Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Nurse Made Headlines


Adelaide Humphries, ©1962
Cover illustration by Tom Miller

For lovely Cheryl Lanier, nursing wealthy, elderly Trevor Rutledge at his magnificent estate seemed a routine assignment. But that was before Rutledge’s nephew, Victor Lawson, arrived. Perhaps Cheryl should have known  better than to fall in love with the handsome playboy. Certainly there were those—especially the young lawyer, Carl Drew—who warned her about Victor. But Victor’s promises drowned out all warnings—until, amid sudden tragedy and scandal, she heard a different voice: that of agonizing doubt. Had she made the greatest mistake of her young life? Had she given her trust to the wrong mad? And how could she know for sure before it was too late?

GRADE: C-

REVIEW:
It is incredibly frustrating to read a book that is thoroughly annoying, yet has glimmers of what could have been a good story. Even more frustrating than that is the knowledge that the author—in this unhappy case, Adelaide Humphries, who brought us the delightful The Nurse Knows Best, Nurse Landon’s Challenge, and Office Nurse (as well as, it must be confessed, a few duds)—is capable of pulling off that better book. And so here we contend with the disappointment of The Nurse Made Headlines.

Cheryl Lanier is a beautiful, smart, steady, dedicated nurse who has been hired to care for Trevor Rutledge, a wealthy man in his 70s recovering from a heart attack. He is childless, so his huge estate will pass presumably to his nephew Victor Lawson. Vic has been lovin’ ’em and leavin’ ’em for many years, but hearing about Dear Uncle Trevor’s brush with death, he hurries home to suck up to the old man in the event that the recovery does not go well.

He immediately targets Cheryl as a potential plaything—and also the red-haired barmaid Jackie Barnes—but Cheryl has the advantage of having a lot of influence on Trevor, and a lot of information about Trevor’s health and plans. So he cultivates her by taking her out for high-speed drives that muss her hair and her nerves, and visits to the gazebo that muss her lipstick. And he pumps her for details. Initially Cheryl manages to resist Victor’s interrogation tactics, reminding herself on several occasions of the importance of not discussing what would today be called confidential patient health information. But Victor is so beautiful! “Quite the handsomest she had ever seen”! And when she is under the spell of his hypnotic dark eyes laughing down into hers, her cheeks flush, her heart pounds against her ribs. And gathered in his arms, she whispers passionately, “I believe your uncle wants to make some changes in his will.”

And so Victor learns that Trevor is going to turn his estate into a rest home for poor elderly folks. Lawyer Carl Drew is going to come over to have Trevor sign the new will, the day after he takes Cheryl out to show her how to use the tiny automatic Colt that once belonged to Trevor’s deceased wife, not to mention take her to dinner, fall in love with her, and give her a much more reasonable love interest. Except that “Cheryl did not find him exactly exciting. The touch of his hand, a look from his eyes, did not start her pulses to pounding,” unlike Victor—“Darn it, why did her pulses race whenever her eyes met his?” Oh, but there’s also David Earling from back home, who makes an unexpected and essentially parenthetical appearance on page 75 as yet another man who wants to marry Cheryl, but “he had failed to strike the necessary spark.” Unlike the forest fire that is Victor Lawson. Run, Bambi, run!

On return to the  mansion after her dinner with Carl, Cheryl discovers—you will never believe this—Trevor’s lifeless body in his study. Turns out he’s been shot through the heart, but before she can start screaming, Cheryl is knocked unconscious, and when she comes to, she has that infernal tiny automatic Colt in her hand and the housekeeper standing over her. Victor promptly throws her under the police van, and she is hauled to the station as Suspect Number One. But Carl Drew, bless his wholesome but not nearly so handsome heart, steps in to get her out on bail, and a few days later everyone gathers for the reading of the will—when we learn that Trevor actually had managed to sign his new will a day ahead of schedule, disinheriting Victor. This shocking turn of events causes Victor to completely and inexplicably lose his head, whip out the actual murder weapon and reveal himself as the killer, but since the room has at least three cops in it, he goes down without a fight. As he’s hauled away, Carl decides that he will give Cheryl time to get over her trauma—she’s coming back in a few months to run Trevor’s nursing home anyway—and Cheryl decides she’s going to call her mother and let her know what’s new with her, and to ask mom to pass on her regards to the barely mentioned David Earling.

