Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sea Nurse

By Diana Douglas
(pseud. Richard Wilkes-Hunter), ©1970
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

A secret sorrow haunted Nurse Melinda Madison. She had signed on as cruise nurse to run away from a love affair that had ended in tragedy. And now she was assigned to work with Dr. Peter Raymond. She remembered him from her student nurse days. She’d had a crush on him when he was a promising young surgeon. Why was he the ship’s doctor? Was he running away, too?


“The girl’s appearance was certainly consistent with what the shipping line sought in female staff ashore and at sea.”

“Sue was also on the prowl, but not for any casual affair with a ship’s doctor. Sue’s objective was to marry wealth.”

“His body seemed lighter, younger than when fully dressed.”

“Very briefly their eyes met and he smiled at her, pleased with the way the swab had come firmly and without hesitation into his hand.”

“Enjoy your first sight of Hawaii, Lindy. It’s something you’ll never forget. Aloha-land as they call it, where Polynesia holds out her charms for your enjoyment. At a price.”

“People desperately ill sense trouble in others. Their condition sharpens their perception.”

Melinda Madison has run away to sea. She’s left her job in Los Angeles to escape the heartbreak of losing her fiance Roy to myelogenous leukemia and taken a position as a ship’s nurse aboard the cruise ship Nirvana. At her first meeting with the ship’s doctor, Peter Raymond, he’s sporting a smear of lipstick on his mouth and stale liquor on his breath. She recognizes him: She used to work as a scrub nurse when he was the house surgeon at her L.A. hospital, but two years ago he left for New York to practice open-heart surgery. After a little prodding, he remembers her, too, hazily. But he doesn’t think well of her backstory. “Sometimes we mistake pity for love,” he says. “You fell in love with a man knowing he had a terminal disease. I used to think you were a smart girl.”

Dr. Raymond is a changed man, because in L.A. he was very serious about his work and would date each nurse only once, so as not to get attached. “Peter Raymond had certainly changed from the sincere young man she had known, yet why should the change in him worry her so?” Lindy asks herself. Gosh, I wonder. He flirts with her shamelessly during an open appendectomy on a crew member: “Reaching for the suture table his face was close to hers, and she saw that his eyes were smiling above his mask.” But he’s still playing the cad with every other woman on the ship, so she shrugs him off.

Soon she meets Shane Reinhart, a newspaper tycoon on the cruise, who teaches her to surf in Hawaii and takes her snorkeling in Tahiti. Before long he’s proposed marriage. But she’s still not over Roy, so she just hangs out with him every possible minute, leading the poor man on while keeping him at arm’s length. Shane eventually spills Peter’s secret, after the good doctor punches him in the mouth for putting the moves on Lindy: Peter is escaping a scandal in which he attempted to save a girl’s life by giving her open-heart massage, but she died anyway. Though he was never convicted of wrongdoing, Peter was driven from New York by the girl’s father, who was on the medical board that reviewed the case.

As Lindy dumps Shane once and for all in Sydney, Shane proves he is a far better man than Lindy deserves and informs her that she never really loved Roy because “it has to be physical too. You can’t love a man with your mind.” He also lets her in on the fact that she really loves Peter, and has for a long time. Back on ship that night, Peter runs into her out on deck under the moonlight and tells her that in L.A. he’d been in love with her and wanted to ask her to marry him—never mind that he didn’t remember her when he saw her again on the ship. As he’s paged to the captain’s office, bringing their brief conversation to an abrupt end, the stars light up in Lindy’s eyes …

The best thing about this book is the cover. The story, at more than 200 pages, is a whole lot of nothing. Nothing really happens, none of the characters are very appealing, and apart from an occasional hint of camp, there’s no reason to read this book. It didn’t make me as seasick as Cruise Ship Nurse, the only other shipboard VNRN I’ve read, but that’s not saying much. I know of at least two more cruise nurse novels out there (a second Cruise Ship Nurse and Nurse Laurie’s Cruise), but if these don’t prove any better, I’m going to stay ashore.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Challenge for Nurse Melanie

By Isabel Moore, ©1963
Cover illustration by Bob Schinella

Melanie Woods had all the qualifications of a fine nurse—intelligence, quickness and dedication. But one fault threatened her brilliant career; she placed people ahead of rules. So when Melanie, acting almost instinctively, performed an emergency tracheotomy with only a penknife and a key, the Director of Nurses gave her a final warning. Although Melanie promised to obey hospital rules in the future, could she live up to her promise when a dying man requested the one thing forbidden to him?


