Friday, July 5, 2024

The Nurse and the Crystal Ball

By Florence Stuart
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1969

When Sue Whittier unpacked her suitcase, 3000 miles away from the nurses’ dormitory in Maryland, she found a fortune-teller’s crystal ball under her nylons. It was a friend’s idea of a joke, but Sue—who didn’t believe in such things—wished it could tell her what she was letting herself in for. She had driven to California to be with Dave Harding, the man she had walked out on seven years ago just before their wedding—a dying man now who had written, begging her to come. And she had … Even though seeing David would mean seeing his half-brother, Marv, too—the secret reason Sue had broken the engagement. Still, she was prepared for that. What she wasn’t prepared for was finding another old love of Dave’s at his bedside: Gloria, the blonde he had married on the rebound, the wife who had deserted him two months later and has now returned—with a son she claimed was his. But was it true …? Sue didn’t need a crystal ball to tell her that here was a woman who could not be trusted …


“I am going upstairs to Mr. Harding. If you try to stop me—well, like most nurses, I know a few judo tricks.” 

“In my young years I was never a juvenile delinquent. But it’s never too late to start, even at my ripe old age. So how about us having a little snort?”

“Love and money! She sighed to happily and kept smiling to herself. What more could woman ask for?”

“Just to prove that she was a woman of patience and strong well, Gloria did not box his ears as she longed passionately to do.

When you find a book with a title like this, you can’t help but get your hopes up. So much potential for rollicking, campy fun! Florence Stonebraker can certainly deliver the goods, too, but it must be confessed that the quality of her work is erratic. So my optimism was guarded. And this turned out to be warranted. 

Sue Whittier has left her job and driven 3,000 miles to La Jolla because the man she dumped seven years ago has leukemia and is at death’s door. He had written to her, begging her to come care for him in his final weeks, so sure! But things are little complicated. First of all, there is a crystal ball in her suitcase under a stack of nylons. Remember nylons? I hope you don’t. Secondly, the first person she runs into is Dave’s half-brother Marv, who is actually the reason why Sue left Dave—right before her wedding “she went down to the beach with another man. And that other man took her in his arms. And her dream of forever and ever love with Dave was forever blasted.” Upon her return, she and Marv immediately get into a rather strange argument in which Marv tells Sue to leave but will not tell her why, and then finally, as she is stomping off, he tells her, “I have never stopped loving you.”

Next she meets the surprise guest, Dave’s wife Gloria. He had picked her up on the rebound during a wild few months “with a crowd who spent their time drinking, smoking marijuana, driving to Vegas to gamble over weekends, swimming in the nude,” but Gloria didn’t last very long either. Now, learning somehow that Dave is about to kick off and has a large fortune to dispose of, Gloria is back at the family mansion and has somehow installed herself as supreme ruler over Dave’s mother and Dave himself. The trick is that she has a six-year-old boy in tow named Bobby, who she claims is Dave’s son. Gloria and Bobby are quite the pair—Gloria is a vicious, scheming vixen out to sabotage Sue, while Bobby is an angry, uncontrollable wrecking ball. “It is not as if he were retarded or anything like that, sweetie,” Gloria explains. “Actually, Bobby is unusually bright for his age. His only problem is that he is inclined to be a psychopathic liar, and that needn’t bother you.” OK! But everyone else in the house is kind to Bobby, who transforms under their supervision into a friendly, gentle boy. Sue even gives him the crystal ball, and he starts talking about seeing his dead parents in it. Um, what?

Meanwhile, Gloria has hired a doctor to care for Dave, but Sue suspects the man is a quack. He is prescribing no end of medications for Dave, and has even given a prescription to Dave’s mother Martha, who had seemed fairly healthy until she had started taking the pills as ordered, but woke up feeling dizzy, strange, unable to speak clearly or even walk without falling. Sue advises Martha to “hold the prescription pills under her tongue until Gloria left the room.” Why she cannot just refuse to take the medication outright is unclear, but once Martha starts dumping the meds in the toilet she is feeling spry and energetic again. Dave keeps taking his medication, and is getting worse and worse.

Marv, meanwhile, is trying to kiss Sue, usually after a loud argument in which he grabs her arms painfully, but she is fighting him off and running, at least for now. He keeps exerting everyone in the house to “play it cool” with Gloria, but is not sharing his long-term plan with anyone, so soon naturally decides without any evidence whatsoever that Marv is in cahoots with Gloria, plotting to inherit Dave’s money.

Suddenly Dave decides he is going to make a new will and locks himself up with Marv, who happens to be a lawyer, to create the thing. Exactly two nights later Dave “simply fell asleep, after taking the pills which Gloria made a nightly rite of putting into the tiny plastic box—and he did not wake up.” The rest of the book plays out pretty much as you know it will, including one character going stark, raving mad—a Florence Stonebraker specialty.

