Saturday, March 26, 2011

Confidential Nurse

By Diane Frazer
(pseud. Dorothy Fletcher), ©1962 
Cover illustration by Jo Polseno 

Linn looked over at the man in the bed. He was lying with his face turned to the wall. He was asleep, she thought, or in pain, because he did not turn his head when they came in. Dr. Jacoby bent over the bed. “Awake or asleep?” he asked, bending over the patient. “Ah, not asleep. I brought your nurse. A pretty girl with a pretty name. Linn. Linn Morgan.” Linn stood beside Dr. Jacoby, leaned forward and held out her hand. On her face was the smile of welcome, of cheer, the smile that was automatic. The man lying there turned his head. Linn stood with her hand still outstretched, the smile frozen on her lips. She stood paralyzed for the eternity of a moment, aware of Dr. Jacoby’s startled look. The man in the bed was Ronald Adair! 


“No barker he; that is, no complaining or protesting yelps marked the possible ennui of his solitary hours.” 

“Passing a beautiful mansion you never knew what was going on inside, behind the drawn curtains.” 

“There was no reason to make a Faith Baldwin novel out of it.” 

“The only kind of gold I could dig out of you is in your teeth.” 

“ ‘She’ll find a job in some tony English hospital and—I wonder what their nurses’ uniforms are like?’ 
“ ‘The same white tents with the same clodhopper shoes,’ Fred guessed.” 

Ronald Adair has sustained “a compound fracture of the tibia besides superficial contusions and lacerations of the right side”—God forbid you just say he broke his leg—in a skiing accident. He’s laid up at the Guggenheim Pavilion, which Google informs me is at the Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, where Linn Morgan is working. He’s British, and gorgeous, and he insists on hiring a male nurse to wash him. “You, Miss Morgan, merely have to hover ethereally over me. That will get me well,” he tells her. She, along with the entire nursing staff, is immediately swooning. 

But it’s Linn he goes after. They date, going to a French bistro in the upper 50s on the West Side, for a couple of weeks, until, instead of showing up for her date, he sends her a note saying he’s gone to London and will get in touch as soon as possible. “Please trust me and wait for me. I love you,” he concludes. A month goes by … she tries to forget him … Then, at 1:00 a.m., the phone rings. It’s a Dr. Jacoby, given her name by a doctor she works for, who needs a visiting nurse for a few weeks. Can she be ready in an hour? No prob! 

When the limo comes by, she’s packed and ready to go, off to a mysterious mansion on Long Island. The house, belonging to the famous and wealthy Estuengas family of Argentina, is so big Linn can never find her way around it. Dr. Jacoby is there, and he tells her that the patient has shot himself in the leg while cleaning his gun. But it would be terrible publicity, so no one must know about it, or where she is, or who she is working for, and the patient must have no visitors. Right. 

Of course, the patient turns out to be Ronald Adair, but now so cold that poor Linn’s little heart is breaking all over again. When not on duty, she is fending off muy macho playboy Ramon Estuengas. She also spies on Ramon’s sister Felicia, who she learns is Ronald’s fiancée, as Felicia spends a lot of time at the pool outside Ronald’s window, though she never bothers to visit Ronald. Felicia has a heart condition that could strike her dead at any moment if she gets too worked up. This has left little Felicia with a touch of madness, flirting with death by diving into the chilly pool and accusing anyone who upsets her of attempted murder. “Suicide mania, Linn diagnosed silently.” If she ever finds out that Ronald told Linn that he was in love with her, she would drop dead, surely! 

Then one night, wandering in the gardens to ease her broken heart, Linn gets lost. She panics and starts running and calling out for help. Ramon is suddenly there and takes her in his arms—“You’re like a precious little bird. I could crush you, hurt you. Don’t struggle—yes, struggle. You can’t win,” he tells her. “I won’t hurt you again, I promise, not until you want me to.” She breaks away, runs back to the house, and writes a letter to her roommate Stella to come rescue her—but how will they find her? How will she mail the letter? How will she escape “the careful conspiracy which sealed the house off from the rest of the world”? But she’s not a complete shrinking violet; she walks down the two-mile-long driveway to the mailbox and waits for the mailman, who conveniently arrives about 30 minutes later. The next morning, Stella shows up with her boyfriend Fred, and immediately starts babbling to Ramon that Linn has to leave immediately due to a crisis with her fiancé, Ronald Adair. Ramon’s eyes light up and he spirits himself away to have a chat with his sister… 

