Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Marriage of Doctor Royle

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1967

Doctor Bart Royle’s mother would have liked to see him married to her nurse, Janice Loveday, but two people stood in the way—Ned, who needed Janice, and Pippa, who wanted Bart.


“That was one good thing about Nurse Wilson, nobody would ever have married her!”

A more superlative nurse than Janice Loveday, who without questions merits her surname, never silently walked the VNRN wards in her spotless white oxfords; she is a “delightful girl who, apart from her beauty of face and form, had that rare quality, a beauty of character which was displayed in everything she did or said.” But she has taken on a hopeless loser of a man, Ned Thaneton, who is the son of a wealthy man and a louche gambler. Time and again Janice has tried to make him heel to the straight and narrow path, but the lazy cad doesn’t feel he should have to work for a living and so inevitably drifts back to the casino. As the book opens, Janice is finally starting to tire of his insistence that she be available at his whim to go out with him, irritated that he completely misses the point that if he does not work for a living, she goes, and at a job that requires the mental sharpness that follows eight hours in the sack. Her solution is not to tell not-friend Ned to take a long walk off a short pier, but instead to get a new job: “If I found a post either miles away, so that Ned couldn’t ask me to keep these hours and so on I had free, it would be better. Or if I took a post private nursing locally,” she says. Though it’s not clear why a new job will make Ned say no when she can’t herself. Well! It just so happens that Dr. Bart Royle has just such a post, caring for his most beloved mother, former nurse Norma Mattingly Royle, who has what is described as a relentlessly advancing “sclerosing arthritis.”

In Janice moves, and before long she is the daughter Norma never knew, her own having died of polio in childhood, and a pillar of strength for the entire household. The fly in the linament, because we must have one, is Pippa Chambers, a beautiful young wealthy lass who has her heart set not on Bart but his name, as she is nouveau riche and wants an entrée into an upper crust society that no amount of Daddy’s money can buy. Pippa is not pleased by Bart’s well-known devotion to his mother and plots to pack the old bag off to a nursing home as soon as Bart carries her over his threshold. And, when she claps eyes on the lovely Janice, Pippa is not pleased with the new nurse, either, as she fears Bart will be seduced by her beauty, strength and character. She sets out through various lame schemes that all quickly come to naught to turn Bart against Janice, but in the end her big chance comes when Ned turns up and begs Janice for £250 lest the thug he owes smash him to a jelly. Janice, finally seeing a  chance to be rid of Ned forever, tells him to get lost. No, wait, that’s not what happens at all—Janice, the perennial doormat, promises to find the money somehow! But if she gives him the money, he has to go to Canada and work on the farm of this nurse she knows there, who surely would be delighted to take on a lazy gambling addict like Ned!

Wandering the house in a daze after her meeting with Ned, Janice bumps into Pippa and immediately tells her arch enemy the whole story. Helpful Pippa whips out her checkbook and offers to gift Ned the money if Janice will quit her post and go work for the World Health Organization in Africa somewhere, far away from Bart. Janice’s next ricochet lands her in Norma’s room, and that intelligent woman, seeing Janice’s shock—for the proposed separation from Bart makes Janice suddenly realize “how blind she had been! She knew now and for ever that she was in love with him!”—is easily able to get the story, as well as Pippa’s heartless proposal, out of Janice. In three seconds Norma has hatched a convoluted plot that involves converting her own large estate into a nursing home where she will continue to live, establishing her son as chief medical officer with the caveat that he be married, arranging a meeting between Pippa and Janice in which Janice politely declines Pippa’s offer and Pippa unpolitely expresses her displeasure with Janice and Norma just as Bart is walking through the door, and arranging a gourmet dinner between herself, Bart, and Janice for that evening (I pitied the cook) during which Janice is wearing the Mattingly estate diamond and sapphire earrings that almost make Janice’s blue, blue eyes pale in comparison. That Norma is one wicked smart woman!

This book started out from Bart’s point of view, Janice nowhere in sight, which made me fear it wouldn’t quite qualify as a nurse novel, but we do work our way around to Janice in the end. Janice would be too good to be true except for her absurd devotion to Ned, but apart from this bit of overperfection in Janice, the characters in this book are vivid, completely endearing—even Pippa, although she undergoes a character transformation at the end that is as disappointing as it is implausible—and thoroughly enjoyable to pal around with. Except, actually, Bart, who is fairly bland, even if he does have “firm sensitive lips.” If the story line isn’t novel or especially exciting, it is still a pleasant book and one worth reading.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Frightened Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1976

When Nurse Gwen Powell arrived at Tampa airport she caught sight of Dr. Reece Ramsey, who’d hired her for her new post. He left his car, smiling warmly, hands outstretched in greeting. A wild, sudden thought leaped unbidden into Gwen’s mind: some day she was going to marry this man! It wasn’t long before they arrived at the palatial home of the Nordykes. Introductions to the family members took place quickly. And then Gwen met her patient, the elderly Henry Nordyke. But—almost from the first—strange, freakish problems occurred in Henry’s case … accidents … overdoses of medicine … and Gwen became uneasy. Then there was a night of terror as Gwen, thoroughly alarmed by still another incident, rushed to the room of her patient. Her hand shook uncontrollably as she turned the knob. She knew then that someone was trying to kill Henry Nordyke.


