Monday, May 30, 2011

Nurse at the Fair

By Dorothy Cole 
(pseud. Frances Y. McHugh), ©1971 
Cover illustration by Allan Kass 

Pretty, auburn-haired Merilee Maxwell was happy in her position as nurse and in her love for tall, red-haired Dr. Kendall Ryder to whom she was secretly engaged. But suddenly the serenity of her world was threatened when TV-Western star Tex Howard was admitted to the hospital after being injured in a mysterious accident. Tex was dangerously attractive, and the way he set about working his charm on Merilee was enough to turn any girl’s head. It wasn’t until she was caught in an explosive incident at the local fair that Merilee realized just how dangerous was her relationship with the handsome singing cowboy. She had followed her heart and it had led her into trouble. Had she gone too far to turn back ... ? 


“She had hurried so, she knew her perky nurse’s cap was at a rakish angle on her bright auburn curls and that her face could use some powder.” 

“They never dared to look at each other when they were on duty for fear they would show how they felt toward one another—for they were deeply in love, an ecstatic state they had been in for the past two months.” 

“Complimenting a pretty nurse helped a man to feel that he was still a man, even though he was flat on his back in a hospital.” 

“When you have a good-looking woman patient who isn’t married, I can’t sleep nights.” 

“A man feels differently about his horse from the way he does his wife.”
“Is this where you came last evening after you got me out of jail?” 

“The hot dog, cotton candy and popcorn booths all contributed their special smells to the atmosphere. Merilee hated to think what the pollution count must be and found herself holding her breath.” 

“Ever since the riot at the fair, Mrs. Rogers had been very cool toward her, even though everyone who had been arrested that night had been released the following day without being brought to trial.” 

I have not quite decided whether this book is flat-out brilliant or just so dumb that it appears so. It is, after all, a fine line between clever and stupid. One one hand, we have hilarious lines like, “Merilee felt her heart plummet down into the sensible shoes she’d put on to walk around the fair grounds.” On the other hand, in between jewels like these, we have plodding passages such as, “Merilee hurried along the corridor lined with rooms on either side, each with one, two, three and four patients in it. At the corner, she turned into another corridor, similar to the longer one she had just left. At the far end of that corridor, to the right, was the emergency room, close to the door where the ambulance stopped.” But even if this book is consistently moronic, does it really matter? If part of its fun is its stupidity, does the stupidity make the book less fun? 

Philosophical arguments aside, Merilee Maxwell is a nurse in a perky cap engaged to a manly would-be family doctor, Kendall Ryder, who also performs surgery on a regular basis. They have been dating for about six months, and he’d proposed on the first date because, as he told her at the time, he’d worked with her in the hospital for a few months and everyone thought well of her. He already has her picking out the furniture for their new house, which he is in the process of buying when the book opens. If people in the 1960s rushed into marriage with the alacrity of the couples in VNRNs, it’s no wonder everybody’s parents are divorced. 

But—and there’s always a big but—then Robert Blakely is wheeled into the ED. He is badly injured, and Merilee and Dr. Ken get right to work cleaning off his face and legs. Only when he is sparkling clean, apart from the broken nose and at least three bleeding gashes on his face, is he wheeled into x-ray to see if he might actually be dying of a ruptured spleen or something. First things first. Dr. Ken has recognized the man as the star of a TV western who goes by the name Tex Howard. Tex has a horse ranch nearby and claims he was injured riding a horse, but Dr. Ken doesn’t believe it. He knows that Tex has a wife “somewhere,” though Tex had told Merilee he had no family; this news made Merilee’s “heart feel unusually heavy.” There’s trouble brewing in Crystal Springs. 