This is a strange little book, part gothic in its obsession with the house and the cast of characters apparently trapped in it, and somewhat sophisticated in its witty writing and liberal use of references to the likes of Graham Greene and Gilbert and Sullivan, and quoting “Macbeth” at length. But nothing much really happens; there are many scenes of Linn sitting forlornly in Ronald’s room, punctuated by their clipped exchanges: “Close the door.” “If you wish, Mr. Adair.” Dorothy Fletcher, here writing as Diane Frazer, is a talented writer, and paints a tangible atmosphere in quiet scenes, but this plot doesn’t give her much opportunity to show off her range.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Aloha Nurse

By Ethel Hamill
(pseud. Jean Francis Webb III), ©1961

The nurse is a captivating blonde whose profession means everything to her. Now it is all she has—her fiancé has just married another girl. The doctor is young, handsome, and eager—for money. He is a talented surgeon, a skilled practitioner. But he is willing to throw up his medical career to become a singer. They meet in an explosive romance played against the background of Hawaii’s superscientific Aloha Hospital and the plush, glamorous night clubs of Waikiki Beach.


“Jewel was so ladylike she wasn’t possible.”

“Why, I haven’t been managed by a woman since one fed me strained vegetables and changed my three-cornered pants!”

“I’m not really a bad guy. I earn my own living—one way or the other. I’m kind to animals. I help old ladies through the traffic in downtown Honolulu.”

“You, the nurse, there’s more starch in your face than in your uniform.”

“If he had been a woman, love might have been enough to make up the difference. But for men, it simply wasn’t. It never had been; it never would be. Men needed more than love.”

Cosima Arnold is a nurse at the “ultra-scientific” Aloha Hospital in Honolulu. This hospital is so cutting edge that, fifty years later, most of its technologies have yet to be put into practice in the real world. But in addition to her nursing job, she has been assigned by the millionaire benefactor of the hospital to serve as the assistant to a New York public relations wiz, Timothy Nairn, moved into the hospital temporarily at the behest of the same millionaire, to promote the career of Dr. Perry Hilton. Dr. Hilton is chucking medicine to become a lounge singer, and the millionaire wants to promote his career because he thinks this will soften the locals to his presence on the island and get his wife invited to parties. I guess that’s a little convoluted, as is Cosima’s service to Timothy—why couldn’t they just hire him a secretary?

But ours is not to question the whims of millionaires. As part of her duty to Timothy, she is sucked into his scheme to have Perry managed by a group of beautiful blonde women—it will get them more publicity—which is fine with Dr. Hilton, who has a bit of a crush on Cosima. But Coz’s heart is turned to stone, because Dale Banning, a textile executive whom she met “a few months ago” and who left “a few short weeks ago” on a business trip to London, married Pegeen O’Hara in London and let her find out by reading a squib in the London newspapers. She is never going to fall in love again! Well, we’ll just see about that, missy.

One of the other bimbos on Perry’s “Board of Blondes,” Margot Ambrose, is jonesing for a Hollywood career, and bad. She thinks she can hook herself to Perry’s wagon and turn herself into a movie star. Cosima, quickly catching on to Margot’s plan, does her best to rescue Perry from Margot’s clutches by kissing him smack on the lips in front of all the photographers after his triumphant debut at the Hibiscus Room. It apparently curls her toes something fierce, but this does not mean that she is in love with Perry! “Couldn’t they believe the simple truth?” she asks herself, the self-deluded little fool.

Meanwhile, Margot is scheming like mad. She calls Tim and tells him that if Cosima doesn’t stay away from Perry, she will tell the press that the Board of Blondes is a cheap trick to win over the locals, causing them to turn against Dr. Hilton. Then Dale turns up on Cosima’s doorstep, telling her that he only married Pegeen to put his textiles deal across and plans to take up with her where he left off. Cosima gives him the heave-ho—but he turns up later, drunk, and assaults Cosima. Not to worry, Perry arrives in the nick of time to knock out Dale, but he’s got Margot in tow, who has manipulated her way into a date with him. After Cosima, in an attempt to comply with Margot’s demand, insists that Perry leave so she can revive Dale, Margot drops a dime to both Pegeen and a photographer from a local gossip rag, who catches the tender reunion of wronged wife, straying husband, and framed nurse on film and drops it into the next edition. This only gives Margot more ammunition to use against Cosima, which she plays to further advantage. When Cosima learns that Margot is going to blackmail Perry into taking her to Hollywood with him—he’s just landed a movie contract of his own—she realizes—gosh!—“I’m in love with Perry!”—how in the world will she save him from the evil Margot?

