Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ivy Anders Night Nurse

By Helen B. Castle 
(pseud. Frank Castle), ©1963

Three men wanted Nurse Ivy Anders. Dr. Paul Farrow wanted her to be his mistress. Detective Dick Rudd wanted her to marry him. And patient Sebastian Cruz wanted to disfigure he beautiful body beyond recognition. Here is the thrilling story of a lovely young nurse and the passions which threatened to destroy her—revenge, jealousy, love, and her own unshakable dedication to the noble profession of healing.


“It is a rough, lonely business to stand over someone with steel in your hand, knowing you must try to play God, knowing how inadequate you really are.”

“So who needs dates? It’s a pretty ridiculous routine, really, the whole business of working at being vivacious, companionable, and terribly interested in the details of some man’s job, when he is usually thinking only of setting up an opportunity to neck, a poor word to describe what he actually has in mind.”

“Men were interested in pretty, decorative women, not those who displayed some intelligence and ambition.”

“Sometimes I think a surgical gown is the most efficient man-trap ever devised, though there is a good deal to be said for a nurse’s uniform, too, at least where doctors are concerned.”

“I’m all for any woman who can get a man to an altar. It is a knack that I certainly never acquired!”

“Maybe this was what is in store for her, Ivy thought wryly, to grow old in a nurse’s uniform. Maybe she ought to get a cat. Old maids and cats seemed to go together.”

“See that he marries you—and no more foolishness about running around with a street gang!”

Ivy Anders works the night shift at St. Vibiana’s Hospital, located somewhere near Atlanta. At 26, she is starting to seriously sweat the fact that she’s not married. Working the night shift makes dating difficult, and she’s very devoted to her job. But suddenly, it’s raining men: Detective Sergeant Dick Rudd, coming to the hospital after visiting hours to visit a family member, slips and puts his arm through a window and is promptly sutured closed and admitted to Ivy’s ward. Dr. Stan Dykestra, about to conclude his residency, is asking her to have coffee with him in the cafeteria. And Dr. Paul Farrow starts hanging around the nurse’s station to talk to Ivy about how his wife doesn’t understand him and how lonely he is. Yes, a married man!!

Things begin to look up for Ivy when Dick asks her out on a date and promptly proposes. She says she’ll think about it, because “as for getting to know Dick Rudd, Ivy remembered a thought offered by her sister Benita on one occasion, ‘You tell yourself you know a man, marry him, then discover he isn’t quite the person you thought he was, at all.’ If this was true, why bother to wait—?” A match made in heaven. Dick’s talking about the honeymoon in Hawaii when he drops the deal-breaker: “You won’t be doing any more nursing. My wife isn’t going to work!” When Ivy points out that she spent more time training to be a nurse than he did to become a cop and asks him if he could quit his job, he says it’s not the same thing because he’s a man. “A man’s duty is to make a living, a woman’s duty is to make a home, and to take care of the kids.” So that’s the end of that. “She was not going to throw it all over simply because this man high-handedly demanded that she do so!”

But then Stan is looking at her as though Ivy was “very much in his thoughts.” She tries to find opportunities for them to be alone together so he can pop the question. Eventually he asks her—not exactly to marry him, but to “go with me when I leave.” She will, and now her days are full of “making many plans and of getting acquainted, of attempting in a hurry to learn a man’s ways, his likes and dislikes, an interesting but frequently perplexing business.” Yet she has a “sense of some indefinable obstacle between them.” Sure enough, the day Stan ends his residency, he disappears, and sends her a postcard from his hometown in Idaho. He shows up at the hospital a week later with a woman on his arm. He introduces her to Ivy as his wife, whom he married four years ago, a week before he started his residency. He hasn’t seen her in all these years, and he’d gone home to divorce her—but he couldn’t. “It is an obligation I must carry,” he tells her, adding that he also has an obligation to a church group that financed his medical education to go to Burma to run a clinic there for seven years, and he and his wife are leaving next week.

It’s a close call for Ivy, but now all that’s left for her is Dr. Farrow. Either him or she becomes one of those “staff nurses, unwed, middle-aged or older, who were inclined to be fussy, short-tempered, the objects of amusement. They were women who had turned inward on themselves, who had reached the point where their world had narrowed down to the hospital and a lonely apartment or a room at the nursing home, nothing else.” So when Dr. Farrow asks her to dinner, she accepts. He kisses her goodnight, then “sudden forceful insistence, an attempt to go farther which Ivy found difficult to handle.” But she can’t stop seeing him. “Perhaps, she thought, what Paul was offering her was all she was ever going to get, life in a man’s shadow, but that the half-loaf of an affair with him might be more desirable than nothing at all.”

