PD James is a wonderful writer, often underrated and forgotten these days, but the quality of the writing in her Adam Dalgliesh crime novels is wonderful. Which is why I dived into this for some escapism from a coronavirus world – wrong move! Firstly, the hospital where this novel is set is called Nightingale House (just like the field hospitals being set up round the country). Secondly, it’s set at the time of a flu epidemic! Double fail.
Anyway, it’s wonderfully crafted stuff – after two nurses die in the teaching hospital, Dalgliesh is called in to try and work out what has been going on. Which involves working his way round a cast of characters and wheedling out details from them – and very successful he is at it too; from the sisters to the nurse trainees to the consultants and the matron herself. Clues, red herrings and any number of authorial breadcrumbs are dropped liberally to lead us astray or towards a denouement.
What I enjoyed most about the book, once I’d got over the references to the current situation, is the way that James takes her time. That doesn’t mean it is boring at all – the plot is moving along – but she allows things to unfurl and reveal themselves: the place, the characters, the relationships and connections, the shadows and shades of grey. It’s beautifully controlled and crafted stuff.
In an era of Jack Reacher punching people in the face after his twelfth coffee of the day, it’s nice to slow down a bit with a wily poet-policeman who understands what makes people tick, and that digging down beneath the surface is the way to bring things into the light. Lovely stuff.
BUY IT NOW: Shroud for a Nightingale (Adam Dalgliesh Book 4)