This is an early CID Adam Dalgliesh of the Scotland Yard mystery that opens with a nurse, Miss Beale, an Inspector of Nurse Training Schools to the General Nursing Council goes to Heatheringfield, England, out in the country where the John Carpenter Hospital has been since 1792. The nursing school is in the Nightingale House, an old haunted Victorian House that, in many people's opinions, is quite inappropriate for a nursing school in that the windows, while pretty, do not allow enough light in, and it is drafty and the rooms are not the optimal sizes for what is required. Miss Beale is quite good at her job and at having the ability to size up people rather accurately.
Now, let me take a moment to explain the medical community in England at that time. I have no idea how it is now, but if you do, please feel free to comment below. In nursing, you go from Nurse to Sister, if you head up a ward or become a teacher, and then, if you are lucky and become head of the hospital nursing staff, you are called a Matron. The highest a non-nurse can achieve is a surgeon, which are referred to as Mr. A Dr. is a step below that and is generally a simple general practitioner. Those that are a Mr. look down upon those that are mere Drs. as being inferior and less knowledgeable.
Miss Beale is there with Sister Rolfe, a middle-aged nurse there, Mr. Courtney-Briggs, a surgeon, and Matron Taylor, who has a reputation for excellence to the point that some wonder why she doesn't head up a place in London. Some people, thinks Miss Beale, may not want to live in London. The clinical instructor, Sister Gearing, is filling in as a teacher because a bout of flu has hit the hospital and many nurses are in bed with it, including Nurse Fallon, who was supposed to act as patient for the demonstration of insertion of a gastric tube and pouring what will be milk for their purposes down the throat. Nurse Pearce is instead acting as the patient and Miss Beale notices that she seems rather scared, but later puts it down to not liking being the patient when others inform her that she is always like that. The other student nurses present are: Nurse Dakers, a conscientious girl who knew her facts and was hard working; the Burnt twins, who were performing the procedure and were seen as rather competent; Nurse Goodale, whom Miss Beale sees as quite an excellent student; Nurse Pardoe, a girl who is too pretty for her own good; Nurse Harper, a sullen girl.
As soon as the milk goes down the tube and hits Nurse Pearce's stomach, she jumps up gagging and Matron Taylor yanks the tube from her throat. However, it is too late. Even with all the medical help right there, she dies of poisoning from the disinfectant wash that had been put in the milk bottle. No one knows what to make of this. Was it a murder attempt, and if so upon whom? Nurse Fallon was supposed to be the patient, but everyone seems to have known that she was in the hospital with the flu. Someone did see her that morning running from the school, which is odd, considering she had a temperature of 103 degrees. What could she possibly have needed so badly that she had to come back? Nurse Pearce was not very well liked. She was rather pious and holier-than-thou. It wasn't that she was religious; you could accept that about a person, but rather that she saw herself as a judge over others. She was known to have blackmailed others and believed in the punishment fitting the crime.
The police believe it was a complete accident and do nothing. Nurse Harper leaves. She is engaged to be married and her father was only indulging her by letting her go to nursing school when she was never going to practice. Then, on the night that Nurse Fallon returns from the hospital, the twins wake up to go and get a drink of cocoa at around 2am and see Sister Bremfett, the ward nurse who is known to drag patients kicking and screaming from the jaws of death, whether they want it or not, and takes it as a personal affront when a patient dies. She has just come from the hospital where one of Mr. Courtney-Briggs's patients had a relapse and had to have surgery, so she went to set the patient up for the night. They also notice the light under Fallon's door and think about asking her for a cup of cocoa, but realize that Fallon, a private person, might not appreciate a disturbance.
The next morning at breakfast, no one has seen Fallon, so Nurse Drakers goes up to check on her and discovers her with her empty whiskey glass in her hand, dead from poison. Everyone believes it to be a suicide, especially when it is discovered that she is three months pregnant. The police call in Scotland Yard anyway, just to cover themselves, as two deaths, so close to each other have occurred at Nightingale House. Dalgliesh arrives and does not believe this to be the case, but that both girls were murdered. Some even try to convince him that Fallon was the one to poison Pearce and in a fit of guilt, committed suicide.
James writes serious mysteries, but this one has a very hilarious scene in it that had me about falling off the couch with laughter. Matheson, the Sargent who is working with Dalgliesh on this case is sent to interview an older woman who might have information relevant to the case. She is about to go out to a special ballroom dance hosted by her class. To get the information he has to go as her partner. It is lucky that he is a rather good ballroom dancer. As the evening wears on, she refuses to give him information. Then the spotlight dance comes, and she is the Silver Award winner. He has had a few to drink and is ticked off at her, so he decides to have fun with the dance and mess around with it. When he realizes how much this dance means to her, he tells her to start talking or she'll end up on the floor. The more she talks, the better he dances. I do not think I've ever seen a cop get information from someone this way before.
The more Dalgliesh investigates this crime, the more secrets he uncovers. Recent ones, as well as ones from long ago. Which ones are the important ones? Was Pearce killed because of her blackmailing schemes and was Fallon killed by the father of her child, who may be the surgeon, a man she had an affair with her first year? This house was already haunted by one ghost, no it seems two more have joined it. Is the killer finished are they just getting started?
