Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nurse at the Castle

By Joanne Holden (pseud. Jane Corby), ©1965

It was surprising how much courage it took to walk into the bedroom of someone who has tried to choke you, Nancy thought. But she need not have worried. Lavinia Barclay was her usual friendly self and greeted Nancy cheerily. “Good morning. And to what do I owe the pleasure of this early morning visit from the doctor?” Nancy answered evasively. “I think he was invited to sleep over. That’s all.” She changed the subject. “Did you sleep well?” “Beautifully,” her patient answered. Evidentally [sic] Lavinia Barclay had no notion of what had happened the night before. And, to Nancy, this was the most frightening thing of all…


“She practically pushed him away when his closeness interfered with her breathing.”

I had some hope for this book, with cover lines that seemed to promise both Gothic and nurse novel in one. And the book does make an effort to give us a mystery of sorts, though you would have to be a complete moron—or the heroine of a VNRN—not to see exactly what is going on as early as page 22. So while this book isn’t out-and-out bad, it was hard not to feel disappointed by it.

The “castle” in question is a grandiose mansion in Tarrytown, New York, home of widowed millionaire Lavinia Barclay, who in her early sixties is too old and weak to leave her room or even get out of bed for long. Mrs. Barclay is being managed by her second cousin, John Ferguson, and Dr. Orville Lacey, who have brought in Nurse Nancy Bronson to do the actual work of caring for Mrs. Barclay. Although the doctor has said that Mrs. Barclay is “suffering from hallucinations … rapidly deteriorating, and … it was only a question of time before she would require institutional care,” Nancy quickly comes to the conclusion that all Mrs. Barclay really suffers from is too many tranquilizers and not enough nutritious food or fresh air. And it’s not just because, as Kent Milliard, Mrs. Barclay’s young and handsome lawyer, tells Nancy, “You distrust Dr. Lacey because he didn’t fall for you.”

No, she doesn’t trust the doctor because he is condescending, telling Nancy that he can’t possibly explain what is wrong with Mrs. Barclay because she just wouldn’t understand—“a nurse not being a doctor, of course.” Not only that, but he calls her “dear,” and “Nancy hated to be called ‘dear.’ ” When he catches Nancy taking Mrs. Barclay for a walk in the garden, he calls her “bungling” and refuses to explain why he thinks Nancy’s efforts to give Mrs. Barclay some minimal exercise are unacceptable. So when Nancy realizes that Mrs. Barclay is palming her medications and faking the tantrums and lethargy she displays only in front of the doctor, she keeps her mouth shut and decides to pursue her course of feeding and exercising Mrs. Barclay in secret.

In her leisure hours, Nancy is fending off advances from Cousin John and Greg Mansfield, an antiques expert hanging around the house to create an inventory of the estate’s assets. She also flirts with Kent, walks barefoot on the lawn in the rain with him, the floozy, and aks him to investigate the doctor. She also manages to completely miss the blatant hints about what’s really going on. She overhears a conversation in which John says, “As soon as Lavinia is committed and I get power of attorney, I’ll have control of the money, and Dr. Lacey will get paid off and leave town.” Instead of putting her on high alert, these words serve only to confuse Nancy, and she “stopped listening.” Not long after that, Kent tells her Dr. Lacey is an expert, having been practicing for more than 40 years. She responds by pointing out, “He would have had to be a child prodigy! Dr. Lacey is only 40 years old—or less—today.” Yet still she doesn’t seem to quite connect the dots. After Mrs. Barclay gets an injection from Dr. Lacey and shortly afterward loses her mind, attempting to strangle her, Nancy can only believe that she was wrong and Dr. Lacey correct in his diagnosis of Mrs. Barclay’s mental incapacity. It’s not only in her work that Nancy is dense; when Kent tells her, “I’ve already decided on the girl I want,” she assumes he’s talking about someone else and changes the subject. I don’t mind a small amount of suspension of disbelief, but this is taking things way too far.

