Adam Dalgliesh

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Adam Dalgliesh
Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh
First appearanceCover Her Face
Last appearanceThe Private Patient
Created byP.D. James
Portrayed by
In-universe information
OccupationPolice detective, Poet
FamilyJane Dalgliesh (aunt; deceased)
SpouseMrs Dalgliesh (deceased)
Emma Lavenham
ChildrenOne (deceased)

Adam Dalgliesh (/ˈdælɡlʃ/ DAL-gleesh) is a fictional character who is the protagonist of fourteen mystery novels by P. D. James; the first being James's 1962 novel Cover Her Face. He also appears in the two novels featuring James's other detective, Cordelia Gray.


In the first novel, Dalgliesh is a Detective Chief Inspector. He eventually reaches the rank of Commander in the Metropolitan Police at New Scotland Yard, London. He is an intensely cerebral and private person. He writes poetry, a fact of which his colleagues are fond of reminding him. Several volumes of his poetry have been published. Dalgliesh lives in a flat above the Thames at Queenhithe in the City of London. In the earlier novels he drives a Cooper Bristol, later a Jaguar. He was described as being "tall, dark and handsome" by some women, alluding to Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

His father was the rector of a Norfolk country parish. His sole family relation was his aunt, Jane Dalgliesh, whom he held in high esteem. After her death, Dalgliesh inherits, among other bequests, a converted windmill located on the Norfolk coast. In his lengthy career, he has been quite astute and successful and now heads a squad of CID officers working on only the most sensitive cases.

Dalgliesh is a widower. He lost his wife in childbirth 13 years before A Mind to Murder, and was reluctant to commit himself ever since. His relationship with Deborah Riscoe ended because of this. During his time at St. Anselm's in Suffolk, he meets Cambridge lecturer Emma Lavenham and later asks her to marry him. The wedding takes place at the end of The Private Patient, published in 2008.

The character's name was chosen in honour of the author's English teacher at Cambridge High School. Years later, she learnt that Miss Dalgliesh's father had in fact been named Adam.[1]



Novel Published Rank Car Partners Order of TV Adaptation Order of Radio Adaptation
Cover Her Face 1962 Detective Chief Inspector Detective Sergeant George Martin[2][3] Third TV Adaptation (Anglia, 1985) First Radio Adaptation (BBC, 1993)
A Mind to Murder 1963 Detective Superintendent Cooper Bristol Detective Sergeant George Martin[4][3] Eighth TV Adaptation (Anglia, 1995) NA
Unnatural Causes 1967 Detective Superintendent Cooper Bristol Detective Inspector Reckless of the Suffolk County CID[5]
Sergeant Courtney of the Suffolk County CID[5]
Seventh TV Adaptation (Anglia, 1993) NA
Shroud for a Nightingale 1971 Detective Chief Superintendent Detective Sergeant Charles Masterson[6][3] Second TV Adaptation (Anglia, 1984) NA
The Black Tower 1975 Commander[7] Cooper Bristol, Jensen Healey[7] Detective Inspector Daniel[8]
Detective Sergeant Varney[8]
Fourth TV Adaptation (Anglia, 1985) NA
Death of an Expert Witness 1977 Commander Detective Inspector the Honourable John Massingham[9][3] First TV Adaptation (Anglia, 1983) NA
A Taste for Death 1986 Commander Jaguar XJS[10] Chief Inspector John Massingham[11][12]
Inspector Kate Miskin[13][14]
Fifth TV Adaptation (Anglia, 1988) Fourth Radio Adaptation (BBC, 2008)
Devices and Desires 1989 Commander Jaguar Detective Chief Inspector Terry Rickards of the Norfolk CID[15][16] Sixth TV Adaptation (Anglia, 1991) Second Radio Adaptation (BBC, 1998)
Original Sin 1994 Commander Jaguar Detective Inspector Kate Miskin[17][18]
Detective Inspector Daniel Aaron[19][18]
Detective Sergeant Robbins[20]
Ninth TV Adaptation (Anglia, 1997) NA
A Certain Justice 1997 Commander Jaguar Detective Inspector Kate Miskin[21]
Detective Inspector Piers Tarrant[21]
Detective Sergeant Robbins[22]
Tenth TV Adaptation (Anglia, 1998) Third Radio Adaptation (BBC, 2005)
Death in Holy Orders 2001 Commander Jaguar Detective Inspector Kate Miskin[23]
Detective Inspector Piers Tarrant[23]
Detective Sergeant Robbins[23]
Eleventh TV Adaptation (BBC, 2003) NA
The Murder Room 2003 Commander Detective Inspector Kate Miskin[24]
Detective Inspector Piers Tarrant[24]
Detective Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith[25]
Twelfth TV Adaptation (BBC, 2005) NA
The Lighthouse 2005 Commander Detective Inspector Kate Miskin[26]
Detective Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith[27]
The Private Patient 2008 Commander Jaguar Detective Inspector Kate Miskin[28]
Detective Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith [29]
NA Fifth Radio Adaptation (BBC, 2010)

