Shroud for a Nightingale

Shroud for a Nightingale

Hailed as “mystery at its best” by The New York Times, Shroud for a Nightingale is the fourth book in bestselling author P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh mystery series.The young women of Nightingale House are there to learn to nurse and comfort the suffering. But when one of the students plays patient in a demonstration of nursing skills, she is horribly, brutally killed. Anot...

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Title:Shroud for a Nightingale
Author:P.D. James
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Edition Language:English

Shroud for a Nightingale Reviews

  • Susan

    This is the fourth book in the Adam Dalgliesh series. I have recently been re-reading these novels and, although I have enjoyed the previous books, this certainly represents a seeming increase in ability and confidence in the writing and storyline. “Shroud for a Nightingale,” is set in a nurse training school and P D James worked for the NHS for many years, so it is an environment she would have been extremely familiar with.

    The story begins with Miss Muriel Beale, an Inspector who is setting out

    This is the fourth book in the Adam Dalgliesh series. I have recently been re-reading these novels and, although I have enjoyed the previous books, this certainly represents a seeming increase in ability and confidence in the writing and storyline. “Shroud for a Nightingale,” is set in a nurse training school and P D James worked for the NHS for many years, so it is an environment she would have been extremely familiar with.

    The story begins with Miss Muriel Beale, an Inspector who is setting out for the day of the John Carpendar Hospital inspection. Her first impression, on arriving at the impressive Nightingale House, is that it is highly unsuitable for a nurse training school. However, the inspection begins with a demonstration by the student nurses and, during this, there is a death. When another student nurse is killed, Adam Dalgliesh is called in to solve the crimes.

    This is an assured mystery, with a closed community and a great cast of characters; from the arrogant surgeon, Mr Stephen Courtney Briggs to super efficient matron, Mary Taylor and the Sisters and Nurses who live and work in Nightingale House. There is little privacy in Nightingale House and Dalgliesh soon gets to hear of the affairs, petty squabbles and secrets that abound in the hospital. As he delves into the past of the inhabitants of Nightingale House, he uncovers the truth, and James gives us an assured, intelligent mystery with a great range of suspects and motives.

  • Quirkyreader

    This was another great Adam Dalgliesh story. I am taking the series slow so that I can enjoy what P.D. James left us.

    This story takes place at a nurses training school. A place that is full of secrets and lies.

    Read this story and see why James was an award winning crime author.

  • Rachel

    I had heard of P.D. James before but had never read any of her works, and I didn't really know she wrote mysteries. So I was quite pleasantly surprised by

    --so much so that I've since read another James and am onto a third.

    is a great caper, written in the 70s. I think it's aged extremely well; in fact, I think the whole plot and setting is made all the more creepy and ominous by the somewhat antiquated medical procedures that figure prominently in the plot. I defy

    I had heard of P.D. James before but had never read any of her works, and I didn't really know she wrote mysteries. So I was quite pleasantly surprised by

    --so much so that I've since read another James and am onto a third.

    is a great caper, written in the 70s. I think it's aged extremely well; in fact, I think the whole plot and setting is made all the more creepy and ominous by the somewhat antiquated medical procedures that figure prominently in the plot. I defy anyone to come up with something inherently scarier than a British nursing school in the 70s where all the nurses where classic nurse uniforms, the school itself is something of a gothic mansion, and even relatively routine medical procedures like inserting a feeding tube take on an intensely macabre character. Good times.

    I am not a good mystery reader in that I can never figure anything out until the author reveals it. Actually, I don't know whether that makes me a poor reader or whether it makes James something of an evil genius. Either way, I like the suspense of it all!

  • Lobstergirl

    Student nurses are dropping dead at the Nightingale nurse training school. Does someone there harbor a secret past? (Hint: yes.) Published in 1971, this is James's fourth novel, and of these, her most robust and satisfying. It feels miles away from her earlier, Christie-esque stylings. You wouldn't find a passage like this in any of her first three, for example:

    Student nurses are dropping dead at the Nightingale nurse training school. Does someone there harbor a secret past? (Hint: yes.) Published in 1971, this is James's fourth novel, and of these, her most robust and satisfying. It feels miles away from her earlier, Christie-esque stylings. You wouldn't find a passage like this in any of her first three, for example:

    It still has an antique feel, though, for a book published in 1971. It has 1950s gender sensibilities (the assumption that a woman, once married, will end her career or her studies), it has that obsession with spinsters so irresistible to British mystery writers ("she was a thin, brown-skinned woman, brittle and nobbly as a dead branch who looked as if the sap had long since dried in her bones"), and it still features the generalized misanthropy that Christie seemed to bequeath to the genre; nearly all the suspects are hateful, bitter, or piteous in some way.

    Perhaps the most appealing aspect of

    is that Inspector Dalgliesh becomes a fully-realized character: chilly, exacting, self-aware, with large reserves of self-esteem and compassion; thoroughly likeable. An intriguing side character is Dalgliesh's second-in-command, the horny and resentful Masterson.