“Gwen knew she shouldn’t be eavesdropping like this, but the conversation was too fascinating to pass by.”

“I had no idea when I came down here from Chicago I was going to get into a nest of intrigue!”

This book would have been better named Mildly Perturbed Nurse, so bland is it that fright is much too strong an emotion to be experienced by any character in it, much less anyone reading it. Gwen Powell is a Chicago-based nurse whose fiancé Ted had been killed in a car crash six months ago. She’s still  heartbroken, not surprisingly, and so decides she needs to leave town to recover. She’s accorded that opportunity when Reece Ramsey, an old friend of her fiancé’s, invites her to Florida to serve as a private nurse to business magnate Henry Nordyke, who has suffered a stroke at age 75. He’s a stubborn, cantankerous old goat, so naturally in no time flat Gwen has him eating out of her hand as she rubs his fuzzy ears.

The other members of the house and family prove to be more troublesome. There’s son Kevin, who is a painter: “ ‘I’m an artist,’ he shouted. ‘Do you hear, an artist! Not a bookkeeper or office manager, not a seller of foods!’” He even defaces canvas from time to time to prove it, resides in the garret and mopes constantly about the fact that dad won’t pay for him to go live in Paris, though no fewer than four major characters in the book point out that Kevin could just get a job and earn the money himself—indeed it’s acknowledged that he has gotten apparently significant sums from his father in the past. “I’ve advanced you money from time to time, over and above the trust fund that was set up for you. What do you do with it all?” asks Dad. “That’s my business,” Kevin snaps, and that’s the end of that.

Daughter Carol has married boozer frat boy Howard Dane, who has another crazy scheme to make money that involves investing large sums that he doesn’t have, and the pair drop by almost daily to harangue Henry into giving them some. Crazy aunt Flora, Henry’s sister, is a joint owner of Henry’s business, but seems to have a tenuous grip on reality—yet still is given the responsibility of caring for Henry when Gwen has evenings and Sundays off. Lyle Thelman, Henry’s business partner, feels Henry’s business is about to go under but could be saved by a merger that Henry refuses to agree to, so Lyle waylays Gwen on the beach several times to urge her to use her influence on Henry. She declines and he tries bribery instead, which is equally unsuccessful.

Now this is the frightening part! Or might be if the plot and writer were much, much better. Gwen comes home from a bad date with Kevin in which he forcibly kisses her and calls her a “moody little witch” when she fights him off, to find that Henry is barely breathing because somehow he’s taken an extra sleeping pill! A determined night of pouring coffee into him and chafing his wrists and he’s back to normal, but who could have tried to kill Henry? And what kind of drug is nearly fatal with a second dose? The mild intrigue masquerading as a mystery continues when Gwen goes to check on Henry one night to discover the window has been left wide open. “Had someone slipped in here while he slept and opened it? Had someone wanted him to lie sleeping in a draft?” There must be a homicidal maniac on the loose! Next, Henry wheels his chair out onto the patio one night in a driving rainstorm and is locked out; who was he meeting out there? “None of your business,” he snaps, a common refrain among these Nordykes, but somehow he survives this deadly encounter with the weather, likely due to the hot bath and medicinal cup of tea that Gwen treats him with.

Then a car follows her and Kevin on their next date—of course there is one, despite his deplorable behavior on the last one, because “she could not help but find him attractive” and soon is “returning his kiss and enjoying it.” And Gwen sees a man on the lawn watching the house, though of course the police are not called. Then! The golf cart brakes fail while Gwen and Henry are out for a ride, but Gwen turns off the motor and the golf cart, hurtling down the sidewalk at a breakneck 10 mph, dwindles to a stop. “There was something very strange going on here and had been ever since she’d come. She wasn’t sure she was up to much more of this!” Her anxiety takes hold of her in the middle of the night and she rushes to check on Henry. “He was all right!” Nonetheless, “she couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was coming to a head, that they were just marking time until zero hour. When something horrible was going to happen!” Are you scared? Maybe someone will leave a banana peel on the top stair!!!