The futuristic medicine of the is pretty far out: meals are prepared electronically and pop out of a slot in the wall, surgery happens in the patient’s own room under a hermetically sealed tent, and one nurse manages an entire ward of 24 patients by television and electronically recorded vital signs. Sure, most of that is totally off base and displays a bit of ignorance on Ethel Hamill’s part on the details of how medicine is actually practiced. But it shows that the author put some thought and care into this book—and besides, it does predict the linking of computers by telephone.

It’s not just its utopian tinges that make this book a cut well above the usual VNRN. The writing is more sophisticated, which becomes apparent with the first two sentences: “Awakening to a sudden, vivacious life of its own, the tiny light above the reception desk at dead center of Unit Three, Aloha Hospital, began to wink at her. It winked with the vigor of an eye attempting to rid itself of grit.” We are regularly hit with vocabulary words like pulchritude and sequent, and the book assumes a level of sophistication in the reader, as when we are told that the millionaire sold, among other properties, “his town house on Russian Hill”—we are supposed to know that Russian Hill is in San Francisco. (Which I did, so I was flattered.) The plot twists are almost Machiavellian, and it’s sometimes a bit of an effort to keep up. But this I can forgive, because at least the author has put some thought into this story, and besides, there’s a little surprise at the end that finally squelches Margot. This book is a little gem, and I look forward to reading more of Ms. Hamill’s work.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nina Grant, Pediatric Nurse

By Patti Stone, ©1960

The road to becoming a good nurse, Nina Grant discovered, was strewn with many pitfalls. A nurse could not afford even one mistake—because it could prove fatal. Yet she had made one error in judgment, had confessed to a moment of carelessness. One more error would mean dismissal, the end of the work she loved, the end to her strange bitter-sweet relationship with Dr. Halpern. Then an epidemic struck, testing every facet of her skill and courage. Nina Grant and Dr. Halpern found the strength to fight it … and something more …


“I have none of the social graces, she thought wryly. They didn’t teach me those in the orphanage.”

“I want to wear my new bathing suit. The saleslady said it would do things for me, and it certainly did. It emptied my pocketbook.”

“Now the trouble with me is that no man gives me a second look except Bill, and I suspect he needs glasses bad.”

“Did Miss Susan think she actually—well, chased men? Oh, how awful!”

Nina Grant has just finished her training as a regular old RN, and has signed on for another year at White Shepherd Hospital in Dallas, where she will learn to be a pediatric RN. You just have no idea how hard it is to take care of kids. It’s a wonder they let just any woman at all become a mother. If she makes one teensy, weensy mistake, she’s out on her ear. Well, she starts off with a doozy, stopping before the hospital door to retouch her makeup, when out barges this guy and bumps into her, knocking her bag out of her hands and spilling her beauty secrets all over the steps. She despises him on sight—and then when she sees him a few days later in the caf and tells him to stay away from her. So guess who he turns out to be? It won’t take you long, because in true VNRN fashion, he’s the chief of staff, Dr. Enoc Halpern. (Enoc? Really? Just who thinks up these names?) She’s horrified, of course, as much as with him as at her own blunder. He’s jaunty, joking, and casual. Of course, he’s a fantastic doctor—“If only he could act more dignified, as a great doctor should!”

But soon there’s another blotch on her record: on the night shift, when she is alone on the ward, a child falls out of bed when the side rail is not locked in place. It’s the sort of error that could have killed little Mellie! She can’t believe she didn’t lock the rail, but she’s the only one on the ward—she must have left it down. The fact that she’d just found seven-year-old Andy wandering out of another child’s room never enters her mind—so she confesses to the crime and takes the pink sheet of shame and a week’s suspension.

This is especially hard on her because she fears everyone will think less of her—“I’m no longer the perfect nurse in their eyes, she thought wryly. They know I’m human too.” And what will Dr. Enoc think? Nina still doesn’t really get the good doctor, but he has shown interest in her progress as a trainee. And then, we are told, “there was something—a strange something—that had been sparkling between them from the day they had chased a cheap lipstick down the stairs.” Now, I just absolutely despise having to learn about a burgeoning romance in this way—it’s lazy and insulting. If we haven’t seen it for ourselves in the interactions between the characters, then it isn’t really there, and this is just a backhanded, cheating way of accomplishing the heavy lifting the author should have been doing all along.

