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 fianc√© 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.

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