Shroud For A Nightingale by P. D. James

‘Shroud for a Nightingale’ is P.D. James’s 4th Dalgliesh novel and is set in a nurse training hospital located in an old gloomy Victorian mansion. Totally inappropriate for the purpose, but not quite bad enough to pull down and replace.

The third year student nurses are carrying out a demonstration which involves the use of a gastric feeding tube. When the nurse playing the patient that day dies in agony, it is discovered that a caustic cleaning fluid was used to replace the milk in the feed.

Nurse Pearce was not very well liked by the sisters and the other student nurses, and some even had reason to actively dislike her. But, was her death a silly prank gone wrong, was nurse Fallon (rostered to be the patient that day) the intended target, or was Pearce murdered?

When nurse Fallon is found poisoned two weeks later, Dalgliesh is called in to investigate the two deaths.

The nurses – students, senior nurses and matron are a fairly unlikeable bunch. They live in close proximity to each other and know a bit too much about each other. I think I would have been happy for any of them or the consultant surgeon to be the murderer. Inspector Adam Dalgleish and his assistant – Masterton aren’t terribly pleasant characters in this novel either.

Dalgliesh and Masterton eventually uncover the secrets that have led to the two young nurses being murdered, but not before another life is lost.


The entire novel was very cleverly put together. P.D. James has a way of evoking emotion in the reader and of making the atmosphere in the story very real. A lot of the ideas were very old-fashioned (imagine having to give up nursing if you got married) and some of the plot was a bit overused (but this was probably the book that invented it). On the whole I found this a very enjoyable novel and I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series – ‘The Black Tower’.


Book Published 1971


See a full list of books by P.D. James

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