At the end of this book we are left with no clear love interest for Cheryl—a rarity in VNRNs—and indeed a big huh? over one of her potential options. Exonerated with the police, with the reader Cheryl is easily convicted of being an annoying patsy who abandons everything she stands for to tumble for an obviously manipulative con man, whom even Cheryl can see through. hihHhhOf course good women have been known to fall for bad men, but we are not given any sort of reasonable explanation why Cheryl would be such a dope, just descriptions of her weak-kneed compliance with Victor’s every selfish request. If Ms. Humphries had put in the effort to write a character study that explained Cheryl’s wildly self-contradictory behavior, this could have been an interesting book—and at a crawling 180 pages she certainly had room to pull off something—anything!—more complex and interesting than the plate of indigestion we are actually served. As it is, The Nurse Made Headlines is an exasperating, overly drawn-out story that wraps up in three rapid-fire pages and isn’t worth the time it takes to read, well, a headline.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Lesley Bowen M.D.

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1965

Lesley was blessed with exceptional beauty. But was it such a blessing, when it meant that although she only wanted to become a good doctor, few people would take her seriously—while the woman-hating Doctor Mark Crossman seemed actively to resent her?

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“‘Me?’ she ejaculated, startled and without any regard to grammar.”

“He sounds to be treating me like a fever.”

“Leave the doctoring and suchlike to the men. You’ll have to deal with sights and situations no young woman should have to face, things from which it should be the duty of her husband to shield her.”

“In real life you have to make your own happy ending.”

REVIEW:
Gosh, being beautiful sure is rough! Poor Lesley Bowen M.D. knows all about it, the sad thing, and she is not at all abashed to whine about it for many, many pages at the start of her eponymous story. “I take my problem with me,” she explains. “I’m not being vain … it’s just my face. It causes trouble for me wherever I go.” Indeed, right there in Chapter One, it’s getting out of hand, causing her best friend’s fiancé to grab her in the doctors’ sitting room to profess his undying love. But Lesley knows better: “It’s not me he’s interested in, it’s just my face.” So, coming to the end of her residency at the hospital, she interviews to become a partner in the three-doctor GP office in northern England.

She only meets one of the partners, Frank Elland, because the other one, Mark Crossman, is away putting his father’s estate to rights. She has a lot of anxiety on her part about whether Mark will approve of her hire—he has a tragic past in which his beautiful doctor fiancée dumped him for a rich man, so he’s sworn never to have anything to do with women ever again! But she and Frank hit it off so well that she accepts the post.

She and Mark hit it off too, only in a more literal way, when she inadvertently backs into his car at a rest stop on her move to the new job. They don’t introduce themselves during their chilly encounter, so she’s not aware he’s her new partner. But then, he is so rude and unforgiving, she naturally “felt strangely drawn to this man …. He was a real man, a man’s man, the kind you could depend on in any sort of a crisis.” Lesley spends a lot of time thinking about this stranger: “If I’d met him any place else I’d have liked him a lot,” she decides. That’s quite a big leap to make after only two pages of frosty, clipped exchanges, but VNRN heroines are not known for their discriminating choices in men.

You will be shocked to find out that when they do finally meet, it does not go well. And it certainly doesn’t help that she looks just like his ex-fiancée! Mark is so “infuriating” in his behavior that Lesley almost feels sorry for him: “It was so painfully obvious that he did not know how to make his point without being unbearably rude.” Fortunately, Lesley’s previous infatuation with the man when he was a stranger drops completely, and we have about 70 pages of quiet routine, with Lesley going about her day-to-day, living a peaceful life in her rose-covered cottage with a fond elderly housekeeper who sets out cookies and hot malted milk for her at the end of a long day. Can I sign up for that?

Lesley tends to her patients and has dinner a lot with the local young lord, Damian Neerman, who is a race car driver and engineer who swears that Lesley is going to marry him right after these two big races he’s got coming up with a prototype car he’s working on. She’s not interested in him romantically, but spends enough time with him that Mark, even as he slowly warms to Lesley’s intelligent, hard-working competency—in spite of her wretched face—mistakes their friendship for something more. Damian, of course, isn’t satisfied with a platonic relationship, and attacks her in his car on a drive home from dinner, and after that incident, Lesley avoids being alone with him and won’t get in a car with him at all, feeling “safer” that way. Some friend.

Everything wraps up fairly predictably, complete with car crash and house fire, but the rapprochement at the end is remarkable in that in Mark’s (you knew it would be him) embrace, “there was no violence, no force behind it, just a gentle, compelling pressure.” A sad statement that an overt lack of pain in a pass is a novelty. We are treated to The Kiss, and manage to avoid a discussion of Lesley quitting her job—again, Mark proves his worth when he paints a picture of her continuing to work alongside him in clinic. He even tells her that she’s “sufficient unto yourself,” though he admits, “I’m not … I need you most of all.” 

