By Adeline McElfresh, ©1956
Cover illustration by Clark Hulings
Kathy was young, beautiful and too busy to marry. The hospital was her whole life, until one night a near-dying man was brought into the emergency ward. Suddenly it mattered terribly to Kathy that the stranger live. A perplexing secret was locked in by the stranger’s amnesia. And the mystery deepened when a brutal attack on this patient almost cost Kathy her life, too. Someone now wanted them both to die … From the corridors of a busy hospital comes this dramatic story of a young nurse who learned to combine love with the excitement of a challenging career.
I was mostly through Chapter 1 before I realized that I had read this book once before, last summer. I wish that were of some assistance to me in describing the plot, but alas, no. This is an entirely muddled story, and beyond its cover, there is little to recommend it.
Kathy Brian is an emergency room nurse, and one stormy evening she has a hit-and-run patient. Patient X has amnesia, and Kathy’s memory isn’t working too well, either: She thinks she’s seen him before, but where? She’s engaged to Frank Marshall, who runs the Marshall Manufacturing Company. Once this business was the Leslie Plow Works, founded by old Ian Leslie, who was a good friend of Kathy’s grandfather. Old Ian Leslie’s grandson, also named Ian (as is Old Ian’s son), made Frank’s father a partner in the firm, but then an unspecified Ian Leslie drove his car off an embankment, leaving “only debts and trouble,” and Frank’s father turned the firm around. Now all Frank cares about is the business; for dates he takes her to marketing functions.
Kathy is “specialing” Patient X—which means he’s her only patient—when someone shows up at the hospital saying he is Patient X’s brother. When the visitor and a new orderly try to murder the patient, Kathy, the only witness, foils the plot. Patient X, now called John, moves in with his surgeon, Dr. MacLellan, who lives next door to Kathy and her father. On several occasions Kathy sees John sneaking out at night and taking the doctor’s car. Where is he going? Dr. MacLellan knows about this, and goes with him sometimes, but won’t say why. Lots of other questions are asked: Why was John found without a topcoat? Why does the manufacturing company’s old watchman mysteriously vanish? Why does her dad like John so readily, when he doesn’t like Frank? “Uncle Ian’s family—what had happened to them? Somehow, through the years, they had lost touch.”
I had a few questions of my own: Why is he called “Uncle Ian”? Is there some relationship between the families, or is this just a term of endearment for close family friend? Why, if other hospital workers have seen one or the other of the two would-be assassins, do they target only Kathy? Kathy’s heart “lurched” when she hears the police are questioning Sammy Peterson—who the heck is he? “That would account for [John’s] talking to old Mr. Andrews”—when has he ever talked to Mr. Andrews? Kathy recalls “John tearing wild-eyed into Emergency expecting to find ‘Andy’ Andrews”— when did this happen? Is there some chapter that has been left out of my copy of this book?
There’s another attempt on John’s life, and a third on hers—can these bungling fools ever get the job done right?—and it turns out that Dr. MacLellan has set her up as a bait to catch the bad guys in the act. How unethical is that? Even in the final chapter when everything is “explained,” I’m still baffled. It’s possible that a third, closer reading might have uncovered a few answers, but I had already spent three hours on this book, and I was unwilling to waste any more of my life trying to unravel these issues. Especially since I suspect there really is just one answer: It’s a badly plotted book.
Written 14 years prior to the author’s Nurse in Yucatán, this book curiously has another character named Hank Forrest as well, though here he has only a minor role. While that book isn’t red-hot, either, it’s good to see that in the interim Ms. McElfresh either learned a few tricks about plotting, or else found a better editor.