Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Nurse Knows Best

By Adelaide Humphries, ©1953
Cover illustration by Tom Miller

Nurse Ellen Copeland suddenly found three men in her life:
Tom Spendler, her boy friend since high school, who was demanding she set a date for their wedding.
Paul Dixon, once a brilliant author and now dangerously close to suicide, who needed her to help him write again and to restore his faith in women and in love.
Dr. Eric Hendricks, attractive, young psychiatrist and the man Ellen was in love with. Only he seemed more interested in his work than in her.
What should she do about these three men? She had to come to a decision. Should she marry Tom out of loyalty? Should she sacrifice herself to Paul because he desperately needed her? Or was there some way for her to make Eric see her as a woman and not just as his nurse?


“This younger generation—well, there simply was no accounting for some of the things they would do, at least from what one read and saw going on. Driving souped-up cars, smoking marijuana, drinking and boldly making love in public places, getting divorces almost before the marriage had time to take. But then, in Miss Rutledge’s opinion, the whole world had gone mad, what with all these atomic experiments and tornadoes and floods and talk about so many persons secretly belonging to the Communist Party, and the entire Government, after twenty years, being taken over by the Republicans again.”

“A mother wanted marriage for her daughter, but she wanted to keep her sons as long as possible. That old saying, perhaps, that one lost a son when he married, while a daughter was a daughter all her life.”

“Dr. Hendricks, being the doctor, thought he knew more than the nurse. That might be, but sometimes, Ellen believed, a woman knew more about some things than a man.”

“It did not mean anything—a good-night kiss. Not any more. This was the atomic age, not the stone age.”

“Butch judged a man by his handshake. And if he liked guns and that sort of thing.”

“She was the life of the party and so much fun that no one cared how fat she was or what was the color of her hair.”

“I presume an author can do strange things and it’s expected.”

“Her mother was a dear, but sometimes she got weird notions in her head.”

Ellen Copeland is a psychiatric nurse, working in the plush Park Avenue practice of young, hunky Dr. Eric Hendricks, when one evening just as the office is about to close, a hobo stumbles in, saying he needs to see the doctor or he will kill himself. As the efficient front-office secretary tries to put him off until next Thursday, Ellen steps in and invites the man back into a treatment room. Dr. Hendricks is a good sort who actually sees the occasional pro bono patient, and he agrees to assess the patient, even if it is after hours. Ellen departs for home, convinced she’s lost her job, but the next day she finds that Dr. Hendricks is pleased! The patient is actually a very successful author, Paul Dixon, who has come home from the war only to find his fiancée has married someone else. He becomes so depressed that he cannot write and is experiencing a psychosomatic loss of sight. Dr. Hendricks enlists Ellen in caring for Paul Dixon, and takes her out for dinner and dancing ostensibly to discuss the patient, which Ellen enjoys just a little too much.

Ellen has a boyfriend Tom, who is pressuring her to marry him, but he is moving to Tennessee for work, and Ellen does not want to leave her family in Brooklyn. It’s fortuitous that he is packing up to go just as Dr. Eric is moving in, metaphorically anyway—soon he and Ellen are dating every Friday night.

Ellen is meanwhile helping out Paul by moving him out of his tenement apartment into a farm owned by her uncle, where Paul is finally able to write. Everyone is starting to get ideas about Ellen and Paul, particularly since Paul is clearly in love with Ellen, and she is starting to entertain horrific ideas about actually marrying Paul so as to further his mental stability—especially since Eric finally kissed her and then immediately took off to go on a cruise with a wealthy, beautiful divorcee and former patient. Because a VNRN cannot exist without multiple misunderstandings, Ellen believes Eric is pursuing marriage with the boating divorcee, and Eric and pretty much everyone else, Paul included, is misled into believing that Ellen is in love with Paul.

Naturally everything is sorted out in the end, but believe that the ride is thoroughly enjoyable. Adelaide Humphries is a superlative writer, who in her best books gives you a meaty bone to chew on, with many lovely characters, painterly scene descriptions, and few of the more frustrating devices other VNRN authors fall on too easily—our heroine is never suckered by situations that wouldn’t fool a five-year-old, never manufactures her own misery, never plays stupid mind games. A book by Ms. Humphries, in short, is bound to be excellent, and in this one, she does not let us down.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Nurse with the Red-Gold Hair

By Jane Corby, ©1964
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

She knew how to deal with the drama of life and death … but Nurse Nancy Rogers had to learn how to control her emotions when Scott Lathrop walked into her life. After all, she was engaged to Dr. Ty Abbott—and besides, Scott seemed more interested in his work than in her. She knew she couldn’t go on hiding her feelings forever. It wasn’t fair to herself—or her fiancé. But how was she going to make Scott see that love was just as important to his life as his work?