If Lesley has an irritating tendency to go on about her face and Mark after the accident, these annoyances stop altogether after the first third of the book, and on the whole it is a lovely, relaxed stroll with an intelligent, dedicated young woman leading a charming life as she makes the rounds of her rural patients. All it lacks is a female friend to trade quips with, but even without her, Lesley Bowen makes for a gentle afternoon, especially if you can’t be in a country cottage with hot malted milk and cookies yourself.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Mary Adams, Student Nurse


By Alice Brennan, ©1964
Cover illustration by Robert Maguire

Every time Mary Adams, student nurse, entered the hospital she felt exhilarated and excited. Her blue eyes shone with the pride of wearing her white cap. But the cap was only the beginning. She still had to earn the right to wear the white uniform of the graduate  nurse. Her days were very full. She carried a full schedule of classes: biology, anatomy, physiology. And there was her “on duty” time. Each day Mary saw the drama of a big-city hospital. Birth, death and disease were part of her life now. And she loved every minute of it … until the day she found that heartbreak was also part of a nurse’s life and she had to learn to accept the responsibility of growing up.

GRADE: B-

BEST QUOTES:
“Blondes usually turn out to be cold and egotistical.”

“I don’t know why everyone has to think I’m a louse just because I’m prettier than the rest of you.”

“Interns don’t bite. We can’t afford to.”

REVIEW:
I just finished this book last week, and now I’m damned if I can remember a single thing about it. Part of the problem may be the fact, advertised nowhere on the outside of the book, is that this is a “Juvenile Nurse Novel,” apparently a genre of its own in the day, much like the Young Adult Supernatural Romance section I saw in Barnes and Noble recently. Maybe there’s not much going on because it’s geared toward kids. So this book is really about the hijinks of Mary Adams and her best two nursing school friends. They have an arch-nemesis in Hope, who is mean to everyone, but it turns out Hope’s dad is a raging alcoholic who abandoned his child with distant relatives, so she’s had an unhappy, bitter life and trusts no one. Now that Hope is in nursing school, he’s turned up, apparently just to tell her he’s proud of her, but she won’t have anything to do with him, even when he becomes desperately ill with cirrhosis and needs a porto-caval shunt, and she’s the only person who can sign consent.

On the lighter side, there are boys to go out with, cafeteria meals to grouch about (“Cold spinach and stew again! With lumpy gravy yet!”), exams to study for, patients to care too much about (little Timmy with the bad heart, for starters).  The dorm does not catch on fire, surprisingly (see A Nurse Is Born, Night-Duty Nurse, When Doctors Marry, Nurse Landon’s Challenge), and I would say it’s even more surprising, if this weren’t a book for teens, that Mary does not end up engaged at the end. Instead, on the last page, the boy she seems to like most tells her, “I could get very serious about you,” and she answers, “It’s nice the way it is, Bob. Let’s not—not rush anything.” If Mary Adams is so sanctimonious that she’s the only person who can see everyone’s point of view and therefore can’t dislike even the relentlessly nasty Hope, it’s still a pleasant enough book. You won’t remember it a day later, but maybe its vapid sweetness will linger like the faint smell of cookies that came out of the oven an hour ago.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

World’s Fair Nurse


By Dorothy Daniels, ©1964
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

Carol Allison, R.N. hid a dark secret out of her past from her friends at the World’s Fair. But her more immediate problem was Tina, the delicate ballerina at the Fair who had an incurable heart condition. Carol warned her that if she danced, she risked death. Yet Tina refused to quit, and threatened to reveal Carol’s secret if she went to the authorities. Standing by Carol were the two men who loved her. Each man knew that only one would win Carol, yet they both worked to clear her name. But it was Carol alone who had to choose between saving the life of the dancer or her own nursing career.

GRADE: C-

BEST QUOTES:
“I’m Dick Walden. You will address me as Doctor when any patients are around and I’ll give sharp orders to show what a fine medical man I am. Otherwise, I cotton well to Dick.”

“She’s better looking than a spanking new electrocardiograph machine, Jane. And much more fun.”

“I want you back here. Not only because you dress up the scenery so well, but because you’re so capable.”

REVIEW:
Nurse Carol Allison finished her RN training, but then decided to continue her studies with a baccalaureate degree in nursing as well. Always a top student, she earned the college’s first perfect store on her final exam—but what does she get for her hard work? A hearty handshake? A job offer? No—it’s a blank piece of paper where her diploma ought to have been, because a shred of a stolen answer key was found under her chair, so she’s accused of cheating, and the school board is launching an investigation, but who knows when that’s going to be finished?

While she’s waiting for her lawyer fiancé Marty to finish working on that important case that keeps him too busy to answer her calls, she takes a job at—you guessed it—the World’s Fair in New York City. There she works alongside Dr. Dick Walden, who from the get-go says way too many creepy things like, “You’re very attractive, know that? I hope it’s Miss Allison,” and, “Not next year. We’ll probably be married by then.” And this is just on the first day they meet.

