Saturday, June 25, 2011

College Nurse

By Fern Shepard
(pseud. of Florence Stonebraker), ©1965
Cover illustration by Ser Leone

Since the tragic death of her fiancé one week before their wedding, Fern O’Connor had buried her grief in her work as a nurse at College Hospital. She thought she’d buried her heart with it. But when her wealthy young patient, Bob Creasy, reached out to her in his desperate emotional need, she found herself responding not just as a nurse, but as a woman. And when her anger at the brilliant and arrogant Dr. Stanley Lowden began to change to excitement, Fern had to choose between faithfulness to a memory and her duty—as a nurse and as a woman.


“What are your plans? Work, work, work, nothing but work, until you finally end up one of these sharp-faced, frustrated spinster nurses who has missed out on everything and takes it out on the patients?”

“Pushing the office door open, Fern walked in and said a cool good morning to Dr. Stan Lowden, who got up from his desk and gave her the customary grin, which for some unfathomable reason invariably made her want to hit him.”

“In her day, said Grace, kids went to college to learn something. But no more. Now the girls went to find a husband, and the boys went to find a wife to support them while they took it easy studying their books and putting off assuming a man’s responsibilities as long as possible. So what was the net result? … The result was that these girl-children-wives found themselves buying maternity clothes instead of dresses for the Junior Prom.”

“What’s the glad word from the world of moonlight and roses?”

“There’s a girl who had better develop lots of character and brains. With her face, she’ll need them.”
“If you don’t stop calling me ma’am, I am going to beat your brains out.”

“Glory be, Dad, that creature has about as much class as a retarded owl.”

College Nurse is a lot like Campus Nurse, and not because they are both ostensibly set in college hospitals. Both involve a guilt-fueled engagement to a patient who becomes manipulative and overly dependent, but College Nurse is a lot less creepy and is better written, too.

Fern O’Connor (and I do find it interesting that Florence gave the heroine the same name as her pen name) is working at College Hospital in Kentucky when she meets Bob Creasy, who is a biochemist studying magic mushrooms. Though “the work was done with the consent of the university,” Bob has landed in the hospital after overdosing on some fungi. The newspapers have spread the story that Bob’s psychotropic adventure was an act of suicide, not science. While that is not the case, Bob is an emotionally fragile, pathetic lump who has never felt loved by his father, and he has actually attempted suicide in the past, so the story not so far-fetched.

Bob’s father, Jake, is a hillbilly made insanely wealthy by a lucky strike of oil on his property. Seeking to defend his family’s reputation, Jake arranges for Bob to give a TV interview about the incident. The script that Bob is handed requires him to declare his love for a family acquaintance, but at the last minute Bob persuades Fern to agree to allow him to use her name instead, and to say that they are engaged. As soon as this story hits the airwaves, Fern, who sympathizes with the emotional trauma he has suffered, feels compelled to give in to Bob’s request to make the story true. But soon he’s a little too dependent and clingy. “If you really loved me,” he tells her, in shades of Shep Harris, “you’d want to be here with me. You’d rush in here every chance you got. You’d make chances.” Bob also wants Fern to give up her nursing career: “If you loved me, you’d do it quick enough. You wouldn’t give your job a second thought.”

Fern doesn’t think much of this idea: “Her nursing career represented quite a lot in terms of years of training, sacrifices of one sort and another, hard work, and the very real love and devotion she had given it. ‘You don’t slice all that off your life as casually as you slice off an end of bread, Bob,’ ” she tells him. Because Fern is no shrinking violet, she puts him off by saying that she wants to be “courted,” which means they should spend some time dating. Bob responds by taking her out—and drinking too much. “Give me time, baby,” he says. “I aim to grow into a good two-fisted drinker.” She eventually decides she’s had enough of his self-indulgent, childish behavior and tells him that she can’t marry him. Bob responds by taking cough medicine and nutmeg, which is supposed to be another suicide attempt. But it’s not Fern that this self-pitying gesture brings around—it’s his father, who rushes to Bob’s bedside, tells him how much he loves him, and the two ride off into the sunset, accompanied by a psychiatrist of some renown. This frees up Fern to marry the doctor, as a good nurse should.

The plot is pretty simple, and takes its time working through it all. The story is not nearly as skin-crawling as Campus Nurse, and you never feel like smacking Fern. If the story is slow, the writing is sharp and amusing, as Florence Stonebraker usually is. Even if this book is not one of her best, I’ve seldom gone wrong with one of her books.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Nurse Conner Comes Home

Arlene Hale, ©1964
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

Sue Conner never thought of competing with her sister Marsha. Marsha was the family beauty who led an exciting life, never lacking for a date. Sue was the serious and sensible type—dedicated to her demanding job as a nurse and resigned to the fact that no man would look at her twice while her sister was around. Yet everything changed when handsome David Wakefield came into their lives. For then Sue found herself in the role of her sister’s rival for a man destined to break one of their hearts.