“Perhaps a cheery word or a pat on the hand was not prescribed for patients, but Nancy knew they often helped. A word of encouragement when a woman was combing her hair or a suggestion that she might arrange it in a more becoming fashion always gave the patient a lift.”

“Darling! What an ungodly hour for you to look so crisp and efficient!”

“She carefully fed one of the heart patients her evening meal; the woman was not allowed to lift even a cup of tea to her lips.”

Poor Nurse Nancy Blake Rogers. Life has been so cruel, endowing her with a mouthful of a name and bipolar hair, which seems to be all anyone can remember about her; almost every patient “chose to forget her name” and instead calls her “Goldilocks” or “red-headed spitfire” or, even worse, “the nurse with the red-gold hair.”

From outward appearances, she is managing her own life and career quite well. An orphan, natch, she sold the rambling family mansion when her mother died and bought a six-room ranch, which she shares with her aging housekeeper, whom she can’t let go even if the old woman is slowing down; to accommodate her, Nancy packs away the sterling and the Haviland and opts for stainless steel cutlery and cheap dishes.

Of course, Nancy has a steady boyfriend, resident Tyrone Abbott, who “roused the maternal instinct in every woman who knew him. Nancy could not fight down the impulse she had, on sight, to pat down his unruly cowlick or ask him if he had remembered to drink his milk.” Ty is clearly doomed.

But Nancy is in fact kind of a pushover. When cousin Joyce, whose “whole world crashed when her parents were killed in that airplane accident,” arrives to stay at Nancy’s house in the middle of the night with two cars full of rowdies intent on an all-night party, Nancy curiously allows all these hoodlums in. For hours she feeds them chips, dip, soft drinks, and all her milk until her “smoldering resentment” finally gets the best of her and she throws them all out at 1:00 am, since she has to be at work at 7:00—and the next day she plans to apologize to Joyce “for her sharp remarks.”

Enter the rocks upon which the ship of their relations will founder: Scott Lathrop, engineer and friend of Joyce’s who has just accepted a job at the Glenville electronics plant, where he will be doing “experimental work” with “violent reactors.” As Joyce continues in the role of ungrateful, bitchy houseguest, slowly commandeering Ty’s free time, that’s just fine with Nancy, who, at Ty’s 26th birthday party, no less, is literally swept away by Scott to the ubiquitous terrace that no self-respecting dance floor would live without. Some time later they return to the party, she looking “like a girl who has been quite thoroughly kissed,” but her enthusiasm dampens when Joyce cattily reveals that Scott was fired from his last job.

While we wait for Scott to explain this shocking blot on his character, we go to work at the hospital and learn about diabetes, a disease which Nancy, despite years of experience, doesn’t know much about. Dr. Mason, who believes that “most bodily ailments come from some malfunction of a gland,” lectures us that most diabetics, by the time of their diagnosis, are admitted to the hospital in a coma and die. Nancy also brings home a boy of five who goes into convulsions every time he sees his mother, when the woman herself is admitted to the hospital for appendicitis and the six children are packed off to foster homes despite the fact that their father is unemployed and so is home all day with nothing to do.

In the meantime, Nancy is giving Scott what passes in VNRNs for the cold shoulder. When he drops by to ask her for a date, she tells him that although she would love to go out with him, this darned flu epidemic has her working double shifts seven days a week, so she can’t tell him when exactly she will be free. The highly perceptive young man understands this exactly as it was intended and stomps off in a huff.

So what else is there to do while she is snubbing the man she loves? Well, go on a picnic with Ty and have “a scuffle” with him under the trees during which “the hot dog was dropped into the dirt and lay for a while unheeded.” (These VNRN euphemisms are absolutely divine!) Further, the duplicitous cat becomes irritated and depressed when Ty talks as if he’d “had a heart-to-heart with her cousin.” She has Ty drive her to their usual “parking” spot and returns his fraternity pin, slipping it into the pocket of his beach parka, a garment I am trying very hard to imagine.