  • Abbey

    1971, #4 Supt. Adam Dalgleish, Scotland Yard, Nightingale House, just outside London. Nursing students living in a creepy old hospital building find murder and lots of intrigue; erudite, old-fashioned closed-community/manor house style mystery but with interesting modern (~1970) twists and a bit of then-relevant British history; classic cosy police procedural.

    Nursing "sisters" are an alien breed to most US folks, but if you've read or watched a lot of British-set mysteries you'll have a bit of u

    1971, #4 Supt. Adam Dalgleish, Scotland Yard, Nightingale House, just outside London. Nursing students living in a creepy old hospital building find murder and lots of intrigue; erudite, old-fashioned closed-community/manor house style mystery but with interesting modern (~1970) twists and a bit of then-relevant British history; classic cosy police procedural.

    Nursing "sisters" are an alien breed to most US folks, but if you've read or watched a lot of British-set mysteries you'll have a bit of understanding how their ranking system for nurses and doctors works; the plot of this intricate mystery is closely woven around this, with the information presented slowly and interestingly. The systems of training in British hospitals of the period is the center for this murder mystery, and James shows not only her familiarity with the Health Service and many of its ramifications (she worked for them for many years and was, I think, still working for them when she wrote this). But don't be put off by this - the plot is a very good (if convoluted) one, the characters remarkably fine, and the overall writing while a mite florid in spots is beautifully done.

    James is one of my favorite writers, and I've reread most of her books several times; this time I listened to SHROUD in audio, read by Michael Jayston, courtesy of my library. He's a smooth, excellent reader, and this was very enjoyable. And now to the plot...

    An almost-graduated nursing student is killed while playing the patient in a demonstration/instruction lecture before a visiting VIP. It might have been suicide - the girl was extremely religious, temperamental, moody, and prone to extremes of behavior - much of it rather unforgiving, and some of it perhaps illegal. As the local police work their way through the suspect list and information they've gathered, no real conclusion is reached and the case goes cold. But before too long another student is dead under suspicious circumstances, and the "coincidence" is too much for one high-powered doctor connected with the training facility to endure. He calls Scotland Yard himself, and Adam Dalgleish is assigned to the case, along with Sargent Masterson, a young, not exactly raw (but not far removed from it either) policeman with a slight tendency for bullying witnesses. He's got a lot to learn.

    This is an intricately woven story of power and the power of forgiveness - or not, as the case may be. Involving medical - and personal - politics in the late 1960s and a bit of recent British history, the main focus is upon five increasingly interesting young women and their teachers, the nursing Sisters. Each Sister is very clearly presented and followed through the story, along with most of the students as well. James has a facility for showing us the workings of people's minds and their interactions with others. Here she uses that approach in a lot of detail but it never becomes quite slow - the information given is always pertinent, always at least "curious..." if not always immediately easy to understand where it falls within the plot.

    Written in a completely classic style this may seem a bit slow-moving for modern tastes, but is downright explosive when compared with earlier, similar, stories. I've recently been reading Mignon Eberhart's nursing mysteries from the 1930s, and if you want "slow-moving thriller" (not *exactly* an oxymoron...), then her earliest work is for you! But while Eberhart was entertaining, James is an overall much better writer, and it is fascinating to see here how little of the attitudes towards nurses and their craft had changed in the intervening forty years. And while outside of the small-hospital environment (the nurses live-in, and don't spend much time in The Real World) things are changing rapidly in the social sense, here the ethos is of an older Britain even in 1970 - the values are traditional, the plotting traditional, the writing style traditional. But not stuffy, not at all boring.

    There are chase scenes, murders-in-progress, a couple of nasty assaults, one or two very funny set-pieces (particularly Sargent Masterson's involvement with a ballroom dancing contestant...) and a lot of suspense and gloomy forboding along with really superb characterizations. And the ending exposition while a bit slow in spots is fascinating, and absolutely beautifully done, weaving in every little thread and bit of earlier-presented information we'd been given, while still making us/allowing us to "feel for" the people involved. Really fine writing.

    If all you've read of James' writing is her post-1990 books, then give yourself a nice treat and read some of her earlier works - she was first published in 1962. Her earliest novels are smoothly written, very well-plotted, and within a couple of books her characterizations move from "decent" to "very good", and become brilliant by her middle period (~1980s). This 1970 story is an excellent mystery in and of itself, and although IMO it's not her very best, it's still head and shoulders above that of most mystery writers from the period, and comparable to some of the best then (last 1960s, early 1970s) writing in that classic style in the UK (i.e., Catherine Aird, Ruth Rendell, Ellis Peters, Sara Woods, Charlotte Armstrong, Christianna Brand...) and the US (Margaret Millar, Amanda Cross, Elizabeth Peters, Sarah Caudwell, Emma Lathen...).