Part of what is driving Ivy is her fear, never expressly stated, of dying a virgin. One of her patients, an 18-year-old girl named Jill, is sleeping with Sebastian Cruz, the head of a gang called the Toros. Jill is brought in when she and her boyfriend are attacked by the rival gang, and Ivy is tucking Jill in for the night when the girl pulls up her nightgown and shows Ivy her naked body. “I’ve got a real classy shape, huh?” she says. “I bet you don’t even know what it means to be a woman. Well, I do! I’m Sibby’s woman, all the way. When we get together, it’s thunder and lightning, we really blow up a storm! Like, there’s no tomorrow, and what’s the use waiting—?” Jill isn’t the only unmarried woman getting some action; Ivy catches another single nurse wearing nothing but a slip in a hospital room with a man. “A perverse imp—or her other self—seemed to whisper that she might be missing something desirable that life had to offer, and perhaps should begin to find out for sure before it was too late.” So Ivy mulls over Paul’s offer to become his mistress. “She would know what it meant fully to be a woman. Jill’s scornfully derisive charge that she did not know still rankled in her.”

Fortunately for her, Ivy never has to make up her mind about what to do. She tracks down the gang leader, who is suffering from stab wounds, and en route to the hospital is stopped by the rival gang and injured in the battle that ensues before Dick Rudd runs them all off and literally carries Ivy, whose uniform has been ripped down the front, to the hospital. When Ivy comes to, after demonstrating why healthcare professionals make such lousy patients, she worries only that her hair has been shaved off, she isn’t wearing any makeup, and Dick saw her exposed body. At the end of the book, when one of her suitors shows up and Ivy is safely engaged, one of the floor nurses gives Ivy “a look which contained many things—congratulations, admiration, envy, plus a whole-hearted sharing of this moment which only a woman could savor, the moment when the puzzling, exasperating and often torturing business of being a female at last had meaning and purpose.”

This book, more than most VNRNs, clearly paints the difficult corner that women of Ivy’s generation were in. She might have a satisfying, meaningful career, but she’s expected to toss it away without a second thought the minute she gets engaged, because it’s not a career that gives her life real value in the world but a husband (and, by inference, a sex life). But marriage is a tricky business. The husband in question, fashioned out of a near stranger, is beguiled or even fooled into marriage, and her career—possibly her happiness as well—are sacrificed at the altar for this “greater” good. I appreciated the book’s ending, which does not force Ivy to give up her work, but I’m not convinced that Ivy, once married, is going to be all that happy. I had been looking forward to this book after enjoying Helen Castle’s Emergency Ward Nurse, and Ivy Anders doesn’t disappoint. It’s not exactly a classic VNRN, but this book stands out because it is the most clear-eyed—not to mention risqué—example of the genre I have met to date.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Special Nurse

By Lucy Agnes Hancock, ©1948
Cover illustration by Mark Dawson

“It’s all over, my darling.” Gently, Pete’s hand brushed her cheek. Pam was only partially conscious, but she felt that the comforting voice belonged to someone she knew and loved. When Pam awoke in the hospital, Pete was gone. But the nurse told her what had happened to him. “That young man was eloping when his car hit yours. The accident upset his plans, but it’s all right. He’s married now!” Pam couldn’t choke back her tears. She had lost him. But why had he called her “my darling”? Why had he pretended to be in love with her when he had a fiancée all the time? Pam hoped she had seen the last of the flirtatious Dr. Peter Allen. But she hadn’t—not by any means!


“Solitude is for the old and disillusioned, the ugly and neurotic.”

“First and last at head and heart, whether you acknowledge it or not, you’re a woman—a female of the species—a congenital winner of hearts—born to be the wife of one man and the mother of others.”

“It’s the hardest thing in the world to try to teach people to live sensibly.”

“What better way to get acquainted than to marry and live together?”

Like many a VNRN heroine, Pamela Ware has received a legacy from a grateful patient, and has decided to blow the $500 on a vacation. So she buys a used car and hits the road for a month, driving wherever she feels like it and camping along the way. At her first stop, at a quiet inn, a man with a puppy mistakenly barge into her room, where she is in her “lounging pajamas” reading a book. The puppy refuses to be extracted, the young man is flustered and apologetic, she is frosty and cool. It’s love at first sight. Somehow she continues to see him sporadically during her entire vacation, as he seems to be following her, initially to apologize again, then just to piss her off. She sees the MD on his car’s license plate, and this clinches her attitude toward him, as she’s sworn never to get involved with a doctor. “I detest smart-alecky internes and abhor know-it-all doctors both young and old—they’re simply impossible.” His name is Pete, and they spar verbally on numerous occasions, and then, one evening, he kisses her. It’s “a devastating kiss,” and Pam thinks about Pete often at night after that.

Then she is struck by a yellow car—the same color as Pete’s—bearing a blonde woman sitting next to the driver. In the hospital, barely conscious, she hears Pete saying to her, “It’s all over, my darling. You will sleep now.” When she wakes, she finds she’s recovering from surgery. The driver of the other car was eloping with the blonde woman at the time of the accident, but they’ve since married, Pam is told, and she makes “queer little hysterical whimpers” when she hears this news. She’s heartbroken, convinced that Pete called her darling and then ran off to marry another woman. He’s “just a common philanderer—that most detestable of all creatures, a male flirt!” Henceforth, it is commonly noted that Pam is not the usual cheery person she was when she went on vacation. But wild horses will never drag the story from her, so she tries to be happy and mopes in private.