Next, Scott rescues a woman from a burning building and is marginally injured, laid up for a total of two weeks, but Nancy is enlisted to care for him. As her strange romance with Scott gets back on track, she decides to drive to New York to pick up the very latest book on electronics for him—and bizarrely brings Ty with her on a date, although “she did not feel the excited anticipation she had known on previous dates.” Then she refers to Scott as “nothing more than a friend,” despite the fact that the two are quoting Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene to each other. During her outing with Ty, he proposes behind a screen of potted palms, and she gently turns him down. She decides Scott does not love her based on her own weird twisting of events: She thinks Scott lied to her at their first meeting about why he came to town, and because he has referred to his two weeks stuck at home as a prison, this means he does not care for her.

Then the boy she’s taken in runs away, and after a frightening night in which she and Scott sit up and snap at each other, the boy is found by police and taken to the hospital. There he undergoes a glorious reunion with his dear mother, suddenly transformed into a caring, doting woman even though she never once visited her son in Nancy’s home and—even worse!—“never attempted to keep house; not even a shred of curtain hung at the dirty windows.” This miraculous revision occurs apparently because her husband has finally gotten a job, so “it looks as if they’re going to be a happy family now.” With the boy out of Nancy’s house, all it takes for Scott to surprise Nancy on her porch after she gets home from work to propose, the romantic fool, and we can wrap up the nurse with the red-gold hair.

The writing isn’t terrible, but Nancy is bewildering, managing her career and patients with aplomb while blundering her personal life with self-delusion of monumental proportions and a complete inability to express even her strongest feelings. Displaying less personal growth than her shallow cousin Joyce, who eventually decides that the boring guy who’s desperately in love with her is the one she really loves too, Nancy should really stick to being a nurse with no name. Clearly as a human being—certainly as a married one with yet one more name for her collection—I can’t see how she is going to be very successful.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Hometown Nurse

By Jane Converse, ©1968

Peggy Mitchell lost the game—and Dr Mark Woodward—to Veronica Nolin. She was ready to leave River Bend forever. Then it happened. The auto accident that paralyzed Veronica’s sister and thrust Peggy into the role of private-duty nurse to a doctor she loved, a woman she hated, and a helpless patient whose dependence could wreck her life.


“Like everyone else one meets on planes, trains, and buses, she was an unlicensed psychologist.”

“Waiting for him to ask for a date was like waiting for an invitation to be the first lady astronaut.”

“Seeing Mark Woodward daily at the hospital provided her with breathless moments at intervals close enough together to threaten her respiratory system.”

Nothing drives a young woman to visit her childhood home like her widower father starting to date again. Nurse Peggy Mitchell, a year out of school and having persuaded her folks to move to Chicago with her, can’t stand the lovely, unobjectionable widow her father is dating, so she decides to visit River Bend, Texas, though there are only two people she wants to see: girlhood friend Janice Nolan and David Bancroft, who had once professed to love her but whom she had “never dated, because David’s father was abysmally poor, and a car or spending money were undreamed luxuries for a boy who wore patched corduroys and, for the four years he attended River Bend High, the same gray thrift-shop sweater.” Imagine her surprise when she arrives in town to discover that David has become a millionaire real estate tycoon and is engaged to marry Janice!

Not so great a loss for Peggy, though, because David is immediately painted as a bit of a dick. Too concerned about material things, he’s “never read a poem in his life!” exclaims the beautiful, flighty artist Janice. When over lunch Janice quotes a line of poetry she’s written, the patronizing jerk pats her hand and tells her, “You keep having pretty little ideas and looking beautiful, baby.” The story abruptly turns into a mystery, namely why the two women seated at the table didn’t pummel him senseless and leave. Worse than this, even, David refers to Peggy as “Nursie.”

Her curiosity satisfied, Peggy is packing to go back to the windy city when she meets Dr Mark Woodward, chief of staff at the local hospital. She instantly falls in love, and gets a job at his hospital and an apartment in his building. The two become friends—but nothing more than that, and by Chapter 4 (the above action happens in about as many sentences in the book) she’s again decided to leave town—after the big costume ball, her one chance to dance with Mark. During the party, however, it  becomes plain that David is still in love with Peggy, the secret pouring out of him as he pours the drinks in. Finally stomping off in a huff with Janice in tow, to take her for a spin and likely break up with her, the group—including the doctor and the nurse—watches him weave across the lawn without more than the meekest protests, and then sprints to the wrecked car to extricate the near-dead Janice.