So how can we bring our protagonists together? Here’s a novel idea—how about an epidemic? This time it’s diphtheria, which allows the book to go on a little rant about parents who don’t vaccinate their children: “They feel safe, for what they don’t hear about, or know about firsthand, they tend to ignore sometimes.” If the book gets to rant, so do I: Today parents are not ignoring the issue but willfully choosing not to vaccinate, sure their children will have a bad reaction (though the odds of this are 12.1 per 1 million doses, or 0.00121%, in a recent study of the flu vaccine[1]) while paradoxically convinced at the same time they will not contract a vaccine-preventable disease that could possibly kill them (300 children and 42,000 adults die every year of these illnesses[2]).

Anyhoo, there they are, locked on the infectious diseases ward, where the regulations require the nurses get eight hours of sleep nightly, eat nutritious meals, and shampoo their hair every other day. It’s no wonder that after six weeks of eight-hours-on, eight-hours-off shifts, they fall into each others’ arms in the kitchen when she slips in a puddle of water and he catches her. There’s still 25 more pages of book to get through, so we have to wade through Nina’s manufactured insecurities about whether Dr. Halpern’s wealthy family will accept her, and, in a first among the VNRNs I’ve read to date, we actually get to attend the wedding, but not the reception, and certainly not the honeymoon—for that you’ll have to read something a lot more current.

This is another one of those books that debates the nurse vs. human being question, and comes down squarely on the side of caring for the patients: “The best nurses are the human ones,” we are told in the very first chapter. Nina is told by Dr. Halpern after one of her favorite patients dies, that children need “tender loving care … as much as the medicines I prescribe.” Nurses who “love them with all their hearts and souls, as you do,” he says, are the very best. After he leaves, Nina thinks, “You make me feel so human, Dr. Enoc.” Later, after she’s spent a week socializing at her roommate’s wedding, the bookworm realizes she enjoys hanging out with the boys: “I guess I’m human after all, not just a nurse,” she thinks.

For its flaws, this is actually a pretty good book. It hums briskly along, and is a more laid-back cousin of Emergency Ward Nurse. I liked the main characters, though I wish there were a lot fewer peripheral ones: I counted 15 patients with names and stories, not to mention the scores of others we just zip past. In addition to the kids, you also have to manage the more than 40 named characters that inhabit the hospital. There are also countless pediatric illnesses to learn about: pyloric stenosis, leukemia, burns, diabetes, nasopharyngitis, swallowed nickels, tonsillitis, traffic accidents—they’re all there, and much, much more. It’s a nurse novel that also wants to be a medical textbook and a telephone directory. But it’s an entertaining read, even if it’s not very campy, and easily worth your time.

[1] Liang XF, Li L, Liu DW et al, “Safety of Influenza A (H1N1) Vaccine in Postmarketing Surveillance in China,” New England Journal of Medicine, 2011 Feb 17;364(7):638-647.
[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Achievements in public health, 1900–1999: Control of infectious diseases. MMWR. 1999 Jul 30;48(29):621-9.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nurse in Nassau

By Rose Williams
(pseud. William Daniel Ross), ©1967 

His past caught up with the man she loved … “Beth,” he told her, “I’m engaged to another girl—back home.” New York was suddenly bleak and wintry to Nurse Beth Kane. She had to escape. Was Nassau, the semitropic island of beauty and serenity, just a refuge for her bruised heart—or was it more? Was Neil Callum, the famous playwright, just her patient—or something more? How would she choose—between her profession and her heart? 


“I asked him what he thought about Hollywood marriage, and he said it was a good way to spend a weekend.” 

“Not even the ice cubes here are up to par.” 

“The two times when love is most highly valued are during the days of courting and when the settlement is reached in court.” 

“A little more talk like that, junior, and you’ll be free and paying me for my wasted years.” 

“That lovely body should never be wasted in a nurse’s uniform.”

It’s winter in New York, and one of Nurse Beth Kane’s patients is successful actor and playwright Neil Callum, hospitalized for a broken leg after he fell down the icy steps of a friend’s house on East 64th Street. He is always saying charmingly cantankerous things like, “You should be an actress. You’re pretty enough and apparently without any common sense as well. An infallible combination.” 