“A high, bateau neckline had, this year, replaced the V-neck which, Edith Roberts had decided on excellent evidence, offered much too good a view to male patients as students bent over to take a pulse or a temperature reading.”

“Now, just to shock the town if for no other reason, she deliberately wore the tightest sheaths she could squeeze into, went into a bar to drink alone if she felt like it, and allowed boys she had known before her marriage to take her out.”

“It wasn’t right, somehow, thought Sally, for such a pretty young girl to be so—well—masculine.”

“The students took their meals in the hospital cafeteria, if they felt wealthy enough to afford the fifty cents or so it cost for lunch.”

“When I entered nursing, it was with a feeling of dedication, of putting others before myself, of knowing the satisfaction that comes from putting all of one’s self into whatever job one is doing. These girls seem to have nothing on their minds but finding a husband—preferably a rich patient or a promising young doctor!”

“Nurses nurse, Melanie. They don’t doctor. And above all, they don’t make public spectacles of themselves.”

“What a dope. That spirit of dedication to good old Fletcher [Hospital] and the patient isn’t going to get her a thing except fallen arches and a home for retired nurses.”

“ ‘Nursing!’ she had huffed. ‘Seeing men with their clothes off. Seems to me there’s something downright indecent about it!’ ”

“We never know what the day is like until it’s ended.”

“Marriage … that’s the best thing for a woman.”

“Pride is a luxury no woman in love can afford.”

“What finer future can a girl have, really, than to find a man she loves, who loves her back, and marry him?”

“Most of our lives are based on dreams.”

“Even when hope is dead, she thought, the heart still hopes.”

“We cannot be important to ourselves unless we are important to our work, to the things to which we have decided to commit ourselves, to dedicate our lives.”

Right on the first page, Melanie Woods, a student nurse, does something very bad: She saves a man’s life in the Blue Ribbon bar by giving him an emergency tracheotomy with a jackknife and a key. When it’s all over, and the bar patrons are looking at her with “something close to distaste if not dislike,” and her roommate Sally says to her, “As far as your superiors are concerned, you’ve simply broken every rule in the book.” As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. Her fiancé, Andy Strand, adds, “Everyone thinks it just wasn’t—very ladylike, and that maybe you were just trying to be a—a sort of show-off.”

But Melanie’s lives by her own lights, chief of which is, “What are rules compared to people?” Naturally, this isn’t going to sit well with the folks in charge. She’s known as “the most fiercely dedicated young student to ever cross the threshold of Fletcher Hall, and at the same time, one of the fiercest rebels.” In fact, some wonder why she didn’t just go to medical school and become a doctor. But she couldn’t afford it: Her father was an inventor whose lucrative creation was stolen by magnate Sam Fletcher and whose spirit was broken by the incident, driving him to alcoholism and an early grave.

But every nurse should have a boyfriend, and hers is “basically weak, and that was why she was afraid to trust him with her life.” It seems she’s been unwilling to agree to a wedding date. And with good reason: It’s not long before he’s chasing after a sophisticated New Yorker ten years older than he is who strings him along for fun. He asks Melanie for his ring back, because “maybe Mom is right,” and he should be seeing other people. When Dr. Steve Conroy sees her ringless hand, “he was oddly pleased, which should have warned him, but it did not.” Steve is engaged to a New York socialite, and when his residency is up in six months, he is going back to her in the big city to establish a cushy uptown practice. But he approves of her spirit, how she stands up to the head nurse (always on behalf of someone else), and even thinks her stunt in the Blue Ribbon was “courageous.”

In typical VNRN, Sam checks in to his own hospital, partially blinded by melanoma made worse by a heart condition, and he will be dead in a matter of months. Melanie is sent to take care of him, of course, being the best student nurse in the hospital, and “she’s even good to look at,” as Steve points out to the old man. Before long, Sam has developed a great fondness for her, and she for him, seeing him for the lonely pitiful old man he is. He convinces her to allow him an occasional glass of whisky, though this is expressly forbidden by the doctors, because it’s the only thing that eases his pain.

This is eventually discovered by the head nurse, whom Melanie has worshipped all her life, who dismisses Melanie from nursing school, a month short of graduation and a week from Christmas. The showdown is a little heartbreaking, the stern disciplinarian who turned down the love of her life for her career scolding Melanie for caring too much. “If, in order to be a nurse, I have to become someone—inhuman, then I have no wish to be a nurse,” Melanie responds, and throws her cap on her mentor’s desk. She runs out the door and straight into Steve’s arms, and he takes her out for coffee and, just to put the final nail in her heart, tells her that though he loves her, he cannot marry her because he doesn’t want to spend his life in that small town. But then the final crisis, foretold by the cover, erupts, and Melanie redeems herself and gets herself reinstalled in school just in time to collect a diploma. Then there’s just Steve’s fiancée to dispose of, on Christmas Eve, when she pitches a fit in the ED and throws her engagement ring at him, and, as Steve says, “That’s that.”