Now irrevocably confined to an iron lung for total paralysis, Janice begs Peggy to become her nurse, and of course Peggy cannot refuse, though guilt for her role in allowing the accident to occur is not one of her motivations. She gives Janice a reason to live when she suggests that the patient write stories for children, but Mark persuades everyone not to mention this plan to Janice’s older sister Veronica, a beautiful but domineering woman who has ruled Janice’s life with an iron ¾-length glove and is the driving force behind the upcoming nuptials, because Veronica is somehow going to see this as an indication that Janice will never walk again. But this secret is revealed in short order as well, and Veronica is livid: “Don’t let anybody push a career at you, sweetie,” she snaps, and then she accuses Peggy of trying to steal David while Janice is indisposed. Janice agrees to stop writing stories and go back to planning her wedding, which David is guilt-ridden enough to go through with.

Mark pulls Peggy off the case, saying it was unwise to involve a friend as  a caregiver—again with too little, too late—and Peggy loses it, telling him that he has failed to protect Janice from her “ambitious tyrant” of a sitster, that he is standing by and letting “a sick, vain, money-obsessed woman destroy Janice’s mind!” The charge, given his history of passivity, is entirely valid. She then insists that if he had Janice’s best interests at heart he would keep Veronica away from the hospital and get a psychiatrist involved in Janice’s care, proving that she's better at Marks job than he is. The next day, Mark shows up at Peggy’s house, not to tell her he’s barred Veronica or hired a psychiatrist, but to beg Peggy to stay on as Janice’s nurse. He takes Peggy in his arms and tells her he loves her, so his continued failures with Janice are overlooked.

But we still have 33 more pages to go, so one night Veronica shows up at the hospital with a quack who claims to be able to cure Janice. The pair bundle Janice into a portable respirator, which has previously been proven to be inadequate for Janice’s ventilation needs, and truck her out to the quack’s spa in the desert. Needless to say, Janice quickly decompensates—but Peggy and Mark have figured out Veronica’s plan and arrive on scene to save the day, and Janice.

Veronica reacts to this crisis by completely parting ways with reality and is hospitalized herself, in the psychiatric wing. When she’s finally allowed to visit, she swoops in with a bridal veil and more wedding plans. Janice finally demonstrates that she has a spine, even if it doesn’t work, and tells Veronica that she does not love David, is not going to marry him, is never going to get better, and is going to be a writer. As the book ends, Peggy and Mark are planning a honeymoon to Niagara Falls and debating whether Peggy will keep her own career once they are wed. We can only hope Peggy proves to be as strong as Janice and wins that argument.

Jane Converse’s writing is usually a pleasure, and she doesn’t fail us here. The plot, however, gets a little muddy at the end, after Mark and Peggy are united and Veronica’s sanity begins to fray, one twist seeming premature in the book’s pacing and the other gratuitous, though Converse always does an exquisite screaming harpie. I was pleased that she found no miracle cure for Janice, which would have been too easy. If it’s not Converse’s best book, you could certainly do a lot worse.

Monday, February 13, 2017

City on the Bay

By John R. Sherwood, ©1964
Cover illustration by Henry Fox

Texan Mike Rayburn left his post in the American city-hospital and flew across the world to Sydney, Australia. To the bridge, the harbor; to the city and world that was newer even somehow than the one he had left behind. On an exchange agreement, he was on loan for six months to the huge research hospital on the outskirts of the sprawling, brawling, exciting city. He was sorry to leave behind his friends and colleagues, and in particular his fiancée, Susan, with whom he had shared so much during his training and the unending strife of a surgeon’s life. But he was glad to carry the battle further afield, to meet new people, learn new methods. In this other city within a city he met the same dedication, the same loves, the same hates and envies. He met other men who were like himself; other men who pretended to be like himself and were not. He met women too, and one in particular who sought his love … and a strange man who sought his friendship.


“A surgeon was just a glorified plumber.”

“I would have liked to be a surgeon. But I suppose that most women just haven’t got the manual strength and skill.”

“Mike Rayburn couldn’t help feeling that the teenager today was a mass-produced product, irrespective of race, creed or language. They had bags of verve though, he had to give them that.”