“It was odd, she thought with a smile touching her lips. All those patients, all those interns, all those doctors and not a single one of them for her!”

“Sometimes, Sue, Marsha just needs to be turned over someone’s knee and spanked.”

Sue and her sister Marsha share an apartment in Grimes City. Sue is the plain, responsible ant who works as a nurse. Marsha is a beautiful, glamorous, grasshopper who has just quit her job as the book opens and proposes to Sue that they move back to their hometown, Point Pleasant, which they left five years ago after Marsha’s boyfriend, David Wakefield, unexpectedly married someone else. Sue doesn’t want to leave, but she feels responsible for Marsha, perhaps because the two are orphans, raised by their Aunt Kate when their parents were killed in a car crash.

So two weeks later they are back in town—and guess who else is there? David Wakefield and his four-year-old son, Davie! David’s wife died of a heart condition a year ago, and he himself has just returned to town. Coincidence? Sue thinks not, and she is peeved. But Marsha is determined to win him back, and Sue backs down from her indignation, the little doormat. The problem is, Sue can’t stop thinking about David herself. Once, when they were in high school, he had kissed her as a joke, but he’d been dating Marsha even then, and nothing came of it except a hysterical fit from Marsha.

Sue gets a job working for old family friend Dr. Joe Sarten, who counts the Davids Wakefield amongst his patients, so it isn’t too long before Sue runs into David at the doctor’s office, and he asks her out to lunch. They have a lovely time, but soon David is seeing Marsha again—and soon after that, the pair are engaged. The only rub is that Davie doesn’t care for Marsha, though he thinks the world of Sue, who she meets for the first time when he comes to see Dr. Joe for a cut on his hand. Then on a visit to see Davie, Sue notices that the boy is limping. Turns out he’s stepped on a rusty nail, and he’s looking feverish, and when Davie’s mother was ill a few things got neglected … like vaccinations for little Davie …

There’s really not much in the way of plot in this little book, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. Sue’s complex feelings toward David and Marsha are recognizable and sympathetic, and they evolve organically over the course of the book. It’s obvious where the story is going from the second chapter, and it doesn’t have a lot of excitement or camp to it, but it’s a gentle and worthwhile story.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Condemned Nurse

By Jane Converse
(pseud. of Adele Kay Maritano), ©1971
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

“I’m going to have fun!” Donna announced, her defiant words blurred by the bourbon she was downing. “That’s why I quit my job. I’m going to live a little!” Jackie looked at her pale, disheveled roommate who was renouncing her career, reviling the doctor who loved her, and drinking herself into a stupor. “Why?” she wondered, “why?” Too soon, Jackie would learn Donna’s dark secret—a secret Jackie could not share with anyone, must not even hint to Donna that she knew—a secret that, in the end, might destroy Jackie too.


“He knew I wasn’t going to meet any eligible young interns, cooped up in his office.”

“If he keeps up with that silly Victorian attitude about not wanting a wife to support him, and he’s not about to take on a big responsibility like marriage until he’s financially secure, blablabla, etcetera—if he keeps that up, you can either decide that he’s stalling and doesn’t want to marry you, or else he’s such an out-dated, pride-filled stuffed shirt that you’d be lucky to escape getting permanently involved with him.”

“Last night she was gulping cocktails as though she were in a contest sponsored by refugees from Alcoholics Anonymous.”

“Becoming Mrs. Travis would be the best possible thing that could happen to Donna.”

Jackie Dellinger is a nurse at Overton Memorial Hospital in Overton, Michigan. She’s dating the perennially harassed resident Steve Sayres, who barely has time to see her one night a week, and who is routinely described as having gone 36 hours with only three hours’ sleep. Her roommate, Donna Silsbee, is a “conscientious surgical machine” in the OR and a “madcap blond bundle of laughs” outside it. Donna is dating surgeon George Travis, who is a widower. She’s had a tragic childhood, passed from foster home to foster home, where she was all but chained to the furnace, which has made her a bit skittish about accepting George’s marriage proposal.