The problem with a lot of these plots of false accusation is that the alleged crime and the ensuing drama is just completely overdone, and this book is no exception. The hysteria is heightened by the fact that the fair’s prima ballerina (and it’s always spelled like that in the book, in italics), Tina, has a congenital heart condition that no one has diagnosed through many years of arduous training except Carol, and if she tells anyone about it, Tina’s evil manager will expose the cheating allegation and Carol will never work again—Never!!—but if she doesn’t tell, Tina will drop dead on the opening night of “Woodsmen’s Legend.” Oh, what to do, what to do? Well, we’ll spend about 80 pages watching Carol worry, not to mention step seriously outside her scope of practice by administering IV papaverine and oxygen when Tina has a cardiac crisis during practice.

In the meantime, Dr. Dick is putting his alarming moves on, and Carol, who might ace her final but is not smart enough to work out this situation, is also not smart enough to recognize sexual harassment and seems to be going for Dick, even though Marty appears to be a fairly stand-up guy, a novelty in VNRN fiancés. There’s really not much more to tell about the story, and the ending will surprise exactly no one. Everyone is perfunctorily disposed of, some in ways that seem startlingly out of character (Marty being one of them), but let’s not quibble—the sooner everyone is paired off and Carol’s diploma and sterling reputation safely restored, the sooner we can close this profoundly insipid and stupid book—the cover art and title easily being the best things about it.


Saturday, December 22, 2018

White Cap of Courage


By Ann Rush, ©1960

When Nurse Sally Camlin learned that politicians threated to close the doors of Memorial Hospital, she knew she had to fight. The big, old hospital was the only source of medical aid for the surrounding slums. Sally’s only ally was young Dr. Peter Adamson. But he was a rough, aloof young man who came from the slums himself. He was known to consort with the biggest wheels in the powerful vice syndicate, who were hand-in-glove with the politicians. Sally threw her career, her reputation, her very life, into this fight. Would she win?

GRADE: A

BEST QUOTES:

“You can always get a rise out of a housekeeper if you say she doesn’t work hard, but she’ll belittle it herself if given half a chance. Ask a woman patient what she does and she’ll tell you, ‘Just a housewife,’ as if it weren’t the most important thing any woman can be.”

 “She’s much too pretty to be rich.”

“I’m specializing in the bedside manner, dear.”

“Nursing’s no job for a gently raised girl.”

“Lalla had always been a predatory female to whom a  man who was another woman’s property was worth twice what that man might have been roving free.”

REVIEWS:
There’s a lot of excitement at shabby old Memorial Hospital as Chapter One opens. Nurse Sally Camlin is working the night shift in the Emergency Department when her friend Nurse Janet tells her that the hospital board is planning to close the scrappy establishment. Then a gunshot victim is wheeled in, and Dr. Peter Adamson is called to staff the case. “She could not like the young doctor,” who goes around with a defensive scowl on his face and never says hello. But he has a tragic past, with a drunk father and a mother killed when he was five, and he grew up in the town’s slum, the quaintly named Shacktown, so hes had to work hard to put himself through school. “He’s been too busy to learn how to make friends,” admonishes the kindly chief of staff Dr. McLeod, Sally’s longtime family friend and Dr Adamson’s medical mentor. “Pete Adamson’s a fine boy. And a good doctor.” And when Dr. Adamson takes the shooting victim to surgery, Sally helps out as scrub and learns that the doctor knows this hoodlum, but also cares about him, and Dr. Pete even compliments her for her work on the case. So—and this should come as little surprise—Sally is soon asking Dr. Peter to come sit with her and her friends at lunch.

She has a fiancé, of course, Dr. Bob Quenton, who is relentlessly pursuing an established surgeon at the swanky hospital across town, hoping for a cushy job where he works three days and golfs two, but somehow this unfortunately means also pursuing the doctor’s beautiful and sneaky daughter Lalla. So Bob spends a lot of time out on dates with Lalla, with or without her father, in the name of chasing the lifestyle—one that the hard-working and dedicated Sally doesn’t approve of at all. That’s Classic VNRN Trope #2, for those of you keeping scores at home.

As the hospital heads toward shutdown, Sally enlists Pete and a number of her more dedicated hospital pals (Dr. Bob not being among them) to start a campaign to keep the hospital afloat. In the meantime, she’s often working alone in the ED, which is a most happening spot at 2:00 am, very popular with the local gangsters, who turn up with such regularity that one wonders why the hospital hasn’t hired a guard. Tony Amando, the mob boss, drops in with his lovely daughter Maria, who’s swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills after finally figuring out what dear old dad does for a living, and a few days later Tony’s thugs, the adorably named Spud and Vin, wander in to threaten Sally in order to extract information about how the young gunshot vicitim is recovering from his wounds. Sally helpfully tells them everything they want to know, including the room where Nick is parked, so they can just nip up and collect his weakened body and haul it back to their shack in the woods, taking Sally along with them, since she could ID them to the cops.