“ ‘I enjoyed the rock and roll more than I expected,’ she said. ‘It’s a fine catharsis. A bit wearing on the nerves, however.’ ”

The hero of our story, Mike Rayburn, is not a nurse—he is a doctor from Texas offered a six-month-long fellowship at a research hospital in Sydney, Australia. This means two things: One, he will have to leave his fiancée nurse Susan Carter behind, and two, this book is not a nurse novel.

When Mike breaks the news to Susan that they will be parted for half a year, just when she was expecting to finally get married next month, she is pissed! So he hadn’t asked her to move up the ceremony and come with him, and when he meets beautiful fellow fellow Dr. Linda Purnell, he seems to forget Susan ever existed.

Linda is quickly established as an intelligent and thoughtful doctor heading the dermatology lab. Sophisticated yet guileless, “she could meet most males squarely on their own ground.” Soon she and Mike are great friends, friends who kiss and throw their arms around each other and don’t mention their fiancées waiting for them back home. They go on a lot of dates, and Mike frets that “though he always kissed Linda goodnight before leaving her, their relationship didn’t seem to be getting any further, any more intimate.” Mike is something of a louse.

We follow Mike through various medical adventures, the aforementioned dates with Linda, and his regular but infrequent and unsuccessful struggles with his conscience. Eventually he drops his wallet and a photo of Susan falls out, and that’s that. In a few more rapid-fire pages, the book perfunctorily disposes of all the characters we’ve met to date, including Susan, who writes a very pretty letter of apology to Mike for not having been more supportive. Linda takes a job in Honolulu and never sees Mike again, but sends him a fairly tragic letter saying that she’s seeing a lot of an old friend whom she doesn’t love but who proposes regularly, concluding, “Perhaps one day I will say yes. I am very fond of him and he would make a fine husband. He would want me to give up my hospital work though, and I don’t know whether I am ready to do this yet.” So while Mike walks away with a satisfying career, a loyal fiancée, and a fairly successful fling with a beautiful and intelligent woman, Linda seems destined for a loveless marriage and the forced abandonment of the career she has worked nearly a decade for.

It’s an entertaining book, if poorly copy edited (you know how I just abhor that) and a bit unchivalrous. Linda is by far the most attractive character in the book, inside and out, and her heart is clearly broken by Mike, who does not spend much time feeling bad about his behavior. It’s hard to watch someone win the game when they do not deserve to. I have to wonder who the intended audience is for this story, but if the women characters are as a rule better drawn and more interesting than the men, neither Susan nor Linda deserve the way they are treated by our alleged hero, who is clearly a cavalier and shallow ass. We are not told if Mike mentions his affair with Linda to Susan, but I’m guessing he never gets around to that, either. I might forgive him if he demonstrated any significant remorse or self-awareness of his failures in this situation, but in the end all we’re left with his is sad wish, “If only Western men were allowed more than one wife …” For my part, I’m going to lament that I spent so much time with such a callow ass. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Daredevil Nurse

By Arlene J. Fitzgerald, ©1964
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

Dr. Stag Shaylor fascinated Nurse Robin Reid—and most of the people in her home town. Why did the gifted young surgeon live alone in the strange old house? Who were his late-night visitors? Were his unusual medical practices only unorthodox—or dangerous fakery? Robin had to find out the answers—for she sensed that Stag Shaylor could be more exciting—and dangerous—than Robin’s daring hobby of skydiving!


“I don’t want to have to pry you away, when the time comes for us to get married. I want you to come peacefully.”

“A fellow has to be lucrative, if he plans to take on a wife, someday.”

“The girls feel they have to comply, in order to succeed. The more daring the neckline, the better. IF a few of us would show a little righteous indignation against violations of good taste … ”

“You look like cotton candy. Good enough to eat.”

“Maybe I’m wise to plan on marriage, after I’ve satisfied my career urges.”

Not long after bestowing Arlene J. Fitzgerald with the top berth on the list in the 2016 VNRN awards, I picked up Daredevil Nurse—and found it really not so awful. High praise for her.