I did find myself racing through the last few pages, when Nancy is packing up Mrs. Barclay for her permanent installation in the loony bin, to find out if help would arrive in time (it did!). And the last sentence—“I’ll convince you that a wife may like to work,”—scored points with me. On the whole, the book is a reasonably enjoyable read, without an overdose of saccharine. But it wasn’t really a mystery, it wasn’t really Gothic, it wasn’t really suspenseful. It wasn’t really great.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Sunshine Nurse

By Sharon Heath
(pseud. Norah Mary Bradley), ©1969

Terry Chisholm made her prime concern the health of the delicate children she took care of at Sunshine House. Young and lovely, she considered no future for herself outside of her career as nurse. Even her best friend’s concern could not make Terry slacken her pace—until romance unexpectedly intervened. For when a youthful doctor and a handicapped sculptor misunderstood each others’ intentions, it was left to Terry to smooth out the emotional tangle. And once she had intervened, it was her own heart that became inextricably involved …


“Perhaps he would discover that a blonde could be every bit as attractive as a redhead!”

“You mean that your pleasure at seeing me was not simply for my sake? Disillusioned and hurt, I maintain my usual exquisite courtesy.”

Sunshine House, set down in the English countryside, is “a convalescent home for children whose parents can’t afford to take them away after a severe illness or operation.” The idea is, the parents meet Terry at the train station in London and hand over their sick children (including one boy diagnosed with “nervous deviltry and maladjustment”), who will be taken back to Sunshine House for weeks or months until they are deemed well enough to return home again, with apparently not one visit from their parents in the meantime. I cannot believe anyone ever thought this was a good idea.

A large cast of characters populates this book. Linda is a good friend of Terry’s who got sick and requires a place to go while she recuperates, and later while her boss is off honeymooning. Adrian Brooke is the indolent nephew of Lady Eskerton, who is a patron of Sunshine House. Adrian is a sculptor, but he injured his hand and now can’t work, so he spends his days flirting with Verity Gale, who is betrothed to Linda’s boss. Jonathan Hensley is a physician and the son of old Dr. Hensley, who cares for Sunshine House’s prepubescent occupants. Benjy is a four-year-old boy that Terry and her mother are raising after his parents died and his only living relatives didn’t want him. Bessie Hargreaves is a scullery maid with a sordid past—she married a man who she discovered, when she was about to give birth to their first child, was already married to someone else, and she lost the baby. Now she moons over three-year-old Maida, whose wretched, poverty-stricken mother dies while Maida is at Sunshine House, leaving her an orphan. Bessie wants to adopt Maida, but first she needs a husband and a home. Wait, there’s Ted Larkin, the gardener!

The two eligible bachelors (neither Terry nor Linda is a Lady Chatterley type, going for the gardener) are clearly destined for the two ladies. Of course, it’s a circuitous route to get them safely to the altar. Terry wants to help Adrian with his hand, and the two are always getting caught together by Jonathan Hensley, who incomprehensibly turns cold toward Terry. Linda insults Adrian, who incomprehensibly becomes infatuated with her. In the end, we have three engagements to celebrate, what with Bessie and Ted also hooking up. (Yes, this makes them eligible to adopt Maida.) Curiously, however, Jonathan doesn’t put the moves on Terry until after Benjy’s aunt and uncle from Australia turn up to claim him after all, when it turns out they can’t have kids of their own. “As long as you had Benjy to think of and love, I was afraid I wouldn’t stand a chance,” he tells her. “When I heard he was leaving you, I began to hope again.” A tad bit Oedipal to be jealous of a four-year-old boy; what’s he going to do when he and Terry have children of their own?

I suppose the re-telling can be a bit confusing, but the book itself is easy to follow and a decent enough read. You’ll occasionally come across some snappy dialogue, such as when Linda tells Adrian that she suspects that his girlfriends are “legion.” He replies, “Like the wedding presents in the newspaper reports. Both numerous and costly.” If you’re snowed in over Christmas break, it’s a pleasant afternoon on the couch.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Orphanage Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1970

Young, attractive Christine Morgan became a nurse with one end in view—to work at Maple Crest, where she had been raised as an orphan after her parents’ tragic death. There were delightful youngsters in need of loving care at Maple Crest. There was also handsome Dr. Aaron Hoffman, to whom Christine lost her heart, and irrepressible “Fuzz” Kraus, who wanted her to marry him. There was a dire threat to Maple Crest from crusty old Matthew Chancellor, who owned the luxurious estate next door, and dark mystery in his beautiful granddaughter’s strange behavior. All these vivid human threads interwove in a challenge Christine had to meet—to save the place she held dear, and her chance for happiness with the man she loved.