Eventually one of her midnight checks on Henry uncovers a man in Henry’s bedroom who has a heavy object in his hand “and then it came crashing down on her head”!! Next thing we know, she’s waking up to learn that the evil schemer behind all the shenanigans was Howard Dean—who’d not been at the house the night of Henry’s overdose or of the ruthless open window incident, and the patio episode is never explained. His brush with death averted, Henry undergoes a complete personality change and gives the lazy bum Kevin $30,000 to go to Paris, money well spent to get the lout out of the house. He also accepts the merger deal as well as his daughter back into the house, as she’s divorcing Howard, but given the fact that Howard’s now in jail, it’s not clear why she can’t remain in her own home. Gwen finally succumbs to the smooth moves of Reece Ramsey and seems poised to embark on a relationship with him, though it’s not clear why she suddenly prefers Reece to Kevin—but then, it was never clear why she preferred Kevin in the first place, so  maybe I shouldn’t be too demanding.

This dull book has little to recommend it: The writing is ordinary, the characters insipid and dislikeable, and the plot is boring—an even worse crime than usual since author Ms. Hale is apparently attempting to give us a thriller. I have never enjoyed Ms. Hale’s books, giving the 17 books of hers that I’ve read an average grade of C+ (unfortunately for me she’s written at least another 20! Insert chagrined emoji here), and I continue to be amazed that she was able to get so many of her works published. A sad commentary on the VNRN market, and on my future reading list.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Wrong Doctor John

By Kate Starr, ©1966

It could have been very confusing to have two members of the staff at the Eye Clinic with the same name—John Hardin; one a doctor, the other a surgeon. But Nurse Emma Brown at least had no difficulty in choosing between them.


“To be really on your toes you needed setbacks.”

“Knowledge is a good thing. It should help you graduate.”

The premise of this book is that there are two doctors named John Harding, both of whom work at the dilapidated, overrun eye clinic. “Don’t let its squalor deceive you; only on the outside is Eye Clinic an eyesore,” the senior nurse tells a flock of fledgling nurses, which includes our heroine, Emma Brown. For on the inside, the eye clinic offers the best care for eye diseases in Australia. This Emma quickly discovers after she is sent—to her horror—to work at the eye clinic, because the great senior John Harding, looking out the window after a difficult night, sees Emma, also just off her night shift, running across the lawn, her red hair flying, and asks that she be transferred to his clinic. Creepy as that is, off she goes, and upon arrival she cannot even get into the building, it is so full of people. Eventually she elbows her way in and stumbles around for a while, usually directed by the helpful patients who know the confusing maze of hallways a lot better than she does, until she’s put to work sorting patients, who must sit in rows according to who’s next. “Emma, frustrated, feeling that her two and a half years of training, a good part of it most uplifting and impressive, had prepared her for something better than the collecting of tickets, shot Sister Morrow an indignant look.” It’s a humorous scene, in which she is forced to bully the knitters and chatters and the deaf Mr. Al Croker into order. Then she moves on to eye exercises, made more challenging by young Malcolm, an eye clinic veteran who always pretends that his eyes have gotten stuck in the crossed position until Emma pinches him back to normal.

On her first day she meets young John Harding—called Dr. John, compared to the senior Mr. John, a convention you will understand if you’ve read a few Harlequin (i.e. British) VNRNs; senior MDs in the UK are called Mister. Young Dr. John calls her Blackie because of her black stockings—a bit of a joke since her last name is Brown and most people call her Brownie—and she calls him, mostly to herself, wrong Dr. John, because as soon as she meets Mr. (senior) John Harding she is smitten with the great man.

The old clinic is to be abandoned soon because a new modern clinic is being built nearby. Senior/Right Mr. John takes her on a tour of the new facility, interested as he is in this bright, light, lively creature. On the tour, however, she discovers that “something was very wrong” with Mr. Harding. As the book trots along, we hear a lot about Mr. John’s sadness, about “something in the great man that grieved her because it grieved him.” It seems to involve a very beautiful woman named Kristin who hangs around the clinic, lecture halls, anywhere Mr. John might turn up, so she can turn her tear-filled  gaze upon him.

Meanwhile, Emma develops a chummy friendship with Dr. John, who is always teasing her but also on occasion sincere as he earnestly learns all he can from the great doctor, assisting in surgery: “Well—I’ll at least hand something,” he hopes of his first day as surgical assist. The pair skewer each other amusingly, as well as pick each other up, and in the end, they head into the outback as a mobile clinic to treat Maori people without other access to medical care.