Pete also ends up at the shack, on the business end of a pistol belonging to another mobster named Abalone (tee hee!), and the anxiety of the situation causes them to fall into each other’s arms. Surprisingly, in the big showdown scene at the end, Sally actually winds up taking a slug in the gut, which is apparently cured not with immediate surgery but lots of bandage changes and three weeks in the hospital. It’s a stupid mistake, one that is easy to research, but it’s honestly about my only beef with this book. In the closing pages, when Sally breaks up with Dr. Bob, he’s outraged that she wants to keep working: “In other words, your work is more important to you than I am.” She sensibly responds, “No matter how much I loved the man I married, I’d have to go on being myself, not just a shadow of him.” Pete, on the other hand, is thrilled to find that Sally has a house of her own to offer him, not to mention her deceased doctor father’s completely stocked home office, and that she wants to keep working at the (saved, of course) hospital “until you get on your feet.”

Sally is always a strong and forthright character who calls it hypocrisy when she sees it. Early on, she tells Bob she doesn’t understand why they have to wait to get married—although this device conveniently allows the heroine sufficient time to come to her senses and realize that her betrothed is an ass. “I wanted us to be married, wanted to help with your expenses at graduate school next year so that we could be together. That’s a wife’s privilege, Bob—to help wherever she’s needed. You’re too proud to accept things from me, but jump to Dr. Roberts’ whistle because he can help. I can’t understand it.” (Bob pulls out all the stops with chauvinism and irrationality when he says, “It’s a matter of masculine pride. I don’t want to feel obligated to the woman I love.” He should feel obligated every time she walks in the door.)

The writing here is of that peaceful, fat style of early VNRNs, where the camaraderie of the hospital staff is tangible and the characters feel honest and true. It’s not laughably campy, but the kidnapped-by-gangsters plot line is certainly delightful (and not altogether uncommon; see also Emergency Room Nurse and Society Nurse). If Pete starts out the book with more than a whiff of Asperger’s (“‘Kerosene and—’ Peter began, then broke into a grin. ‘You’re joking. For a minute—’”), and his Darcy-like transformation isn’t completely convincing, he is a compassionate and competent character that we can appreciate for his respect for his bride-to-be. Interestingly, the other VNRN of Ann Rush’s that I’ve read (Eve Cameron, M.D.) gave us a woman who was a doctor, but much more of a spineless loser than Nurse Sally. Ms. Rush has penned at least three more nurse novels (one of which is enticingly subtitled Passion at the County Hospital!), and I look forward to discovering if her next books give us more stalwart characters like Sally or just stale pushovers like Eve.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Nurse of Brooding Mansion


By Paulette Warren, ©1967

Young,  beautiful Connie Bartlett was understandably thrilled when Doctor Fletcher sent her to Ganton Manor, the fabulous Fifth Avenue home of the legendary Gantons. But the thrills began to turn to fear almost as soon as she entered its massive doors. Her patient was to be the great John Ganton himself. But it did not work out that way. As soon as Connie arrived, Tom Ganton, the reckless daredevil of the clan, was brought home from an automobile accident. He became Connie’s patient—and she found herself falling in love with him even as he tried to force her to leave. Then events grew more bizarre. Ganton Manor held secrets of shame and madness, and Connie found herself drawn inexorably into their midst. When Doctor Benton, apparently a cold-blooded schemer, was shot by the emotionally disturbed Fran, he too became a patient. And when Connie began to learn more about what was happening behind the doors that were always closed, she knew she would have to choose between love and duty. But the final choice would be even more difficult than she could possibly realize …

GRADE: B-

BEST QUOTES:
“Even though she was a dedicated practitioner of Florence Nightingale’s art, Connie was 24 and attractive, and she had eventual aspirations that reached beyond the sickroom. Love and marriage, for instance.”

“He’s had a sedative, and he’ll probably konk off any minute now and sleep all night. If he doesn’t, maybe you can amuse him by reading him the obituaries.”

“He took her hand in an objective manner and studied it as thought he’d never seen a hand before and wondered what made it work.”

“I know you aren’t going to hand me a share of the loot because you like the way my uniform fits.”

“You should be a private detective. You ferret out information better than you wind a bandage.”

“He could not conceive of a female’s using her own mind when accorded the privilege of using his.”

“As Connie helped him toward the window, she prattled on as though she’d helped a great many people out of burning buildings and there was nothing to it.”

