Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Nurse Paige's Triumph

Teresa Holloway, ©1972

“Tell Navy … Sara … saboteur—” The patient’s words were plain enough, but what did they mean, Paige Hayden wondered? Her father, a retired naval intelligence officer, and his successor, Capt. Hank Davis, thought they knew: “Sara” was the giant U.S. aircraft carrier Saratoga, but what kind of sabotage was planned, by whom, or when, they couldn’t guess. Anyway, the top-secret mystery was none of Paige’s business… Until she found a corpse floating in the river. And then David—Dr. Dave McLaurin, the dedicated young cardiologist she loved—was kidnapped, sending the nurse on an impulsive cross-country flight to trap a traitor…


“Next time I’ll greet you in such loungewear slinkiness that you’ll have no thought for broccoli hollandaise.”

Nurse Paige’s Triumph is actually more of a mystery story than a romance, and includes two kidnappings, a gun in the glove box, theft of a top-secret explosive, and a drowned man fished from the ocean. I have to give the author a little credit for trying to make her book a little bit more than the usual VNRN, but unfortunately it wasn’t done very well, so you know exactly what’s going to happen next, and the mystery itself is so mundane that it’s difficult to care one bit. The reviewer giveth and the reviewer taketh away.

Paige works in the cardiac unit with hot and hunky cardiologist Dr. Dave McLaurin. One rainy evening she’s looking out the hospital window and sees two people struggling in a green Pontiac, one of whom is wearing a white suit. “A white suit? On a day like this?” She’s caring for a new patient who’s had a “stoppage” of his heart. The ID bracelet he wears names him as E. Dyal, and that is what everyone calls him; though he’s awake and alert and chatting with Paige, no one apparently thinks to ask him what his name is or anything about himself. She’s telling E. about her father, retired Navy intelligence, “one of the keenest and most active special agents the country had during the dangerous years after the end of World War II.” Suddenly the man rattles himself. “ ‘Navy. Tell—Navy—Sara—saboteur—’ The whisper, rasping, died in the old man’s throat. The line on the monitor, that thin thread of electronic life, died, too.”

When she gets home, she tells her father about her deceased patient, and he immediately calls two Navy intelligence officers over to the house to hear her story. It turns out there’s this aircraft carrier in the harbor called Saratoga, and some new high-tech explosive device has recently been stolen from the Navy. So the Navy starts working on the case, but Paige always seems to land—inadvertently, of course—in the middle of any actual developments, in between her dates with Dr. Dave. For starters, she’s driving home from work the next evening when she sees a body—wearing a white suit!—floating in the river. So she hops into the water, takes off her polyester pants (I am not kidding), ties them around the body (the white suit is a Navy uniform), and tows it along the embankment until she gets to a place where she can climb out again. Just as she is heaving herself over the rail, along comes a car—“unbelievably, it was Dave.” That’s not the end of the coincidences. He stays with the body while she drives off in Dave’s car to get help, wearing Dave’s raincoat—the body still has her pants—and when she returns, Dave and the dead sailor are gone. Two of the bad guys who tossed the body into the drink were out for a drive when they just happened to come across Dave and their victim and abduct them both.

Back at home, Paige gets a call from a woman working with the bad guys, ordering her to meet them in the parking lot of the hospital with some sodium pentothal. “Why sodium pentothal?” Paige asks herself. It’s an excellent question, but never mind about that, because we’ll never find out, or who the sailor was, or why he was struggling with someone in the Pontiac, or why he was killed, or even what happens to his body. Paige takes Dave’s car to the hospital, and while searching the glove box for a tissue to blow her nose, she finds a .32 instead and stuffs it in her waistband (she’s put on new pants at home). After stealing the “truth serum” from the ED, she is wandering around the parking lot when she bumps into Dave! The kidnappers have sent him out to collect the drug, so she hands it over, along with his doctor’s bag with the pistol now concealed inside. After making out with her, he blithely goes back to the kidnappers’ car. He’s not in league with them, he’s apparently just too dumb to walk away when he has the opportunity. (It isn’t until they take him back to some hospital outbuilding and he finds the pistol in his bag that he encourages them to release him.)

After lots more conversations with Navy and FBI agents, who tell her that E. worked in the laundry room at the hospital, Paige is at the bus station to buy a newspaper when she hears the same woman who called her, in the phone booth saying that she’s taking the bus to Dallas. Has anyone used the word “unbelievable” yet? Paige instantly makes a phone call, but does she contact her friends at the FBI and tell them what bus the woman is on? No, she calls the hospital to leave a message for Dave that she will call him tomorrow, and buys a ticket for the same bus. When the bus finally gets to Dallas, after repeated stops along the way during which Paige is always unable to phone anyone, she instantly loses the woman she is following. But remember, this Paige we’re talking about. “As luck would have it,” we are told, one of the FBI agents she has met literally brushes past her to the phone booth, and she hears another conversation that implicates him in this plot to blow up the Saratoga. This woman has got to start buying lottery tickets.

Back at home (she took a 747), Paige learns that the Navy is in the process of collecting the bad guys, including the traitor FBI agent. She’s on her break at work when it occurs to her that E. would have had a locker in the hospital laundry room, which may be where the missing explosive is hidden. Sure enough, all she has to do is open the locker and there it is! Those FBI agents have nothing on Nurse Paige. She stuffs the explosive—where else?—into her pants, but Paige’s luck suddenly goes sour. One of the bad guys happens to arrive just as she is walking out of the laundry, grabs her, relieves her of the rest of E.’s stuff, and locks her in a room in the basement. Unbelievably—there’s that word again—she is rescued minutes later by Dr. Dave and two FBI agents who just happened to be at the hospital when she didn’t come back from her break. She and Dave fall into each other’s arms, and the world is safe for young love and aircraft carriers again.

The coincidences just never stop with this book, and they’re so bizarre that even the characters notice; Dave sums up just a small selection of them at the end: “By a strange coincidence, Paige is there when Dyal tries to square himself with his God and his country. Then she’s at the window when the poor sailor tries to free himself of he-knows-not-what conspiracy.” The plot is totally unbelievable, but not so outrageously that you get to have a good laugh at it, except possibly for the scene where she has found a body floating in the ocean and tied it to her waist using her pants. The sabotage scenario is so removed from the story that it never really concerned me. Should I really care about this aircraft carrier? Even the romance aspect of the plot barely caused more than a riffle. Her relationship with Dave seems to be progressing swimmingly throughout the story, and the only hiccups are her insecurities—does he really love her?—and the little fight they have at the end of the book when he unexpectedly decides to join the Navy. But no worries, he gets to stay right at the same hospital where he’s always worked. It’s just not a book that elevates the pulse or the interest, for better or for worse.

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