Gently bending palm trees, an untouched island paradise—it all seemed so perfect when pretty Nurse Leslie Sheridan accepted her first assignment. She was to be the only medical attendant to a construction project on an isolated island near Tahiti. But the swaying palms only camouflaged the rampant tensions of the island. Even with a temperament to match her red hair, Nurse Leslie found she was no match for roughneck contruction workers and revenge-seeking natives. But the peril most unbearable for the young nurse was the threat of losing to a native beauty her new found love for big Jim Cobalt, the construction boss. Would the irony of the island named Paradise forever haunt her dreams of love and duty?
“Sometimes she wished that he were not so fircely masculine. Such rugged vigor was like a magnet to a woman … and she was a woman.”
“Sweetheart, I could hardly keep my mind on the blueprints from seeing you priss around in that fluffy white uniform.”
Leslie Sheridan has left her job at Bayshore Hospital in San Francisco to take a temporary position on a remote island—named Coral Reef Island, by the way, not Paradise Island—where construction on a new hotel, the Tongahiti, is underway. The Tongahiti will be the island’s first hotel, transforming it into a tourist mecca, much to disloyal Leslie’s dismay, and she’ll be tending to any construction workers injured on the job as well as any islanders who might need her assistance. But construction boss Jim Cobalt is none to happy about her arrival because, as he snaps at her, “I’m going to have to keep an eye glued to every workman on the job who’s got a wandering eye. Frankly, you’re just too darned pretty.” Leslie just laughs this off and goes for a swim.
And goes about establishing herself not just as a good nurse but really, owing to the fact that she has the most medical training on the island (there’s also a local nurse who is a smart, comptetent professional, but apparently not as schooled as Leslie), more of a nurse practitioner. She befriends many of the locals, all except one—Luva, “the half-breed” daughter of an American and a local island woman, who is “something like a wild animal—one who’ll never be tamed.” Luva was educated at an English school in Fiji, where she picked up “a slight French accent,” but despite the fact that she is one of the very few islanders with a formal education, she is the only character in the book who can’t put together a grammatically correct sentence: “They lewk for you een your clinic, mademoiselle. Or ees you always at Jeem Cobalt’s quarters?” Luva is hankering in a big way for Jeem, but it’s a doomed affair—her half-Polynesian heritage means she could never return to the U.S. as his wife: “He would have to give up his friends and his family, and be an outcast.” And if they had children, “they would be part Polynesian and part American. That would be the real tragedy.” In the meantime, though, while he’s on Coral Reef Island, Luva can hang all over Jim and make Leslie see green. But not for long—soon she and Jim are smooching on the beach at a luau and dating seriously.
But this is not enough for dopey Leslie, because Jim Cobalt “never had told her right out that he loved her,” and he hasn’t proposed marriage in the months she has been seeing him. What else could that mean except that “he had made love to her and now that the season’s end had come, he was going to say goodbye as easily as the wind veers.” So she offers her resignation to the owner of the hotel, effective as of the hotel’s opening night, now just a week or two away. Will she actually have an honest conversation with “the only man she wanted to love her,” or will she “go on pretending” that she doesn’t care about him? Well, there’s nothing like a disaster to bring two people together—in this case, the hotel burning down, which we foresaw from Chapter 1, when the local nurse tells Leslie that the locals resent the hotel “immensely”: “When the hotel is built and people swarm like flies over their small kingdom, their resentment might erupt, like a volcano.” It turns out that ole Jim was keeping a secret from Leslie: the fact that he was married, though his divorce just came through three days ago, and it was this that prevented him from telling her that he loved her—though leaving him completely free, apparently, to fool around with her all summer. (And lest we worry for Jim’s virginity, he tells her that he and his wife never “lived together.”) “Oh, Jim, you should have told me the truth,” declares the hypocritical Leslie, and they walk off into the sunset, “their backs to the smoldering ashes of the Tongahiti.”
This is a throwaway book, curious only for its stereotypical prejudice against the “indolent and shiftless” natives, though it is odd that the only native character who is neither dignified nor honest is Luva—perhaps it’s the taint of her American blood that makes her so scheming and ignorant. Leslie has some admirable qualities, and is in general a strong and capable character—except when it comes to her boyfriend, which is just irritating. The book leaves a few loose ends, like what is going to happen to the hotel—and the island along with it—not to mention the local nurse, in love with a white man she can never marry (though Jim and Leslie nonchalantly agree that “she will die of a broken heart”). Really, there’s not much to say about this book, which I guess is the most telling fact of all.