This is a really good book. Nursing is not tidy or sanitized, and people have messy human lives. One young woman commits suicide by carbon monoxide because her married boyfriend won’t leave his wife. Children are born with heart defects. There are several alcoholics, including the man Melanie saved in the bar, who had passed out and choked on his own vomit. Women get breast cancer and die, even after radical mastectomies. The characters are believable and endearing, but things don’t work out for everyone, and leading characters don’t survive the fire. The book is well-written and absorbing, and I read it in one sitting (which I would have done even if I weren’t on a long plane ride). And this is the only VNRN of the 102 I’ve read that made me tear up, just a little, at the end. I’m a little grieved that this seems to be the only VNRN that Isabel Moore ever wrote, but this book is an absolute keeper.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Private Duty for Nurse Peggy

By Madeleine Sault, ©1965
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

The dark old house was haunted by the memory of Mrs. Reinley’s lovely granddaughter—and when Peg Merritt went there as the old lady’s private nurse, she could almost feel the dead girl’s presence … But Peg’s real problems came from two handsome doctors—rivals for Mrs. Reinley’s money, and for Peg herself!


“She would be smart, ladylike, controlled. She would ignore him. ‘Spoiled brat!’ she found herself shouting at the top of her lungs.”

“They also tried to touch her. A number moved in completely, often pretending to stumble, attempting to press their whole bodies against hers. Many tried to put their big, coarse hands on her hips and thighs. One or two reached openly for her breasts. Peggy, with some experience in such matters, fended them off well enough, stamping on toes (and wishing nurses wore spike heels), and digging her elbows into ribs, stomachs, or perhaps the point of a protruding Adam’s apple. Just once, she had to treat drastically a particularly persistent body-contact expert, lifting her knee sharply between his legs. … This sort of thing seemed to be a regular and inevitable part of ‘public health work,’ so far as she could tell.”

“You actually saw DeBakey perform an endarterectomy?”
“Yes, he did it as a demonstration in our operating theatre at William Trent General. Of course, I don’t pretend to understand it.”

Peggy Merritt has come home to Ross Park, Colorado, after a stint in a Chicago hospital, to nurse aging millionaire Mrs. Reinley, the mother of her best friend from high school. Peggy had fallen in love with Charles Whittaker when she was young—but he married Sandra Reinley, so Peggy had moved to Chicago for the past four years to escape the heartache. Then Sandra died of multiple sclerosis and Mrs. Reinley had a stroke, so Peggy is back again.

Charles, now a doctor, is caring for Mrs. Reinley, so the two are thrown together again. Peggy also bumps into Henry Reinley, Mrs. Reinley’s son and now himself a doctor as well. The two clash constantly—he calls her “Piggy,” and she calls him “arrogant, juvenile, erratic, obnoxious, demanding, undependable, thoughtless.” Quick, call the preacher! On her first date with Charles, Hank shows up at the country club where Charles is about to kiss Peggy, dragging Charles’ fiancée Nadia with him—a woman whose existence Charles had failed to mention to Peg. Hank then grabs Peggy and drives her out to the family ranch, which he is in the process of converting to a hospital for the indigent. There, she helps him deliver a baby for a Mexican migrant worker. When he’s working, Hank is transformed, soft and gentle, confident, “a pair of gloved hands, skillful and firm.” When the baby has been born, Hank tells Peggy that Charles has a scheme to steal the ranch from Hank and turn it into a hospital for the wealthy, “and he’ll marry you to do it, if he has to.”

Indeed, the next day Charles is furious that Peggy has been up all night working with Hank on “the baby of some scrawny little muchacha who might have God knows what wrong with her!” His concern, of course, is that poor sick Mrs. Reinley was alone all night—and also that Hank is turning the ranch kitchen into an operating room, and starting a nursing school out there, and a clinic for beet-pickers. Charles’ hospital, he tells Peggy, would be “the very latest in hospital design … And the best kind of patients, too. Nice people—who can pay well for their care.”

