Thursday, 28 June 2007

Shroud for a Nightingale - P D James

Shroud for a Nightingale is my favourite P D James murder mystery that I've read to date. Set in a residential teaching hospital, appropriately named Nightingale House, one of the student nurses is dies horribly when she is fed corrosive poison in a teaching demonstration that goes wrong. The police and her fellow students are left to ponder the equally unlikely options of accident, suicide or murder. But then a second student dies an unnatural death and although the connection between the two is far from clear, Superintendent Dalgliesh from Scotland Yard has to discover the killer(s).

Like all of P D James' novels, this was an easy and engaging read, perfect for passing away a few dull hours on the tram. In addition to the mystery, James paints a fascinating picture of nursing as a profession in transition in the late 1960s - aided by her extensive personal knowledge and experience (P D James worked in hospital administration from 1940-early 1960s and then in the criminal section of the Department of Home Affairs). While some of the older nurses regarded nursing as a vocation and some of the students saw it as a stepping stone before marriage, others were fighting to professionalise the career and ensure the next generation received proper formal instruction as well as on-the-job training.

As always, there is a satisfying range of motives and personalities to confuse and mislead the reader, as well as the highly intelligent but ultimately human Superintendent Dalgliesh. Definitely worth reading.

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