Alas, the cover illustration does not give us an accurate prediction of what nurse Robin Reid will be getting herself into between the book’s covers. Coming home to Pine Grove, Oregon, after completing her nurse’s training, she is starting her first job at Pine Grove Memorial. She’s also coming home to Jay Bradley, her high school sweetheart, with whom we are repeatedly reminded she has no formal understanding despite a five-year relationship. The couple discusses their future a lot, though, Jay telling her she’ll have to quit her job when they get married. Like all VNRN heroines with a longtime steady, she really doesn’t like much about Jay: He’s reckless, inconsiderate, and not very interested in her. He takes her skydiving regularly, which she doesn’t enjoy at all, but she doesn’t feel comfortable just telling him that. Instead of the practical medical bag she’s long admired, it’s a sky blue parachute he gives her, one that matches the jumpsuit he gave her last year. But “if she wanted Jay Bradley’s love, she had to pretend”—and never mind that it’s not clear why she wants his love in the first place.

Enter the doctor who makes her tachycardic—named, I am very sorry to tell you, Stag Shaylor. He is quite hot, but aloof and distant with the nurses—until he chats up Robin in front of the elevators and starts the gossip mill churning. Soon she’s assisting him in the OR at his request, and defending his unusual practice of talking to the anesthetized patients as if they are conscious, gently encouraging them throughout their surgical procedures. Curiously, the hospital is in uproar about  this harmless idiosyncrasy, and Dr. Stag is on the brink of being drummed out of the hospital for this and for his thoroughly unforgiveable habit of flying his small prop plane out of town every weekend and not telling anyone where he’s going or what he’ll be doing.

Robin eventually is invited to come with him one weekend—and Stag gives her that shiny medical bag she’s been wanting for so long (why didn’t she just buy it for herself?)—but when they arrive, she’s livid to find out he’s running a small general practice in an isolated coastal town. She thinks it’s just a ploy to win her over as he faces a medical board inquiry—as if the truth is some sort of trick, but he invites her to assist him in office hours, and she’s soon won over. The backstory she eventually learns is that Stag’s best friend in medical school was planning to open this clinic, but was attacked by a shark before graduation and died because medical care was too distant to save him.

Meanwhile, Jay conveniently takes a crop-dusting contract out of town for two weeks, freeing Robin to go out with Stag and succumb to his “male demand,” which here is a euphemism for kissing her. Here she begins to demonstrate some fairly nauseous beliefs, such as “knowing with deep, sure feminine instinct, that the only real comfort a man could know came to him through his own aggressiveness.”

A forest fire sends Robin and Stag on a medical mission in his plane to render medical aid to a trapped movie crew. The adventure ends in Robin being offered a movie contract, and Stag tells her he would have proposed if she weren’t going off to Hollywood—and she never bothers to mention, though she’s now in love with Stag, that she has no intention whatsoever of leaving nursing.

Jay comes home and she immediately breaks up with him, now that she feels all is lost with Stag, that “it was up to Dr. Shaylor to come to her, if he was interested. She wanted to shout out her desires, knowing instinctively that if she did, she might lose him for all time. She could only sit quietly, alerted by her knowledge that a man wanted to be the aggressor, had to be, to fulfill his own male urges, just as a woman had to remain silent, as a fulfillment of her best, female self.” She immediately follows up this revolting theory by sky diving out of Stag’s airplane to adjust the landing lights so Stag can land his plane and deliver a baby in his weekend job.

It’s easily the best Arlene Fitzgerald book I’ve read, but it is not without flaws, the most egregious being her insane attitude about being a passive little ornament—which, I should note, she completely undoes at the end of the book by kissing Stag on the mouth when is marriage proposal is interrupted by that darned baby—“it was a wanton thing to do,” she thinks. The I-really-do-love-my-irritating-boyfriend theme is not as badly done here as it is in some VNRNs, as Robin soon realizes that she does not love Jay, though her inability to be upfront with him about her true feelings, while not surprising, is still annoying. Without what I hope are relics of the times, it’s a good read, even if Robin is not the daredevil we are led to believe by the otherwise glorious cover.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Homecoming Nurse

By Rose Dana 
(pseud. William E. Daniel Ross), ©1968

When Jane Weaver’s marriage ended unhappily, she decided to work as a nurse on Boston rather than return to the small town where the romance had begun. But then her father’s hospital in Whitebridge was threatened by a lack of funds and Jane, out of loyalty, went home to help. She had to risk many things – reminders of her past, the censure of her friends, a meeting with Steve Benson, the man she had jilted. But also, Whitebridge itself had changed. A new black doctor had introduced the racial question, people had grown subtly different, and Jane found not the threads of her old life but a new challenge to her heart.


“Then your marriage did turn out as badly as everyone predicted?”