You can guess where at least one of these threads is headed, but it really doesn’t matter—this rollicking, enjoyable book has a marvelous sense of humor and some lovely writing; it had me at the first sentence. “It was a postcard sort of morning, a fresh, bright morning that brings wholeness and sanity flooding reassuringly back to a slightly threadbare, rather crazy world.” With writing this good you needn’t worry so much about plotting, though this book’s story moves along nicely. Emma is a feisty gal who, if brought into the eye clinic on a creepy whim, never deserves it, always standing on her own two feet and refusing to be a patsy even to Mr. John. If she does suffer from a clearly foolish crush on Mr. John, she always has Dr. John to ridicule her for it, and we all know how a hopeless crush feels; the characters are so well drawn that we can empathize with their foibles rather than sneer. So in the end, if Dr. John was wrong, this book is absolutely right.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Nurse in Spain

By Diana Douglas, pseud. Richard Wilkes-Hunter, ©1975
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

Lovely young Fran Kelly had accepted a transfer to the American Army base at Coronado, hoping for an easy tour of duty and a  much-needed rest. Almost at once Spain began to work its magic. Perhaps it was the presence of handsome Dr. Des Walton which made the country seem so wonderful. Or was it Mario Vallejo, the landed aristocrat and famous matador who showed her the most fascinating places in town? But Des kept brooding over some secret in his past, and Mario was involved in activities Army intelligence frowned upon.  Confused by rumors of terror and violence, how could Fran choose between the two men? If her heart betrayed her, Fran would face a danger that could destroy her only chance for happiness ...


“He should remember that he is a guest of Spain, not we of America.”

“They do not matter. They are tourists from the north who come here. German, Scandinavian, Dutch. Their own developers build for profit the concrete warrens they vacation in, and our government allows this because of the deutsche marks, the kroner, the guilders they spend here. Other than money, they bring nothing to Spain except the permissiveness of their own decaying society! They do not even bother to learn enough of our language to ask for their needs.”

Lt. Frances Kelly is a surgical nurse who has just transferred to the US Army base in Coronado because “Spain was full of interesting places and people and things,” and besides, she’d been worked so hard in New Mexico she was about ready to drop. She is fluent in Spanish, and it goes without saying that she is a top-notch nurse. She has an excellent surgeon, Dr. Des Walton, to work with. He’s an emotionally wounded guy, scarred from Vietnam, where he had done an emergency splenectomy and nephrectomy on a good friend—only to find later that the patient had congenital absent kidney and so died in less than a week after his only kidney was removed. As Fran arrives, Des had just walked out of a similar operation, unable to go on, and gotten drunk. Fortunately the base commander, Major Bill Ryan, another surgeon, is forgiving, understanding Walton’s actions as the result of a neurosis, and doesn’t court-martial him; instead he pairs Fran with Des in the OR, thinking, “Des Walton was a man who needed a calm and reassuring girl just like her.”

Eventually, as you know it will, another identical case lands on Walton’s OR table with no other surgeons available. Walton is about to lose it when Fran calmly and reassuringly suggests that Walton make a midline incision and manually palpate for the good kidney before removing the bad one. It’s such a crazy idea, it just might work! Walton follows her suggestion and then, reassured of the second kidney, is able to complete the surgery. “It was you who gave me back my confidence,” Des tells her afterward. Another life saved! Now if only all war-related PTSD was so easily cured …

In the interim, Frances has gone to a bullfight and witnessed the most brilliant performance ever, by matador Mario Vallejo. She’d called, “Good luck!” to him before the match, shockingly—“norteamericanos do not usually do this,” she is told—and he’d sent her his cape to display during the fight. Major Joe Crane, a self-absorbed possessive ass she’s attended the fight with, tells her, ”You don’t know these people like I do. Vallejo wasn’t paying you any compliment when he gave you that thing. When they give any foreign woman a gift like that it’s because they want her. There’s no way they’d marry outside their own kind.” To her credit, Fran replies, “Really? So I’m flattered that he wants to go to bed with me! Thank you for explaining that, Joe.”

