With her fourth Adam Dalgliesh novel, "Shroud for a Nightingale," P. D James ventured into new and dark territory, both in terms of the mystery and underlying themes.
The first three novels in the Dalgliesh canon were, for the most part, traditional mystery novels with characters who you sensed were complex human beings, but who were never fleshed out entirely, as if to do so would be violating the "rules" of the detective story.
With "Shroud for a Nightingale," however, P. D. James introduced us into the dark world of Nightingale House, where nurses, nursing students, physicians, and patients suddenly find a double murderer in their midst.
This is the first of P. D. James's novels in which the characters' pasts are truly made to bear on the present. By the end of the novel, we are terrified at the bounds of loyalty and deception to which our fellow human beings are capable.
The terror in "Shroud for a Nightingale" is there from the start, as the first victim-to-be meets a demise that, simply put, is worthy of a horror novel. Such horror, when expressed in James's elegant prose, becomes even more frightening.