Saturday, December 18, 2010

Beauty Contest Nurse

By Diana Douglas, ©1973
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

When tawny-eyed nurse Maria MacKenzie sought to escape the routine and regimentation of the Veterans’ Hospital, she never expected anything like her job at a luxurious resort hotel in Acapulco. Assigned to the girls in the Miss All-America Beauty Contest, Maria soon discovered that her feminine attributes as a lovely young woman were more important than her nursing skill—especially with Dick Trevor, the attractive newspaperman covering the contest. Dr. Mitch Gilbert, her handsome, informal boss, was another surprise; as was Andrew Fisher, the powerful, red-headed doctor who was so mysteriously involved behind the scenes. One of these men would change the course of Maria’s life. Caught up in the heady excitement of her glamorous surroundings, could she trust her heart to make a wise choice…?

GRADE: C+

BEST QUOTE:
“She proved to be too fertile, and the husband, though proud of his efficiency, could not keep up with the needs of his growing family, so he left her one night. She has found others since, but they leave when she becomes pregnant.”

“She had never really trusted blondes with ingenuous, baby-blue eyes.”

“Maybe you could marry the guy and keep a firm hand on the skillet.”

REVIEW:
Maria MacKenzie is the official nurse at the Miss All-America Beauty Contest in Acapulco, but naturally as she steps from her limo at the hotel where the contest is being staged, all the reporters think she is one of the contestants, seeing as how she is just so gosh-darned beautiful! Dick Trevor, a reporter from the New York Evening Star is smitten before she reaches the door. Once inside, she meets Dr. Mitchell Gilbert and Bill Bryant, pageant organizer, who doesn’t remember who she is but knows what hotel room she’s staying in. The job doesn’t seem to be demanding; as Dr. Gilbert tells her, “I expect we’ll need to prescribe and administer an occasional tranquilizer for tantrums, aspirin for the cyclical troubles, or an antibiotic for a chill or something. That would be about the extent of it.”

That afternoon, tanning on the beach with her bikini top untied so as to erase the white lines across her back (remember when we actually did this?), she is approached by a red-haired surfer who tells her that the two guys out there riding the waves are risking their lives, because the surf is dangerous. Sure enough, one of them falls of his board and is dragged under. The red-haired man instantly leaps to the rescue, and when he snags the stricken surfer and promptly loses his own board, Maria swims out to help them both. As she assesses the injured surfer and suggests a “ring pad” for the man’s head injury, the red-haired man naturally reveals himself to be a doctor and orders her to get his bag from his beat-up jalopy, which is parked in the beach lot. His name is stamped in gold letters on the bag—Andrew Fisher, M.D.

Dr. Fisher has been fired from his job at the hotel because he spends too much time at a local clinic giving free medical care to the natives. This intrigues Maria, and soon she and the reporter are wending their way through the slums of Acapulco, looking for him. But he’s not there—he’s gone to a small village, where the natives grow excellent corn, eat too much of it, and come down with pellagra, or niacin deficiency, which gives its victims a beefy red tongue and the three D’s: diarrhea, dementia, and dermatitis. I tell you, if I read enough of these books, I won’t have to study when it’s time to re-take the boards.

Dick Trevor is taken with the idea of publicizing Dr. Fisher’s work in his newspaper, and Maria is taken with the doctor. She rounds with him through the village, treating the natives in their adobe houses where “traces of the vomitus and excreta which were symptoms of the disease still lingered in the small, airless room.” Back at the hotel, Maria puts in an appearance at the hotel clinic and the pageant, where she drinks too much champagne with Dr. Fisher and then goes parking with him, the tramp. The next day she’s back in the village—I can’t believe she doesn’t get fired from her pageant job—but Dr. Fisher falls down a cliff, and the big climax of the book is his rescue. Has he been killed in the fall? How will he find the money he needs to care for the natives? You won’t need three guesses to figure out the answers.

This book reminded me a lot of Nurse in Acapulco, and not because they share the same setting. Both are mostly phoned in, with jaunts into a country village and a lot of time spent lecturing on one particular disease. It’s not quite as annoying as Nurse in Acapulco, though. No one is terribly annoying, and Acapulco and the Mexican countryside are well-drawn, so you can do a little vicarious touring. It’s a book to reach for if you are looking for an airy little fling that won’t trouble your intellect or your sense of humor at all.

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