There are a lot of irritating aspects to this book. One is the constant suggestion that there are deep secrets at work here: For example, on her first day, Marv inexplicably tells Sue “I don’t feel free to tell you” why he wants her to leave immediately, though the reason is obvious the minute she walks through the mansion door. Marv, brooding in his room after an argument with Sue, “could not figure in exactly what way this money-greedy woman could hurt Susan,” when the obvious answer is that she can’t. When Bobby starts seeing his parents in the crystal ball, Martha declares, “there’s more to his story than meets the eye. We haven’t enough sense to understand what it is.” Yet the most egregious mystery—did Gloria kill Dave?—is left completely unanswered. Is it fair play for an author to throw out a bone that huge and then walk away from it? I spent some time thinking this question over and concluded that the answer is usually no, though I might accept it from an author so gifted that it actually worked (see A Series of Unfortnate Events by Lemony Snicket). So in this case, no. Even the eponymous crystal ball has no impact on the story. I will always have a deep fondness in my heart for Florence Stonebraker, so her failure in this book makes me doubly let down. If you would prefer to avoid philosophical quandaries and disappointment, you won’t need a crystal ball to tell you that you should probably avoid this book.

Friday, June 14, 2024

The Midnight Wards

By D.K. Jennings (pseud. John Glasby), ©1967
Cover illustration by Henry Fox

Throughout the world, large hospitals are much the same; exuding an aura of medicinal efficiency, men and women who supervise the lives of their patients, overseeing a hubbub of intense activity that goes on around the clock. At the old and elegant St. Stephen Hospital on the outskirts of London, it had been a fortnight of the usual minor incidents, common in such a complex of wards and isolated departments. To Veronica Devlin, just beginning her hospital work as a nurse, everything seemed much larger than life. The doctors, surgeons and ward sisters were either gods or ogres and her small mistakes were great tragedies. Then the resident surgeon, Ralph Conway, found himself facing a crisis which threatened not only his career but the whole future of the hospital, a crisis which meant he had to challenge the authority of Sir William Carruthers, the senior surgical consultant, and attempt to uproot policies and ideas which were as old and as established as the hospital itself and somehow, Veronica found herself drawn, against her will, into this personal conflict of ideologies.


“Someone ought to pass a law against night duty.”

“You have the makings of a fine nurse, provided you learn to keep your own emotions under tight rein and do only as you are told.”

“It seems that fate has decreed that all of the emergency cases happen between midnight and 6:00 in the morning.”

“That is the main trouble with some of the younger men who come along, wanting to become surgeons. They see themselves in white coats, walking through the wards, adored by the female patients and idolized by the young interns. But it isn’t all like that. After a while, you find that each operation takes a great deal out of you. Not until it’s over do you realize just how much.”

First off, I have to tell you that this is not a nurse novel. Our nurse, Veronica Devlin, is a peripheral figure, and the story centers on Dr. Ralph Conway, hero young surgeon battling the dinosaur senior doctor who is gradually choking the life out of the prestigious hospital he runs with an iron grip. Frankly, Veronica is robbed of the credit she deserves in curing the patient central to the story, so I wondered if author D.K. Jennings was a man. Guess what—I was right!

In the first chapter a man is struck by a car and brought to the hospital, but he is suffering from amnesia—which came on before the car accident. Naturally, he is not carrying any identification. On duty in the ED are Veronica and Ralph Conway, who further clinches this book’s status as not-a-nurse-novel because he is married! Since Mr. X’s leg is broken in two places, he is likely to be stuck in the hospital for months. “In a way, it is a good thing. It may enable us to do a little detective work and try to find out who he is,” Ralph tells Veronica. 

Another patient, Sylvia Monaghan, has been admitted as a suicide attempt after taking too many sleeping tablets in the middle of the night. Ralph is convinced that she is “not the suicidal type.” But Dr. William Carruthers, the aging medico who runs St. Stephen Hospital, is convinced Sylvia is a danger to herself—not only that, but if she is not transferred to a psychiatric ward and is left on the general ward, “she could prove not only an embarrassment, but possibly a menace to the other patients,” he declares dramatically. But Ralph convinces Dr. Carruthers to leave Sylvia where she is, at least temporarily.

Meanwhile Veronica is put on night duty watching Mr. X. He is mumbling in his sleep, of course, and “she thought she caught the name Clarke repeated several times.” Ralph, going above and beyond the call of duty of a surgeon, checks with the police and finds that a jeweler named Vincent Clarke was beaten during a robbery the same night that Mr. X came in, and though the assailants were masked and Mr. Clarke has no way of identifying them, “one of them could have been our mystery patient here,” says Ralph to Veronica. So she hits the streets and starts knocking on doors, and finds an old woman who saw Mr. X walk out of an alley—and at the other end of the alley is Vincent Clarke’s jewelry shop! Back at the hospital she reluctantly reports her findings to Ralph, though she nonetheless argues that Mr. X could be innocent. Ralph wonders, “Had she fallen in love with that man?” But he does encourage her to “stick with your convictions, Veronica. I for one would not want to change them.” So he is due a little credit.

Then Veronica obtains permission from Ralph to take Mr. X out of the hospital in a wheelchair, though she does not mention her plans to bring Mr. X to the first place he remembers. Though nothing comes back to him, Mr. X directs Veronica to push him down the infamous alley, so they end up in front of Mr. Clarke’s now-boarded-up shop. He suddenly remembers being in the trashed jeweler’s shop and seeing Mr. Clarke lying inert over the counter—and the shock is too much for him and he passes out. Now Ralph is in hot water: “All of this publicity is having a bad effect on the reputation of the hospital. Some of the things he does are little too radical from my way of thinking,” says the hospital matron, though these “radical methods” are not really explained. Ralph is called on the carpet by Dr. Carruthers, and when Ralph defends Veronica, Dr. Carruthers bizarrely threatens not to give Ralph the top hospital job when he retires next year.