When the book opens, everyone is commenting on Donna’s appearance. She’s been overly tired lately, and pale, and after she faints one evening, Jackie suggests that Donna see her old chum, Dr. Gaynor, for a checkup. A week later, and now it’s Donna’s behavior everyone is commenting on, how she’s carrying on “like she wanted to cram in every kick imaginable,” how she is displaying a “hysterical determination to have fun, fun, fun.” Gosh, I wonder what the old doc had to say? Jackie goes to visit the doctor, and snoops in Donna’s file, discovering that Donna has leukemia, with six months to live. But she can’t tell anyone, and Donna is carrying on a farce that it’s not the hospital she’s visiting, but friends in northern Michigan; she brings her tennis racket with her to get blood transfusions.

Now the plot takes an unexpected turn, as Jackie, lured into having dinner with an acquaintance of Donna’s who seems nice enough. Out on the town, Dan feeds her two bottles of champagne and lures her back to his apartment. There, three thugs leap out of the closet, bash Dan unconscious, tear her dress off, throw her down next to him, and photograph them in an apparently compromising position on the living room floor. It turns out he’s getting a divorce from a woman who wants more alimony. Dan says he is poor, but he drives a Ferrari and lives in a penthouse, which Jackie had been too naïve, or drunk, to notice. The next day, she meets with the soon-to-be ex-wife and pleads for the photos to be destroyed, but the cheesy platinum-bleached blonde just laughs. “You don’t deserve to live,” Jackie spits out as she storms out. And the poor old tramp turns up dead the next day!

This book is quite similar to another story of Jane Converse’s, Nurse in Crisis, but not as inspired. Jane’s usual humor and descriptive writing are largely missing here. The whole detour of Jackie falling under suspicion of murder seems a bit contrived, and it’s a plot twist Jane has given us before (see Nurse on Trial). But even with this device to ostensibly liven things up, it’s a fairly straightforward plod through to the end, when everyone is neatly disposed of, either by marriage or by death.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Society Nurse

By Jean Carew (pseud. of Jane Corby), ©1963
Cover illustration by Robert Maguire

Doctor’s orders! Give up her fun-filled life as the most prominent debutante in town. Devote herself to helping the poor and the sick. Return Ed Talbot’s ring and forget her glamorous future as his wife. It was strong medicine. But Josette knew she must do it if she wanted Doctor Gregory Fielding’s respect. Yet, why was his approval so important to her?


“Listen to your mother when she asks you to lead the debutante parade with your hair its natural color.”

“He was prouder of being one of the nation’s foremost stamp collectors than he was of his financial reputation.”

“There was something about the dignity and tradition of being presented to the social leaders of Clarkesville that marked an important turning point in a young girl’s life.”

“It would be a brave germ that would dare to bite Mrs. Talbot without the august lady’s express permission.”

“Test tubes and research equipment and new medicines were so exciting to the doctors of the present generation.”

“It is quite obvious my dear, that you are not married to a doctor. If you were, you would know that the climate of discovery that a doctor’s wife lives in is confined almost solely to finding lost shirts studs or making sure that your husband’s tuxedo is ready when he dashes in five minutes before he is going somewhere to make a speech.”

“Don’t underestimate the fury of a stuffed shirt.”

“Okay, miss—make with the aspirins.”

Cover lines don’t get much better than this: “She rated tops in the Social Register but how did she rate as a woman?” For a moment I wondered if this book was published by Ace, which is the undisputed master of the cover lines. Social Register queen Josette DeCourcy—JoJo to her friends—is the outgoing number one debutante of the previous year. She’s engaged to Edward Stanley Talbot, an attorney and rising diplomatic star who is counting on her to play an essential role in life: “As my wife you will be internationally famous as a hostess,” he tells her.

Then, on their way home from the debutante ball at 3 a.m., they run over an old derelict and badly injure him. Ed rises to the occasion and insists they drive their victim to a private hospital even though it’s farther away, because “it was bad enough for him to have been driving when the accident occurred … Once the papers got hold of that fact, they’d really make the most of it. But at the Pavilion the staff could be trusted to say nothing for publication.” He is relieved when JoJo suggests they say she had been driving, and at the hospital he carries on about conspiracies of gangsters who push old men in front of cars, frame the drivers if they are important persons like him, and then cash in on insurance policies taken out against the derelicts. JoJo can’t help but think poorly of his chivalry. For her part, she spends the rest of the evening wishing she could do more to help the old man, Jim Norton, and noticing how poorly everyone treats him—everyone, that is, except Dr. Gregory Fielding. Dr. Fielding is more than a little scornful of JoJo, telling her that the sympathy of a debutante is short-lived: “You’ll have your butler bring around a basket of fruit and that will be the end of it.”

