SHROUD FOR A NIGHTINGALE
P.D. James

 


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Faber & Faber/Allen & Unwin, new edition March 2006
Reviewed by Sally Roddom

Nightingale House is where a group of third year student nurses live while they learn the art of nursing. During a routine inspection of the nursing school by the General Nursing Council a horrible death occurs. One of the students, Heather Pearce, who is playing the part of the patient during a demonstration, is internally fed bathroom disinfectant instead of milk and dies thrashing on the floor in front of a classroom. Jo Fallon was rostered to be the patient; however, she was taken ill at the last minute and Heather Pearce was a substitute. Was the victim supposed to be Fallon? A few days later, another nurse is found dead in her bed. This time Jo Fallon is the victim, and poison is the method. Chief Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh is called in to solve the murders.

Nightingale House is a great setting for a murder; it is surrounded by large trees, with a dark road thickly lined by trees leading from the hospital to the nurses' home. The house itself is a Victorian monstrosity described by the author as "red bricked, castellated, overly ornate, with four huge turrets". This is one of P. D. James' earlier works, and as she was a nurse during the WWII she is able to depict the life of a nurse from personal experience. The pecking order within the hospital hierarchy is described beautifully. Being an early work, it makes it possible to see how James started to develop her trademark style of allowing the reader to see why all the main suspects had a reason to kill, but SHROUD FOR A NIGHTINGALE doesn't let us into the mind of the suspects like she has with her later books. Dalgliesh is not quite as developed as a character as he is in later books, but the basics are there. I love P.D. James's attention to detail her descriptions bring the locations vividly to mind. There are lots of red herrings I changed my mind a couple of times before I got to the end only to find I wasn't even close. She never fails to produce clever, unexpected solutions, and a dramatically satisfying ending, and this novel is no different.

Feb 2007 review originally published on Murder & Mayhem

 

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