Undeterred, Ralph stops by Mr. X’s room, and Mr. X tells Ralph that he has remembered the names John Forrester and Redbourne. Ralph recognizes Redbourne as the name of a small village 30 miles from London, so the next day he and Veronica head there for another illicit detective trip. This book occurs so long ago that their only option is to stop in at a pub and ask if anyone knows John Forrester, and as it happens his parents live across the street! In no time flat Mr. X’s identity and backstory are laid out. “Another shock might prove sufficient to send the mind toppling over the brink of the abyss that led to insanity,” Ralph thinks, so he invites Mr. X’s mum to come back to London with them, goes straight to Mr. X and in five sentences explains all. Fortunately the shock does not prove sufficient to send Mr. X's mind toppling over the brink of the abyss; instead he remembers everything and is reunited with his mum and Veronica, so next Ralph goes to visit Sylvia Monaghan and puts to right all her psychiatric problems. Then he pops by Dr. Carruthers’ office for another enlightening chat and finally goes home to his wife, whom he is seeing for about the third time this whole book. Has anyone ever mentioned that it is really rough being a doctor’s wife? Though Ralph does try to give Veronica a little credit for Mr. X’s recovery, his wife is insistent that it is all due to him, so he smiles and leans back in his chair. I hope he doesn’t hurt himself patting his own back.

Throughout the book we do spend occasional pages with Veronica, following her concerns about Mr. X and watching the pair fall in love, though the uncertainty of his identity and past activities makes their relationship somewhat tenuouseven if we have a pretty good idea how it will turn out. But we don’t see enough of her to make this book worth reading, if it’s a true nurse novel you are looking for. It’s not a bad book in general, but without a strong, independent, female heroine to spend your time with, I’m not sure what the benefit is in reading it. But I am a little biased in that respect. Try it for yourself, if you don’t mind a rather hackneyed plot and a slightly arrogant, self-centered main (male) character, and see what you think.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

A Nurse’s Strange Romance

By Arlene Hale, ©1964

Meredith Michaels, R.N., had three loves in her life: nursing, and two young doctors. Dark-haired, intense Ryan Quinn she had loved since they first began training together. Steve Baxter, big, blond, full of the joy of life, had been the perfect balance for the inseparable threesome. Now they had the chance to open private practice together with Meredith as office nurse—and life seemed complete. Meredith, in fact, was engaged to Ryan. But something happened. Ryan became steeped in gloom, and even Steve’s former gaiety seemed forced. Meredith was distraught. But then, in the middle of the crisis, and with the wisdom she never dreamed she possessed, she grasped on a solution that had been staring her in the face.


“The hospital frowns upon interns and nurses smooching in the hallways.”

“That blush makes you different from any nurse on the floor. You are the only one that seems to respect some old-fashioned chastity!”

“Long may she walk with her cute little wiggle!”

“What a tasty looking neck!” 

“Maybe it’s not as exciting to diagnose old Mrs. Cleaver’s arthritis as it is to make smears for some important test in a research lab but it is important! At least to Mrs. Cleaver.”

The author of this very stupid book, Arlene Hale, is something of a thorn in my side. She was ridiculously prolific—I’ve reviewed 27 of her VNRNs so far and she has written at least a dozen more—but her average grade over those 27 books is a pathetic C+. Here we have yet another snoozer—well, it might be a snoozer if the leading man weren’t such an ass, but as it was it just made me mad. Meet Ryan Quinn, a “deep, dark, secretive” driven type who, though the author tries incredibly hard to depict him as a misunderstood soul, is borderline psychotic. As we open the book, Ryan and his best friend Steve Baxter are four months from completing their residencies, at which point they will go into practice and start earning an actual salary. But “payment is being demanded,” Ryan tells Meredith. “I will have to quit and go out and find a job, pay them off.” I am not even going to start on how absurd this situation is, but it’s definitely indicative of how the rest of the book is going to go.

To wit: Nurse Meredith Michaels, who has been dating Ryan Quinn for years now and is all but holding her breath until he drops on one knee and opens the tiny velvet box, has magically inherited a tidy sum from a deceased aunt. Her first inclination is to quit her nursing job and go back to school to become a teacher. Is this her long-denied dream finally coming true? No! Meredith loves nursing! But Steve and Ryan have bizarrely been badgering her to trade her nurses cap for blackboard chalk. “You are a pure descendent of Florence Nightingale, no doubt. But they need teachers too. Desperately,” Steve tells her, because nurses are just a dime a dozen! (And the financing of her nurse’s degree remains a secret.)

Ryan’s misfortune turns out to be Meredith’s salvation, as now she can give her money to Ryan and remain in the career she loves best! Ryan, the selfless wonder, hesitates less than ten seconds before accepting. Then he has the balls to tell her that he is “too honorable to make plans to be married until every penny had been paid on his debts,” and furthermore he is accepting a research position that pays very little, so its likely to be years before that happens. Of course, if he married Meredith, his debt would be expunged, but that point is overlooked by everyone, even Meredith.

