There is a time in all our reading lives when we go back to a particular authors' work we have enjoyed over the years. I am now re-reading James' Dalgliesh novels and have got to this one, her fourth and I had to write a review of it. Why? Not only because it must be about thirty years since I read it, but I guess with mature eyes (and a lot of read books under my belt), I can see why James is so revered in crime fiction and why she is credited with producing a crime novel that was well written.
James is always good with her sense of place, and she excels here with a training school for nurses in the very bleak Nightingale House on a gloomy January day. James must have brought all her knowledge about this area to this book as she studied hospital administration and from 1949 to 1968 worked on a hospital board in London. The start of the book introduces us to Miss Muriel Beale, an Inspector of Nurse Training Schools about to make her way through a cold and wet Monday morning, believing she is going to do a simple inspection at Nightingale House – not witness a murder. I am sure a murder didn't occur on James' watch, but you get a strong sense of James heading out on a wet Monday morning just like her fictional Muriel Beale. Even with the use of Miss Muriel Beale you get a sense that James is giving a nod to the Golden era of crime writing she so admired. But that is where James begins and ends with the Golden era. After that, she delivers a sublime plot, characterisation and dialogue.
James showed that crime fiction could be written just as well as any work of fiction – and it is through her efforts that crime fiction is much more respected than the years preceding when it was described as the poor relation (despite the huge sales). James gives well-rounded characters and intriguing plot. This is the book where you can see the author developing and honing her craft. After all these years, I can appreciate much more of this woman's writing and it isn't surprising to see why she will always have a place in many people's hearts. 'Shroud for a Nightingale' is a brilliant novel way beyond anything else that was being written at that time.