He’s supposed to be wintering in the Bahamas, at the hotel he owns in Nassau, but of course this darned leg is keeping him penned up in frosty Manhattan. He’ll be discharged in a week, however, and he wants Beth, the prettiest nurse on the staff, to go with him to manage his recuperation. Conveniently, Beth’s boyfriend, Dr. Jim, drops the bombshell over a dinner date that he’s engaged to a secretary back home, which he just forgot to mention up till now, and that he just got a letter from her for the first time in a year. Turns out she’s been locked away in a tuberculosis sanatorium, and he feels compelled to rush back to her side. So Beth is a free woman. Now if only she could afford a trip to Nassau … enter the registered letter from an attorney’s office on 38th Street. One of her patients, who died a year ago, has left her $10,000. It’s not at all clear why she needs this inheritance to make the trip, since Neil is paying her way and a salary, and has offered to allow her to stay on at his hotel at a reduced rate when he’s well. But we have to find some way to fill the pages, and now she can discuss investments with her friends and date the attorney who gave her the check. 

Despite the back cover blurb, in Nassau Beth really has little to do with Neil, who insists right away that he can manage everything on his own, and he is never a serious contender for her affections. So she’s left to party with Dr. Steve Craig, who works too much at the local hospital for her to consider him a serious romantic possibility though he is a divine dancer, and Karl Main, a talented pianist with a serious personality disorder. The second time she meets Karl, he tells her that she had “better let any interested parties know that you’re in love with me.” If he’s not telling her how charming he is, he’s running down his job, the “dump” where he works, and even himself—he warns her he is a rogue “without principle.” He drives way too fast and is frequently in “one of his bitter moods.” Beth worries about him, thinking, “he had an inner desire to destroy his life.” And she goes out with him whenever he calls, although “she couldn’t exactly explain why.” 

Beth eventually becomes friends with Karl’s ex-fiancée Diana Wilson when the two women, Dr. Steve, and Karl hustle off to Iguana Island to help stem an epidemic of St. Louis encephalitis there. Diana is broken-hearted over her breakup with Karl, and has quit drinking in an effort to win him back. Minutes after advising Diana that if she talks to Karl they may be able to patch things up, Beth ponders whether she should marry Karl herself, the two-faced bitch. Though she has never expressed any sort of love for Karl, just “fondness and pity,” she “still wasn’t certain whether it was Karl or Steve who held the key to her heart.” She thinks that perhaps she could give Karl “a calm guiding hand” to help him make the most of his talents, which will surely make for a lasting and successful marriage. In the remaining 15 pages, she saves Diana from a coma by digging deep into her years of training as a nurse and screaming until help comes, returns to her job at the hospital in New York, and out of the clear blue “realized now how much she loved” the young fella who turns up on her doorstep, vowing to change his ways. Bleah. 

The writing is strangely bipolar. We frequently receive humorous quips from Neil with virtually every utterance that drops from his lips, yet the prose outside the quotation marks is fairly leaden; it’s almost as if author Dan Ross, here writing as Rose Dana, got a little help with his lines. (And I couldn’t help but notice that one of Beth’s patients is referred to as “the dark girl” exactly 13 times in the 14 pages on which she appears, making me wonder just what was up with that.) The author loves Manhattan and is constantly giving us locations for the action, such as “Beth Kane came up the steps from the subway station at Seventh Avenue and Fiftieth Street,” “her tiny third floor apartment only a couple of blocks from Washington Square,” “Andy’s was a small restaurant on 49th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.” We certainly spend a lot of time there for a book ostensibly about a nurse in Nassau, and it’s enjoyable enough to follow Beth around the city. But once she gets to the Bahamas, her fretting over Karl is just perplexing, considering what an unstable ass he is, and the story falls off a cliff. If you love New York yourself, that might give you reason to read this book, but otherwise, either avoid it completely or just put it down once the big white cruise ship leaves the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline passes over horizon.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Studio Nurse

By Virginia Roberts, ©1961

Being studio nurse meant for golden-haired Lori Todd sharing all the excitement of Hollywood picture-making, as well as taking care of Producer Mike Lancaster’s ulcer. Mike’s worry was the picture that would never be finished… Lori had two worries. Handsome Mace Hunter, test pilot for Pacific Aircraft, who persisted in risking his life daily for the sheer adventure of it… and naval Lieutenant Dirk Patou. The future Dirk offered Lori was both stable and secure, and in his white uniform Dirk was every bit as handsome as the test pilot who simply would not listen to reason…


“ ‘Bill Cox has an iron hand,’ she reminded him. ‘He’ll spank her if she doesn’t follow orders.’ ”

“Sleeping keeps me from drinking coffee.”

