I just returned from our book discussion group at our local public library where the book under discussion was Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D. James. Granted, this is a general reading group so not everyone there is a hard-core mystery fanatic like me but I was surprised to find that I was the only one that liked the book and the writing style of P.D. James.
Shroud for a Nightingale is set in a nursing school attached to a hospital outside of London somewhere. The school itself is housed in an old Victorian mansion on the grounds of the hospital which is acknowledged from the beginning to be a very poor building for the school. But for us as readers, it adds wonderful atmosphere. And when it comes to books, I'm all about the atmosphere.
During a teaching demonstration of how to insert a feeding tube, a student nurse is somehow fed poison instead of the milk she is supposed to be given and dies on the table. She is not a student that anyone will miss. When another student dies two weeks later, Inspector Dalgleish of Scotland Yard is called in.
The course of this investigation uncovers many, many secrets that the inhabitants of Nightingale House did not want coming to light but which of them was someone willing to kill for? This story has suspects, red herrings and motives galore. How Dalgleish sorts them out to find the killer is a top-notch detective story.
One of the themes of the book is how much people like power and what they will do to get and hold on to it. It's a fascinating study in how even small amounts of power over others can go to a person's head.
Compared to Agatha Christie, a P.D. James novel is a much denser, heavier read. Her books remind me of the turkey at a Thanksgiving dinner while Christie would be the pumpkin pie with whipped cream. I can pick up Christie and enjoy her books anytime at all. I have to decide to read a P.D. James. But her books, and this one in particular, are worth the time and effort.