REVIEW:
The title of this book gave me great hope for a campy frolic, and the opening chapters made me think it was going to deliver as we met the saucy Constance Bartlett just as she was setting off for a private duty job at a tony upper Fifth Avenue mansion caring for the wheelchair-bound elderly John Ganton. Upon her arrival, however, she is immediately asked to change patients and care for John’s son Tom, who has just broken his leg in a car crash. And the book goes off the rails, darn the luck.

Her new patient is petulant, immature, and mean, and tries to get Connie’s goat their first day together by smoking pot in his room, which makes her decide that he is “a defiant little boy. His emotional problem was serious.” The next night, however, he kisses her—but then they hear gunshots, and Tom insists she leave the house immediately. Unfortunately, “it was the first time in Connie’s life that she had ever been dominated. She had been in the process of surrendering herself to a man, and thus, she was emotionally under his domination in the manner in which a woman always surrenders her own personality to a man in such a situation,” so she says, “All right, darling. Whatever you say. … You will call me?”

On her way to dutifully pack her bags, she is grabbed by John Ganton’s secretary, Ken Sorenson, carried to her room, and locked in for the night. The next morning, finding that her bedroom door is now mysteriously unlocked, she rushes from the house to the doctor who had assigned her to the job to tell him the story—but while she’s in his office, he gets a call from Sorenson, who reports that Connie had become completely unhinged by a backfiring car and required restraining for her own safety. Bizarrely, Dr. Fletcher completely swallows Sorenson’s story despite (or maybe because of) having worked with Connie for years, and even Connie starts to think “she’d made a complete idiot of herself,” so she goes back to the house for more madness.

Nights are busy at Ganton Manor: That evening she hears loud marching, and in snooping around to find the source of the noise, she discovers that John Ganton is at the center of a Nazi-like cult intending to take over the country—and then the world! mwa ha ha ha!—with an army of 30 men who are drilling in the  basement. She also finds that the Gantons’ doctor, Ralph Benton, has been shot in the leg by another house lunatic, Tom’s cousin Fran, who is in love with the doctor and has an odd way of expressing it. In typical megalomaniac fashion, the doctor quickly spills to Connie that he is the brains behind the personality cult, along with the news that he’s convinced John Ganton to put $1 million in cash in the house safe, and he knows the combination!

As ridiculous as Benton’s decision to tell all, Connie decides to enlist in the plot to rescue her wimpy boyfriend, and plays a lukewarm gangster moll, telling Benton that Tom is wise to the racket, and is gonna squeal to the coppers, see? So Benton asks her to get Tom out of the house for a week so he can get Fran committed to an asylum, and then they’ll split town with the loot. This plays perfectly into Connie’s warped planning: Ostensibly to save Tom, she proposes marriage, because, she tells him, she is “willing to assume” that she’s in love with him—and it makes her feel only slightly uncomfortable that she’s just learned that all the Ganton money is actually Tom’s, inherited from his mother, and that he takes control of the trust fund from his squandering father as soon as he is married. After her proposal, “Connie sensed defeat” in Tom’s eyes. He agrees to marry her, they exchange “a single tender, passionless kiss,” and Tom tells her she has “a mother complex where I’m concerned. You see me as a son.” This is, without question, the weirdest marriage proposal in any VNRN I’ve read. Oh, and Connie fails to mention that she is pretending to join up with a man who is trying to steal Tom’s money, because he might not understand: “Objectively, she had to admit that Tom was not the most reliable person on earth, not the most evenly balanced.” Two pages later we’re told “she had committed herself to her love for Tom. It was a thing she should have questioned.” We readers, who can make no sense of it, heartily agree.

So the tepid lovebirds charter a jet and a series of limos—the lifestyle makes Connie woozy—to North Carolina and are perfunctorily married by a JP. The next day, Connie drags sulky Tom back to the house, her intention of keeping him safe utterly forgotten now that there’s $1 million at stake—admittedly only a small fraction of Tom’s net worth, and a sum he himself doesn’t seem concerned about when she tells him of Benton’s plan (though not her part in it); he just says, “Uh-huh. But there’ll be plenty left.”

Back at the house, Connie is completely let down to find that Tom has not transformed into a courageous knight, that “no magic alchemy resulted. It was as though nothing had happened, nothing whatever been accomplished. The signing of a marriage oath did not change him. What am I going to do?” What she does is go to see Benton, who tells Connie to clear out the safe and drop the dough in a locker at the bus station, leave the key at the baggage counter, and wait for him in her apartment. For once, Connie’s sense does not desert her. “Did he think anyone other than a fool would blindly follow such directions?” One might ask if Benton himself is a blind fool to give Connie $1 million and send her out the door, but we are in so deep with this rambunctious plot that it’s probably not smart to get meticulous at this point.

