Shroud for a Nightingale

Shroud for a Nightingale - P.D. James [These ntoes were made in 1988:]. Given that I read this shortly after having surgery, a real shudder-inducer for me. It's set in a hospital, where a student nurse is painfully murdered while acting as the "patient" in a demonstration. Shortly thereafter, another student nurse dies, apparently by suicide, but it is at this point that Adam Dalgliesh is called in. The cast of sharply delineated characters includes a dignified matron to whom Dalgliesh unwillingly finds himself rather attracted, a dedicated nurse of the old school, best friend of the matron, a lesbian nursing instructor, an obnoxious and self-confident surgeon with a penchant for the ladies, and an illiterate serving maid called Morag! (This last creature actually propositions Superintendent Dalgliesh -- am I pleased?) Then there are other nursing students of various stripes. Rather as in Allingham's Dancers in Mourning, we are led down the garden path until the very last moment, although a little more subtly. The distant past also haunts one of the characters in this novel: one of the teaching nurses was employed in a Nazi hospital during the war, although at her trial she was exonerated from the atrocities carried on there. We are led to believe that Sister Brumfett, the duteous nurse of the old school, was this unhappy woman, and that, as a consequence of blackmail by the first student nurse to be killed, committed the murders. That is half right. She did kill the students, but out of loyalty and affection for the matron, who is the one with the shady past. Unlike Campion in Allingham's book, Dalgliesh is not surprised by the twist in events. He is, after all, a bit more of an omniscient figure. James is very noticeably neutral on the matter of lesbianism: she reports the progress (or rather non-progress) of Sister Rolfe's affair with a hard young thing with almost clinical detachment. It's an appropriate tone for this clinical book, which I must admit I found rather chilling.