“She wore a white uniform like most women wore a Givenchy gown.”

“Sickness of the body, she could do something about. But hunger of the heart—that was another story entirely.”

“He’d met several interesting women since coming to Bardwell. There was a cute secretary, that one nurse with the red hair and a society dish that had a cute little way of walking and talking.”

Somehow, between the title and the cover, I had a feeling this book was going to be a little nauseating. Sometimes my premonitions are wrong (see
Surf Safari Nurse and Hospital in Kashmir), but sometimes I am right on the money.

Without further ado, I give you Christine Morgan, the eponymous orphanage nurse. She was an orphan herself, a former resident of Maple Crest Home for Children, after her parents were killed in a car crash when she was 14. She dedicated her life to becoming a nurse and has returned to Maple Crest to assist the vintage caretaker, Sarah, in bringing up 25 fresh-faced young orphans.

The orphanage doctor, Aaron Hoffman, is a quiet, sneering guy. Naturally, Christine is in love with him. We have to be told this repeatedly early on, because the doctor has no redeeming qualities that I could see, and without all the signposts you’d never believe it.

The crotchety old millionaire next door, Matthew Chancellor, hates kids, and has a tempestuous relationship with his only relative, granddaughter Sherrill, who has quit college and just returned home to the mansion. In a shocking coincidence, at the same time a newborn baby turns up in the orphanage bushes. The label has been cut off the blanket the baby is wrapped in, yet enterprising reporter/asshole Pete Jennings tells Christine that the blanket is sold by “only five stores in the entire state.” Boy, with skills like that, Pete is going to have no trouble finding his “big story” to make his name. He’s convinced that his big break is this baby story, and he’s going to track down the mother and spill her humiliation in the papers. But since the publicity about the baby is good for the orphanage, Christine and the doctor keep inviting him in despite their dislike of him and his recurrent rudeness. (Curiously, at the end of the book when Pete finally has the facts nailed, he makes a surprising about-face for no apparent reason and opts not to publish the story after all.)

In the meantime, Sherrill offers to help out at the orphanage. Once in the door she has a tendency, sometimes during a crisis about a sick or runaway child, of throwing herself into Christine’s arms and sobbing about her grandfather, who quashed her relationship with local kid Billy White, who was later killed in Vietnam. Christine responds by confronting old Mr. Chancellor about his hatred for the orphanage, telling him—prepare yourself—“You’re afraid to come to Maple Crest. Afraid you might discover you’ve got a heart after all.”

Sherrill is becoming increasingly attached to the baby, now unfortunately named Dawn. Christine quickly comes to depend on Sherrill, and within two days of Sherrill’s arrival on the scene, Christine has no qualms at all about leaving a college dropout who can’t be more than 20 years old in charge of 25 kids and an infant while she runs off on dates with Dr. Aaron and Donald “Fuzz” Kraus, who is desperately in love with Christine. Aaron is also falling for Christine, and we are treated to endless insecurities on both sides of the relationship, which gets old mighty fast. The only thing more cloying is the syrupy language of their blossoming love: “For a moment, their eyes met and held, and when he reached out to take her hand, she reached halfway. … The pressure of Aaron’s fingers around her own was a sweet, sharp pleasure.” It gets worse, but I’ll spare you.

As the book moves to its ending, Christine declines dinner with the doctor because Fuzz has asked her out, and at the end of their date he “pulled her into his arms and kissed her soundly.” You will be as surprised as I was when he tells Christine just a few hours later that he’s in love with Sherrill and wants to marry her. His fickleness is capped only by Sherrill’s, as we learn that she was actually married to Billy White not much more than nine months previously. In a way, it’s a sad indictment of commitment and responsibility, but somehow I doubt that the author had such heavy themes in mind when she penned this throwaway.

In the event that you haven’t foreseen where this review is going (which should be about as hard to fathom as the “surprise” ending of this book), let me spell it out: Orphanage Nurse is treacly, insulting to the intelligence, and amazingly improbable. Don’t waste your time.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hospital in Kashmir

By Belinda Dell, ©1959

“Andrews the adding-machine—is that how you think of me? Put the right instrument in his hand and he’ll perform an operation: save his patient from choking and he’ll take it for granted. All coolness and efficiency but without human qualities!” Doctor Gil Andrews said to Nurse Clare Edmonds, soon after her arrival at Kahldi Hospital in Kashmir. Nurse Clare’s feelings for Doctor Gil were, in fact, very different from her feelings for an adding-machine—but how could she tell him so?