She’s obsessed with Tex, and pesters Dr. Ken for details of his injuries when he comes over later that night for the usual VNRN fare of a martini, steak, baked potato, and tossed salad. She’s upset that Tex has been put in a room with Mr. Oldfield, who hollers all night, and thrilled that she will be his nurse tomorrow. But when she’s checking on him the next day, after she’s questioned poor Tex relentlessly about his wife, someone fires a gun through the window. Merilee, who is either very brave or very dim-witted, immediately runs to it to see who it is. Is the author’s overwhelming disregard for human nature intentional or ignorance? In any case, the shooter is not discovered, and the incident quickly fades in the rear-view mirror. 

After he gets out of the hospital, Tex invites Merilee to come to the eponymous fair to hear him perform, and despite Dr. Ken’s insistence that she stay away from Tex, off she goes. For his opening number, Tex sings a new composition called “Marilee, Where Are You?” and is about to play it again when “a shot rang out, and Tex crumpled to the floor of the stage.” Maybe someone just can’t bear to hear that song again. The audience takes this in stride and taps their feet as red-coated musicians, who immediately rush on stage to block the view of Tex, break into a lively tune. Then there’s an explosion, apparently set off by the hippies sitting in front of Merilee, and this is finally too much for the crowd, which immediately erupts into a riot and begins throwing punches en masse. 

Merilee, who is even slower out of the gate than the audience, watches for a while longer, until the announcer pleads with the crowd to leave quietly. This request has the opposite effect on Merilee, who freaks out and tries to push her way to the stage but is sucked into the riot, where she starts hitting people. The fuzz finally arrives and drags her off to the police station, where she is booked by friendly Seargent Rosetti, whom she had nursed through a recent bout of appendicitis. She’s freed on bail by long-suffering Dr. Ken, who is understandably chilly, though she doesn’t seem to understand and is hurt when he doesn’t want to chat about Tex on the way home or come in for a visit. Tex vanishes after the shooting, but Dr. Ken knows where he is and takes Merilee with him to change the bandages, as Tex has been shot in the “fleshy part” of the shoulder. Merilee suppresses an unprofessional gasp when she realizes that “if the bullet had gone a few inches lower, it would have penetrated his heart,” which is apparently located between his nipple and his armpit. 

At this point, a mystery breaks loose. There’s a photo of Tex’s wife in Tex’s bedroom that one of Tex’s horse trainers wants Merilee to get for him, but it’s gone missing. The book finally starts to wonder about who is trying to kill Tex, how he landed in the hospital, and what the story is with his wife. Through it all, Merilee maintains a complete inability to comprehend the effects of her actions. Ken’s long-lost sister shows up, and when Ken spends the evening with his sister instead of with Merilee, she wonders, “Was the pleasant pattern of her relationship with Ken going to be spoiled because of the sudden arrival of his sister?” Of course, it’s already been spoiled because of her intense infatuation with Tex, but apparently that hasn’t occurred to her. 

This sort of overwhelmingly blatant stupidity is rampant throughout the book. Initially I found it irritating, but it was so pervasive that I actually started to wonder whether it was intentional. Can the author really be unaware that her book’s situations so consistenly run contrary to common sense and human nature? The amusing quotes—e.g. “his lips were firm yet able to smile easily”—are as dopey as they are funny. The book is not so over the top, not so obviously campy, that I can be certain that it’s deliberate, and this did detract somewhat from my enjoyment of it. But this book is easily so dumb that it’s a good read, an absolutely worthwhile way to spend an afternoon.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bush Hospital

By Gladys Fullbrook, ©1968
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

When Ann Royce joined the Voluntary Service Overseas and went to work as a nurse in a bush hospital in Tanzania, she left an unhappy love affair behind her. Was it that previous humiliating experience of love in England that threw her so quickly into the arms of Jeremy when, at the same time, she was so attracted to David? In the hot sun of East Africa, she gradually discovered the answer.


“I had been his ‘steady’ for more than five years; and during that time he had never looked at another girl, though plenty had looked at his handsome face and athletic figure. I was quite certain of this because that sort of thing always gets around, and sooner or later some kind friend will feel that she really ought to tell—for one’s own good, of course.”

