art school application, and persuade his father that that’s where his heart lies. When Max and Astrid return to the houseboat, he tells her he has committed to living there and has formally changed his address. He has even bought a new plant which he places in a flower pot decorated with Eric’s spider on a thread motif. It’s probably not a reconciliation, but it’s a move forward for them both.
Did you enjoy the series? I felt that by this last episode the leisurely pacing and intricate plot worked well, and I’m going to miss those amazing shots of the River Thames. What are your thoughts?