“ ‘Stay away from all that thinking,’ was his advice. ‘Let me do the planning for us.’ ”

“I wish I’d had the good sense to find myself a husband when I was your age.”

“Poor Dr. Davis has lots of ability, even if he is colored, which I’m sure he can’t help. But it does make some of the patients uneasy with him.”

“She looked the mental case she was.”

This book has more taboos—divorce! racially exclusive country clubs! mental illness! chasing married men! Jello molds!—than any other VNRN I’ve encountered. Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing that sets it apart from the others.

Jane Weaver RN is returning home to Whitebridge, NH, after a two-year stint at the Peter Bent Brigham in Boston. Seems the hospital her father, Dr. Graham Weaver, has championed, is on the brink of being closed by the town council. A larger hospital just an hour’s drive away is siphoning off their patients, and the stress of keeping the hospital afloat is allegedly sapping her father’s health, so she is lured back to care for him.

She’s nervous about seeing her father again, after her marriage to a handsome but alcoholic golf pro, of which he had disapproved from the start, had fallen apart after eight months, but apart from some catty remarks and Jane’s feelings that “I have to expect to suffer for my stupidity, no one really seems to care. And speaking of uncaring, once home, Jane spends little time with her reportedly failing father—who seems tired but otherwise well, actually—and doesn’t pay much attention to how he’s feeling, so it’s a little unclear why she would chuck her former life for such a shallow reason.

Jane’s best friend in Whitebridge, Maggie, is not really dating Dr. Boyd Davis, which is a good thing, because even if he is a polite, competent doctor, the scandal is that he’s black, so his “friendship” with Maggie, clearly a love affair, cannot be called such. Jane is concerned that, should they marry, Dr. Boyd’s practice will be shunned. As it is, the local country club bars Dr. Boyd from the dining room, which doesn’t prevent the town mayor, Jane, Maggie, and Dr. Boyd’s medical colleagues from dining there. “I was going to turn in my membership card,” says Maggie. “But then I realized what a foolish, futile gesture that would be. Everyone would know I did it because I feel as I do about Boyd. They’d pity me, but they wouldn’t change their minds.” All I can say is that it’s a good thing Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King didn’t share her apathy.

You will not be at all surprised to learn that a serious accident occurs in which the victim requires immediate surgery and cannot be transported to the larger hospital in time. Undergoing surgery in the Whitebridge hospital, in an interesting dramatic turn the patient dies nonetheless, and with her any hope fo keeping Benson Memorial open. As Dr. Boyd and other medical colleagues of Dr. Weaver’s flee New Hampshire for warmer pastures and the hospital winds down, will some miracle solution pop up and save the day?

This book offers more to chew on than the usual VNRN. Though the attitudes are extremely dated, the problems with Dr. Boyd and Maggie, and the small hospital’s relevance in the modern era are not presented as obvious one-sided arguments. Apart from that, though, and a couple of wild scenes with the books’ more outrageous vixens, it’s a fairly bland story without much zip to it. Dan Ross, writing here as Rose Dana, has never been one of my favorite authors (witness his cumulative C average over six books). Here he manages to avoid his most outrageous sins (relentlessly referring to characters as “the dark girl,” for one) but can’t really pull off a good book even with more complex themes than usual. If I am compelled by my mission to read his books, you, fortunately, have other options. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

2015-2016 VNRN Awards

It is with both triumph and shame that I bring you the best (and worst) of the year, both because I abandoned this blog for eight months and because, obviously, I came back! This year’s roundup therefore includes the orphaned eight reviews from 2015 in addition to the 34 from 2016.

What you need to know: Winners are chosen from the 42 VNRNs I’ve read these two years 29 different authors. The Best and Worst Authors categories includes all the VNRNs reviewed for this blog (312 to date), but only authors with more than one review are included; the One-Hit Wonders category is reserved for the best books by authors with only one review.