“This little town is absolutely dominated by these medical types, and unless you put your foot down you’ll get cold compresses with your lunch, and vaccination statistics with your dinner.”

“Any man has moments in his life that won’t bear looking into.”

I have to say that when I pick up a VNRN with more than 120 pages—and this one has 191—a certain feeling of dread comes over me. Almost 200 pages for a nurse romance novel? Does the author really have that much that needs to be said, or does she just think she does? Yes, I have been burned in the past. And so the page count, in addition to the cover, which must be acknowledged as not one of the genre’s finest, made me less that confident when I picked up Hospital in Kashmir.

And how wrong I was. This is a very cute book, with a pretty ending (an extremely rare find in the VNRN) and picturesque scenes, absolutely worth reading.

Clare Edmonds is following her best friend from nursing school when she takes a job in Kashmir. She’s desperately needed, as they have 300 patients but only six nurses and two doctors. There’s a snafu with her transportation, however; the car and driver who will take her the last leg of the trip have fallen through. Walton Parker, an engineer who does a lot of work near her hospital, takes her on the 12-hour drive, and en route, they strike up a relationship—not long after her arrival in the village of Srinagar, everyone is convinced they are to be engaged. But Dr. Gil Andrews, Walton’s best friend, warns Clare that Walton’s fancies are fleeting. Sure enough, after a month-long trip to London, Walton returns with a cooler heart. The village is disgusted with Walton, and pities Clare. For her part, Clare resents the community’s investment in her love life. “Why must everyone without exception assign her to Walton? Why mightn’t she be allowed to have opinions and feelings of her own on the subject?”

In the hospital, she quickly establishes herself as a dream nurse. During a surgery early on, she proves her worth when she saves a patient who stops breathing. Later, Dr. Gil tells her breathlessly that he now has “the feeling of having somebody at my side who would know what to put into my hand without a word from me.” They get to chatting, and it turns out that the reason Gil is so dispassionate is that he was in love once, long ago … with a woman who let him down, utterly and completely … Alma was a rich woman, but she couldn’t bring herself to marry a poor man. That’s why Gil now feels that cowardice, “to be afraid and not overcome your fear,” is “moral degradation,” the worst possible human failing.

Not long after that, Gil and Clare take a day off and go skiing, and on their walk back to their car, he takes her to a bridge made of a single untrimmed pine tree trunk, 40 feet above a ravine, with just a single rope for a handrail. Clare distinguishes herself by screaming, throwing herself to the ground, and absolutely refusing to cross. That does cool things somewhat between the two. Then, who should show up on the step of the nurse’s bungalow, but Alma herself! She’s strong, beautiful, tall, rich, a mountain climber, an excellent horsewoman, pretty much everything you could want to be. Except that she’s not very nice. She toys with Gil, who does not want his past with her known. And she works hard to win over Walton, even though she is clearly out of his league, and besides, he bores her. So to better do both at the same time, she convinces Walton to bring her with him and Gil on their planned three-week trip to climb the 14,000-foot Mt. Keung. They require a chaperone, so Clare, who clearly cannot tolerate heights and has never climbed anything more than the stairs to the next floor, is enlisted to go along. To give her credit, she is aware how ludicrous the whole situation is. But she’s a good sport, though she is buffeted emotionally, watching Alma heartlessly cast Walton aside and make passes at Gil, who despite their past seems to be taking her back, hand over fist.

A very nice couple of chapters detail the trip up the mountain, with base camps, Sherpas, and altitude sickness. It brought back memories of
Into Thin Air (Jon Krakauer, ©1997), down to the calamity that leaves several members of their party injured. You won’t be surprised to hear that Clare is called on to save the day, but she does so in a way that is true: She is still quivering with fear and too dizzy to move at the prospect of the ridge dropping away next to her, and her trek up the mountain is only a partial success, but it’s enough to get the job done. (A helicopter neatly gets her back down the mountain, which was just not going to happen under her own steam.)