But JoJo is made of sterner stuff, and the next morning she calls up her Aunt Liza Devery in Chicago, who has used her money to establish a settlement house for the poor, and tells her that she wants to become a practical nurse. Liza has just started a nursing class, and offers JoJo a suite in her house for the three months the class will take, and JoJo hops the next plane. Classes aren’t easy, because in addition to wearing unattractive dresses, low-heeled shoes and serviceable stockings, “there was still more she had to do to submerge her glamorous personality,” namely stopping the limo two blocks from the settlement house and walking the rest of the way. Also, she has to learn to make a bed.

Ed has had to go to Washington for a while, and JoJo hasn’t mentioned the fact that she is taking this class to him, since “he was as determined as ever to dictate her every action,” and he is dead set against it. When Dr. Fielding shows up in Chicago for a conference, he asks JoJo to go with him to the last night’s banquet. When they get home at 3 a.m., there’s Ed on Liza’s doorstep, furious at JoJo’s deception and her seeing Dr. Fielding, which he blows up into a huge conspiracy, opining that they’ve been carrying on an affair since the night she ran over Jim Norton—he now seems to think this is how it really happened. She has mixed feelings about Ed, between her guilt over having hidden the truth from him and how he treats her like “a child or a moron,” “belittling her earnest effort to become a community asset.”

Her course over, she returns home and takes a job as a nurse’s aide, and plans her wedding to Ed, which will put an end to her nursing dreams, because once she’s married, “I’ll have to stay in my own house,” she says, as if she is speaking of a prison. She’s seeing Dr. Fielding daily at the hospital, as well as Jim Norton, who is recovering from hip surgery. Then a gaggle of gangsters shows up and kidnaps her and Jim—apparently Ed’s theories about gangsters and insurance is not as half-baked as it seemed at the time—and JoJo saves the day by nursing one of the mobsters, who has a bad cold, and offering to pay them $800 if they’ll leave Jim alone. She’s assisted in her mission by Ed, who goes on the radio to announce that she is missing, denouncing her work as a nurse’s aide and saying that she probably had a date she forgot to mention. “If that Talbot guy is the one you’re going to marry, I’m sorry for you, kid,” says gangster Googie. “He’s a jerk if I ever heard one.” With Googie’s disapprobation in her pocket, she finally has the strength to realize that Ed is not her best option.

This is an entertaining book, though not really exciting. What there is of it is pleasant enough, but there’s just not much to it. I am a complete sucker for glamour and high fashion, and I wish there had been more of the “Paris designed suit, silver mink stole and saucy feathered hat,” stuff I can really sink my teeth into. There’s a fair amount of the debutante life, but this just comes across as silly—indeed, I think we are supposed to see it that way, as JoJo herself increasingly rejects it for a more useful life in nursing. JoJo is never actually more than a nurse’s aide, and it’s not clear if she’s planning to continue working or further her studies in nursing, so it’s a tiny stretch to call this a nurse romance. But it does have its charms, and is a worthwhile companion for the few hours it takes to whip through it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Nurse Liza Hale

By Jane Corby, ©1965
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

“I’m so frightened!” The terrified girl who had appeared out of the night at Liza’s door clung to her, sobbing.
“Please,” Liza said, “try to tell me what’s the matter.”
“The noises,” the girl said. “As if someone was tearing down the house. It’s haunted! But my husband won’t believe me. He thinks I’m …”
Psychiatric nurse Liza Hale thought she knew what lay behind her lovely neighbor’s panic—the tragedy of mental illness. But the truth was stranger and more sinister—and, disregarding the warning of the young doctor who loved her, Liza soon found herself in a maze of mystery of menace … with no way out!


“Dr. Kimberly did, however, look at Liza with interest. Liza thought he was probably looking for signs of mental disturbance.”

“Psychiatrists! I suppose it’s all right to work with them if that’s your job, but I certainly wouldn’t let one of them near Harriet. They’re home-wreckers. Why, I know of several marriages that were broken up because the wife went to be psychoanalyzed.”

“They watched the rest of the show together and danced later in the center of the room, while music from records encouraged them to join the others in experimenting with novel twists and turns and inspired gyrations of every kind.”

“I’ll go barefoot if you have the stage floor sanded. I don’t want to get splinters in my feet. I might get lockjaw. Long Island used to be farming country, you know, and there may be tetanus germs around.”

“When you’re in the Village, you have to talk as the Villagers do, or they won’t dig you.”

“I’m neither rich nor famous—yet, but with you beside me, I know I soon would be. There’s something about you, Liza, a kind of warmth, that is what a man needs if he’s to make a success in life.”

“Now we’re in our twenties—grown up!”

“You must know, Liza, it’s hard for a man to keep his hands off you.”