Alas, this is not the end of Ryan Quinn’s perfidy. He leaves for a new job far from Meredith and does not ask her to come work at his new hospital with him, so she remains at City Hospital with Steve, who takes every opportunity to kiss her and make wildly inappropriate remarks to his best friend’s girlfriend. For Ryan’s part, immediately upon arriving at his new hospital, he instantly falls in love with Dr. Carol Simmons and dates her for months, taking her out to restaurants he cannot afford (when he had been too poor to go anywhere with Meredith except to her house, where he had eaten dinners she had cooked for him, and presumably paid for as well). Naturally Ryan does not bother to tell either woman about the other, and it’s nearly Christmas before he fesses up to Carol. He has the nerve to be flabbergasted when she is jealous, but placates her by promising to spend Christmas with her, even though he has already promised the day to Meredith. Then the swell guy is unable to tell Meredith that he won’t be coming home after all—much less that he doesn’t love her and is seeing someone else—until the day before Christmas, when he calls her and lies to her about a patient who he claims needs his attention through the holidays.

As it turns out there is such a patient, Betty Walters, a lonely, pathetic waif with leukemia, and now Ryan drags this poor woman into his miserable clutches as well. He starts to pay “special attention” to her: “At odd moments, he would drop in to see her and say a few words to her, tease her gently and lay the foundation for a relationship that went beyond the normal one of patient and doctor.” Betty, who has only months to live, falls in love with Ryan, and her bullying, equally psychotic brother Bruce blackmails Ryan into marrying Betty: If he refuses, Bruce is going to assault Carol, and if Ryan goes to the police about it, Bruce will have one of his friends do it. Paralyzed with fear, Ryan lets the situation ride for weeks. Eventually Carol hears hospital gossip that Ryan is spending too much time with Betty.  When she confronts him, he insults her: “You’re being female. Jealous! It doesn’t become you.” Just wow. At least Carol has the sense to break up with Ryan—Meredith is still home waiting by the phone.

Steve, clearly pining for Meredith, decides to open a clinic and invites Ryan and Meredith to join him. Bizarrely, Ryan agrees—and when he moves back home, he kisses dopey Meredith, and she’s thinking, “He hadn’t said he loved her. He hadn’t asked her to marry him either. But it was all there in undertones and she could wait. She had already waited this long.” And she is going to wait a lot longer. Because he’s sneaking back to see Carol to tell her what he never told Meredith, that he loves her. Then he heads over to see Betty, kisses her, too, and asks her to wait a little longer to be married to him, thinking, “He did not really want Betty to die and yet her death would mean his own freedom.” I cant believe author Arlene Hale thinks this guy is a reasonable love interest. 

Ryan flees back to his hotel room, but Bruce follows him and beats him to a pulp. This finally convinces him that Bruce really means business, so Ryan—this guy just never stops—calls Meredith, tells her hes been in a car accident and asks her to wire him $500, which he then uses to pay for the wedding, which goes off the next day. The cake is not even crumbs before he has fled back home, where he goes straight to Meredith’s apartment and tells her he loves her and wants to marry her! When she says, “I am not sure I believe you anymore, Ryan,” for the first time showing some actual sense, he says “Darling, you must! You have always trusted me, always believed in me. Don’t stop now. Don’t you know I need you, that I’ve always needed you? Don’t doubt me now. I couldn’t endure it! We’ll be married whenever you say.” To which she replies, “Darling, let’s be married on my birthday. Next week!” And now he is back to hoping that Betty dies in the next few days so he won’t become a bigamist. So to atone for the huge mess hes in, he goes straight to Carol’s house where he kisses her—and then tells her he is being married to Meredith.

Meredith breaks the news to Steve the next day, and now Steve is going to pieces. “His idea was to take the bull by the tail and spin him until he crashed into the wall and broke it down, or a woman by the hair and—” and now he is racing to Meredith’s apartment, bursts in, grabs her and kisses her though she beats at him and protests, “but he would not let her go,” instead telling her that he loves her, too. Guess what—she suddenly realizes that it’s Steve she is in love with.

Honestly, I just can’t go on. Let me just say that Meredith Michaels is a pathetic sap, Ryan Quinn is a self-absorbed psychotic, and Steve is a self-absorbed, domineering bully. Don’t waste your time with this trio. You might take them as an object lesson not to waste your time on any more Arlene Hale books, either, and I wouldn’t fault you in the slightest.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Nurse Madeline of Eden Grove

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1965

When her old friend Miss Emily Eden left Staff Nurse Madeline her large house, Madeline decided to turn it into a much-needed nursing home. It meant, among other things, that she would be able to see a lot more of the attractive surgeon Michael Foyle—but would it make him any more interested in her?


“People find their happiness in the most unexpected places.” 

Madeline Frazer is a very nice young nurse who works in a small British hospital. I’m not a person who flings the word nice around with abandon, but I have to admit that Nurse Madeline is nice: polite, kind, pleasing, agreeable and respectable, as Merriam and Webster suggest the word should connote. But that, unfortunately, is about all she is. She is not witty or spunky or tenacious or quirky or interesting. And neither is her book. 

Madeline frequently visits wealthy 83-year-old Emily Eden, who lives in the stately eponymous manor house, because the old lady was also a victim in the train crash that killed her parents though Madeline survived, and the lady bizarrely took Madeline in after that. Now Madeline visits weekly on her days off, if the young swain who has captured her eye, up-and-coming plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Foyle, has other plans. But Michael is not a lover who is going to last long, as we soon know this even if Madeline isn’t, because he is one of those young doctors who has “an aura of ruthlessness” and “whose main ambition is to have an outsize bank balance.”

We take a while to get around to Miss Emily’s sad demise, and learn that she has left the house to Madeline—and perfect timing, too, because a group of doctors including Dr. Foyle is trying to open a nursing home but lack a suitable building—and Eden Grove is perfect!