You will not be amazed to learn that Frances meets Matador Mario again in town, and he takes her to lunch, and out shopping, and to see flamenco danced for realz, by “a big woman. Even in her dress with its flashing skirt she looked far too heavy for a dancer. And she was no beauty now, though she might have been thirty years ago. Her features had grown too heavy, and the dark shadow of one of the faint moustaches Fran had noticed and disliked on older Spanish women at the corrida showed quite plainly on her upper lip.” But boy, can she dance! She is such an artist that people on the street, hearing the music inside the bar, which has been locked for this private performance, pound on the door, begging to be let in to watch. Matador Mario is a hero in Coronado, and Fran’s day with him is magical.  “It was like traveling around with one of the great American film stars at the height of his career. It was a thrill being with someone like that. It was just about the greatest thrill of her young life.” At the end of the day, when they are kissing passionately, “it occurred to Frances that she was in the process of being seduced by an expert. But that didn’t seem to matter …”

She keeps seeing him, much to the great consternation of Major Joe, who warns her to keep away from Matador Mario because “the name of the game is subversion!” Gasp! It seems that our matador muy suave is involved in a plot to overthrow the government and install a new king of Spain. Frances calls Mario to ask him about this and discovers that his home has been seized by the Guardia  Civil police force and that they are looking for Mario. Instantly she jumps into her car and speeds into town, warned only casually by the base guard to “watch it in town tonight. There’s rioting in town [with] Guardia Civil everywhere with submachine guns.” But have a good time, honey!

Indeed, arriving in town she finds several friends of Mario’s, including the flamenco dancer, have been shot dead. She avoids arrest by playing the dumb tourist, and finds Mario at the bullring with his pals. They jump into her car and flee the city, Mario curiously telling his chums, “If she should try to betray us, shoot her.” As the men are climbing out of the car to flee into the mountains on foot, Mario chooses this moment to propose: “Come to France with me, Fran. We will be married there in a little chapel we have on  Vallejo land. You will be the Countess Frances Vallejo y Carlos. And one day a distant relative of ours will rule all Spain.” Between the gunplay and the idea of being on the lam, she’s not exactly won over and decides, “That’s not for me.” She tells him she doesn’t really love him after all: “Fascination isn’t love. I’d never met anyone like you before. It was like meeting a famous star back home and being flattered and kissed because you admired him. And I did admire you. You were like a storybook lover. But that isn’t really love either, Mario.” So as he dashes into the mountains, Des Walton shows up, and she holds his hand—and tells him a half-truth about her day’s adventure. And that’s where the book ends.

This is actually one of the better Richard Wilkes-Hunter (aka Diana Douglas) books I’ve read. We know it’s him from the usual gratuitous reference to her “firm young body” in the shower, and only male VNRN writers overtly mention sex, as in, “I’m not accusing you of sleeping around with the guy,” or in the discussion of Spanish women as mistresses or whores. But apart from denigrating remarks about Spanish women, which reflects a sexism demonstrated equally toward American woman (as when Frances is told by Mario, “Politics in Spain were not for women”), I really didn’t find anything terribly racist in this book, unlike Flight Nurse, which has a lot of similarities to this book, like the matador who is an accomplished lover working to overthrow the Spanish government. Neither book allows the heroine to pair up with the Spaniard, but at least here Frances takes Mario seriously as a boyfriend, even if in the end he is disqualified. The story moves along well and Frances has no obvious foibles—she hates the domineering Joe Crane and makes it plain to him that she does, she takes risks, she speaks her mind, she’s a great nurse. There’s nothing really special about it, apart from the unusual ending (all of which I have not revealed here), but it is a worthwhile bit of armchair travel.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Doctor Geyer’s Project

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1967

Doctor Warren Geyer desperately needed money to help him carry out the research project that was so dear to his heart, and the rick businessman Rory McMurtry was willing to supply it. But Mr. McMurtrey had a beautiful daughter who was interested in Doctor Geyer. Were there going to be awkward conditions attached?


“Rory had never had much patience with what he termed ‘serviceable women,’ no matter how clever and competent they might be. He liked women to be decorative, and when they were he could forgive much.”

“Engagements are like promises and pie-crusts, made to be broken! Most marriages can be wrecked, if only one thinks about it a little. It shouldn’t be difficult!”

Nurse Hilary Oakworth is “about the best and most enthusiastic staff nurse in the whole hospital,” “friendly, helpful … a crisp, competent young woman.” Unfortunately, however, she has two major burdens to carry: One is that her twin brother, Robert, had been apparently paralyzed in an accident in which, saving a child from being hit by a car, he was struck himself. There’s a surgeon in Austria, though, who has cured cases such as Robert’s, and Hilary is working like a dog, denying herself even such essentials as talcum powder and bath oil to save “even the odd sixpence” to finance Robert’s trip and treatment. The end result of this scrimping is that Hilary holds herself aloof from the other nurses so as not to be tempted by the spontaneous outing to the movies, which makes the other nurses think “Hilary’s made of a cardboard heart.”

