(pseud. Richard Wilkes-Hunter), ©1972
Cover illustration by Josep Maria Miralles
For lovely, blond Rowena Garland, being head nurse at the clinic of the luxury hotel on Lago Island in the Caribbean was the perfect job—glamorous, exciting, and full of surprises. She had never expected to be working with a doctor as attractive as Paul Martin. Or that this handsome young man with the deep blue eyes would become interested in her. But the biggest surprise was the mysterious man she encountered on the beach early one morning. Little did Rowena suspect that this intriguing stranger would involve her in mystery, danger—and romance. She would be forced to face the ultimate challenge of her nursing career, and make the most crucial decision of her life—to follow the true yearnings of her heart …
“I feel the two of them—nursing and marriage—don’t really go together. My feeling is that you can be committed to only one or the other.”
“It was a known fact, proven over and over again, that by giving a complaint, no matter how paltry, the importance of their interest, doctors only served to perpetuate it. The patient was stuck with the complaint, and the doctor stuck with the patient.”
I pick up a book by Diana Douglas/aka Richard Wilkes-Hunter with more than a little trepidation: The eight other books by this author that I have read have garnered a pretty solid C- average, and not a lot of high praise. But duty calls, so I waded into Caribbean Nurse to offer up this travelogue. It’s like many of this author’s other books, namely simple and boring. This one has the significant bonus, however, of not being overtly misogynistic or irritating. The opening pages, however, gave me significant concern: When we first meet nurse Rowena Garland, she’s wearing a string bikini, plopping down next to the only other person on the beach, and striking up an intrusive conversation in which she expounds to the man, who is sporting a thick robe, hat, and zinc oxide stripe on his nose, about the therapeutic benefits of sunshine. All while rolling around on her towel as we are treated to descriptions of her “well-shaped” or “long golden” body. “You’re probably thinking I’m a kook or something,” she says; if he’s not, I certainly am.
After he retreats back to his car, which is driven by two men in suits with binoculars, she returns to the Buccaneer Inn, which has been established on the Caribbean’s Lago Island as a destination for wealthy individuals who want to undergo medical care in an exotic location. Before long it is revealed that the hotel has been acquired by billionaire Ryan Stressor—who, you will not be surprised to learn, was the gentleman on the beach that Rowena had been harassing in the opening chapter. After ejecting all the paying guests, Stressor and his staff move in, leaving Rowena and hotel doctor Paul Martin with little to do but swim on the beach every day—and pander to the hypochondriac Ryan, who is prone to staying up all night and pestering Rowena with demands for medical attention for various minor complaints that he’s convinced are killing him. He’s also excessively concerned about security, and maintains a force of armed guards that rivals an American president’s. “Many people wouldn’t even stop at murder to prevent, or to learn about in advance so they might profit at our expense,” he explains with grammar to rival any of the Bush clan, and a not insignificant dose of paranoia to boot.
Rowena has enough gumption that she calls Ryan out, telling him to stop being such a baby and get some exercise. All sequestered away in his penthouse suite, she says, “there is only one way for you to escape, and that is into your snug shelter of ill health.” So with the help of a staff member’s daughter, she encourages him out onto the beach—after a bristling perimeter of security guards has been established—and day by day he grows more tanned and healthy. The climax of the book comes with an assassination attempt that any four-year-old could have seen coming. After Ryan emerges from surgery, he insists that Rowena marry him, a proposal that we expected from the opening chapters but that nonetheless feels sudden, given the fact that he has made no overtures whatsoever up to this point. Another surprise follows: Rowena declares that she is in love with Dr. Paul Martin, a man about whom she has previously stated after their one date (to “eat real Creole food and watch a frenzied display of local dancing”) that what she felt for Paul “wasn’t love at all.” The only thing of actual interest in this story, little as it may be, is the fact that it ends after this conversation between Ryan and Rowena; the scene in which Rowena breaks her news to Paul is to be played off-stage at a later date. It’s a scene probably far more exciting when imagined than if it had been written out by this author, though, so we’re probably better off. Overall this book could certainly have been a lot worse—and we know the author is certainly capable of it—but there really isn’t anything to recommend it, either, apart from the glorious cover illustration.