Madeline feels obliged to reach out to Richard Eden, Miss Emily’s only living relative, a nephew who is mildly successful writer—but Miss Emily has unfairly refused to admit him into her presence, much less her affection, because she disapproved of his mother (for no good reason, of course). In the course of discussing Miss Emily’s estate, Madeline and Richard Eden have several telephone conversations, during which he assures her that he is quite happy for her to have the house. He sends her a copy of his latest book, written under the name Richard Prentiss (his mother’s maiden name), so she starts dreaming a little about this mystery man.

Then she meets with Richard Grey, a man at the attorney’s office, to discuss the bequest, and tells him with passionate fervor about her hopes for the nursing home, and the attorneys arrange the lease of the house for her—but she keeps thinking of Richard Grey, and soon he’s ringing her up and asking her out. But isn’t it funny how much Richard Grey and Richard Eden sound alike, and how they share the same first name!

She spends a week’s vacation with Richard Grey—Richard Eden is away assisting with the filming of one of his books—and soon finds that thoughts of him are driving any lingering regrets about Michael Foyle away, even if that fickle lad, now finding Madeline less interested, doubles down on his pursuit of her, much to the chagrin of snippy Dr. Irene Stapleton! But Richard Grey also has to leave town for weeks or months on end for reasons he never explains—Madeline assumes it’s confidential business for the law firm. He also refrains from mentioning his undying love for her, leaving her feeling a bit uncertain—though we savvy VNRN readers have no doubts, do we, folks?

The usual tempest in a teapot occurs—Michael kisses Madeline, wouldn’t you know it, just as Dr. Irene is walking into the room, and when Richard Grey shows up the next day to tell Madeline a Big Secret, will this not-what-it-seemed kiss, or Richard’s mystery, destroy Madeline’s happiness forever?

This book is perfectly pleasant. There are a few quietly enjoyable moments, such as the relationship between Madeline and Margaret Barret, the new Matron of Eden Grove Nursing Home, and I really cannot find much fault with the book, but it just does not rise above nice. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad, I leave for you to decide.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Beauty Doctor’s Nurse

By W.E.D. Ross, ©1971
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

Lovely blonde nurse Irene Hunt considered herself lucky to be working in such a fascinating field as plastic surgery. And her growing romance with handsome, readheaded Dr. Max Marshall promised a happy future. Then came the anonymous letter about Max that changed everything—that made her determined to put him out of her mind, to close the door on the past. But transferring to another hospital became more involved than she had anticipated. And even her friendship with the brilliant young plastic surgeon, Dr. Ralph Grant, became more than just a friendship. As Irene found herself drawing closer and closer to Ralph, Max made an unexpected reappearance, eager to resume the romance she thought was over. Could Irene trust her heart to lead her to true love …?


“Many people are responsible for their ravaged faces in the first place. It’s not age alone that destroys their appearance. Leonardo da Vinci said centuries ago that when a man is past forty years of age, he is responsible for the head he has. And I can vouch for its truth. I can almost tag them when they come into the office Sometimes I feel like calling them Mr. Greed or Mr. Lust or Miss Avarice. It’s written that plainly in their faces.” 

“That’s the attraction of buffets. They give you a chance to be a glutton in style.”

Irene Hall works at Manhattan General with two great plastic surgeons, Dr. Cabell Grant and his nephew, Ralph. Irene had been dating Ralph, but it had turned out that he had also been “seeing socially a few times between operations” one of his patients who has having a series of operations done to remove a birthmark on her face, “a young woman patient, attractive but definitely neurotic” who had “taken his attention as a sign of love” and, when Ralph told her he did not love her, had attempted suicide, leaving a note with “hysterical, pathetic references to her love for Ralph Grant, and directly accused him of leading her on.” The ensuing scandal had led Dr. Grant to “surprise everyone by turning vindictively on his nephew and accuse him of breach of professional etiquette.” Summarily fired, Ralph had moved to Connecticut to rebuild his career under an aging plastic surgery expert, Dr. Franz Lederer, now 80 and too arthritic to perform advanced surgeries. The feeling at the hospital, we are told, is that Dr. Grant had been “much too harsh and quite unfair” to Ralph. Irene shares this opinion, though she has a personal stake in the matter because “she’d gone out with him several times.” 

After Ralph had left, she’d started dating Dr. Max Marshall, and “it was taken for granted around the hospital that she and Max were going together” though they were not engaged. But her roommate didn’t like Max and thought he was “glib,” and Irene decides “there had been lots of small warnings,” though we’re not given any real examples other than that he was too poor to take her out—“he was supporting a semi-invalid father and trying to set up a practice”—and so came to her house for dinner a lot, so “she hadn’t expected him to spend much money on her. And he hadn’t!” That bastard!

She gets an anonymous letter in the mail—who had sent it we never learn—that informs her that Max had also been dating another nurse at the hospital. So she quits her job and takes a position with Ralph Grant—and then has a conversation with Max, telling him that it’s over between them, not exactly demonstrating much faith in Max if she trusts an anonymous letter to such a degree that she’ll turn her entire life upside down over it.

In numerous scenes, Max apologizes again and again, acknowledges his mistake, ends it with the other nurse, and tells Irene that he loves her. But cold-hearted Irene is completely unable to forgive the apparent fact that Max as exposed her to “gossip and snickers” in the hospital, and off she goes to Connecticut. It seems to me that Max had a lucky escape.