“Women and children patients … seem to be tougher than the men, and I’m not surprised as they do most of the work.”

“Fate may intend me to be a career woman. A Sister Tutor, or even a matron of a teaching hospital. I considered this dazzling prospect for a moment, then sighed; for I had to admit that it did not attract me in the slightest. All I wanted was to be a happy, loving wife and mother.”

“I could imagine just how Mother felt, but I did wish she would leave me to manage or mismanage my own affairs, for after all that is what we all have to do in the end.”

“We spent a gay half-hour at the hotel, where, incidentally, very moderate drinking was indulged in, for we all had the new breathalyser tests in mind.”

“ ‘Well,’ I thought, rising jerkily to my feet, ‘the mini-skirt has its uses!’, and after one swift glance round the room, I followed David over the windowsill, and outside.”

I work with a surgeon who possesses something of an unchaste mind, and he has asked me several times if I own a copy of Head Nurse (I do). So when I found this book, I had to bring it to him as a worthy companion to that title. Indeed, under its cover I did actually find it to be slightly more prurient than most VNRNs I’ve read. But in the world of VNRNs, that’s not really saying much.

Ann Royce is a nurse in England, who, having just completed years of training to be a nurse, is now ready to chuck it all and become a housewife for her long-time beau, Mike. After five years, however, he’s rather belatedly getting cold feet. She shows him, and signs up with the Voluntary Service Overseas Organization for a year working in, yes, a bush hospital in Tanzania. She steps off the plane in Dar-Es-Salaam, where mission church “padre” and former surgeon David Ottershaw is waiting for her, showing the effects of the heat: “He was wearing a sort of wide-brimmed felt hat, and I noticed with distaste that it was stained with sweat round the inner edge. His khaki shirt was limp with the same dark stain. Without thinking I moved a little away from him, and suddenly he smiled … ‘Yes, wind’s in the wrong direction,’ he remarked casually.” You just know they’re meant to be together.

The hospital is staffed by Nurse Ruth Harris, and there’s schoolteacher Wendy Ellison, and a few native nurses-in-training, but beyond that this book is as thinly populated as the African wilds. David drops in from time to time and brings Jeremy Dunne, who is working in agriculture nearby for the VSO, to meet Ann. Before too many more pages, she and Jeremy are an item, although from the outset there are clues that Jeremy is not exactly a steady type: “You take your job very seriously, don’t you, Ann?” he asks her, and seems surprised when she answers, “Of course, don’t you?” Nonetheless, when Jeremy proposes and then kisses her for the first time, she accepts, though she seems more enthusiastic about the kissing than marrying Jeremy: “But did I want to marry? Well, of course, doesn’t every woman?”

But after announcing their engagement, Ann realizes she’s in love with David. What to do, what to do? Naturally, she decides to go ahead and marry Jeremy, until he starts dancing with Wendy and cools toward Ann. Eventually she decides she has to break up with Jeremy because “David was the man that I loved truly and for all time … In the depths of my heart I had known for some time; in fact, ever since that magic moment after the operation that David had performed on the man with the smashed leg.” Now all she has to do is pine after David, who has expressed no interest in her and seems increasingly remote.

Her year in Tanzania over, she returns to her parents’ house in England and gets a job in a nearby hospital. But it’s still David, David, David. A friend finally asks her, “Have you told him?” She is all agog, and the friend says, “I suppose nice girls don’t do such things. But believe me, my dear, they most certainly do.” We’ve got another 40 pages to go, so now we struggle through the waffling, the self doubt, “have you got the nerve to force the issue?” Jesus, just text the man and get it over with. But nice girls don’t do such things, and unlimited texting hasn’t been invented yet, so it’s letters to Ruth and from Ruth informing Ann that David is on holiday in a nearby town, then phone calls to Ruth that get cut off by the operator, abortive bus trips to track down a D. Ottershaw, spotting David in a green Austin mini, more letters and phone calls to Ruth that go astray. After 30 pages of this, the man himself calls her out of the blue in a rather anticlimactic conclusion to the ordeal.