“ ‘What he needs,’ Lori theorized, ‘is a good wife to take care of him and boss him around.’ ”

“I didn’t know you’d look so fragile and blonde in your uniform.”

“Hildegarde, maybe if you’d have gone to charm school, like I suggested, you’d have a job somewhere else by now.”

Lori Todd lives in a rooming house off Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood with four other people, plus the landlord and the “colored” cook. She’s a nurse at Richlieu Pictures in Culver City, where she ministers to extras and tries to encourage the spoiled leading lady, Wendy Wilks, to show up on time and put a little effort into her acting. It’s not working. Wendy is the daughter of the millionaire who is bankrolling the film, and if she feels like taking three days off to go party in Las Vegas, well, that’s what she’s going to do.

But truthfully, Lori is about as detrimental to the film as the apathetic starlet. Right off the bat, in Chapter 2, she brings her landlady’s dog to work with her because, “being a city dog, he doesn’t get the exercise he needs.” In the middle of shooting a scene involving a large number of extras and a horse, the dog, which Lori has not even put on a leash, runs onto the set and spooks the horse, which plunges through the crowd, injuring five people. A woman loses a front tooth, another sustains a concussion, and one man has two broken vertebrae and has to remain in the hospital for “an indefinite number of weeks.” Lori gives not one moment’s thought to her role in this tragedy, instead concentrating on the superstition that “accidents always came in threes.”

And she doesn’t waste much time bringing on the next catastrophe. She’s concerned that director Mike Lancaster is developing an ulcer, and insists that he take a few weeks off. This means that Mike, who has been gently coaxing Wendy through her role, is replaced by an assistant director who is a bit less patient. In his very first day on the set with Wendy, he is filming a scene in which she has to ride a burro. It turns out that Wendy has a pathological fear of burros. “It was one of those things requiring psychoanalysis to be understood,” deduces Lori, the medical marvel, and frankly, I think Wendy would find the time and money involved in getting to the bottom of this phobia well worth the effort. But at the traumatic moment, when Wendy, quaking with fear, insists on getting off the burro, the assistant director calls her “some little dumb, spoiled doll,” and Wendy up and quits.

This could spell ruin for Richlieu Pictures. Mike is on the hook for $750,000 to Wendy’s father—“the figure seemed tremendously big, like the national debt,” Lori thinks—so without a finished film to release, the studio will go bankrupt. Lori is deputized to break the news to Mike, on holiday in Hawaii. His reaction—and sensitive readers may wish to avert their eyes here—is, “Oh—rats!” Lori helpfully reminds him, “You said yourself that the picture was jinxed—that it would never be released. If it hadn’t been this, it would probably have been something else.” What a thoughtful thing to say.

When Lori’s not building up the spirits of her director, she’s worrying about her boyfriend, Mace, a test pilot, because, you know, those planes could crash! Mace even proposes, but she tells him, “I’ll never marry you as long as you’re a test pilot.” Which essentially puts that relationship on ice. Not to worry, though—the nephew of her landlady is a hot Navy lieutenant who went to Annapolis. Dirk is putting the moves on Lori on their first date, and is speaking of marriage on their second—right before he sails off for three weeks. When the landlady starts planning the reception, Lori nods and smiles.

Back at work, director Mike has dug an old script that his father wrote out of the closet, phoned Central Casting, and now he has a hot property on his hands. Everything is going very well, “But then she remembered—trouble comes in threes.” So Lori is not at all surprised when one of the lighting guys topples off a scaffold. He’s a hemophiliac, and Lori turns to her ex-boyfriend Mace to fly the man to see a cardiologist. This is of no use whatsoever, because it turns out the patient has an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Because of his hemophilia, the doctors can’t operate, and the patient has only six months to live. Lori bravely visits the patient, who tells her he can’t wait to get out of the hospital so he can find a new home for his little dog. “Sure good thing I’m a widower and not leaving a wife behind. Only my sister.” Another job well done for Lori.

But with disaster number three over with, we can have a really great party celebrating the premiere of Mike’s fabulous new Oscar contender!!! And pick out a husband, too!!