On her first day at Ralph’s hospital, she meets a nurse who is in love with Ralph and whom he has been dating. She declares to Nurse Blanche that “she’d only known Ralph in the most casual way and so couldn’t possible see herself as a rival for his affections.” Then she sees Ralph, and he tells her that he’s in love with her and “was on the point of asking you to marry me” before he’d been driven from New York. Irene replies that if she had known this, she wouldn’t have taken the job—but on the next page, he asks, “Do you think we could pick up where we left off?” And she literally replies, “Why not?” and their subsequent kiss “spoke eloquently of their mutual need,” and now they are “making vague plans for the added happiness that lay ahead.” I’m really struggling to find much honor in Nurse Irene Hunt.

The main crisis of the book arrives in the form of a poor, shifty couple who want a scar from a car crash removed from the woman’s face. They had seen Dr. Grant in Manhattan, who had not done the operation for unclear reasons, and now they want Ralph to do the job. He feels, though, that the couple is hiding something—intuitive Irene just thinks “it’s mostly because they’ve been through a good deal, and this operations means a great deal to them”—but Ralph, after discussing the case with Dr. Grant, agrees to do the surgery, and the woman dies on the table from a severe allergy to the anesthetic. Now the question is, who is to blame? Did the couple deliberately withhold the information of the allergy? Had Dr. Grant known and not told Ralph? Had Ralph been aware and gone ahead anyway?

The reveal at the end, I must say, is unsatisfying. The not-surprising fact that the couple knew and didn’t tell is acknowledged, but one of the two Drs. Grant is also in on the secret, and has their own personal and parenthetical misdoings to add to the mix. The problem with this book—actually, as per most books by Mr. Ross, there are a few—is that the massively incorrect moral assumption in the foundational scenario of Ralph and Max’s respective “guilt” for their social crimes. Ralph has indeed, as Dr. Grant states, committed a severe ethics breach in dating a patient he was actively treating, truly shocking to my eye and one that should absolutely result in dismissal from his job if not his profession, and why Irene and apparently the rest of the staff sees this as inconsequential is unfathomable. Furthermore, it is clear that Ralph was dating Irene and his unfortunate patient/victim at the same time, yet Irene waltzes lightly into Ralph’s arms and an engagement on her first day in Connecticut.

Max, meanwhile, seems to be guilty mostly of being too poor to take Irene to restaurants and of seeing a wealthy nurse—Irene makes much of the idea that Max  must be planning to marry her for her money and social connections, though he never says that’s the case and clearly prefers Irene; he is the first male character I know who cries when she dumps him. Dating or kissing multiple women, even when engaged, is an activity that men often engage in completely without comment in many VNRNs, so it’s unclear to me, when Max is openly sorry and repentant for an apparently minor crime, is he given the cruel boot without even a hearing? And frankly, I liked Max more than Ralph. Worse, Irene is a completely flat character. She demonstrates little charisma, personality, wit or intelligence—she can’t even see the truth of the unfortunate couple—so part from her (of course) pretty face, she ahs nothing to offer her boyfriends or, more importantly, the reader.  So this is one of the dreaded C-grade novels—not great but not so laughingly bad to be entertaining in a different way. This story would need a substantial makeover from an editor’s sharp scalpel to make it at all worth looking at, so I suggest you just enjoy the Alan Kass cover illustration and move on to something with more character.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Million Dollar Nurse

By Rebecca Marsh
(pseud. William Neubauer), ©1966
Cover illustration by Darrell Greene 

When pretty Dorothy Malloy left Buttrick Hospital to become wealthy Andrew Bossart’s private nurse, her orderly world changed overnight. Young and handsome, Andrew Bossart was recovering from an accidental gunshot wound. His reputation as a dangerous ladies’ man made some people wonder if the shot had been an accident after all … Despite Dorothy’s determination to remain uninvolved, she was too attractive a girl to escape Bossart’s attention—and too good a nurse to ignore the needs of her patient. Before long she found herself entangled in an unexpected mystery, a strange romantic triangle—and a scandal that would rock the city …


“There’s more to conversation than attractive legs.” 

“Even a hospital should be hospitable.”

“Like all career girls, you get flustered when someone behaves like you’re human.”

“I don’t think it helps a man’s innards when a bullet is shot into them.”

“There are proper and improper ways to go about achieving a desired object. You learn that quickly in surgery. You don’t incise down from the shoulder to remove an appendix. Similarly, you don’t club someone in order to reason with him.”

“In our special ways we’re all ill.”

Author William Neubauer, here writing as Rebecca Marsh, is one of my favorites. His plots are usually more intricate, and his heroines are smart, hard-working, sassy gals who put up with little nonsense. The problems with his books are that the romance part of the book is usually just crammed in around the margins, barely visible; the plots can sometimes get overly confusing; and the boyfriend is sometimes not especially desirable. Here he has done pretty well, as the plot is mostly navigable, but he did stick us with a middling man. At least we scored an amazing cover illustration.

Dorothy Malloy is a surgical nurse at Neubauer’s classic Buttrick Hospital—this noble, California coast–institution has hosted at least three other of his VNRNs (TV Nurse, Pam Green Rehabilitation Nurse, and Recovery Room Nurse) and some peripheral characters in this story (Dr Lee Vaughan, with whom Dorothy lunches one day, for example, is the alleged hero of TV Nurse) are stars in other books, which is a fun bonus for the die-hard Neubauer fan. She is an ambitious lass, hoping to be promoted to assistant chief—and her ambition is viewed with some skepticism around the hospital, because why would a woman want to be promoted?