Connie goes back to her room, cries, puts on fresh makeup, and then empties the safe and goes to look for Tom, who is missing from his own bedroom. She decides “he would be of no help to her. It was a bitter admission, because strength from Tom had been the goal of every move she’d made—a desperate  hope,” one she had not mentioned to the reader until this point, but there I go again, looking for logic in this hopeless mess. She heads to the basement, where a meeting of the neo-Nazis is in progress, to find Tom on stage telling the bootjacks to clear out quick before the police storm the joint. Then he delivers the news to his dear old dad that he’s married now and in charge of the money! Connie rushes to him—but he tells her he’s heard her plotting with Benton and is wise to her double-crossing tricks, adds that she’ll be hearing from his divorce lawyer, and hobbles off.

Making no effort to pursue Tom, she heads back to her room to pack her bags for the third time in a week and curiously decides to intervene in a scene between Benton and a still-pistol-packing Fran (no one thought to take it away from her after the last shooting?). Fran decides to bludgeon Connie unconscious—we’re just sorry we can’t join in the fun—and when Connie wakes up, the house is on fire. She stumbles to Tom’s room, where she finds that he’s fallen and can’t get up, but not before he’d found the $1 million, which Connie had hidden in the drawer where he keeps the maudlin poetry he writes. So now he knows she really does love him, and she helps him to the window so the fire fighters will rescue them and they’ll live richly ever after … especially now that “Tom had proved himself a man!” Though not in this last scene.

The hints of greatness at the start of this book included sparkly gems like, “His nurse turned suddenly disloyal. She rushed off and got married,” and “‘I am Mrs. Bates,’ she said with an economical lack of lip movement,” and “the bed was huge enough to let you sleep with a stranger you would never have to actually meet.” But as the plot and heroine dissolved around us, so too did the writing, and by the end any camp seems sadly unintentional. This story has more holes than a golf course, but I’d be OK with that if I felt like the author was skillfully leading us on a tongue-in-cheek romp. Instead I feel like we were dragged—and her along with us—by a mad circus elephant of a plot. There’s still some fun to be had here, but sadly not as much as there could have been by an author with more talent or interest in this book.


Saturday, December 8, 2018

Nurse in Paris


By Renée Shann ©1964

Nurse Sara Farriday was no stranger to trouble. Hospital duty had made her familiar with all kinds of pain and suffering. But she was totally unprepeared when disaster struck at her own  heart. Her romance with Don had been beautiful. She had never dreamed anyone could fall so deeply in love. But now, abruptly, it was over … the engagement was broken. And Sara left the shattered pieces of her old life behind to try to find a new life and new hope in Paris, the city of dreams. At first, it seemed to be working. To her own surprise, she found herself falling in  love again—with the dashing and charming Jimmy. But another tragedy brought Don back into her life—and she was faced with an impossible choice…

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“‘Enter Florence Nightingale,’ he said, ‘only much more fetching. A great woman, Florence Nightingale, but no glamour-puss.’”

Why do we poor blighters never get the pretty nurses? I suppose Matron’s scared one as good to look at as you would speed up the pulses. Mine’s racing, isn’t it?

“But who had tricked her and why? She began to consider fantastic possibilities. White slavery still existed in the world; unsuspecting girls still got tricked and sent to South America. Only a few months ago she had read a report about it.”

Paris is full of strange people. I dare say London is too, but they seem stranger here.

It’s quite a city.  A girl who keeps her nerve can have a lot of fun round here.

“For a man with a Colles fracture he looked remarkably perky.”

A place like this makes you wonder why these people ever leave home. As soon as they get to Paris they nose out all the English restaurants, eat English food, never speak anything except English, read the English papers and go back at the end of a week thinking they’ve had a wonderful holiday abroad.

The girl who was with him in the accident died a short time ago. Just as well, perhaps. She would have been much disfigured.

“He was in the hospital for a minor stomach ailment that only a man with a lot of money could afford to indulge so luxuriously.”

The Princess is keeping your boy-friend Pablo warm for you.

“The driver took them across Paris with the usual Parisian disregard for life and law.”

REVIEW:
Sara Farriday is a 24-year-old British nurse engaged to a man she met while vacationing in Spain. She’s deliriously in love (though no one else seems to like the man much) and shopping for the dress she’ll wear to her wedding, which is to be in six weeks, when Don drops a bomb: They can’t get married in church because he was married before and got divorced. This is a blow, of course, surprisingly not because all the good alternative wedding venues are likely booked, but Sara quickly recovers. It’s only when a week later he confesses that his Mexican divorce is not legal in England so he can’t get married until he gets another divorce that she loses it and ends the relationship. It’s not clear why this is worse than a year’s worth of dishonesty about his past, but it appears to be due to the embarrassment of having to cancel the wedding and return all the gifts.