Our heroine’s other handicap is that she’s in love with Dr. Warren Geyer, “a man totally immersed in whatever it was which he worked at during every free moment in the laboratories of the hospital.” This in itself is a glaring warning sign—every VNRN aficionado knows that lab men are a cold, uncaring breed usually in possession of the emotional range of a turnip. Dr. Geyer asks Hilary out for coffee to discuss the book’s eponymous project, singling her out because “you don’t seem to gad about with the rest of the nursing staff very much, or indeed with anyone. You seem to live for your work, to mind your own business. To do what you can for your patients and leave it at that.” To behave, in short, exactly as Dr. Geyer does himself. “ ‘You make me sound all kinds of prig!’ Hilary protested, her color rising.” If a description that very accurately describes the man she’s in love with is so appalling to her, I do feel compelled to wonder why she’s attracted to him. She’s not alone in her feeling, though, as apparently half the nursing staff as well as one wealthy young volunteer, Francine MacMurtrey, are similarly smitten: “He always makes me want to take care of him! He seems so busy caring for everyone else that he doesn’t have time left over to bother much about himself. I think he needs someone to take an interest him,” Francine declares, bewilderingly believing that person to be her.

Dr. Geyer’s plan is to establish a research lab that will grow food without water or soil, and to create a diet based on these crops that will allow astronauts to be self-sufficient in space. He wants Francine’s businessman father Rory to fund his project, but is afraid that to seal the deal he will be forced to forge a more permanent partnership with the love-struck Francine. Hilary’s answer to this problem is that he should pretend to be engaged to her—and even get married if need be—to throw her off. In return, Dr. Geyer will pay for Robert’s surgery. Surprisingly, Dr. Geyer agrees to this scheme, though it’s not clear why marriage to Hilary would be preferable to marriage to Francine, and the plan goes off without a hitch.

Everything at the new clinic is progressing well, apart from the astronauts’ propensity to break out in rashes from their experimental diet. Hilary’s brother moves in to benefit from some buffing up before his surgery, and Francine’s disappointment in losing Dr. Geyer evaporates the minute she claps eyes on the handsome—and coincidentally even more helpless—Robert. “It drew her very heart-throb from her body. Never, she knew, had she felt like this in her life before. Never, she felt, would she feel like this about anyone else, no matter how long she lived or what happened to her.” So Dr. Geyer’s half of his  bargain with Hilary turns out to have been completely unnecessary. Rather than break off their sham engagement, however, Dr. Geyer instead gets pissy when a visiting doctor pays a little too much attention to Hilary. Accusing her of leading the doctor on and telling her that she’s making a fool out of herself for a man who is bound to dump her in the end, Dr. Geyer simultaneously infuriates Hilary and drops a few telling remarks about their bargain, which are overheard by Francine. Rushing to spill the beans to Robert under the impression that he will find this good news, she finds instead that Robert decides to refuse to have the surgery, bought as it is with money from the sale of his sister. When Hilary learns of Robert’s plan to quit the hospital immediately, she follows suit and tenders her resignation from both Dr. Geyer’s clinic and engagement.

With this shocking surprise before him, Dr. Geyer has a Dr. Higgins moment when he realizes that he’s grown accustomed to Hilary’s face, in the flattering fashion of self-absorbed emotionally challenged men. “She must be a very important person indeed in my life,” he thinks, and logically reasons that his upset at Hilary’s impending departure must mean he cares for her. Rushing to find her packing, he tells her, “Until today I’ve never thought of love except to tell myself it was a biological urge, something to while the time,” concluding, “I must love you.” Nothing else matters more than she does, he decides, except helping Robert, because he’s her brother—and this last is what brings Hilary to his arms.

The story is fairly perfunctory but not unpleasant. Hilary is a strong, capable woman, but her unswerving devotion to Dr. Geyer is never understandable to the reader. Clearly a longstanding theme in nurse novels and indeed in life is the one about the elusive man whom everyone wants falling for only you, but frequently the problem in VNRNs is that these unavailable men are seldom shy or insecure—forgiveable offenses—but are just completely devoid of emotion, making them completely unattractive to anyone with a shred of self-respect or confidence. This book is guilty of that sin, making the entire premise utterly baffling. The best reasons for reading this book are Hilary and Francine, and if it’s not the most compelling book, it’s perfectly serviceable.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Nurse’s Dilemma

By Hilda Pressley, ©1965

Sister Alys had been in love with Doctor Richard Kent for a long time—at a distance. Then she was appointed to the post of Home Sister, which would bring them into contact—not knowing that Doctor Kent considered that particular post a great waste of a trained nurse’s time.


“One tends to think that all teenagers are pop mad.”

“With a woman it’s different, even in our modern times. At least, it is with me. I still want the man to do the chasing. If he showed any sign, of course, I’d meet him halfway. But—well, you know, a girl has her pride and all that.”