Anyway, she’s called to special Andrew Mark Bossart, a devilishly handsome playboy who has gotten himself mixed up with Lisa Locatelli, a 17-year-old student nurse at Buttrick, as well as Catherine Cowell, the owner of a large corporation in town. The young gal swears Andy proposed to her, but then dumped her for the wealthy Catherine, so she calls Catherine to give her the down-low about Andy’s sneaky dealings, and then tries to kill herself—but is saved due to fast action on the part of her nursing school roommate. Catherine calls Andy over to her beach house—and the next we see him, he’s on the OR table with a bullet in his gut, and Dorothy is part of the team commissioned to dig it out and repair the damage.

She’s then transferred to the recovery ward unit (unfortunately we didn’t cross paths with Jane Kemp while we were there) to special Andy—but this puts her out of the running for a promotion, because “in the surgical suite she had status, even a type of seniority. Logically, the longer she remained there, the better her chances would be to make the jump to rank as a junior executive. But if she were popped into a recovery-room suite, she’d be the low girl in an area where promotions were few and far between.” The transfer is happening, we learn, because the chief of the surgical unit, Miss Sipsie, is dating Joe Elyot, an orthopedic tech, who is also seeing Dorothy, whom he might possibly prefer.

The head of the recovery room, Clara Dendrock, likewise recommends that Dorothy should be transferred to another department. Clara, it turns out, is upset that Dorothy didn’t sign a petition like all the other nurses opposing the expulsion of Lisa Locatelli, who has been deemed too unstable to go on with a nursing career. Dorothy has been one of Lisa’s chief mentors, so her “betrayal” of Lisa doesn’t sit well with the other nurses, but Dorothy is an astute player, and has already discussed her opinion that Lisa should be allowed to continue with Mrs. Dolezal, the superintendent of nurses, and feels that signing the petition might undercut her chances for promotion and won’t accomplish Lisa’s reinstatement.

Caring for Andy Bossart, Dorothy has a front-row seat to the drama. Though there is no proof that Catherine shot Andy—the gun has not been recovered, without which she apparently cannot be arrested—Andy, who’d been working a high-paying job ($25,000 a year!!!) at Catherine’s company is suing Catherine for a million dollars for loss of his career and, oh yeah, that hole in his gut. When he’s finally out of the hospital, he invites Dorothy to dinner to thank her for her hard work—but has also invited Catherine and the local newspaper columnist, Millicent Haight, to the party, and Catherine beans Dorothy on the head, giving her a black eye. This injury—plus her current political situation at the hospital—leads Mrs. Dolezal to give Dorothy two weeks off to recover, and Catherine, out of gratitude that Dorothy has not pressed charges, offers Catherine use of her beach cottage—the house where Andy was shot—to recover.

There she has lovely meals and walks on the grounds, sails on Catherine’s yacht, and pleasant conversations with Catherine’s housekeeper, who is another of the locals deeply devoted to Catherine—like Dorothy’s boyfriend, Joe Elyot, who was rescued from a life in the slums when Catherine, a high school classmate, offered to pay for his schooling to fit him for the job he currently holds.

Eventually all the threads are neatly tied up—the story of what happened to the gun, the alibi that is going to get Catherine off the hook for the shooting, Lisa’s reinstatement at the hospital, and Dorothy’s career—in a manner that is mostly understandable. We even wrap up Dorothy’s love life when she announces out of the blue—many Neubauer women have this annoying habit—that she is going to marry Joe. While we are certainly happy for almost everyone, and for Dorothy’s clever playing of her career and hospital politics, I wasn’t too please to see her end up with Joe.

Joe is clearly very devoted to Catherine out of gratitude for her help—to the extent that he helps fabricate her alibi and plant false evidence, basically abetting a felony assault—but he starts out the book as something of a cad, telling Dorothy on a date that he’d kissed Catherine once and dates other women, Miss Sipsie in particular. This hurts Dorothy’s feelings, so “he condescended to lean forward quickly and give her left cheek a greasy peck. As she drew back, flushing, he laughed.” It’s so amusing to be a jerk! Later he tells Dorothy that he’s chatted with several nurses who are upset with her about the petition business and that he’d defended her “because I like you,” but then complains that feeling like he wants to defend her can push him into marriage, and he doesn’t want to get married—and somehow Dorothy takes this for a compliment, but then gets mad when he tries to persuade her to sign the petition instead of supporting her decision. Next time we see him, he’s hanging out at the beach house with Dorothy and sighing that he should have tried to marry Catherine. Two pages after that, she decides to marry him while he’s not even present. So you see we don’t have a lot to admire in him.

Another odd thing about the book is that both Catherine and Andy end up getting inpatient psychiatric care—but Lisa, the would-be suicide who clearly needs it way more than anyone, does not. Instead, everyone refers to her suicide attempt as a “goof” that she shouldn’t be punished for. Overall, though, as I have said, this is a brisk, interesting, enjoyable book with an excellent heroine to admire. If William Neubauer here has not given us his best work, it's still better than most VNRNs out there, and easily worth an afternoon of your time.