She’s so devastated that she can’t even work again, she says, because she’d have to tell her former manager that the wedding is off, which would be just too humiliating. Her mom, though, gets impatient with Sara’s silliness and makes an appointment for Sara to interview for a nursing job in Paris, which Sara is incapable of cancelling—again due to apparent misplaced embarrassment—so off she goes, even accepting the job because she’s unable to refuse. En route to Paris, Sara has the most tragedy-ridden one-hour flight ever: First the Arabic passenger across the aisle, who boards the plane in a completely sound state of health is stricken with a flu-like illness and actually dies after he’s tucked into the pilot’s bunk and Sara goes back to her seat to flirt with Jimmy Jordan, the man sitting next to her. Then the plane’s front wheel won’t unfold and the plane crashes on landing. It’s all OK, though, because Jimmy immediately stakes a claim as Sara’s boyfriend, and on their first date, this silly woman decides she could be falling in love with Jimmy. Even more curious about this date is the fact that on her way out the hospital door, whose mangled carcass is being pulled from the ambulance but Don’s? “Supposing he begged her again to marry  him. She couldn’t be indifferent to him despite all that had happened. Especially now he had had this dreadful accident …”

She finally has to care for poor Don, completely mummified in gauze, and in what was likely not intended to be a comic scene, when he sees her, “the tears rolled slowly and disappeared into the bandages.” In bed that night with fresh roses from Jimmy on her bedside table, it’s her turn to cry: “Which man was she in love with—Don or Jimmy?” My money says this flighty infant has no idea what love is.

When a previously well nurse dies of a flu-like illness, the penny does actually drop and Sara tells the hospital doctor about the sick man on the plane. Dr. Scully contacts the airport for a report: “One can’t be too careful. These nuclear bomb experiments could cause mutations in bacteria. We live in a  terrifying world, Farriday.” While Dr. Scully mulls treatment options, looking for an antibiotic effective against this virus (though by definition an antibiotic will not kill a virus), fickle Sara holds Don’s hand and calls him darling with alarming frequency, though she refuses to discuss marriage with him and bristles when the nurse matron tells her that she needs to marry Don to give him a reason for living, especially now that his leg’s been amputated. Unfortunately, Jimmy is bringing Sara home from a date when she’s met at the front door by the Matron, who urges Sara to go see her ailing “fiancé” immediately. Jimmy, rightfully livid, breaks up with Sara on the spot, and you will be shocked to hear that Sara makes absolutely no effort to reach out to Jimmy to explain the situation, because “no girl should run after any man.” In this case she should also be discouraged from action by a guilty conscience, though I am quite sure that she is not.

Then Jimmy comes down with the fatal flu, which is now rampaging through Paris, and Sara breaks a medical protocol by giving Jimmy, who is in the control arm of a trial of a medication that might cure it, the actual drug. He is immediately cured, but Sara is sacked, and stupidly refuses to take the pay that is due her. With nowhere else to go, she accepts an offer to be a private nurse for a rich former patient who had stared at her a lot. The man is now completely well, and Sara is somewhat concerned that he has immoral acts on his mind, but all he wants to do is drive her around town in his convertible and have her wave to his friends.

Eventually, though, he does propose, and tells her he’s booked tickets for them to go to London and meet her parents and get married. Horrid Sara decides she will accompany him to London—but “once she was safely back in London she would walk out on Monsieur Bruyarde without any pang of conscience.” Unfortunately she comes down with the flu on the way to the airport, and once there becomes too sick to walk, or to understand that Monsieur is being arrested, and then Jimmy mysteriously shows up to take her back to her old hospital, this time as a patient. When she’s well, she learns that the Monsieur had been hoping to pass Sara off as his dead wife, whom she resembled, so as to keep his wife’s money, which somehow he had not inherited. All that’s left is for her and Jimmy to reunite and we can end the book.

Renée Shann has in the past given us a couple decent reads (Ring for the Nurse and Student Nurse), and we can put Nurse in Paris up alongside them. The writing is regularly campy, with great lines such as “After a time Jimmy grew tired of contributing a solo performance as the life and soul of the party,” and we can laugh through comic scenes such as when Sara and her spirited roommate Lulu are driving around the Bois de Bologne at 4:00 am trying to find two of Lulu’s boyfriends who have decided to duel over her. Interestingly, Sara is something of an unlikeable character, too wishy-washy to decide which of her own boyfriends she really loves, too backward to clear up her misunderstanding with Jimmy or look for a job, immoral enough to cheat an employer out of a plane ticket to London. The plot is a little random, with quite a few unexplained loose ends, but in the end it’s a better-than-average book with enough joy in its pages to tide you over the rough spots, even if one of them happens to be the heroine.