Though the romantic aspects of this book are fairly typical, this book is unique in that it acknowledges physical attraction as a stand-alone phenomenon, separate from love. Ann herself is not immune, and recalls “my own passionate response to Jeremy’s love-making.” She eventually decides that her relationship with Jeremy was based on hormones and not much else: “In spite of the strong physical attraction which he had for me I knew, and now he knew, that it was just not enough.” The story itself is more serious than some VNRNs, which I think is typical of the Harlequin imprint. It’s not overtly racist and the descriptions of the African country give you a better impression of the setting than most VNRNs set in Africa. This is the only VNRN I’ve encountered that is presented in the first person, and that did make me wonder why the third person is the It is well-written and has a cute ending, but it doesn’t have a lot of excitement or camp or fun. Since this is first and foremost why I read these books, though there is nothing really wrong with it, I just can’t give Bush Hospital high marks.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Big City Nurse

By Peggy Gaddis
(pseud. Erolie Pearl (Gaddis) Dern), ©1963
Cover illustration by Robert Maguire

“What’s the matter?” he asked. “Is Anne making passes at your young man?”“I don’t know what you mean,” Nurse Linette Stokes stammered. “Besides, he’s not my young man.”
“But you like him, don’t you?” she was accused.
“Certainly I like him. He’s—he’s a fine young doctor,” she flushed. But her heart was heavy and her thoughts kept returning to the picture of Anne’s lovely, laughing face lifted to Dr. Powell’s admiring eyes.


“Nursing is the most rewarding profession any woman can hope to know.”

“Linette had stood when Dr. Powell came into the office, her attitude the one taught in training school as befitting a nurse in the presence of that lordly being, the doctor in charge of the case.”

“And there are people who rave about Paris in the spring! That’s only because they haven’t seen Atlanta in the spring!”

“I imagine you are a sensation with Dr. Sturdivant’s feminine patients—you probably have to beat them off with a stethoscope or something.”

“ ‘Too bad you are too old to be spanked,’ he drawled. ‘You are very sassy.’
“ ‘Who said I was too old to be spanked?’ she drawled provocatively. ‘It all depends, of course, on who’s to do the spanking.’ ”

“Anne would flirt with a wooden Indian if he wore pants.”

“Peter’s epithet was unprintable, and Linette, who had served a part of her training in a ward for the mentally disturbed, winced slightly at the word.”

“I’ve often heard that there is no more becoming costume for a woman than the uniform of a nurse.”

“You must know, surely, how often you’d like to hurl something, preferably heavy and with ragged corners, at a whining, complaining, demanding patient.”

“If you mention a nice tonic, I’ll do something unpleasant.”

“ ‘Go put some clothes on!’ ordered Peter sharply. ‘Running around like a half-plucked chicken! It’s a scandal to the jay-birds!’ ”

I’ve said previously that I have a love/hate relationship with Peggy Gaddis. She’s always, at minimum, a bit irritating, but sometimes she can rise above it and put together a good book. This is not one of those times.

Linette Stokes has taken a private duty case caring for a grumpy rich bastard, Peter Callaway, age 67, “which is not old nowadays, unless a man has abused and driven his body beyond human endurance as Callaway has.” He’s “partially paralyzed,” suggesting that he has had a stroke, but for him this is a death sentence, and he has shut himself away in his room. His doctor tells him that “he has to want to get well,” but this is the era of the patronizing physician, and on the very next page he tells the (black) servants, Mandy and Ezra, that “for the rest of his life, he will be very much as he is now.”