Studio Nurse is not impossible to get through, but it’s nothing really special. Despite the fact that you’re supposed to be inside this movie studio, you really don’t get much of an idea of what it’s like to make a movie, beyond the stereotypical nursing of the petulant star. With over 30 characters to keep track of, it’s a little confusing trying to remember what’s going on. And it’s never a good sign when you pick up a book again, having laid it aside the night before, and have to flip through it to remember what the plot is and the main character’s name. And our protagonist is not the most endearing heroine I’ve ever met, even if she is perky and blonde. The book isn’t badly written, but it’s just not very much fun. Which doesn’t give you very much reason to read it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Navy Nurse

By Rosie M. Banks
(pseud. Alan Jackson), ©1960 

Alice Smith, pretty Navy nurse, had an attack of love at first sight. And she didn’t want to be cured. The man was tall, good-looking and French. Thrilled by his kisses, Alice longed for the day when she would be Mrs. Jacques Stern. But Jacques never talked of marriage. And he was mysterious about his private life, especially the source of his wealth. Meanwhile, the Office of Naval Intelligence had rated Jacques “top priority.” And handsome Morgan O’Neill, ONI agent, was making a particularly thorough check. Morgan loved Alice deeply. He’d stop at nothing to save her from the dangers that threatened her happiness—and her life. 


“If you look like that, why do you need to say anything?”

“The fact that she is, well, homely should make her an excellent, obedient, and faithful wife.” 

“Had she lived in a society which approved of polyandry she might have been completely happy.” 

“This Communist thing is getting to be a bore.” 

“Your heart does not leap into your throat, the nurse in her told her, but, oh, yes, it does, said the girl, the woman.” 

“Morgan had thrown his arms around Alice to prevent her from pitching forward. Even at the moment of danger he had experienced a thrill at feeling the warm suppleness of her body pressed in fear against his. It was like making love in the millionth of a second.” 

“He’s out this minute shopping for an engagement ring and I’ll need a magnifying glass to see the stone.” 

It simply cannot be denied that adopting as your pen name that of a fictional character—herself a romance novelist of the most torrid kind, having penned the renowned Only a Factory Girl—is absolutely sublime in its cleverness. Add to that the fact that my esteem for the original Ms. Banks’ creator, P.G. Wodehouse, is nigh reverential, and my hat is doffed in deep respect to the Rosie M. Banks who brought us Navy Nurse. It doesn’t always pay to open a book with this sort of obligation already hanging over you, but Ms. Banks very nearly manages to be worthy of it. Very nearly. 

First off, her writing is quite good. Maybe a little too good, in fact. Where are the heaving bosoms, the stolen glances, the bitter tears we would expect of someone who has chosen such an eponym? What we get is that crisp, fresh, almost innocent prose that to me evokes the 1950s, when everyone wore their shirts tucked in and their hair neatly combed, and blasphemed by cursing, “Golly!” But at the same time, the writing is entertaining, smart, and lively. As just one example, Ms. Banks describes the audit of a crooked French character’s bookkeeping: “And so the little purple figures, with their crossed sevens and their guileful misdirections, began to tell a curious story.” 

The actual story, however, is less of a nurse romance than a spy novel with a nurse as a peripheral character. Indeed, we spend the entire second half of the book, right up to the last two chapters, hanging out with a gang of communist spies, following the intricate machinations of their plot to get the suave Frenchman Jacques Stern to marry Navy nurse Alice Smith, so as to milk her and her officer friends for military secrets at vodka-soaked cocktail parties for years to come. It’s an interesting enough thriller, if a little confusing at times, trying to remember who is double-crossing whom, but it just wasn’t really what I signed up for. 

When we’re not witnessing conversations with the mysterious ringleader behind a one-way mirror, the untimely deaths of various characters who get in the way, and naval intelligence officers scrambling to catch up with the bad guys, we drop in for a quick visit with Alice. She has another boyfriend, naval intelligence officer Morgan O’Neill, who is madly in love with her. She, from the first day she meets him, believes “he would be a close friend, something like the brother she never had.” When Morgan proposes, knowing full well he will be rejected, she complies, telling him, “I do not love you in the way that would make for a happy marriage.” After all, “it was Jacques who excited her, Jacques whom she wanted to marry.” Well, we know full well she will change her mind, for two simple reasons: (1) No VNRN heroine ever marries a foreigner, and (2) no VNRN heroine ever refuses a man in uniform. Hit the road, Jacques. 

