Shroud for a Nightingale is the fourth book in P.D. James’ mystery series featuring Adam Dalgliesh, a Scotland Yard detective and published poet. P.D. James, who died last year at 94, was one of the greatest mystery authors of all time. She offers psychological insight into her characters, who have more depth than those of some of her predecessors. Some readers might find her style, which includes much description of characters and settings, slow-paced, and I admit it took me a long time to learn to appreciate her. But once you do, her books are hard to put down. Although Shroud for a Nightingale is not the first book in the series, it is fine to start with it. It takes place in a nursing school located in Nightingale House, a spooky Victorian mansion, in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Two student nurses are murdered. The first victim, Nurse Pearce, dies while playing the patient during a demonstration of intra-gastric feeding. The second victim, Nurse Fallon, dies in her bed after her nighttime whisky drink is poisoned. At first, people think the first death might have been a practical joke gone wrong and the second death might have been a suicide, or that Pearce was killed in Fallon’s place, since Fallon was supposed to have played the patient that day. But Dalgliesh is convinced both deaths were murders, and he is determined to find who was responsible. His investigation uncovers many secrets in the lives of the students and the senior nurses, who are called “Sisters”. It turns out that practically everyone in Nightingale House had a motive, and the mystery kept me guessing until the end.
Although it was written in 1971, Shroud for a Nightingale does not seem especially dated to me, except for the lack of computers and cell phones, and the attitude that a woman was expected to give up her career when she got married. Some reviewers have said the medical procedures described in the book are out of date, which is probably true. But P.D. James had great insight into human nature, and that has not changed.
Shroud for a Nightingale is available from the Hatcher Graduate Library.