Short stories[edit]

  • "The Boxdale Inheritance"
  • "The 12 Clues of Christmas"

Related novels[edit]

Cordelia Gray mysteries:

  1. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1972)
  2. The Skull Beneath the Skin (1982)

Recurring characters[edit]


Detective Sergeant Martin is Dalgliesh's partner in Cover Her Face and A Mind to Murder. In Shroud for a Nightingale he partners with Detective Sergeant Masterson. Dalgliesh's first permanent partner was the moody and arrogant Detective Chief Inspector Massingham. Detective Inspector Kate Miskin serves with Dalgliesh and Massingham in Scotland Yard's Special Investigation Squad. In The Lighthouse, Miskin takes over running the investigation when Dalgliesh contracts SARS. She is still a member of Dalgliesh's team at the conclusion of The Private Patient (2008).

DI Daniel Aaron replaces Massingham when Massingham leaves Dalgliesh's squad. Aaron leaves the squad after the events of Original Sin; DI Piers Tarrant is his replacement. When Tarrant is then transferred to Special Branch, squad member DS Francis Benton-Smith (introduced in The Murder Room) replaces him as a viewpoint character. Benton-Smith, the ambitious and good-looking son of English and Indian parents, is at first resented by Kate Miskin, but they develop a good working relationship. Meanwhile, Miskin has a romantic relationship with Piers Tarrant after he leaves the Squad, and they reunite at the end of The Private Patient.

Relatives, friends, and romances[edit]

Jane Dalgliesh is Adam Dalgiesh's aunt and his sole living relative until her death prior to Devices and Desires. Introduced in Unnatural Causes, she is described as a very private and cerebral person, not unlike Dalgliesh himself. She is fond of bird watching and possesses a cottage in Suffolk which she later sells and buys a converted windmill in Norfolk, which Dalgliesh inherits upon her death.

Conrad Ackroyd is one of Dalgliesh's personal friends. He is a member of the Cadaver Club, a private club of crime enthusiasts featured in Unnatural Causes as well as other novels. He is editor and publisher of The Paternoster Review.[30] Ackroyd's connections in the London establishment are often an asset to Dalgliesh.

Deborah Riscoe is one of Dalgliesh's romantic interests; they first meet when a murder shakes Riscoe's home in Cover Her Face; their relationship develops over the course of A Mind to Murder. However, because of Dalgliesh's reluctance to commit, Riscoe ends their relationship via a letter at the conclusion of Unnatural Causes, accepting a transfer to the United States of America.

Emma Lavenham is a lecturer in literature at Cambridge University. She and Dalgleish meet in Death in Holy Orders, develop a relationship during The Murder Room, and, following Dalgliesh's convalescence from SARS on Combe Island (in The Lighthouse), decide to marry, which they do at the end of The Private Patient.

Dalgliesh makes several small appearances in the two novels in the Cordelia Gray series, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and The Skull Beneath the Skin. Cordelia Gray is a private detective and runs a detective agency in Kingsly Street. Dalgliesh is asked to look into the death of Sir Ronald Callender in Cambridge and acquits Gray of any charges. Gray and Dalgliesh stayed in contact, as evidenced by the congratulations card Dalgliesh receives from Gray while convalescing after a successful operation at the beginning of The Black Tower. Gossiping Conrad Ackroyd also remarks on Dalgliesh's being seen dining out with Cordelia in A Taste for Death.



All of James's novels featuring Adam Dalgliesh up to and including The Murder Room have been adapted for television, beginning with Death of an Expert Witness in 1983. The first ten novels (in the order shown below) were adapted by Anglia Television for transmission on the ITV network and starred Roy Marsden as Dalgliesh. The BBC took over the series in 2003, and Martin Shaw played the role in Death in Holy Orders and The Murder Room. The television adaptations have not always been faithful to the novel they dramatise, partly because they are out of chronological order.