You know he will, and you can even figure out that Morgan will have a hand in bringing Jacques and his gang to justice. But the patriotic whitewashing of every difficult fact, such as Alice’s abrupt change of heart toward Morgan, is too facile for a writer of Ms. Banks’ talents. I’m not one to throw away such promise so easily, though. She’s apparently written at least three other VNRNs, Surgical Nurse, Ship’s Nurse, and Settlement Nurse, so I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt until the evidence of these books comes in.

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Emergency Ward Nurse

By Helen B. Castle 
(pseud. Frank Castle), ©1963 
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti 

Emergency duty was the very breath of life for young Nurse Merle Asquith. To countless men, women and children struck by illness and disaster she was a true angel of mercy. Merle threw herself into her work to forget her own unhappiness. When she met handsome, charming Intern Mike Janblonsky, he wanted only to love her and to offer her things she had never had. But Merle dared not return his love until she knew she could entrust him with her secret ...


“The beds had been cleared and filled again, the stomach pumps had been set up and were at work.” 

“And you must rest; you must be pretty again for him.” 

“I can’t go to the altar with a black eye!” 

“Unfortunately, they don’t pass out halos along with licenses to practice medicine.” 

If the Best Quotes don’t seem all that funny, well, it’s because Emergency Ward Nurse is not really a funny book. It is absolutely devoid of camp, and the unintentionally laughable moments are likewise almost nonexistent. It’s actually more of a real book than a classic nurse novel, and the plot is more of a mystery than a romance; the campiest thing about this book is the cover illustration (and a tip of the hat to Lou Marchetti for this gem). Merle Asquith is a nurse in the emergency department of City General, which has 2400 beds. (This seemed like a huge number to me; Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (aka Man’s Greatest Hospital) has only 905, and the community hospital where I used to work had only 200.) Merle has been placed in the position of charge nurse despite her youth and relative inexperience due to a flu epidemic that has wiped out the staff. This is clearly before the advent of mandated flu shots. 

She’s doing all right, though, better than some of the more seasoned charge nurses, in part because she has this nurse’s aide, Ellen Carey, who gently nudges her in the right direction. Ellen also helps an up-and-coming resident, Dr. Mike Jablonski, who is in the process of interviewing for a fellowship in neurosurgery. While he’s cramming for the exam, he is completing his final weeks of his residency in the ED. One night when he and Merle are on duty, a comatose woman is brought in. Mike thinks she’s hypoglycemic and orders an IV of 5 percent glucose, though Ellen is whispering in his ear, “Catatonia.” Later Ellen points out that one of the woman’s pupils is blown, and Mike finally figures out the patient has an intracranial bleed and hustles her off to the OR. His gratitude for Ellen’s assistance is so overwhelming that he starts investigating her background on his time off, because no nurse’s aide could possibly be that smart, even if she does have decades of experience. This former nurse’s aide offers Mike a heartfelt bird. 

Other excitement at the hospital includes a homeless former patient, Bruce Lockyer, living in the basement, as well as a rash of thefts from the narcotics cabinets. Flatfoot Sergeant Redding thinks the two must be related, and becomes suspicious because Ellen keeps running into Bruce in the stairwells and in the shrubbery outside the hospital. She also keeps running into Mike as well, who has a penchant for grabbing her by the arms and squeezing. When she throws him off and snaps, “Don’t you ever do that again!” he wants to know, “Why? No rings on your fingers; it didn’t seem I was trespassing on another guy’s territory.” Because it’s perfectly kosher to go around manhandling women if they don’t “belong” to some guy. Mike says he’s done some reading on psychiatry, so he has some idea what’s wrong with Merle—some guy must have thrown over. It turns out his diagnosis is correct: Intern Philip Crown tossed her last year to marry a rich older woman, and she will never be whole again. 

Most of the plot involves working out the chief mysteries, Ellen’s true identity, what the homeless patient is after, and who is stealing the drugs. Oh, yeah, and weaning Merle off her addiction to Philip and turning her on to the right guy. In the margins of all that action, there are quite a few stories of various patients or accidents in the ED which really ring true: the teenaged stabbing victim, the car crash, the food poisoning at the parish church hall. Not everyone makes it, either. It feels like Ms. Castle really knew what she was writing about. If you’re looking for camp or silly writing, this book can’t help you, but it’s a really good book, even if it isn’t the classic VNRN.