By Ann Gilmer
(pseud. William E. Daniel Ross), ©1969
Cover illustration by George Wilson
Working with Dr. Clay Burke was a supreme challenge for any nurse—but for lovely young Jill Rowley, the job meant much more. She was head over heels in love with the brilliant and handsome surgeon, and Clay responded in kind. But he was a widower, with a bitterly jealous teen-aged daughter, and the marriage kept being put off. Jill felt trapped in a dead-end love, and the attentions of dashing Dr. Greg Bonnel grew hard to resist. Then one wintery night a car accident placed a famous Senator and his young secretary on the operating table—and amid tragedy, scandal and intrigue, Jill painfully discovered where a nurse’s highest loyalty lay, and what were the true needs of her own beleaguered heart.
“I don’t want lovely, young nurses. I prefer the ugly type like you.”
Jill Rowley is a 23-year-old nurse working for—that’s right—a surgeon, Clay Burke. They hail from Milford, NH, which is an actual out-of-the-way town southwest of Manchester, if you are interested in these geographical niceties (I, a former resident of the Granite State, am). We are told early on that the pair is in love—and we do need to be told this, because it certainly isn’t shown. The hitch is that the widower Clay has a 17-year-old daughter, Ruth, who is not keen on daddy remarrying. So Jill has decided to wait until Ruth changes her mind or moves out before she marries Clay. And five years later she’s still waiting. Good luck with that, I say.
There’s another doctor competing for Jill’s affections, and Clay starts getting jealous of Jill’s time and demanding that she inform him of her location at all times in the event that he needs her in surgery after hours. In the meantime, he is standing her up for the Christmas ball and New Year’s Eve parties, leaving her—in a gold lamé dress with a low-cut back of a smart style and a suitable length—with nowhere to go. And no girl is going to sit still for that.
Then one night, Clay and Jill are working away under the hot lights of the OR, attempting to save a state senator and his young secretary, who have been in a car accident on the slippery winter roads. (There are a lot of slippery roads in this book; apparently New Hampshire is just one constantly frozen tundra.) They’re stitching the patient closed and congratulating themselves on two more lives saved when the woman crashes—she’s been given the wrong blood type due to a mix-up in the lab, and the blunder kills her. The woman’s father, known as Clarence A. Smith throughout the book—I did ask myself on several occasions why the author felt the middle initial was so essential—is a former mental patient who doesn’t take his daughter’s death well, and he starts behaving erratically and making threats against the doctor. So already, by page 33, you know exactly where this book is going, and it drives you straight there on an interstate highway, without any detours or interesting scenery to divert you on the way.
Beyond this, there is not much more to comment on in this book. There is a Nurse Bentley, who is the stereotypical “veteran at the hospital, a maiden lady with an uncertain temper and few friends. And she much disliked her routine upset.” She is repeatedly described in unflattering terms: “A heavy-bodied nurse with a frowning face and horn-rimmed glasses,” “bustling around the room like an angry hippo,” “looking large and enraged.” It’s a type we’ve met before, and seems to be a warning to young nurses not to let their doctor boyfriends get away so they won’t have to “go on as the docile old-maid nurse faithfully serving the man she loved but had not been able to marry.” It’s odd that these seem to be the only two choices for single women, but there it is.
This book is like instant potatoes: It might get the job done, but it just makes you think of the real thing and wish you were having that instead. I’m sorry to say that the best thing about it is that it is a quick read. But then, so is the back of the cereal box—and at least that has something enjoyable inside it.