From the very first sentence, Nurse Alys Newton is desperately in love with Dr. Richard Kent. She’d run into him at the train station and had snagged the only cab right out from under his aquiline nose, and that plus the swanky fur coat she’d been wearing (dad’s rich) had made him look at her in anger and scorn. There  you have it, the stuff on which passion is built in far too many nurse novels. “It was ridiculous to feel this way, she told herself, about a man to whom she had not even spoken,” and the best thing we can say about this is that at least she understands her foolishness.

But over time she and Dr. Kent begin a speaking relationship. As she is promoted to Home Sister, which is a position that involves supervising all the student nurses as well as filling in around the hospital when they’re short-staffed, she sees a lot of him—and he uses these opportunities to tease her about her cushy job: “What, if I may ask, is someone as  young as you—and obviously a good nurse—doing wasting her time in a position like Home Sister? Surely it’s a job for either the middle-aged or work-shy?” Now he is in her thoughts constantly. “His tall figure striding along the main corridor or across the quadrangle, his uncompromising stare, his way of saying exactly what he liked, and which never failed to spark anger in her.” Ah, true love!

They spar at every meeting, with varying degrees of friendliness, which causes Alys a lot of pain. To her credit, Alys does understand the silliness of the situation “She must be crazy to love this man! Why did she? she fumed inwardly,” after he’s made fun of her again. “It couldn’t be the real thing, anyway. She  barely knew him. It just couldn’t be any more than a superficial attraction.”

In the interim, small items go missing around the nurse’s dorm, and Alys’s suspicious fall on the new nurse, Edna Farrell, who is unpleasant and rude to Alys, though an excellent nurse. Edna had a tragic childhood, spent in orphanages and foster homes, so Alys tries hard to win Edna’s trust. Alys also catches a night nurse with a pair of missing hosiery in her hands, and nurse Halesworth says she’s just found them in the bathroom—indeed, all the missing items turn up eventually. Those of us who have read The Case for Nurse Sheridan understand exactly what is going on here, and indeed the detective who’s brought in to crack the case starts throwing around the K-word: kleptomania! But Alys, for all her suspicions, tells the detective when Edna is caught with a stolen nightie, “What I do know is—Nurse Farrell is no thief.” Eventually the story comes out that Nurse Halesworth, an orphanage friend of Edna’s, is indeed a klepto, and Edna has been returning all the ill-gotten gains.

This subplot very handily absorbs a large chunk of the story, as does Alys’s dating Dr. Ben Chalmers, who is really very nice but not a man she loves. When Ben eventually proposes, we haul out of the closet the threadbare question of whether you should marry a man you like if you can’t have the man you love: “Ben needed her. She sensed it. He needed her far more than Richard did, who indeed did not seem to need her at all, did not appear even to want her friendship. She needed love, needed to feel cared for, to feel sure of someone. And here, in Ben, it was being offered to her. They could fill a need in each other.” You screw up your courage to face her eventual acceptance of his proposal, as per the custom of the county, but we are in for a pleasant treat: As Ben pops the question at a swank restaurant, Richard strolls in with a beautiful but snippy nurse on his arm—you fear the deal is sealed—but Alys turns him down, saying they do not feel “an all-consuming passion for each other.” She’s resigned herself to becoming a vinegary careerist nurse—and about to resign her position as well to get away from the pain of seeing Richard—when the inevitable happens, and you know what that is.

If the prose here is not sparkling or campy, it’s a pleasant enough story that easily passes the time. I appreciated that Alys is self-aware enough to see the silliness of her crush even if she is helpless to shake it off—haven’t we all been there? Pleasant enough and not especially annoying—qualities that make for a fairly decent nurse novel, such as the one we have in Nurse’s Dilemma.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Prodigal Nurse

By Harriet Kathryn Myers, ©1963

All her life, Nurse Judy Austin had regarded Graystone Memorial Hospital as a haven, a place where problems were solved and lives set straight again. But suddenly all the comfort of the hospital turned to coldness; for the very doctor who had courted her so amorously was now accusing her of negligence and the death of a patient. How could Judy fight to protect her reputation as a nurse when the truth might ruin her last chance for happiness?


“He’s naturally a wolf, like very other man you’ll ever know. But that’s the nature of the beast, and it’s up to girls like us to tame that savage nature.”

“‘I won’t bite you,’ he teased. ‘If I do, I’ll warn you in advance.’”

“I’ll take him. Even if you don’t want him. I know how to handle him. With care and feeding—and gentle training—he can yet be a wonderful man, and an M.D. to be proud of.”