Back in Srinagar, there are the usual tangled relationships and misunderstandings to clear away, but this is nicely managed, without inducing dry heaves in the reader. I do enjoy the bit of armchair travel these books sometimes provide, and though the general feeling of life in Clare’s hospital community, though mostly Caucasian, was well-drawn, I didn’t get as good a view of the Kashmiri countryside as I had hoped for. There is really not one racist remark in the entire book, and even the sexism was pretty low-key. While Alma, who is in almost all ways superlative, is not a woman anyone ends up marrying, the more subdued Clare is not exactly a mouse, either; she tosses off her share of snappy remarks, and her nursing skills are obviously outstanding. And when one man threatens to beat his wife “within an inch of her life” if she wears a red sari to please Dr. Gil, the wife—an MD on the hospital staff—sarcastically responds, “Isn’t he wonderful?” So all in all, this book (hideous as its cover may be) deserves a spot on the bookshelf.

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…?


“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.”

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 off 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 irritating, 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.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Courtroom Nurse

By Fern Shepard
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1968

Vicky Blair, R.N., knew her mother would never ask her to give up her job in San Francisco and come home if she didn’t need her desperately. But it was difficult to convince young Dr. Fred Harlan, who wanted her all to himself. It was especially difficult since the trouble at home concerned Vicky’s kid sister, Jean, and the boy she loved, Johnny Rushton. A descendant of one of Rushton City’s oldest and richest families, Johnny had also inherited the family’s streak of mental instability—or so his sister, Cora, wanted everyone believe. She had a lot of people convinced—including, to Vicky’s disappointment, Fred Harlan. Most important, she had finally convinced Johnny, who had told Jean he could not—would not—see her again. Vicky knew Johnny was not a victim of hereditary madness. She could prove it—in court, if necessary. But she hoped it would not come to that, because the revelation that would “clear” Johnny would dishonor the memory of the finest man she had ever known: her father…


“Was she turning into one of those romance-starved females who could not enjoy a nice view with a man without getting quivery all through?”

“A truly feminine woman … never comes straight to the point.”

I’m not certain if Courtroom Nurse actually intends to be funny or if it’s just an accident. A fair amount of the humor does come from the groovy datedness of it, what with the references to love-ins and long-haired hippies and the “teen-agers today behaving as if they’d gone ape.” But then there are sentences like, “She was considering killing herself just as the door opened into the pretty bedroom with gay yellow curtains at the old-fashioned casement windows.” In the opening paragraph, heroine Vicky Blair has decided to quit her job in San Francisco and move back to her hometown an hour away: “Several of the doctors insisted they could never get along without her. She was efficient, she never griped about working two shifts when necessary, and moreover, she was a beautiful blonde.” So what do you think? Is it intentional or is it just bad writing?

Vicky is moving home because her 19-year-old sister, Jean, is at an age when she needs some guidance. The girls’ father, Dr. Sam Blair, died some years ago, so it’s just Vicky and her mother Stella to steer Jean down the straight and narrow. Jean is scheming to marry her beau, Johnny Rushton, but unfortunately, Johnny “has a crackpot older sister who has made him believe he will go insane.” Cora Rushton has devoted her entire life to raising Johnny, and “she would rather see him behind bars in a mental institution than imagine him in the arms of another woman.”

En route to a tryst with Jean, Johnny drives off a cliff and his hospitalized for months; Vicky is naturally enlisted to care for him. Meanwhile, Jean attempts to convince her older photographer friend, Tom Gordon, to help her get to Las Vegas, where she is planning to win big at roulette so as to be able to whisk Johnny off to some remote location, make an honest man out of him, and support him until he can get his feet on the ground. Vicky and Tom tangle over his relationship with Jean, and since he just can’t betray Jean’s trust and tell Vicky what her plan is, Vicky is suspicious; naturally they end up kissing in the rain.

As Cora spirals deeper and deeper out of control—and it is a bit fun, if unsurprising, to witness her insane tantrums—it’s up to Vicky to save the day. You see, she has this letter that her father to her before he died, which he says will save Johnny if the lad ever needs saving. It will also impeach the pristine character of Dr. Sam, but she has a duty to the living. So what’s the big secret? Hints are scattered thickly like petals before a blushing bride, leaving you wondering with every new insinuation—did Sam have an affair with Johnny’s mother? Well, nothing that juicy.