The two servants are Aunt Jemima/Uncle Ben types; Ezra, “a very ancient Negro butler in an old-fashioned, neatly pressed livery opened the door for them and bowed them in with a manner that matched his livery.” The cook, Mandy, is “an enormous Negro woman in a spotless lavender uniform beneath a voluminous white apron, her head topped by a snowy head-cloth in lieu of a cap.” Ezra and Mandy are never anything but dignified, even though they are simple and mangle their grammar, such as when Dr. Powell tells Ezra that Peter will never walk again: “Linette saw the shine of tears in his murky old eyes. ‘He going to hate that, Doctor. He always been so busy and rushing around and bossing things. I sure hate to see him helpless like he is now.’ ” Linette, probably to prove what an open-minded gal she is, insists on calling Mandy “Amanda,” but to me this comes across as another shade of condescension. Why does Linette get to decide what Mandy is called? It’s the charm of the Old South, where you show how kind you are to the darkies who are forced to labor in your menial, low-paying jobs because that’s all they can get.

Linette is working under the supervision of Dr. Nelson Powell. She has the hots for him, natch, and the romance is how he is slowly but surely reeled in; not much suspense there, but that’s not why we read these books. The story is how Linette slowly but surely warms up the old grouch. She’s got some help, as Peter’s deceased brother’s wife and her two children, evil connivers all, blackmail their way into the east wing of the mansion. Janet Callaway is all about the money, and she proves she is trash when she is rude to the servants, calling Ezra, “you black ape!” Jon, who we are told looks 20 but turns out to be about 16, is cut from the same cheap silk. He makes a crude pass at Linette, who soundly tells him off by hissing, “Take your hands off me, you twerp!”

Daughter Anne, 18, is more of a cipher. She is a shameless flirt, for about five minutes making Linette fear for Dr. Powell’s morals. She connives a convertible from an old guy named, and I am not kidding, Hump. In her first tête-à-tête with Linette, she mentions that she won’t mind if Peter takes a turn for the worse. “It would mean an awful lot to us to have that money,” she says, then seizes Linette’s arm in a fury when Linette suggests they may not. But three pages later, when Peter has fallen and can’t get up, Anne runs into his strictly off-limits bedroom to help him and bursts into tears when he tells her to buzz off. Then she’s insulted when Dr. Powell tells her it was kind of her to help him: “What kind of vile and filthy crawling worm do you take me for? What did you expect me to do?” Well, I took her for the kind of worm who would coax cars out of graying would-be Lotharios and scheme to get a sick man’s money. But maybe the question was meant to be rhetorical.

Anne’s transformation is complete when she meets a trucker and decides she wants to marry him on the basis of the 20 minutes they spend together. Steve is a hard-working salt-of-the-earth type who brings a man’s touch to the mansion: He comes in and starts telling everyone what to do. When Jon is shot while trying to rob a gas station with his wealthy ne’er-do-well chums, Steve is on hand to save the day, telling Jon to grow up and providing a strong arm for Janet to lean on. Dr. Powell does his part, too; when Janet faints dead away at Jon’s hospital bed, he tells Linette to take Janet home and “give her something to relax her and make her sleep.” The scandalous episode rouses Peter; he unexpectedly decides he’s going to hire the best lawyer in town to get the spoiled delinquent off the hook. Then Linette makes a revolutionary suggestion that the partially paralyzed man use a wheelchair, and before you know it, they’re a happy united family.

This is an odd story that seems to suggest that all anyone—including men from 16 to 67—needs is a strong man to depend on, preferably one from a working-class background. It’s a little too predictable to be very satisfying, and several characters undergo wild swings in their personalities over the course of a few pages. I didn’t find the characters either appealing or dastardly enough to be really interested in them; even Janet, in the role of the ruthless decaying femme fatale, one that I usually eat right up, came across as a flat shell. It’s not the worst book ever, but you can certainly do better.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Big City Nurse

By Jane Highmore (pseud. Barbara Schiller), ©1961
Cover illustration by Jerry Allison

For a few seconds they stood silently, then Alex tilted Marcia’s head back and kissed her with a demanding force unlike anything she had ever experienced. His urgent demands aroused in her heart a fire that could be quenched only by meeting his ardor with her own. Rapturously Marcia gave herself up to his embrace. He laughed huskily. “And to think I wanted a malleable little wife!” And still there was a nagging doubt deep within her. Was this what she wanted—to marry a Fifth Avenue doctor, to give up her own career? Yet Alex was everything she had ever dreamed of—handsome, wealthy, intelligent. What was it that sometimes bothered her so deeply, even when she was in his arms?