“Never let a man think you needed him; it was like money or fishing, you never got either if you needed them.”

“I always run a temperature when you’re near me, and I hope I always will.”

I’ve looked forward to reading this book for quite some time, drawn largely by the excellent and unusual cover illustration. What I found behind it, though, did not deserve my interest. In this fairly perfunctory  book, Nurse Judy Austin is a cynical, bitter young woman who, having recently graduated from nursing school, already hates her new career. She’s fled to a tropical island for a vacation where she contemplates her options with her best friend, Lora Kneeland. “Are you really going on with it?” Lora asks. “Can you really endure what they do to you? The hours without sleep? The doctors who either don’t know, or don’t care, or both? The pay—good lord, the pay! They want girls. They actually get up in front of you and tell how badly they want girls in nursing, smart, dedicated girls, and then offer you a salary you couldn’t live on! We must have had holes in our heads” But—but—what about our dedication to a higher cause? Actually Judy doesn’t have that either, having lost her ideals working alongside the hospital’s resident quacks.

Lora’s answer is for Judy to snag the ubiquitous handsome, rich society doctor. “You’ve got Warren Blackmarr down here all to yourself and you’d better take advantage of it while you can,” Lora advises. “You hook Warren Blackmarr in the next two weeks. You get him wrapped up in orange blossoms before you leave here.” But—but—what about True Love? “Would it kill you to fall in love with a man as rich as Warren Blackmarr?” It seems like it would, though. On her next date with Warren, she feels only self-conscious, “somehow contrived and dishonest.” “She was conscious of a part she had to play, and an interest Lora warned her to pretend when she wasn’t sure yet what she felt in her heart.” Though it’s pretty clear, when he dismisses her deep attachment to her family, what she ought to feel. So she flees the island early and comes home, on the plane sitting next to a poor sap of a man. He expresses concern at how troubled she looks, but “she was old fashioned, a square about many things: about talking to strangers, tricking men into marriage, loving her family and wanting to stay near them.” So she gives him the cold shoulder—besides, “most of all was the white suit. A white suit? A white suit in the dead of winter!” What a loser! But in the airport he’s looking so lost, she offers to share her cab with him. When she arrives at her house, she finds that Dad has dropped with a heart attack in the hallway and Mom is running a fever. In ten pages Dr. Guy Forrest—you knew he was—has cured Dad, and Mom too, and best of all bought some black clothes. He’s quickly adopted by the entire Austin clan, which he deeply appreciates, having grown up an orphan, so he’s ensconced most nights at the dinner table.

Dr. Warren, meanwhile, has come home to chase Judy some more—but before long he’s revealed himself for the wolf that he is when he offers her not a ring but an apartment!! She sprints home, berating herself because “she’d thought he loved her,” suddenly, when she’d had only doubts before—but the clouds break apart with equal alacrity and she is at once aglow with the knowledge that “she loved Guy Forrest. She had always loved him, from the first,” again another surprise to the reader.

With 40 pages left to go, we end up in the OR with Dr. Blackmarr and the other hospital quack, Dr. McLenton, who manage to assassinate a patient who’d come in for a routine hysterectomy, and the duo attempt to throw the OR nurses—Judy among them—under the bus for the death, despite the nurses’ valiant but futile attempts to nudge the surgeons in the right direction, away from the major arteries in the pelvis. The hospital chief, prodded by Guy, exonerates the nurses and insists the surgeons resign, but Dr. McLenton goes berserk and attempts to shoot Guy in the parking lot, just as Judy is rushing to him to tell him she loves him. A more successful murderer when wielding a scalpel than a handgun, Dr. McLenton gets Judy instead, and she is saved by the only competent surgeon in the building, Dr. Guy Forrest.

Awakening after apparent weeks—it must have been one big bullet—Judy undergoes yet another epiphany and finds that the world of medicine suddenly has meaning. “At last she was truly one of them. She had found herself at last because she knew she owed her life to dedicated doctors, devoted nurses, all working together. She  believed in them now, and what nursing stood for, wanted to be one of them after this long time of doubt and indecision.” Jesus rays shining down around her, all she has to do now is softly whisper Guy’s name and he appears before her, so she can tell him she loves him and we can close the book.

An ordinary novel for the most part, Prodigal Nurse swivels like a top in its positions: Does Judy love Warren? Does Warren love Judy? Does Judy love Guy? Does Judy love nursing? Depends on what page you’re on. Its finest point is that the usually righteously square Judy, who cannot tolerate fashion faux pas or an indecent proposal that should have surprised her not a whit is suddenly brazen enough to chase Guy Forrest across a parking lot. But maybe that’s just more swiveling.