It’s not too hard to see where this book is going—the trip to Vegas, the relationship between Tom Gordon and Vicky, Cora’s tenuous grasp on reality. But between the far-out vocabulary and the wild scenes of Cora shrieking in the courtroom and Jean swooning at the gambling tables, it’s a pleasant enough trip.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nurse in Crisis

By Jane Converse
(pseud. Adela Maritano), ©1966

Cover illustration by Marilyn Conover

Sherry Allen’s roommate, Nurse Melinda Collins, spent her nights sobbing and her days drinking—pursued by a shameful secret, by the inescapable consequences of a moment of heedless passion. It was only when the unhappy girl attempted a desperate way out of her trouble that Sherry learned the cause of her friend’s anguish was a man. It was then that Sherry realized that she, too, must face up to a crisis of the heart. Before it was too late, the young nurse had to choose: settle for security … or, like Melinda, take a reckless gamble on love.


“Maybe it would be a breach of ethics if hospital food was palatable.” 

“I’m trying to become habit-forming, darling. A drug instead of a drag.”

Sherry is 23 and single, and, therefore, getting pretty desperate to find a husband. She’s been going out with Brent Driscoll, who is 39 and has everything you could ask for in a guy: gracious manners, good breeding, wealth, numerous wide-ranging interests. Naturally she has no interest in him.

Her roommate, Melinda Collins, is the perfect nurse, and very cute, too. But something is bothering her, and she won’t say what. Melinda spends a lot of time holed up in her room sobbing, and resists Sherry’s efforts to get her to say what’s wrong. Soon Sherry starts finding empty whisky bottles in the bottom of the trash and bottles of Benzedrine on the bathroom sink.

The head nurse on her floor, Lois Lawford, is the typical single older nurse. An unattractive, graceless widow with severely combed sandy-red hair, Lois looks older than her 46 years, “perhaps because her usually ice-tinged green eyes were focused only in one direction; her job, her income, her plans for her son.” That would be three directions, but who’s counting? Through sheer hard work and determination, she has gotten her son Neil through medical school, and has plotted and planned a brilliant career for him—nothing less than brain surgery for her boy. Neil, however, has other plans. He spills them to Sherry one day at the cafeteria, shortly after he starts working at Ridgeworth Hospital: He wants to be a general practitioner working in a poor, rural neighborhood. Not exactly the stuff of his mother’s dreams. Sherry is instantly smitten, however, and though Neil pretty much ignores her, she pines for the next time they’ll pass in the halls or he’ll ask her to give the lady in room 306 a pill.

Poor Brent; unaware of her pangs for Neil, he asks Sherry to marry him. One night, when Melinda doesn’t come home after Neil chews her out for making a bad mistake that could have killed her patient, Brent is supremely kind and helpful when Sherry is sick with worry. In the heat of the crisis, Sherry agrees to be his wife. Melinda comes home all right, but when she tosses back some pills with a shot of gin the next morning, Sherry forces her to call in sick. Melinda attempts suicide, but is found at the last minute by Sherry and Brent, who again comes through in a pinch. She’s admitted to the hospital—and found to be two months pregnant!!!

Jane Converse is in high form with Nurse in Crisis. The writing is better than you usually find in a VNRN, and a pregnant near-heroine is quite a surprise—the eponymous nurse applies more to Melinda than to our heroine. The response to Melinda’s suicide attempt is a little dated—Sherry crumples up the note, as “no one needed to know that she had tried to take her own life,” and though everyone suspects the overdose was not accidental, it’s not discussed. However, when Melinda is clearly beginning to spiral out of control, Sherry attempts to talk Melinda into seeking counseling (Melinda refuses, saying, “It isn’t going to change matters one iota if I sob it out on some doctor’s couch at twenty dollars an hour.” My, how times and hourly rates have changed!) Most VNRNs have the star-crossed couple hook up in the final pages without a flutter of the heart until that point, but Jane does the best job I have seen so far in describing a severe crush: “The tight sensation in her throat when Neil came into view; her breathlessness when his arm had accidentally brushed hers that afternoon in the coffee shop!” Though the ending includes one slightly creepy angle, with Brent winding up with a 19-year-old girl who is less than half his age—and I can’t believe that’s any spoiler—on the whole Nurse in Crisis is a pretty good book.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ring for the Nurse

By Renée Shann, ©1959

Sue Woodford seemed to have everything a girl could desire. She was unofficially engaged to handsome Dr. Don Langton—unofficially only because romances between the doctors and the nurses were not encouraged at Rosemead Hospital. When rumors began to circulate that Dr. Langton was paying considerable attention to lovely Vanda Corrin, Sue could do nothing about it. But then Don, in an unguarded moment, called Vanda “Meg,” and Sue slowly began to be aware that there was a closeness in Don and Vanda’s relationship that she could not penetrate. It took an emergency operation aboard a ship to make Sue realize whom she really loved.