“It’s Russ, and I’m afraid he’s high again. He’s one of our oldest friends, but very difficult. He was the most brilliant boy at Andover and now, well, you’ll see for yourself.”

“The Village is filled with the Mafia, dope addicts, panhandlers, drunks and other objectionable characters.”

“I liked Kerouac’s first book, and I’m really looking forward to seeing some beatniks. We certainly don’t have them in Virginia.”

“Go fix up and then join me inside. We don’t want anyone to know we’ve been necking like school kids.”

“All Bostonians seemed to be defensive about their city to New Yorkers.”

“What this country needs is a good five-dollar psychiatrist.”

“Is that what you defied me and the whole family tradition for—to carry around bedpans and worse?”

Marcia Meade is a 21-year-old scrub nurse at Metroland Hospital in Manhattan. She managed to reel in the most eligible bachelor at the hospital, Dr. Alex Barrett, a 44-year-old Princeton alum, a year ago by merely exposing her face after surgery: “As Marcia lowered her surgical mask, Alex looked at her in delighted surprise and sworn that he was going to institute proceedings to do away with gauze cover-up on the grounds of improving the surgeons’ morale.” Their dates seem to be mostly hanging out with his friends, an elite bunch—one couple lives in a chi-chi house on West 10th Street filled with art by Pollack, de Kooning, Ben Shahn, and Francis Bacon (though for hors d’oeuvres they serve a more plebian stuffed celery).

Alex proposes, and Marcia is swept off her feet. Then Alex’s ideas soon begin to seem a bit claustrophobic: “I believe a woman should be treated gently, given a home that will shelter her as a jewel box does a gem, pampered within reason,” he says on a date with another couple he knows. A few pages later, Marcia suggests the foursome head for a beatnik club in the Village. Alex is the only one in the group who doesn’t find the poetry groovy: “I fail to see anything amusing in their wasting their minds on this nonsense, in spending what is undoubtedly their parents’ money on getups like that.” When he drops her at home afterward, she pleads a headache and doesn’t invite him in.

Alex tells her she is not going to continue working as a nurse after they are married, and though she agrees, she still wants to do something. She tells him she will teach nursing instead, and he reacts with condescension: “Of course you can play schoolmarm if you want,” he says. Then at one of Alex’s parties, the chief of staff asks her to go to Boston for a month to take a course in cardiac nursing, which she could then teach, and she agrees on the spot. Alex is peeved that she has not consulted him about it, and tells her she will change her mind “because I have asked you to.” She doesn’t. When she’s away, he sends her letters “all about an ulcer operation he had performed on Senator Crawford V. Kraft—all three pages of the finest-quality bond stationery. The Senator had been most pleased with him. Marcia was not.”

When she gets home, she finds that another doctor friend of hers, Dave Greeley, is entertaining “radical” notions about the practice of medicine, in which doctors work on salary at medical centers funded by nonmedical groups such as unions or even—gasp!—the government, enabling them to do more for patients of lower means. Alex is horrified by his ideas, and Marcia is in turn horrified by Alex’s “intolerance and prejudice.” This clues Marcia in to the fact that “Alex loved his career because it was profitable, loved being a surgeon because of all medical men they were the most admired, the best paid.” She tells him she’s decided not to teach, and Alex is overjoyed. “Your giving up the idea of a nursing career is all you needed to make you perfect,” he says—and then Marcia finishes her sentence, saying she’s decided to pursue cardiac surgery nursing. “I know what is best for us,” he answers.