But Hank is not through with Peggy yet. He gets her a job as a public health nurse for a week, taking her into the poorest part of town and vaccinating every one of the several thousand occupants for a week—that is, until a flood strikes, and then she’s busy helping the victims, until she’s on the brink of a breakdown from complete exhaustion. Home again from this “vacation,” a picnic Peggy is attending is struck by food poisoning and everyone turns green and vomits, and it’s Hank who turns up to help her triage the ill. When a poor little girl with a “gross and unsanitary housewife” for a mother gets sick with botulism from eating her mother’s pickles, Hank saves the girl’s life. His nurses speak of him with awe and reverence, and even if he’s impatient and demanding of Peggy, her opinion of him begins to turn.

Charles, meanwhile, tells Peggy that his engagement to Nadia is just to get her a green card, and really he’s in love with Peggy, because “you speak my language, know my thoughts, answer my needs, and tempt my appetites.” And, oh, yeah, he adds, as he drops her off after their date, “You have to help me stop Hank, before he ruins everything. You’re the only one who can. … We’ll tackle that young barbarian together, Peggy dear. And teach him some manners.” Even if she thinks that’s “a curious way to end a romantic episode,” she’s still swooning over Charles: “He was so big and strong and dominant. … Despite a lifetime of self-reliance and a well-developed taste for doing as she pleased, at heart she was a woman who wanted a man to sustain her, guide her, maybe even rule her.” She rants to Mrs. Reinley about Hank, parroting Charles’ complaints that it’s “unbusinesslike” that Hank is spending his own money to build better housing for the migrant workers. “I don’t suppose he went into medicine as a business,” says the shrewd old lady.

Charles proposes to Peggy and she accepts him, and shortly after that, Mrs. Reinley is abruptly felled by a major stroke. As she lies dying, Hank tells Peggy that his mother is leaving Peggy a third share in the ranch—so it will be her decision as to what happens to it, as Hank and Charles each get a third as well—and he assumes that Peggy will side with Charles now that they are engaged. But Peggy is coming to realize that Charles isn’t quite the hero she thought he was. She is saved from making any difficult decisions, however, when she bizarrely decides to nap in the closet off Mrs. Reinley’s main hall and overhears a telling conversation between Nadia and Charles.

This book has some interesting aspects to it, particularly its devotion to public health. But despite its idealistic speeches about how holy and important this work is, it does depict public health—and its recipients—as dirty, disgusting, demanding, and unrewarding. The poor are worthy human beings too, we are told, but we are shown a beastly population without intelligence, gratitude, manners, or soap; only the Mexicans come across as civilized and honorable. The plot is easily foretold, and we watch Charles manipulate Peggy like a puppet, wishing she wouldn’t have to wait until her nose is almost literally rubbed in Charles’ deceit before she grows a spine. Apart from these flaws, however, it’s a decent enough read, and I liked Hank’s character enough to forgive the author for making Peggy such a dolt.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Marie Warren, Night Nurse

By Blanche Y. Mosler, ©1963
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

Also published as Terror Stalks the Night Nurse

Lovely Nurse Marie Warren was alone with a terrible secret. She alone knew that the dreaded street gang the Cobras had sworn revenge against her hospital, every doctor, nurse and patient in it, for the death of their leader under the surgeon’s knife. But she had no proof. The hospital authorities, even the man who loved her, thought she was a neurotic, frightened girl. Her only safety was in flight. But Marie Warren stayed—to risk her career, her love, her life itself, everything for the lives and safety of others.


“They were in their own peculiar kind of shock which no amount of plasma would have power to alleviate.”

“A snack for that fresh truck driver—Sam Brown—no doubt. If they built his strength up any more than it was, the nurses would have to go in for either track-running or Judo!”

“I’ve been running my shapely legs off!”

“Oddly, never had she felt less ‘female’ than in dealing with this tough trio. Not that she wanted their admiration—she would have loathed it.”

“You’re a mighty sexy dame in that white uniform, know it?”

“A girl! Oh, no. What this world needs is more men!”

“It had been a fine life, strong and secure, with big wheat farms clustered around the town whose grain elevator shaft lifted proudly into the sky.”

“You don’t deserve my sheik-like caresses. You turned off my football news.”

“ ‘You have swell legs,’ he said; ‘they cause naughty thoughts.’ ”

“Al Dawson’s death had changed shadowy, silent corridors into murder traps and now, from his grave, he was reaching out to snatch her love, because terror of his gang was changing her from the gay girl she’d been to a worried, harassed girl no man would be attracted to.”

“A girl can lose her virginity in 317 in less than a couple of minutes.”

“ ‘Hoodlums or no hoodlums,’ she said out loud, banging pots and pans, ‘I’ll pick out my wedding outfit this week-end, or know the reason why. I’ll be darned if I’ll march down the aisle in my birthday suit. So there!’ ”

“A few minutes could end her dreams, her happiness, slashing like a bright, glittering scalpel!”