Friday, March 22, 2024

The Nurse with the Silver Skates

By Virginia B. McDonnell, ©1964
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

Inga Larsen, showing a newborn babe to its father, a baby she had helped to deliver …Inga Larsen, soaring through the air on ice skates amid the gasps of thrilled spectators …
Which was she, student nurse or rink champion? And which was the right man for her? Scott Marshall, ice-skating master, idol of her childhood, or Dr. Thor Eriksen, whom she had secretly loved for three years? Inga Larsen just did not know, and both men were not making it any easier for her to find out!


One of my absolute least-favorite tropes is the nurse in love with a jerk. Here we have a Class-A example of Jerk Thor Eriksen, who has apparently never once been kind to Nurse Inga Larsen. “Thor Ericksen was the one man Inga could have loved deeply and personally and forever. It didn’t even matter that Thor Ericksen disliked her as a person.” How can that not matter? The man “bullies” her (Inga’s word), never has anything nice to say, and constantly criticizes her nursing ability and how she spends her free time (like it’s his business), and questions her dedication— “Perhaps if you knew a little less about skating you’d know more about nursing. The time you spend skating every day might be better used in studying,” he snaps—never mind that “the nursing staff considers you one of the top students”—because exercise is so bad for you! She understands that he’s way off base, at least, thinking, “Nursing’s a serious profession but you need relief for a few minutes each day. Otherwise you’d either become hardened to suffering or you’d be so torn up inside that you’d have no strength to give your patients.”

Anyway, right on page 10 she shows how wrong he is when she identifies a comatose patient as Scott Marshall, one of the best figure skaters in the world—she would know, because she’s a former junior national champion, coached by her father, but she gave up top-level skating to pursue nursing. Scott’s been in a car crash, and somehow landed at her tiny hospital in Wisconsin. Who is going to nurse him back from the edge of death?

Well, one morning when she utilizes the reflection pool in front of the hospital for a practice rink and is spotted by a local reporter. Now there’s a big article about her—somehow the press knows she’s the one who identified Scott—and she’s in hot water for bringing publicity to the hospital and making nurses look frivolous. Plus it puts a national spotlight on the fact that the doctors have not been able to bring Scott out of his coma! Curiously, after reaming her out for the article, the nursing supervisor makes her a special nurse for Scott, in the event that she can talk to him about skating and perk him up. “She just couldn’t win,” she thinks, and she is right.

She leaves her skates tied to the foot of Scott’s bed, talks to him of his past successes—and is “dreaming, just a little, of his opening his eyes, seeing her, falling in love with her? Wouldn’t it be the realization of a long buried wish?” But overnight Scott wakes up, sees the skates, and tries to slash his wrists with the blades. Now she’s in even more hot water, and off the Scott Larsen case—but the papers are now declaring that Inga and Scott are going to be married.

Meanwhile, Scott’s former skating partner, Cindy Meredith, calls Inga and asks for a meeting—she’s quit skating because she got married and her husband won’t let her work with Scott anymore because he’s “terribly jealous.” Honestly, the men in this book just make you want to become a nun. Scott wakes and asks for Inga—he’s paralyzed from the waist down, of course, though there’s no organic cause for his paralysis. So she’s back on Scott Larsen’s case, and trying to urge him to recover by talking about skating—and Thor again knocks her down, saying, “There’s not much point in your urging him to hope for that. If he can walk, that should suffice.” Then Scott starts moving his foot—and to celebrate he grabs Inga and kisses her. Then, with Inga to lean on, he is miraculously able to walk across the room!

Now he is bullying Inga, telling her, “If you walk out on me too I’ll wish I’d died back there in the crash. I can’t do it without you.” Inga, the dope, totally falls for it, thinking, “If she failed him now he might be lost for good.” So she takes a leave from nursing to become Scott’s skating partner, because he’s able to go from complete paralytic to a world-class skater with a woman who hasn’t skated except for fun in three years, with the aid of Inga’s father as their coach. She’s only in it out of obligation, and she is convinced that “a skating partnership would lead almost inevitably to another more permanent alliance.” It doesn’t take much to push these people into marriage, it seems.

The morning of the Sectionals competition—two weeks after they started practicing together—Inga’s dad tells them their skating lacks joy, so Scott proposes, and Inga agrees, because “I can help him, I can give him his heart’s desire, the championship. I have already given him back his reason for living. If I can help him that much I can love him.” Sure! Guess what—they win sectionals, and now they’re on to the Nationals and the Olympics—and there’s a guy from Hollywood offering a movie contract! But every now and then she stops and thinks, “She had only agreed to compete this one time. No one listened to her.” But she agrees to a test film—a live television event—on the reflecting pool in front of the hospital, which will be a benefit event for the hospital as well. She and Scott are giving the performance of their lives when Inga gets a phone call from Thor. He’s across the lake, and needs surgery supplies to perform a C-section or the mother and baby will die, and she’s—get this—the only person in an entire small town in Wisconsin who can skate the supplies over and assist in the surgery.

The ending is pretty much a foregone conclusion, with Thor being kind to Inga for the first time in 120 pages, giving the pair exactly 6½ pages to kiss, get engaged, and save Inga’s career as a nurse and the hospital to boot. The whole story is absurdly riddled with implausibilities—but the worst of it is how Inga time and again subverts her own feelings for everyone else’s. It’s hard to imagine how a woman at the top of her nursing school class can be so amazingly dumb, and how she can be in love with an ass like Thor. The descriptions of skating are beautiful—the only reason to consider reading this book—but at the end, it’s just not enough. Leave these skates hanging in the closet.