Shroud for a Nightingale

by P. D. James

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Characters Discussed

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Adam Dalgliesh

Adam Dalgliesh, the protagonist, chief superintendent of New Scotland Yard. He is as renowned for remaining dispassionate as for solving cases rapidly. A reserved, introspective man who has published two books of poetry, he nevertheless insists that all considerations of privacy must cede before a criminal investigation. His moral indignation over murder does not undermine either his judicious examination of witnesses and evidence or his confident bearing in the alien world of John Carpendar Hospital. Eventually, weakened but undeterred by a serious head wound received in an ambush, Dalgliesh confronts the nurse he believes to be guilty, even without proof. The end of the case leaves him disheartened rather than triumphant.

Charles Masterson

Charles Masterson, Dalgliesh’s handsome subordinate, a complacent and ambitious detective sergeant who resents his superior’s self-discipline and aloofness. Crassly calculating in his sexual pursuit of Julia Pardoe, one of the nurses, he also earns Dalgliesh’s reproof for cruelty toward an elderly female witness he interviews in London. Masterson ably backs up Dalgliesh, whose experience and intuition win his grudging respect.

Mary Taylor

Mary Taylor, the matron of John Carpendar Hospital’s nurse training school. Enjoying the same confidence and excellent reputation in her field as Dalgliesh does in his, the attractive Mary Taylor impresses Dalgliesh from the first as an intellectual equal, one who reflects his own dedication and cool detachment. The night of the second murder, she is abroad at a conference. When she returns to find the police on the scene, she acts quickly and efficiently to facilitate the investigation.

Sister Ethel Brumfett

Sister Ethel Brumfett, the second in command at Nightingale House. This stolid, shrewd-eyed woman obsessed with her supervision of the private ward is also—to Dalgliesh’s considerable surprise—the matron’s intimate friend of twenty years. Her eventual confession to double murder leaves some troubling loose ends.

Sister Hilda Rolfe

Sister Hilda Rolfe, the principal tutor, a discontented, abrasive senior nurse who stays at Nightingale because of her unrequited love for the student Julia Pardoe.

Sister Mavis Gearing

Sister Mavis Gearing, a clinical instructor, the third senior nurse. She is a naïve, effusive woman who regularly entertains the married pharmacist and is flirtatiously cooperative with Dalgliesh.

Dr. Stephen Courtney-Briggs

Dr. Stephen Courtney-Briggs, the senior consultant surgeon, an arrogant, worldly man who condescends to everyone, including Dalgliesh, and resents the police inquiry.

Heather Pearce

Heather Pearce, an unpopular student nurse who dies horribly during a demonstration of intragastric feeding; her stomach is burned with carbolic acid. A hypocrite and a would-be blackmailer, Pearce was about to make the most of her discovery that one of the Nightingale personnel had been a Nazi war criminal.

Josephine Fallon

Josephine Fallon, an intelligent loner, older than the other students, who originally was scheduled to receive the intragastric feeding. The autopsy after her death from nicotine poisoning reveals that she was three months pregnant, perhaps by Dr. Courtney-Griggs.

Madeleine Goodale

Madeleine Goodale, an efficient, sensible student nurse whose brightness appeals to Dalgliesh and whose friendship with Fallon made her heir to sixteen thousand pounds, providing possible motive for murder.

Julia Pardoe

Julia Pardoe, the attractive student who juggles the attentions of Hilda Rolfe and Charles Masterson.

Morag Smith

Morag Smith, a backward maid who feels persecuted by the local police but responds to Dalgliesh’s courtesy. She eventually saves him from an assailant.

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