    James obviously read and admired Christie, as did most women readers (and writers!) of her generation. Early on in her career you can easily see how Christie and Sayers et. al. have influenced her. But James then goes on to actually improve upon their writing style, at least IMO, becoming one of the best current practitioners of the "traditional style" mystery now living and still writing. As she's extremely elderly now, I suspect she won't be publishing much more in the future, alas. So savor her earlier works if and when you can - while quite old-fashioned they're still a treat!

    SHROUD FOR A NIGHTINGALE may not be her very best novel, but it's an extremely good one, and I highly recommended it to your attention.

  • Rebecca

    Hooked me in. Was an engaging mystery but it was nowhere as cozy as a Christie. Sometimes was a bit disturbing even...

  • springsnotfail

    I was reading this, and it was all about par for the course for PD James - you know, unpleasant people, beautiful writing, OTT foreshadowings of horror to come, rather odd emphasis on period architecture - when suddenly it was all UNEXPECTED DANCE COMPETITION SURPRISE NAZIS. I would never have thought that any author could make the revelation of surprise Nazis during a tense and angry tango incredibly depressing, but PD James managed it. Well done.

  • Keith Davis

    I believe it was Red Skelton who said that to be a writer you have to be a close observer of human nature, but not so close that you start to hate everyone. P.D. James seems to frequently drift across the line into hating everybody. The men in James' world tend to be pompous, self-absorbed, preening narcissists, but they are almost nice compared to the women. The women are often petty, manipulative, mean-spirited and deliberately cruel.

    Shroud for a Nightingale is about a series of murders at a

    I believe it was Red Skelton who said that to be a writer you have to be a close observer of human nature, but not so close that you start to hate everyone. P.D. James seems to frequently drift across the line into hating everybody. The men in James' world tend to be pompous, self-absorbed, preening narcissists, but they are almost nice compared to the women. The women are often petty, manipulative, mean-spirited and deliberately cruel.

    Shroud for a Nightingale is about a series of murders at a small nursing school in rural England. It is about a group of women who work and live together in a rather small space and a veneer of niceness covers a lot of animosity. It is a solid mystery with a number of twists and misleads. Readers familiar with the conventions of the mystery genre may guess the solution, but I think James here is more interested in exploring the dark corners of her characters than with presenting a puzzle.

  • Esme

    I waver between 3 and four stars. PD James writes masterful mysteries that are intelligent and interesting. But those are the only levels on which they will effect you. I don't find myself relating or particularly liking the protagonist- he's very intelligent and you can respect him, you just don't care that much- you don't get attached to the recurring characters. I honestly don't think you are supposed to really. I think PD James set out to write exactly the type of mystery I described in the

    I waver between 3 and four stars. PD James writes masterful mysteries that are intelligent and interesting. But those are the only levels on which they will effect you. I don't find myself relating or particularly liking the protagonist- he's very intelligent and you can respect him, you just don't care that much- you don't get attached to the recurring characters. I honestly don't think you are supposed to really. I think PD James set out to write exactly the type of mystery I described in the second sentence. And sometimes that is exactly the type of book/mystery that I want, a puzzle for your mind, not a story for your heart. That being said, that type of book won't ever get 5 stars from me no matter how skilled the writing because it's not the life altering kind of book, nor the: I read the whole series in 3 days...couldn't stop...cried when....type of book, if you know what I mean. But it is definitely a good satisfying mystery, as are many of hers that I have read.

  • Erin

    My grandmother left this for my mother to read, and bored, I started it waiting for her in the car. Boredom, too, is the only reason I can give for my finishing it -- I was mesmerized by how entirely

    it was, both the story and the literary style.

    I don't read mysteries, and essentially all of my related presumptions are based on Cluedo and The Westing Game, but even compared to those, Shroud for a Nightingale is kind of a dud. So two student nurses are killed, the Scotland Yard is c

    My grandmother left this for my mother to read, and bored, I started it waiting for her in the car. Boredom, too, is the only reason I can give for my finishing it -- I was mesmerized by how entirely

    it was, both the story and the literary style.

    I don't read mysteries, and essentially all of my related presumptions are based on Cluedo and The Westing Game, but even compared to those, Shroud for a Nightingale is kind of a dud. So two student nurses are killed, the Scotland Yard is called in, and the blurb promises that "a secret medical world of sex, shame, and scandal is about to be exposed." But most of the book is spent discussing hospital administration. This was vaguely interesting, just for the differences in American / British terminology (senior nurses are called "Sisters"), but not exactly riveting fiction. Also, a lot of text is spent on meticulous descriptions of people's faces (spoiler: most of them are ugly), and my copy was lousy with typos.

    To reiterate, I'm not a mystery aficionado, but this story's tedious 287 pages are topped only by its even more disappointing solution, supported by some very dull clues (a big plot point concerns a missing library book) and ultimately a left-field "character's dark past" explanation that renders the deduction leading up to it rather pointless. So maybe don't read Shroud for a Nightingale, even to relive severe ennui, as the book will just cause more yawns itself.

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