“‘You’ve got good hands, boy,’ he said. ‘You might have made a good surgeon. Pity you wasted them on the wrong kind of knives.’”

Lovely Nurse Marie Warren works the night shift (duh) at a city hospital, where she sneaks longing glances at her fiancé, Dr. Keith Andrews, a surgical intern, as he speeds down the hall behind another stretcher bearing patients on the brink of death. One evening while she is working—which means mostly making sandwiches and coffee for the families of patients in surgery—a youth named Al Dawson is brought in. He has been struck by a car, and his brother, King, along with two other young men, Bat and Strangler, are waiting for the news from the OR. They are all members of The Cobras, which Marie finds out when they turn around and she reads the words on the backs of their black leather jackets. “These must be toughs from the notorious south side,” she thinks in horror. But despite her boyfriend’s best efforts, the young delinquent can’t be saved. The autopsy clears Keith of any wrongdoing: “what did kill this boy [was] the twin evils of neglect—possibly resulting from poverty—and violence, resulting from environment, plus his own meanness,” says the pathologist. That’s actually three evils, but who’s counting?

Though The Cobras walk out without a fuss, Marie is instantly seized by the idea that the gang is going to return and take its revenge on everyone in the entire hospital, including herself, Keith, the chief of staff, the anesthesiologist, the medical technologist, the assistant surgeon, the OB nurse, and the two scrub nurses. She tries to warn everyone, but they mostly just mock her: “Don’t tell me we can expect a—what do you call it?—rumble at good old dignified Kenwood? Switchblades vs. scalpels?” asks the OB nurse. So she worries enough for all of them, her anxiety shrieking on every page: “And now, oh, God, will we ever be rid of them—ever be free again?” Her throat tightens, she tries to push down the cold panic in side of her, she digs her nails into her palms, terror uses all her energy, she tries to thrust away the stark knowledge that danger was terribly real, she tries to suppress her screams. “This is where the hoodlums have us, she thought. We have to think of—work for—others, while they can devote every minute to hatching their evil.” But really, she devotes an extraordinary number of minutes to thinking of them. And before long, you just want to give Marie a good slap and tell her to pull herself together.

Apart from a nervous breakdown, the other disadvantage her obsession could bring on is that if she makes too big a deal about this gang of hooligans, she will end up becoming such a downer that Keith dumps her for former girlfriend Nurse Barbara Street, who is quite the hot tomato; “even in flat white shoes, her walk had a come-hither switch.” Barbara is doing her best to win Keith back, and Marie worries that if she’s totally not on her game, her apparently shallow fiancé will leave her: “Lose your figure and you’ll lose Keith,” she thinks, but mostly it’s her anxiety that’s driving him away. “While I grow edgier, she can—without any burden of terror—be quite the gay companion,” she thinks. “And after the tensions of heavy surgery, Keith demands a girl who has ‘the light touch’—a girl who can ‘take it easy—’ Take it easy—oh, God—” Someone get the Ativan, stat!

Honestly, I just didn’t know what to do with this book. The camp factor here is off the charts—but it’s a one-note tune played at absolutely top volume. By page 20 I was already rolling my eyes every time Marie went off on some hysterical rant. The ending, in which Marie’s predictions come true in the most hilarious way—“The Cobras had taken over the hospital! Oh, God, this was it—then!”—went a long way toward improving my opinion of it. And I had to recall my recent review of Nurse Kate’s Mercy Flight, in which I chastised the book because Nurse Kate, allegedly on the brink of a nervous collapse, spent most of her time baking pies with complete bliss and going to the ballgame. So perhaps it’s not that easy to create a strung-out character that doesn’t exasperate the hell out of the reader. And I should be careful what I ask for.

Beyond the camp, the book has a few other redeeming features. The gritty aspects of hospital life are not ignored in this book: Patients die from botched abortions, a couple is severely burned in a plane crash, a baby is born to a woman whose husband was forced to marry her and then left her (“Johnny, damn your skimpy jeans,” Marie thinks), characters actually swear. There is a totally unique passage in which Marie tells a feisty truck driver to stop pinching the nurse’s bottoms. “We’re grieved that we can’t provide all the comforts of home for you here in the hospital, but your sex problems don’t happen to be among the major ones in this hospital,” she says. “You’ll be home with Mrs. Brown before long.” He answers, “Y’know, my old lady’s a slob, but she’s better’n nothing. Paddles around in a sloppy robe, hair uncombed.” She replies, “Maybe a lot of that is your fault. Think it over.” Apart from my surprise that a character is acknowledged to be having sex, I was a bit taken aback at the apparent suggestion that Mrs. Brown’s role is to service her husband. So if you can grit your teeth through Marie’s pathetic whining, the book does have its rewards.