ITV Adaptations starring Roy Marsden

  • Death of an Expert Witness (1983): Dalgliesh, assisted by Massingham (played by John Vine), leads the hunt for an elusive strangler in The Fens.
  • Shroud for a Nightingale (1984): Dalgliesh and Massingham (Vine) become entangled in a deadly murder hunt inside a training home for nurses.
  • Cover Her Face (1985): Dalgliesh and Massingham (Vine) follow a young girl and a trail of death to a beautiful country home. Features Mel Martin as Deborah Riscoe.
  • The Black Tower (1985): Mysterious deaths at a rest home and a reckless move in the drugs trade turn into a dice with death for Dalgliesh and Inspector Rouse (David Webb).
  • A Taste for Death (1988): Dalgliesh sets up the Sensitive Crimes Squad and faces an immediate challenge. Featuring Penny Downie as Inspector Kate Miskin.
  • Devices and Desires (1991): Holidaying in Norfolk, Dalgliesh is caught up in a series of murders when he discovers a body. Featuring Tony Haygarth as Chief Inspector Terry Rickards.
  • Unnatural Causes (1993): Dalgliesh and Inspector Gerry Reckless (Kenneth Colley) are drawn into a macabre murder case during investigations into a currency scam.
  • A Mind to Murder (1995): Dalgliesh, assisted by Detective Chief Inspector John Martin (Robert Pugh), is called in following the grotesque murder of a middle-aged woman.
  • Original Sin (1997): Dalgliesh discovers a body whilst investigating a series of alarming hate mail attacks on a poet. Featuring Lizzy McInnerny and Tim Dutton as his assistants Kate Miskin and Daniel Aron.
  • A Certain Justice (1998): Dalgliesh and Kate Miskin (Sarah Winman) become involved in the death of criminal barrister Venetia Aldridge.

BBC adaptations starring Martin Shaw

  • Death in Holy Orders (2003): Dalgliesh and Kate Miskin (Victoria Scarborough) investigate an apparent suicide at Saint Anselm's seminary, which is run by Dalgliesh's old friend, Father Martin Petrie; the coincidence of another death leads to a murder investigation; Dalgliesh meets Emma Lavenham (Janie Dee) and they subsequently begin a relationship.
  • The Murder Room (2005): At the beginning Dalgliesh investigates the murder in the grounds of the Dupayne Museum, of Neville Dupayne; at the end of a mad dash to the railway station, he proposes to Emma Lavenham. Features Tilly Blackwood and William Beck as DI Kate Miskin and DI Piers Tarrant.

Channel 5/Acorn TV adaptation starring Bertie Carvel

A series Dalgliesh starring Bertie Carvel premiered on Acorn TV and Channel 5 in November 2021. It follows Dalgliesh from the 1970s to the present.[31] A second series began airing on Channel 5 in April 2023.[32]

  • Series 1, Episodes 1 & 2: Shroud for a Nightingale: In January 1975, a student nurse dies during a training demonstration and Dalgliesh (Carvel) is sent to investigate, accompanied by his partner DS Charles Masterson (Jeremy Irvine).[33]
  • Series 1, Episodes 3 & 4: The Black Tower: Dalgliesh travels to Dorset to visit his friend Father Michael, but it turns out the man died two weeks earlier. To make things worse, Dalgliesh learns that another resident of the estate died a suspicious death a few weeks before that. Features Carlyss Peer as Kate Miskin.[34]
  • Series 1, Episodes 5 & 6: A Taste for Death: Two dead bodies are discovered in a church - one is a former Member of Parliament, while the other is a local vagrant. The investigation leads Dalgliesh, DS Masterson and DS Miskin into the world of the British nobility, where everyone seems to have secrets.[35]
  • Series 2, Episodes 1 & 2: Death of an Expert Witness: Dalgliesh and Miskin investigate the death of scientist Doctor Edmund Lorrimer at Hoggatt's Forensic Laboratory. Dalgliesh soon learns that the late Doctor was not a popular figure.[32]
  • Series 2, Episodes 3 & 4: A Certain Justice: Dalgliesh investigates the murder of defence barrister Venetia Aldridge. Could a client for whom she recently secured an acquittal be involved in her death?[36][37]
  • Series 2, Episodes 5 & 6: The Murder Room: A young doctor is set on fire in the grounds of his family museum. Everyone who works there comes under suspicion - including his own siblings.[38][39]

BBC Radio[edit]

Five of the Dalgliesh novels have been dramatised by Neville Teller for BBC Radio 4. Robin Ellis played Dalgliesh in Cover Her Face (1993; miscredited as Robert Ellis by the BBC announcer) and Devices and Desires (1998). Phillip Franks played the role in A Certain Justice (2005). Dalgliesh was then played by Richard Derrington in A Taste for Death (2008) and The Private Patient (2010).