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I haven’t anything to offer. There isn’t any help. We are all alone, all of us from the moment of birth until we die. Our past is our present and our future. We have to live with ourselves until there isn’t any more time left. If you want salvation look to yourself. There’s nowhere else to look.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 101)
If you are proposing to commit a sin it is as well to commit it with intelligence. Otherwise you are insulting God as well as defying Him, don’t you think?
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 116)
Everyone is interested in sex in their own way.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 143)
This, after all, was the commonest, the most banal of personal tragedies. You loved someone. They didn’t love you. Worse, still, in defiance of their own best interests and to the destruction of your peace, they loved another. What would half the world’s poets and novelists do without this universal tragicomedy?
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 143)
In any relationship there was one who loved and one who permitted himself or herself to be loved. This was merely to state the brutal economics of desire; from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. But was it selfish or presumptuous to hope that the one who took knew the value of the gift; that she wasn’t wasting love on a promiscuous and perfidious little cheat who took her pleasure wherever she chose to find it?
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 170)
I’m beginning to wonder what’s happening to nursing. Every report and recommendation seems to take us further away from the bedside. We have dieticians to see to the feeding, physiotherapists to exercise the patients, medical social workers to listen to their troubles, ward orderlies to make the beds, laboratory technicians to take blood, ward receptionists to arrange the flowers and interview the relatives, operating theatre technicians to hand the surgeon the instruments. If we’re not careful nursing will become a residual skill, the job which is left when all the technicians have had their turn. And now we have the Salmon Report with all its talk of first, second, and third tiers of management. Management for what? There’s too much technical jargon. Ask yourself what is the function of the nurse today.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 176-7)
Vanity, Mr. Dalgliesh, is a surgeon’s besetting sin as subservience is a nurse’s. I’ve never yet met a successful surgeon who wasn’t convinced that he ranked only one degree lower than Almighty God.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 181)
“You have little respect for men apparently, Sister?” “A great deal of respect. I just don’t happen to like them. But you have to respect a sex that has brought selfishness to such an art. That’s what gives you your strength, this ability to devote yourselves entirely to your own interest.”
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 181)
Only the young or the very arrogant imagined that there was an identikit to the human mind.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 198)
I suppose a surgeon is rather like a lawyer. There’s no glory to be had in getting someone off if he’s obviously innocent. The greater the guilt the greater the glory.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 204)
You can’t run a nurse training school like a psychiatric unit. I’m not going to be blamed. People here are supposed to be sane, not homicidal maniacs.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 221-2)
“Miss Brumfett,” said Dalgliesh, “you seem determined by your behaviour to give me the impression that you killed these girls. It’s possible you did. I shall come to a conclusion about that as soon as I reasonably can. In the meantime, please curb your enthusiasm for antagonizing the police and wait until I can see you. That will be when I’ve finished talking to Mr. Morris. You can wait here outside the office or go to your own room, whichever suits you. But I shall want you in about thirty minutes and I, too, have no intention of chasing over the house to find you.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 232)
You men like to make things so complicated.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 239)
Here were no photographs to invite speculation; no bureau bursting with its accumulated hoard of trivia; no pictures to betray a private taste; no invitations to advertise the diversity, the existence even, of a social life. He held his own flat inviolate; it would have been intolerable to him to think that people would walk in and out at will. But here was an even greater reticence; the self-sufficiency of a woman so private that even her personal surroundings were permitted to give nothing away.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 248)
Then she said that she had once slept with a surgeon and it was only too apparent that most of the bodies he came into contact with had been anaesthetized first; that he was so busy admiring his own technique that it never occurred to him that he was in bed with a conscious woman.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 272)
“I know that I wanted to make love to a woman. I wanted to know what it was like. That’s one experience you can’t write about until you know.” “And sometimes not even then.”
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 273)
I know she could. Not for long. Not often. But when she was happy she was marvellous. If you once know that kind of happiness you don’t kill yourself. While you live there’s a hope it could happen again. So why cut yourself off from the hope of it for ever?
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 278)
He wasn’t particularly interested in people. He divided them into two broad groups, the law-abiding and the villains and the ceaseless war which he waged against the latter fulfilled, as he knew, some inarticulated need of his own nature. But he was interested in facts. He knew that, when anybody visited the scene of a crime, some evidence was left behind or some was taken away. It was the detective’s job to find that evidence. He knew that finger-prints hadn’t yet been known to lie and that human beings did frequently, irrationally, whether they were innocent or guilty. He knew that facts stood up in court and people let you down. He knew that motive was unpredictable although he had honesty enough sometimes to recognize his own.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 302)
The war [World War II] was old history. It had no more relevance to his life than had the War of the Roses, less since it did not even evoke the faintly romantic and chivalrous overtones of the history learned in his boyhood. He had no particular feelings about the Germans, or indeed about any race other than the few he regarded as culturally and intellectually inferior. The Germans were not among those. Germany to him meant clean hotels and good roads, rippchen eaten with the local wine at the Apfel Wine Struben Inn, the Rhine curving below him like a silver ribbon, the excellence of the camping at Koblenz.
--P. D. James (The Shroud of a Nightingale p 327)
We English are good at forgiving our enemies; it releases us from the obligation of liking our friends.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 327)
I like that smell, sir. It reminds me of boyhood. I suppose. Summer camps with the Boy Scouts. Huddled in a blanket around the camp fire with the sparks soaring off into the night. Bloody marvellous when you’re thirteen and being patrol leader is more power and glory than you’re ever likely to feel again.
--P. D. James (Shroud For a Nightingale p 331)