Note: Another blogger has also reviewed this book.

This book was also published under the title 
Terror Stalks the Night Nurse, which had a
different cover, illustrated by Lou Marchetti.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Nurse for Galleon Key

By Ethel Hamill
(pseud. Jean Francis Webb III), ©1957

When lovely, young Simone Greer arrived at the remote fishing village in the Florida Keys to join Pete Enright, deep-sea treasure-hunter, she was wildly happy. She told herself she was no longer a nurse. Gladly she had forsworn her vows to her stern calling to follow this tall young daredevil. But Simone did not know that a dangerous plot was unfolding in this exotic tropic land—a plot which would threaten her future, and call upon all her training as a nurse … all her resources as a woman.


“A man could burst into flame over you with practically no effort at all, I should imagine.”

“Now I’ll have to get acquainted with a new Simone. The one who can deliver a baby without mussing her hair.”

“Let’s say I intend to salvage your heart.”

“I know that girl-ahoy look in his eye.”

“Watching him stride away from her, Simone felt a sharp twist in that region where her heart (in training, one learned it was merely a muscle) still beat steadily.”

I don’t know who wrote the back-cover blurb (above), but they didn’t read the same book I did. Which is too bad, because it sounded like a good one. (I’m also intrigued that it hits the major themes of nurse novels in general—i.e. giving up your career for a man, is the heroine a nurse or a woman—though these are not really discussed in the book.) But if the actual story isn’t as intriguing, it is nonetheless a pretty good read.

Simone Greer is a nurse from New York on a Greyhound to the Florida keys–Galleon Key, to be specific—to marry her true love, Pete Enright. Interestingly, Pete doesn’t know she’s on her way. She’d met Pete eight months ago when he came to the city to discuss hunting for sunken treasure with her Uncle Walter, who Simone was nursing through a long and ultimately fatal illness. It was a whirlwind romance, and when Pete left the city two weeks later to return to his treasure hunting, Simone was wearing his ring. Since then, Simone and Pete had been communicating by brief telephone conversations and tepid letters, but Uncle Walter finally died, freeing Simone to send a telegram to her fiancé and hop a bus to Florida.

But when she is dumped unceremoniously beside the road on the tiny nondescript island, Pete is nowhere to be seen. Instead, his best friend, Toby Arnold, is there to do the honors. You’d think that after six months apart from his bride-to-be, Pete might be a bit more eager for the reunion. But he missed the telegram, apparently intercepted by Toby, and is off in a helicopter, looking for his sunken galleon. Toby is in town on assignment for a New York magazine, to write an article about Pete’s project. He’s accompanied by photographer and total knockout Donna Bryant. Before long, Donna is crying on Simone’s shoulder about how much she’s in love with Toby, who cares not a whit for her. But to Simone, Toby is sly and sarcastic and constantly pokes her, making it clear that he’s attracted to her, though she finds him arrogant and rude. It isn’t long before he’s kissing her against her will, and though she struggles to get away, as any good girl would, she’s bewildered by her inevitably passionate response. At the house where everyone is bunking, which belongs to a Greek couple who raise snakes (really), Toby maneuvers mightily—and mighty successfully—to keep Simone and Pete apart. But in her spare time alone, Simone is constantly planning her marriage to Pete. When she tours Pete’s boat, she thinks it is—“next to herself, of course—the love of Pete Enright’s life.”

She decides to solve everyone’s problems simultaneously by tricking Toby into thinking that she’s falling for him, arranging a date with him, and then standing him up and eloping with Pete instead, leaving Donna to break the news to Toby and, in so doing, win him back. It’s a great plan, Donna agrees, but Simone just can’t ever find a minute alone with Pete to let him in on his impending nuptials. She’s a little concerned that Pete will be sorry to take some time off from his treasure hunting project, but decides he’ll gladly do it “for the more glowing one of their marriage. … He would be willing—of course—to do what she wanted.” Such arrogance is surely doomed for a fall, and when it comes, there’s a bit of a twist with it. It’s a pleasing change from the usual straightforward VNRN narratives, but having also read Aloha Nurse, also by Jean Webb cum Ethel Hamill, which packs more turns than a corkscrew, I should have expected a little something even in this otherwise mostly straightforward story.