1. Nurse with a Past, Diane Frazer (pseud. Dorothy Fletcher)
2. Factory Nurse, Hilary Neal
3. Runaway Nurse, Ethel Hamill (pseud. Jean Francis Webb)
4. Nurse Barlow, Lucy Agnes Hancock
5. Police Nurse, William Neubauer
6. Duty Nurse, Diana Douglas (pseud. Richard Wilkes Hunter)
7. Queen’s Nurse, Jane Arbor
8. Night-Duty Nurse, Katherine McComb

Doctor Day, Thomas Stone (pseud. Florence Stonebraker)

1. Nurse Kathryn, Peggy O’More
2. Holiday for a Nurse, Joanne Holden (pseud. Jane Corby)
3. Nurse Gina, Joanne Holden (pseud. Jane Corby)
4. Nurse in Las Vegas, Jane Converse (pseud. Adele Kay Maritano)
5. No Escape from Love, Bennie C. Hall
6. Wings for Nurse Bennett, Adeline McElfresh
7. Nurse in Panic, Jane Converse (pseud. Adele Kay Maritano)

Woman Doctor, cover illustration by Tom Miller

1. “She had gone out with him twice, but one time didn’t really count because they had gone to a movie she had wanted to see, a movie called The Savage Eye, which left him shaky and unfit for normal pursuits afterward.” Nurse with a Past, Diane Frazer (pseud. Dorothy Fletcher)
2. “Donna was suddenly very impressed with Steve’s ability in hand-to-hand combat.” Nurse in Istanbul, Ralph E. Hayes
3. “Sit here and contemplate the rewards of sin. I’ll case the joint.” Runaway Nurse, Ethel Hamill (pseud. Jean Francis Webb)
4. “How do you like being an incurable disease, Beautiful?” My Love an Altar, Joan Sargent (pseud. Sara Jenkins Cunningham)
5. “Margaret Wilkerson had come to nursing through a simple process of elimination, more or less as young men of small talent decide to take up business administration in college instead of the humanities.” Nurse with a Past, Diane Frazer (pseud. Dorothy Fletcher)
6. “Do I detect an acquisitive female gleam in your eye in connection with this paragon of all manly virtues?” Woman Doctor, Peter Baldwin
7. “I’m not very hot for hardware.” Disaster Area Nurse, Arlene Hale
8. “My experience of nurses is that they’re always ravenous and cost a fortune to feed.” Hockey Star Nurse, Diana Douglas (pseud. Richard Wilkes Hunter)
9. “ ‘You make me want to cry,’ Ralph said. ‘What a hideous waste! A girl with legs like yours reading that kind of stuff.’ ” Nurse with a Past, Diane Frazer (pseud. Dorothy Fletcher)
10. “The guy has his good points. He’s asked me twice for a date.” Duty Nurse, Diana Douglas (pseud. Richard Wilkes Hunter)

1. Jeanne Judson (3.9 average, based on 3 reviews)
1. Marguerite Mooers Marshall (3.9 average, based on 3 reviews)
3. Faith Baldwin (3.8 average, based on 4 reviews)
4. William Neubauer (3.7 average, based on 2 reviews)
5. Ethel Hamill (3.3 average, based on 5 reviews)
6. Elizabeth Hoy (3.3 average, based on 3 reviews)
7. Helen B. Castle (3.3 average, based on 2 reviews)
7. Joyce Dingwell (3.3 average, based on 2 reviews)

ONE-HIT WONDERS: Best VNRN authors with one review
1. “K”, Mary Roberts Rinehart
3. Surgical Call, Margaret Sangster
4. Nurse Pro Tem, Glenna Finley
5. Walk out of Darkness, Arlene Karson
6. Woman Doctor, Alice Lent Covert
7. Town Nurse—Country Nurse, Marjorie Lewty
8. Hospital Zone, Mary Stolz
9. Factory Nurse, Hilary Neal
10. Night-Duty Nurse, Katherine McComb

1. Arlene Fitzgerald (1.2 average, based on 2 reviews)
2. Patti Carr (1.5 average, based on 2 reviews)
3. Peggy O’More Blocklinger (writing as Peggy O’More and Jeanne Bowman) (1.7 average, based on 10 reviews)
4. Ruth McCarthy Sears (1.8 average, based on 3 reviews)
5. Virginia Smiley (1.9 average, based on 2 reviews)
6. Elizabeth Kellier (2.0 average, based on 2 reviews)
6. Suzanne Roberts (2.0 average, based on 5 reviews)
6. Isabel Stewart Way (2.0 average, based on 3 reviews)
9. William E. Daniel Ross (writing as Rose Dana, Ann Gilmer, and Rose Williams) (2.1 average, based on 6 reviews)
9. Jane Corby (writing as Jane Corby and Joanne Holden) (2.1 average, based on 11 reviews)
9. Richard Wilkes Hunter (writing as Diana Douglas) (2.1 average, based on 11 reviews)