Dalgliesh returns in Season 2 to unravel more mysteries

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Thursday: Dalgliesh (Channel 5, 9pm)

“I have lived a very happy and fulfilled life,” said Baroness James of Holland Park, OBE, aka crime writer PD James, shortly before her death in 2014 at the age of 94.

That’s more than could be said of her most famous creation, police detective and poet Adam Dalgliesh. He popped up in 14 of her novels and is a widower whose wife died in childbirth; the resulting heartbreak then made him reluctant to commit to another woman.

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“My English teacher was a Scottish lady called Maisie Dalgliesh,” explained James when asked in 1995 by an interviewer for The Paris Review about how she created the character. “I wanted a name that was not too unusual and yet not too common. What is interesting is that I called him Adam and years later my teacher said that her father was also called Adam Dalgliesh.

“But I don’t think he is a male version of me. Certainly he has characteristics I admire in a human being, because if you create a character who is to come back in subsequent books you have to like him and be able to live with him over the years… So I thought I would create someone who has the qualities I respect – generosity, compassion, intelligence.”

Of course, Dalgliesh is no stranger to the small screen, having been previously depicted by Roy Marsden in the 1980s and 1990s, and later by Martin Shaw when the BBC took over the rights from ITV. These days he’s played by Bertie Carvel, who perhaps fits James’s description of Dalgliesh as being ‘tall, dark and handsome’ better than his predecessors (no disrespect intended). Cerebral and private, the detective goes about his business in a methodical yet compelling manner.

Carvel made his debut as Dalgliesh in 2021 during adaptations of the novels Shroud for a Nightingale, The Black Tower and A Taste for Death, which were filmed in Northern Ireland and stuck to James’s 1960s and 1970s setting. Now he’s returning in three more – A Certain Justice and The Murder Room appear later in the run, which begins with Death of an Expert Witness. As with the previous series, each tale will be told over two parts, with the second popping on Fridays.

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Death of an Expert Witness was originally published in 1977 and is the seventh novel to feature Dalgliesh. The story takes place in the Fens and follows the investigation into the murder of a senior scientist at a police laboratory.

As for James, almost a decade on from her death, she remains a giant in the world of crime-writing – and if you’re thinking of trying to follow in her footsteps, you could do worse than to follow the advice she once gave a reader during a Q&A session with the Guardian newspaper: “Increase your vocabulary, words are our raw materials. Practise writing. Read widely, particularly of the best writing. Learn to try and understand and sympathise with other people. Go through life always open to experience.

“Nothing that happens to a writer, good or ill, is ever lost.”

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