The writing is superb. Seldom do you find a VNRN packed with phrases like, “that husky drawl somehow reminded her of a cat clawing velvet,” and, “Her oddly colored eyes held the cool assurance of the career girl confident she could lick her weight in wild cats.” The story is fairly straightforward until the end, and even if you know how it’s going to end, the little kick it throws in to get you there is a welcome bonus. I was also pleased that Toby’s transformation from arrogant ass to (surely you have figured this out) bridegroom is not instantaneous and unbelievable, as in some VNRNs, but a slow sketching out of a character that ends up being far richer than what we initially think, a bit like—and I dare say it—Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. So if the plot could be a bit more unique, that’s this book’s only real flaw.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Nurse Kate’s Mercy Flight

By Virginia K. Smiley, ©1968
Cover illustration by Maurice Thomas

Running won’t help—but I can’t go back! That was Kate’s desperate thought as she fled to Alaska, far from the New York hospital where the young nurse thought she had been fatally and tragically negligent in her duties. Here, in the land of the midnight sun, in the remote settlement where her aunt and uncle ran a bush pilot service, Kate was determined to isolate herself, to hide from love and her duty as a nurse. But she didn’t figure on the dangers the pilots faced daily—those brave cheerful young men who wanted her friendship, and needed her help. Most of all, she didn’t figure on Jeff…


“He watched them intently as they approached and Kate wondered if her slip was showing.”

“She looked at Jeff and he was so very, very masculine.”

“She knew that even the sight of a cut finger would throw her into a tizzy now.”

Kate Porter is a nurse from New York who has made a possibly fatal error: She was so intent on sneaking off for an unapproved coffee break with Dr. Jim Lang, “dream price of Memorial,” that she gave little Josy White the wrong medication, which killed her. She responded like a true professional and hopped the first flight to Alaska, where her aunt and uncle live and run an airplane taxi business. This means she meets a lot of pilots, all of them single except the black man, for her to pick over. She also refuses to do any kind of nursing, but no one bothers to ask why. No one—except Jeff Ewing, who is British and also engaged to a young woman who despises Alaska, so the lovers are at a bit of an impasse. Kate does actually unburden herself to Jeff early on, but this changes nothing.

Kate’s moment of truth comes when one of the pilots crashes in a storm and can’t be found. The “mercy flight” of the title is the single mission Kate goes on with Jeff, five days after the crash when the main search has been called off. You’ll never guess what happens! “Suddenly she blinked. Had she seen something red glisten in the sun down there among the trees?” Jeff and Kate hike a mile into the woods to reach the pilot, and Kate proves herself more of a nurse than some VNRN heroines by actually stifling her screams when they find him. Patching up the pilot, “Kate realized more and more that she was being herself again. … She hadn’t liked the gloomy Kate of Alaska.” Funny, she hadn’t seemed all that depressed.

Not much really happens in this book. Kate takes a few sight-seeing trips by plane, like a tour past Mt. McKinley, and to remote fishing villages with the old doctor, whom she refuses to help. She works the lunch counter at her aunt’s diner and bakes pies. She banters with the pilots and goes out on dates with them. And every now and then we are told how broken up about the New York incident. She agrees to go to a baseball game with one pilot, because “she needed it, she told herself. She needed it badly.” Out of the blue, about 80 pages into the book, we find out she isn’t sleeping at night. “She couldn’t cope with her feelings much longer. Her nerves were getting more frayed every day.” Then a page later she’s dressing in a pink linen shift and matching jacket for a date. This book is not laughable or badly written, but there’s no real reason to read a story in which nothing happens. The best thing about this book is the cover, so stop there.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Nurse of Queen’s Grant

By Joanne Holden (pseud. Jane Corby), ©1965
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

When lovely young nurse Anne Carter inherited a New England estate, complete with mansion, her life found strange new paths and problems. The possession of Queen’s Grant meant the fulfillment of a cherished dream, yet brought her bitter enemies. For another thing, she was faced with a choice among three attractive men: Dr. Steve, who loved her perhaps too possessively; Bob, the fascinating stranger with a mysterious past; and Brad, the “boy next door”—who happened to be a millionaire! No matter what happened, Anne Carter knew her life would never be the same!


“This kind of dancing is for me, where you get to hold a girl in your arms instead of circling around her, or vice-versa, or bending double so that your cranium all but bumps the floor!”

“Twenty-two is not exactly infantile.”

“I really ought to spank you for being a stubborn little idiot, but I think I’ll kiss you instead.”