At 188 pages, this book is a bit longer than most VNRNs. It’s not hard to figure out that Alex and Marcia are doomed as a couple—indeed, this is evident after the Village incident, which is only a third of the way through the book. But there are still 120 more pages of damning anecdotes, and eventually you just want to smack Marcia upside the head and tell her to snap out of it. The lifestyle of upper-crust New York hobnobbing is enjoyable to visit, the writing is pretty good if only occasionally inspired, and the book offers plenty of sophisticated references, like Pygmalion and Galatea, and Mantolocking, where Alex spent his summers as a youth. (And I have to wonder if the pseudonym was taken from the Henry James story “The Next Time,” about a woman novelist of the same name.) But it would be a better book if there were less of it.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Nurse from Alaska

By Florence Stuart 
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1964 
Also published as Strange Triangle

Nurse Carol had loved Doctor Mike since she was fifteen—and now, at last, she was to be his wife, work by his side, raise his young daughter as her own. Then, on the eve of their wedding, the glamorous and beautiful Beth Bliss came back to town from Alaska—and demanded that Doctor Mike be hers. She had three powerful weapons: she had been Mike’s wife, she knew a strange secret—and she was Nurse Carol’s own sister.


“He thought about all that Carol would be giving up to take on the care and responsibility of his child by another woman. In particular, she would be sacrificing her nursing career. Whenever they discussed this problem, Carol would smile at his doubts. She would remind him that she was, first of all, a woman, and a woman in love.” 

“The love of her life was as close as the nearest mirror.” 

“I’d like to sit at the bar and smoke a cigarette. Maybe somebody will take me for an abandoned woman who has really loved and refuses to quit.” 

“Carol didn’t want to think about what might happen if the child was taken away from both her and her father, to be given over to the mother she instinctively hated. It could lead to deep emotional disturbance, even brain damage.” 

“She was as efficient as an IBM machine if anything went wrong.” 

“You’re suffering from a rush of blood to the head, darling.” 

“As long as the little girl remains in this hospital, she will have proper nursing care, from a competent person who neither threatens her nor allows her to wander around and hemorrhage in a closet.” 

“Give me a prescription for some barbiturates with real authority.” 

“It seems to have become a habit with you, dear. When you can’t think what else to do, you must say to yourself, Well, I can always run over and threaten to ruin Mel Walters as a doctor.” 

“Let’s say I tuned in on some vibrations saying that you needed me, sweetheart.” 

I am irritated by false advertising in a book’s title. Now, The Nurse from Alaska does not exactly qualify, since the anti-heroine, Beth Bliss, has in fact arrived in town from Alaska, but the story takes place in Kentucky, and there are no snow-topped mountains, fur parkas, or totem poles anywhere in the book except in the cover illustration (which, if somewhat irrelevant, is excellent). I think this gives author Florence Stonebraker, who we have met before as Florence Stuart and Fern Shepard, a near 100 percent average in this respect. 

Beth has returned home after her impending marriage to an Alaskan millionaire was undone by an inconvenient plane crash. She’s heard that Dr. Mike Conway, whom she left five years ago with their infant daughter Joannie, has come into $3 million. But like all VNRN medicos who inherit millions, Mike intends to use every dime (and the easily nauseated might wish to avert their eyes) to build a new hospital to help poverty-stricken orphans. He also intends to marry Carol Bliss, but gorgeous, evil Beth turns up in his office and sobs on his shoulder that she has incurable leukemia, and he develops the spine of a jellyfish. She wants to marry him again so she can be with little Joannie and have a family again in her last remaining year on this earth. The money means nothing to her, nothing at all. But if he doesn’t marry her, she’ll go to court and get sole custody of Joannie. 