“He’s just my type. Rugged and rather boorish and often so rude that one almost hates him.”

“ ‘I think,’ he said, ‘I’ll emigrate to the colonies.’ ”

The cover of this book certainly gets your hopes up. With that title, and its fantastic type, you expect this is going to be some sort of horror story. It’s not, and doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the cover. But it’s a nice enough little book, and besides, it’s British!

Sue Woodford is 20 or 21 (both ages are given to her), a nurse working in a small village hospital. She’s engaged to Don Langton, a moody doctor more than 10 years her senior who tells her, interestingly, that he has a “black monkey” on his back that he’s had all his life. “It made him moody and difficult, and sometimes it would perch there for days at a time.” She’s young and insecure, and always waiting around for him to show up on dates and hoping for a little reassurance from him that he cares for her. It’s a May-December romance that doesn’t seem to make either party happy.

There’s a new secretary at the hospital, Vanda Corrin, who displays unexpected medical knowledge at bus crashes. She and Don go way back, as it turns out; they were in med school together, and she is repeatedly described as one of the best medical minds of her generation—more brilliant even than Don—though a poor outcome with a pediatric patients has prompted her to give up her license, even though she was exonerated by the medical board. Don spends a lot of time with her, begging her to return to medicine, which naturally disconcerts his fiancée. Though he reassures nervous Sue that there is nothing between him and Vanda, when the two attend a medical conference in Paris, they have too many brandies, and before you know it they are smooching in a taxi.

However, young Sue has other options, as well. The young doctor Bill Stevens tells her repeatedly that he’s in love with her, is always asking her what’s wrong when she’s looking glum, makes himself available to her, and doesn’t pressure her very often to marry him instead of Don. So naturally she doesn’t think of him as anything more than a good friend. He’s concerned she’ll never respect him because, during a crisis when a significant portion of the medical staff has sampled the cafeteria’s canned meat for lunch and is carried off with food poisoning, Bill is called to perform a tracheotomy on a patient who neglected to put on her glasses and so swallowed a wasp, which has caused her throat to swell up like a balloon. He loses his nerve, and Vanda, who happens to be passing by at just the right moment, seizes the scalpel and saves the day and the patient.

Sue is unique among the VNRN heroines I’ve met to date in that she’s not a very good nurse. On one of his dates with her, Bill decides to himself that Sue is “competent and reliable, but she lacked that little extra ‘something’ that a girl needed to be really outstanding in her handling of patients. No, she’d be far better off to marry and have a family.” At the end of the book, when Sue finally does quit to get married (I won’t tell you to whom), her supervisor says, “Usually when I hear one of my younger nurses proposes to leave to be married, I’m extremely sorry. … But, in the case of Nurse Woodford, I must confess I don’t mind very much. I never thought nursing was for her a vocation and no girl makes a good nurse unless it is.”

That one of the main characters is a woman doctor is also something of a novelty. And while virtually every other VNRN insists on examining its male doctor’s hands, here it’s Vanda who is described as having hands that are “long and slender, with an odd strength about them. Capable hands. Perhaps a surgeon’s hands.”

Ring for the Nurse is a pleasant little book. Sue Woodford is, as far as heroines go, a bit of an annoying dishrag, but she does pull herself together for the final crisis, which involves dropping onto a ship from a helicopter and assisting with an emergency appendectomy. And we do have the brilliant Vanda as a counterpoint—even if she, too, is a bit spineless, chucking medicine at the first sign of trouble. (In fairness, our male heroes aren’t without fault, either, between Don’s undiagnosed depression and Bill’s losing his nerve over a fairly simple procedure.) The book on the whole is an enjoyable read, even if there isn’t a whole lot there to make it truly great. It’s not as good as its cover, but it’s worth the hour or two it will take you to buzz through it.