  1. ^ James, P. D. (1999). Time to Be in Earnest. London: Faber and Faber. p. 48. ISBN 057120094X.
  2. ^ James, P. D. (17 April 2012). Cover Her Face: An Adam Dalgliesh Mystery. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4516-9777-3.
  3. ^ a b c d Young, Laurel A. (9 June 2017). P.D. James: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-2890-5.
  4. ^ James, P. D. (17 April 2012). A Mind to Murder. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4516-9778-0.
  5. ^ a b James, P. D. (31 July 2001). Unnatural Causes. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-1959-4.
  6. ^ James, P. D. (17 April 2012). Shroud for a Nightingale. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4516-9779-7.
  7. ^ a b James, P. D. (17 April 2012). The Black Tower: An Adam Dalgliesh Mystery - P.D. James - Google Boeken. ISBN 9781451697803. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  8. ^ a b James, P. D. (17 April 2012). The Black Tower: An Adam Dalgliesh Mystery. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4516-9780-3.
  9. ^ James, P. D. (4 September 2008). Death of an Expert Witness. Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-24685-4.
  10. ^ James, P. D. (1986). A Taste for Death, London: Faber & Faber, p. 405.
  11. ^ James, P. D. (20 November 2008). A Taste for Death. ISBN 9780571248667.
  12. ^ Young, Laurel A. (9 June 2017). P.D. James: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction. ISBN 9781476628905.
  13. ^ James, P. D. (20 November 2008). A Taste for Death. ISBN 9780571248667.
  14. ^ "DETECTIVES' SIDEKICKS; A Taste for Fidelity". The New York Times. 3 June 1990.
  15. ^ James, P. D. (20 November 2008). Devices and Desires. ISBN 9780571248674.
  16. ^ "Orange Coast Magazine". April 1990.
  17. ^ James, P. D. (20 November 2008). Original Sin. ISBN 9780571248698.
  18. ^ a b Keen, Suzanne (January 2003). Romances of the Archive in Contemporary British Fiction. ISBN 9780802086846.
  19. ^ James, P. D. (20 November 2008). Original Sin. ISBN 9780571248698.
  20. ^ James, P. D. (20 November 2008). "Original Sin". Faber & Faber. Retrieved 25 June 2023 – via Google Books.
  21. ^ a b James, P. D. (20 November 2008). A Certain Justice. Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571248704. Retrieved 25 June 2023 – via Google Books.
  22. ^ James, P. D. (20 November 2008). A Certain Justice. Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571248704. Retrieved 25 June 2023 – via Google Books.
  23. ^ a b c James, P. D. (4 September 2008). Death in Holy Orders. Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571247011. Retrieved 25 June 2023 – via Google Books.
  24. ^ a b James, P. D. (4 September 2008). The Murder Room. Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571247035. Retrieved 25 June 2023 – via Google Books.
  25. ^ James, P. D. (4 September 2008). The Murder Room. ISBN 9780571247035.
  26. ^ James, P. D. (4 September 2008). The Lighthouse. ISBN 9780571247042.
  27. ^ James, P. D. (4 September 2008). The Lighthouse. ISBN 9780571247042.
  28. ^ James, P. D. (4 September 2008). The Private Patient. ISBN 9780571246793.
  29. ^ James, P. D. (4 September 2008). The Private Patient. ISBN 9780571246793.
  30. ^ James, P. D. (1986). A Taste for Death, London: Faber & Faber.
  31. ^ Kanter, Jake (20 October 2020). "Acorn TV & Channel 5 To Adapt P.D. James' Inspector Dalgliesh Mysteries With Bertie Carvel Starring". Deadline. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  32. ^ a b "Death of an Expert Witness - Part 1". IMDb.
  33. ^ "Shroud for a Nightingale - Part One". IMDb.
  34. ^ "The Black Tower - Part One". IMDb.
  35. ^ "A Taste for Death - Part One". IMDb.
  36. ^ "A Certain Justice - Part 1". IMDb.
  37. ^ "My5".
  38. ^ "The Murder Room - Part 1". IMDb.
  39. ^ "My5".

Further reading[edit]

  • Hubly, Erlene. "Adam Dalgliesh: Byronic Hero." Clues: A Journal of Detection 3: 40-46.
  • Kotker, Joan G. "PD James's Adam Dalgliesh Series." in In the Beginning: First Novels in Mystery Series (1995): 139+

External links[edit]