Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

A classic whodunit, Shroud for a Nightingale traces an investigation by Chief Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh into the sudden deaths of two students in the virtually all-female world of Nightingale House, the nurses’ training school at the John Carpendar Hospital. The book opens in bleak winter with the spectacularly public, grisly poisoning—during a training inspector’s visit—of Heather Pearce, the student taking the role of the patient in a demonstration of stomach-tube feeding. In the second chapter, Jo Fallon, the nurse whom Pearce replaced at the last moment, dies quietly in bed after drinking a poisoned whiskey nightcap. The remaining six chapters of the story detail Dalgliesh’s careful probing of this closed community’s secrets with the help of his subordinate, Masterson, with whom he has a civil but not cordial working relationship.

Introduced into the narrative in pensive reflection over the second corpse, Dalgliesh moves swiftly to a formal interrogation of Nightingale House’s inhabitants. It is primarily through his eyes that the investigation unfolds, although the story also offers selective access to the consciousness of several other characters, including Masterson, the matron (Mary Taylor), and Rolfe. As Dalgliesh and Masterson interview the variously garrulous, wary, or indifferent suspects, they discover plentiful motives among revelations of adultery, abortion, homosexuality, and blackmail. Against this backdrop,...

(The entire section is 469 words.)