To stall her, he agrees to let her take Joannie away for a week, though he knows the child despises Beth and hasn’t seen or heard from her in five years, and agrees to postpone his wedding to Carol—which was supposed to be tomorrow, by the way. Beth is a nurse herself and worked with local GP Dr. Mel Walters years ago in New York, and knows that his young wife, dying of cancer and in extreme pain, had begged him to put her out of her misery with an extra-large helping of morphine. He refused to do it, but someone else in the hospital did—and though no evidence had been found against him, he was dismissed from the hospital. Beth threatens to reveal the whole story, which would ruin Mel’s career, if he doesn’t back up her leukemia act. He agrees, but insists on doing a complete physical exam … “At the end of that hour his eyes were grave, his tone that of a serious medical man. … ‘I’m afraid I have a little bad news for you,’ he said.” 

The plot thickens when Beth goes to court anyway and gets sole custody of Joan for 30 days. Carol and Mike are helpless, though they greatly fear that Beth is insane, “and psychos can be very dangerous,” says the man with the medical degree. When they break the news to Joannie, she becomes violently ill with “quinsy,” or peritonsillar abscess, which she apparently gets regularly (I will spare you the details of why this is medically unlikely), and has to be admitted to the hospital. There, Beth comes marching in wearing a nurse’s uniform, fires Mike and Carol from the case, and assumes complete control of Joannie’s medical care, because she has a court order, darn it! 

As Carol looks on, Beth proceeds to punch Joannie so hard she knocks her off the bed and threatens to take a strap to her. Carol, instead of running straight to the nursing supervisor, goes to Mike’s office, where the pair have some brandy to buck themselves up before they go off to do this emergency appendectomy on “the town’s confirmed old maid” who is “thirtyish.” It actually takes the night nurse, who has no more authority than Carol, to have Beth thrown out of the hospital after she guesses what Carol should have known all along, that Beth does not have permission to work as a nurse in the hospital, much less a Kentucky nursing license, and that abusing patients makes her unfit for the job in any case. I was hoping that the night nurse might be the one to end up with custody, since she seemed to be the only one capable of actually protecting poor Joannie. 

No such luck—after Joannie is discharged, Beth turns up on Mike’s door, out of her mind with fear because she has to have a hysterectomy to cure her cancer. “She thought about the patient, just her own age, who had gone through such an operation in the New York hospital. Oh, she had lived. A hundred percent cure, the doctors said. And when Beth ran into her, months later, she looked like an old hag of seventy. Her skin was all dried out and grooved with a thousand wrinkles. It had to do with cutting off nature’s supply of female hormones. When they went, your youth went.” To get her mind off the surgery, Mike, the blithering idiot, tells Beth that Carol has taken Joannie to Mike’s house in the mountains. How incompetent can the man be? Guess where Beth goes when she leaves Mike’s office? Well, after she stops at the hotel for a gin and tonic? 

Author Florence Stonebraker loves a sexy woman (see Runaway Nurse) and a violent woman (The Nurse and the Orderly, Courtroom Nurse, Night Nurse). Here we get both in one package, but Beth just isn’t as satisfying as she could be. I laughed at the old faked-illness-comes-true plot, and the issue of Beths uterus as the source of her vitality could spawn several term papers. I did wonder if it wouldn’t turn out that it was Beth who actually bumped off Dr. Mel’s wife, which would have made a lot of sense, but the true “killer” was never identified; perhaps Stonebraker intended to write this in but forgot about it. The Nurse from Alaska is a fairly typical Stonebraker story, between the motherless child, the sexy ex-wife, the child abuse, and the psychos (it even has the sassy sidekick), but it’s not one of her best. I don’t care if the plot is hackneyed, but the central characters need to be admirable, and their inability to see the obvious (that Beth has no right to care for Joannie in the hospital) or protect their child makes them not so. The book isn’t a complete waste of time, but it’s vaguely dissatisfying, and not the first I’d reach for.

This book was also
published as Strange Triangle,
with a much worse cover.