Nurse Anne Carter has been dating Dr. Steve Atkinson for a year, and in that time he has proposed three times. She has turned him down on all three occasions because “his manner was too assured, too arrogant,” and he acts as if he “owns” her. Naturally, she continues to date him. She has just inherited The Queen’s Grant, this huge estate in Massachusetts, from her aunt. She goes out to tour the place and finds Robert Rowe, a handsome charmer, who is claiming to be Anne’s aunt’s grandson and asking for a slice of the inheritance. “Anne didn’t intend to be taken in by him; she would tell him off in a hurry!” Indeed, she manages him exactly as she has managed Steve’s unwelcome proposals: She invites him to move into the estate until his claim can be worked out. She becomes irritated when Bob immediately takes over the place as if he owns it, and she knows she is going to have to hash out his claim on the estate at some point, but “Anne had decided to let the present situation drift along as it was.”

Steve and Robert are expecting Anne to sell the place, and she is grumpy about their presumption. Everyone “simply assumed she had no mind of her own,” she grumbles to herself, when actually, they may be on to something. But she does have a plan for TQG. She wants to turn it into a rest home! It will be “a model for the aged and temporarily homeless. … She knew what she wanted to do; her life would be worth-while!” Naturally, this plan goes over like a girl in a nurse novel who wears glasses. “You think you’ve been fingered for a Dr. Schweitzer role because your aunt left you that place in the wilds of Massachusetts,” Steve all but snarls, just after he’s proposed to her for the fourth time with a huge square-cut emerald. “You’ll never make a go of that rest home stuff. … Your carelessness about details when you plan to take on something like this proves that you need someone to look after you.” Even though she tells him that “maybe” she loves him, she says she’ll marry him if he will support her scheme. Then someone threatens to throw himself off the roof of the building they are in, and the discussion is tabled.

There’s a third gentleman in Anne’s stable, Charles Hamilton Bradford III, or Brad. He’s the 23-year-old millionaire next door, and they meet when he invites her out to inspect two acres of land between their estates that each claims to own. TQG being made up of 300 acres, and he being so rich and all, it’s not clear why they can’t just take one acre each and be done with it, but they seem intent on keeping up the hundred-year-old squabble. Nonetheless, he throws a party for “the new and decorative owner” of TQG, and she makes a show of batting her eyes at Bob and Steve to make Brad jealous. A few pages later, she snubs Cynthia, a local party girl who makes a play for Steve, by calling her his “little sister” and then steering the conversation to his work at the hospital, a subject on which Cynthia has nothing to say. When Brad tells Anne she is leading Steve on, she responds hotly that she and Steve are “just good friends; nothing more.” Steve proposes yet again, followed closely by Bob: “You said yourself we were second cousins,” he says. “We won’t have feeble-minded children.” A proposal like that is hard to turn down, but a nearby forest fire saves her from that conversation.

Bob, however, is not to be put off. After he is revealed—surprise!—as a fraud, he turns up in Anne’s bedroom in the middle of the night to spirit her off to Mexico. “I’m not kidnapping you, darling,” he tells her, “I’m persuading you to come with me.” Anne cannot imagine why Bob wants to marry her, until “it flashed through her mind that Bob might be a drug addict, although he had given no indication of it in the weeks she had known him. It would explain his wild idea of getting her to marry him to finance a costly drug habit” with her aunt’s legacy. Thinking quickly, she shoos him out of the room so she can get dressed. What does she do next? Why, get dressed, of course! She packs a suitcase full of books and a towel, curiously, and is about to walk out the front door with him when Brad and the police turn up on the doorstep with the housekeeper’s missing grandson. It’s amazing how these urgent situations pop up to save Anne from marriage. Bob immediately ducks out the back door, and it completely escapes Anne’s mind that she might want to mention what’s going on to the cops. There’s another random and bizarre event before the book runs down, and Anne is finally engaged without meddling suicides, forest fires, or runaways to interfere.

I’ve said it before, and I feel certain that I will say it many, many more times: I can’t stand a stupid heroine. Anne is hypocritical, spineless, and a tease. She is constantly ranting about how no one takes her seriously, but she has no gumption and accomplishes nothing, not even shedding herself of men she doesn’t like. After Steve’s fifth proposal, she tells him, “If you can’t let me make a decision before we’re married, how can I hope to be anything but a slave afterward?” Yet again and again, Anne proves herself incapable of making any decisions. She expects the men in her life to carry her ideas to fruition; even the rest home idea is pawned off on the elderly town GP, who sets up a medical advisory board to do all the heavy lifting. I wonder if the strange plot twists are meant to be seen as bizarre and therefore funny, but they are not so egregious as to be hilarious, as they are in Nurse at the Fair, and instead are just stupid and annoying. Don’t waste your time with this book.