Saturday, November 12, 2011

Overseas Nurse

By Jennifer Ames, ©1951
Cover illustration by ?Lou Marchetti

At the Sydney airport, Nurse June Ray made her first error: she mistook a handsome stranger for her sponsor, Dr. Jed Lawson. Unaware of her mistake, June spent a romantic day and a half swimming in the dazzling sunlight and dancing under the stars. By the time she met the man with whom she had been corresponding and to whom she owed her last chance at a nursing career, her heart was no longer her own …


“Being young and pretty takes up a girl’s time – too much time.”

I suppose that we shouldn’t be too surprised that, as the book opens, Nurse June Ray is fleeing the country, heading for Australia. What I did find unusual is her reason for leaving: She fell asleep on night duty and her elderly patient died. The doctor on the case drummed her out of the hospital, saying, “Negligence is a mild way to express it, Nurse. I believe had you not gone to sleep your patient would be alive at this moment.” Ouch.

When she arrives in Sydney, she’s met by a hunky fella who drives a hot sports car. She keeps looking at his “strong and capable” shoulders. But soon she finds out he’s not Dr. Jed Lawson, the kindly doctor who befriended her brother Clive, cared for him in his final hours after a mysterious car crash, and invited her to Australia. He’s Ken Wyman, manager of the Gumbula sheep ranch, where Clive was working. The ranch is now owned by Shelah Wyman, the slinky widow of Ken’s older brother, Roy. Roy was a “semi-invalid,” wounded during the war, and an impeccable driver who nonetheless crashed his car for no apparent reason, killing himself and Clive and leaving the ranch to his not-so-grieving widow. Shelah keeps talking about selling the ranch, mostly to piss off Ken, but also because living out in the bush is too lonely for her. She’d be all right, she says, if only she were married again. “Roy was scarcely a husband to me for some time before he died,” she says, and is she looking at Ken’s strong and capable shoulders when she speaks?

The day Nurse June arrives at Dr. Lawson’s house, Ken’s grandmother, Mrs. Kensey, has another stroke and requires round-the-clock nursing care. So June is packed off to the ranch, where she and Ken can kiss behind closed doors from time to time while she cares for Mrs. Kensey. When she does have a bit of time off, June helps out Dr. Lawson, who soon makes a play for her, telling her how lonely he is and how he’d like to settle down. Um, gosh, how about those Red Sox?

Back at the ranch, June’s patient is always mumbling about another will that Roy made before his death. She tells June that Shelah creeps around the house at night looking for the will, and she is always trying to get out of bed to find it before Shelah does. She also refuses to drink any beverage that Shelah prepares, because “that’s how she murdered him.” Naturally, everyone assumes the stroke has made her dotty. Well, she is a bit dotty, calling June Claire, because June looks like Mrs. Kensey’s deceased daughter, Ken’s mother. To prove the point, Ken drags her into his room to show June a portrait of his dead mums, and then, in a scene that would keep Freud busy for weeks, kisses her repeatedly, stopping only to say, “You are so like she was.”

One night, in an uncharacteristic gesture of friendliness, Shelah brings June a cup of coffee to help her stay awake all night, along with a nice glass of hot milk for Mrs. Wyman. As June struggles to stay awake—curiously, the coffee seems to have made her more sleepy, not less—she remembers the last time she felt like this, the night her elderly patient died, when the patient’s crabby niece had brought her a cup of tea … June had felt so sorry for the gaunt thing, who had just overheard her aunt tell June she was going to change her will and leave her fortune to June …

The next morning, you may not be surprised to learn, Mrs. Wyman is found dead while June is sawing logs in her chair. Everyone is a pretty good sport about June’s role in the death, saying she’d been overworked and had been up for days with Mrs. Wyman, so they’re all willing to let this go. But at the inquest, June pipes up that she feels she was drugged, and mentions that it was Shelah who brought her the coffee. And then there are the cups they had drunk from, which have vanished, and no one seems to have taken them. Shelah responds by pulling out a letter that June had written to her brother, explaining in great detail what had happened with her first dead patient, and says that June is just trying to find excuses for her bad nursing. There’s no proof, so nothing comes of June’s allegations except that she feels compelled to leave the ranch on the next train for Sydney. And the train actually pulls out of the station with June on it, with no farewell whatsoever from Ken, and never mind that speeding sports car that passes the train just before it reaches the next station.

The ending of this book could be foretold by a ten-year-old, including the hiding place of the new will. But even so, it’s not a complete waste of time. It’s not campy or amusing at all, but the writing is decent enough, and some of the characters are fun to watch, most notably Shelah and Mrs. Wyman. It reads more like a modern-day romance story, with the couple in question kissing in one chapter and quarreling in the next, and a big misunderstanding keeping them apart until the very end. Well, not the very end, as the couple is actually married five pages from the last page, and spends a very satisfying (wink, wink) month-long honeymoon in Fiji, another rarity for a VNRN. The “mystery” aspect of it, though not very suspenseful, gives you something else to think about, and overall this is a fairly decent book.

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