“ ‘My pockets aren’t big enough to hold them all,’ she said after a while. She eyed the capacious pockets of Bret’s seersucker suit longingly.”

The back cover blurb wants to make this book out to be some sort of mystery, but there is no secret whatsoever as to what is going on in the house next door. Nurse Liza Hale is helping two doctors research a book on the drug treatment of psychiatric illnesses—“Dr. Mathews thinks that in time this kind of treatment will supercede most of the other types,” she explains—when newlywed Harriet Duane knocks on her door, saying that she hears noises and she thinks they are made by a ghost. She is a wealthy, naïve 20-year-old mouse from Atlanta, and Liza immediately thinks that Harriet would make a good case study for Dr. Mathews’ book.

Harriet’s husband Charles, age 35, has “a narrow-eyed, supercilious face with a wisp of carefully shaped moustache above an arrogant mouth.” When Liza sees the couple at a party a few days later, Charles finds a pair of pearl earrings that Harriet denies having worn, and he suggests that Harriet is under mental strain, saying things like, “Now, Harriet, you know how easily you forget things.” Dr. Bret Kimberley, the younger psychiatrist who is working with Dr. Mathews, immediately sees that Charles is a rat with something up his sleeve. Liza, the astute trained professional, responds, “Don’t analyze him; he’s simply upset about his wife. He’s very distinguished-looking and cultured, and he’s deeply in love with Harriet.” Not too many pages later, though, Charles’s suggesting that Harriet should be instionalized because she doesn’t like the wallpaper in the sitting room where Charles forces her to sit quietly for hours every day. I want to think this is a reference to The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, but I’m not too optimistic.

In between arguments with Bret about whether Charles is a devoted husband or a ruthless con man, she is pursued by Don, a high school chum chasing a career in the theater, who attempts to persuade her to give up nursing for acting. In addition to acting, of course, Don wants Liza to take on the role of his wife, and asks her if she loves him. “I’m afraid not,” Liza answers, in a novel response for a VNRN (and I do think we were meant to chuckle here). She goes on to explain, “I can’t see myself as your partner, rooting for your success, while I stumble along in a minor acting role myself.” Apparently remaining in nursing while he works as an actor is not an option. She thinks that nursing is a far more noble profession: “Nursing was real. That would be thrill enough for her—to see people whole and happy through her participation as part of a team, working side by side with a doctor, not only content but elated as she carried out his orders.” It’s curious that she won’t marry Don because she doesn’t want to be second-rate to him, yet seems totally oblivious to the fact that as a nurse, she may be literally at the doctor’s side, but carrying out orders, no matter how elatedly, does not make her an equal.

It isn’t too long before Dr. Mathews spots a squib in the paper saying that a Mrs. Charles Duane of Chicago is looking for her missing husband, who has absconded with all her money. Liza then reveals that Harriet has told her that Charles is angling for power of attorney, is angry that Harriet wants to consult her own lawyer, and thinks she ought to spend a few weeks in a rest home. “What can we do to protect Harriet?” Liza asks the doctor. “Nothing, I’m afraid,” says the doctor, who is apparently unaware of the existance of the police force. “I always distrusted him,” Bret chimes in, and Liza, in an abrupt about-face, defends Charles by saying, “Oh, you’re just antisocial.” Later, when they hear on the radio that police are looking for this Chicago Charles Duane, Liza comments, “It may not be our Charles Duane,” and nobody bothers to drop a dime to the boys in blue.

When it is finally revealed that the two are one and the same, Liza has no explanation or self-recrimination as to why she has been such a complete dope. Totally distraught, Harriet tries to kill herself by cutting her wrists, but “only succeeded in making mere scratches.” The next day, Harriet apologizes for the trouble she’s caused the doctors, and Liza is finally able to put her years of training as a psychiatric nurse to clincial use: “ ‘You should be!’ scolded Liza. “Think how good they’ve been to you—and they’re such busy people, too!’ ” Psychiatrist Bret shares Liza’s concern for Harriet’s mental health, referring to Harriet’s crisis as “that silly slashed-wrist business.”

There is some humor in the story and the writing isn’t bad, but it’s full of dead-end side trips, including a major hurricane that renders some of the characters homeless, a shelter for battered women, a missing child and a childless couple, and a traumatic incident from Harriet’s childhood that undermines the idea that Harriet is not mentally incompetent. Its biggest flaw, however, is the heroine’s utter stupidity in regards to the true situation with Harriet and Charles Duane. When an allegedly intelligent woman with highly specialized training is unable to see what we have known since page 8, I just can’t like the book.