Following the bizarre and illogical "The Black Tower," the 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 hastened the rise of Margaret Thatcher. London is littered with uncollected trash bags; poverty and hardship are all too obvious. In the opening sequence, a man gazes at Regent’s Canal for 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.
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.
The next day, the elderly Miss Wharton (Tilly Vosburgh) and her self-appointed shadow Darren (Sami Amber), a boy who should definitely be at school, 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, who cuts corners, lies, and is now threatened by the new hire, none other than Sgt. Kate Miskin, 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; the murder weapon is a straight razor that was kept in an adjoining bathroom.
Fr. Barnes is distressed Miss Wharton and Darren were the ones to discover the bodies. He identifies one as Sir Paul Berowne, a recently resigned Tory MP with a family scandal involving the death of a young woman. Several weeks before, Berowne visited, claiming he was interested in church architecture, then asking for permission to occasionally sleep overnight in the church. The other is Harry Mack, a homeless man, but not violent. All three keys for the door to the church were accounted for, so either Berowne or Mack opened the door to the murderer, someone they knew well enough to admit.
Dalgliesh and Miskin interview the aristocratic Berowne family, including his wife, Lady Barbara (Lily Sacofsky), his mother, Lady Lavinia (Jane Lapotaire), and Steven Lampert (James Cartwright), Barbara’s cousin, and brother Dominic Swayne (Fra Free) are there for moral support with housekeeper Miss Matlock (Laura Elphinstone. The family had no idea Berowne stayed at the church; they thought he was staying at his constituency office, even though he is no longer an MP. Each corroborates the others' alibis. Dominic visited Miss Matlock for dinner; Barbara and Steven dined together; Lavinia was home.
But secrets tumble out. The first death was Berowne’s older brother Hugo, an officer in the Coldstream Guards, killed in Northern Ireland. Lavinia’s chauffeur Gordon Halliwell (Patrick Regis), was under Hugo’s command and confirms no one ordered the car, but he had permission to drive to Suffolk to see his estranged wife and children. Steven’s maternity clinic recently weathered a malpractice suit. As for the young woman killed on Berowne’s watch, she was pregnant actress Jeannie, a cleaner for the Berownes, who drowned at Barbara's birthday party in a pub by the river. Nothing implicated Berowne, but he resigned shortly after.
Masterson, to his disgust, is tasked with taking Darren home. Traditionally in the police, this would be a job assigned to a woman, but times are changing. Darren’s mother isn’t home. All Darren has said so far is that he didn’t do anything, and Masterson doesn’t comfort or encourage him to 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.
The pathologist confirms the two murders were staged to look like a murder-suicide. The razor was in Berowne’s hand, and the ashes were his desk diary. Dalgliesh re-checks the family’s alibis. A visit to Steven Lampert’s clinic reveals he and Barbara dined at the same pub where Jeanne died (how insensitive and weird can this family be?). Dominic gives background on Miss Matlock. Before inheriting the title and property, Berowne was a barrister, and one of his clients was her father, who was found guilty and died in prison. As reparation, Berowne hired her as a housekeeper. He offers further speculation Halliwell was the father of her child.
Finally, there’s a piece of real evidence (maybe): a black Mercedes, similar to the Berownes,’ was seen outside the church. Dalgliesh decides Halliwell is a person of interest, and Lavinia wants to summon her lawyer. 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.
Miskin accepts an offer of a drink with Masterson, where he says they've been placing bets on whether she’s sleeping with Dalgliesh. But then Halliwell drives off and Dalgliesh follows. It’s back to the riverside pub, where we learn that doorman Henry Yates (Kieran O’Reilly) 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 him recognize someone and the sounds of a fight. After Fr. Barnes’s attack, Dalgliesh orders a full search of the church. He interviews Steven at the police station, where he declares his passionate love for Barbara, which she confirms. Dominic 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 emotional when Dalgliesh asks if Berowne wanted to divorce his sister. Barbara worked so hard to get where she was from their rough beginnings.
Berowne first dropped by the church when visiting a sick friend, so Dalgliesh visits the widow, who called at the Berowne’s house the night he was murdered, noting Lavinia consulted the desk diary. The family was lying; he must have returned to the house. Confronted, Lavinia is enraged and tells Barbara Berowne made a new will; Halliwell drove Lavinia to the church that evening, and he and Harry Mack witnessed him sign it. He wanted Barbara and her freeloading brother out of the house. Barbara claims she’s pregnant, so the title and wealth would go to the son, overriding any will. Lavinia, who has been on bed watch, sneers the kid is Steven’s
At the inquest on Berowne and Harry, Miss Walton and Miskin praise Darren for speaking so clearly. Miskin notices a young woman approach but then turns away. Miskin catches up with her and finds 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 until Dominic 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, denied the rape took place and affirmed her loyalty to the Berownes.
Miss Walton noticed Dominic’s jacket had a button missing, which she found in a collection box in the church. The detectives work out the button was dropped in the day after the murder. 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’s being followed. She calls the police and, unfortunately, reaches Masterson, who dismisses her. When Miskin enters the office, he tells her that Dalgliesh wants her to meet Miss Walton. Dalgliesh, however, instructed him to ask Miskin to meet at the Berownes’ house. Masterson wants to be where he thinks the real action will be.
Meanwhile, Dominic intercepted Darren 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. Miskin and Miss Walton, at the church, are confronted with Dominic, furious and out of control, holding a knife to the child’s throat. Miskin bluffs that the church is surrounded by police, which Dominic doesn’t believe. She offers herself as a hostage instead of Darren — a police officer is a far more powerful bargaining chip. He seems to agree and then hits her.
Dalgliesh arrives and gets him to talk about killing Jeanne, confessing how angry he was when he found out 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. Dominic capitulates and is arrested. After this debacle, it’s pretty evident, without anyone saying anything, that Masterson will be getting a transfer soon.