It turns out that the nephew of the wife of the chief of staff at her hospital himself performed the unspecified surgery that saved Pam’s life. This nephew, Percival Chadwick, is coming to take the chief’s job, but hasn’t arrived yet; he just happened to be in the building when Pam came in after her accident. The nursing staff dubs him “Dear Percival,” and “they say he’s not only a wonder as a surgeon but the acme of masculine pulchritude.” You don’t need to have read hundreds of VNRNs to quickly deduce that Dear Percival is Pete, and it’s just a matter of time until they run into each other again and all is put to rights.

That doesn’t actually happen until page 127, but guess what—you won’t mind at all. In the interim, we watch Pam nurse numerous patients back to health and hang out with her roommate, Joan. Pam is a spunky gal who calls a spade a spade, tells people off when she has to, and she is kind and generous and quick-witted. Her roommate is the one of the snappy dialogue, who speaks of the time when “Dear Percival is to brighten our drab lives. […] The day draws near, Pam. Aren’t you excited?”

When they finally do meet, at a dinner at the chief of staff’s house, she is indeed. He explains that he is Percival Chadwick—but he hates to be called Percival, smart man, and so he goes by Pete—and he was not the eloping driver of the car who hit her. But she shuts him down again, because she heard a rumor that Dear Percival is in love with a woman who turned him down. Gee, who could that be? She continues to snub Pete mightily, though he tells her he loves her and wants to marry her. It’s another 40 pages until the final reconciliation, and unfortunately, from this point on, the book loses some of its spark. It’s never easy maintaining any kind of suspense about an issue that anyone else except a VNRN heroine could see right through, and Ms. Hancock doesn’t quite pull it off. But everything else about this book makes it absolutely worth reading. The relationship between Pam and Joan and the stories of the patients Pam meets at work, paint a vivid picture of this woman’s life. The writing is snappy and entertaining, and the book hums along—up until the end, but forgive Ms. Hancock this flaw and read this book nonetheless.

Alternative cover,
illustration by Barye Phillips 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Sandra Surgical Nurse

By Patti Stone, ©1961
Cover illustration by Bob Abbett

A surgeon tormented by his past—a beautiful nurse deeply in love. Two figures struggled through the midnight blizzard up to a lonely, snow-shrouded farmhouse. They were just in time. Working in the feeble glow of gaslight, a courageous doctor saved the life of a woman and her new-born baby. When it was over, the nurse spoke softly to her exhausted companion: “They would have died. Two lives saved because of you. You can forgive yourself now, can’t you?”



“I’m in for a nice hunk of broken heart and that’s something you can’t put together in Surgery.”

“If she is going to catch Tod, I’ll see to it that she’ll be one bride who is able to cook whether she wants to or not!”

Sandra O’Shea is a “suture nurse” at Queens Hospital in Gereton, Indiana. This is apparently the equivalent of a scrub tech today, as she spends her days slapping instruments into surgeons’ hands. We meet her on her first day at Queens, as she’s just finished her training as a surgical nurse back home in Iowa. Her new workplace holds a bit of a mystery: Two surgeons who are brothers, Rand and Frank Cox, haven’t spoken to each other in two years. Of course, in a VNRN the mystery is quickly brought to light: The boys’ father was the chief of staff at the hospital, and on a hunting trip out in the boondocks with his sons he slipped and accidentally shot himself in the chest. At the nearest rinky-dink hospital, Dr. Rand had insisted on operating, though Dr. Frank had wanted him to be flown to a city hospital, and Rand attempted the surgery and their father died. Dr. Frank accused Dr. Rand of killing their father, and this had not exactly made for warm feelings at work.

On the job, we hear a lot about a couple of unusual physical traits Sandra has. She’s “a big girl, graceful even in the awkward surgical robe, and taller” than her surgeon. She is constantly obsessing over this: “How she hated her size!” When an intern congratulates her for being able to restrain a wild patient, she snaps, “I know exactly how big I am and that I’m a corn-fed country girl!” She tells her roommate she’ll never get a date: “I know what I look like. I’m too big and generously shaped.” She’s “too big and husky,” “much too big,” “a big lumbering peasant.” Mysteriously, after much moaning over this fact, it’s dropped halfway through the book, and we are only told in passing that she might not have made through that snowstorm if she hadn’t been so hale and hardy. But perhaps to make up for this particular deformity, she is one of the rare women in a VNRN who has the magical hands: “The hospital grapevine had already carried news of the new blond nurse with the soft voice and the strong skillful hands.”

Anyway, before long, the quiet, serious one—Rand—asks Sandra out on a date. But she can’t go, because she’s promised the church square-dancing group that she’d go to the dance that night. Drat! Then who should turn up at the dance but Dr. Frank, who is apparently stalking her? And when there’s an emergency and she and Dr. Frank have to go directly to the hospital in their square-dancing clothes, who should be there at the door when they come in but Dr. Rand? Double drat! He, of course, is convinced that Sandra is dating Frank and goes all Frigidaire on her—not that you can tell the difference from how he was before. So even though she really prefers the cold and frosty brother, she starts going out with good-time Frank. And Rand, Sandra tells her roommate, “ ‘is trying to stay away from me too. Oh, he still requests me for difficult operations, so I guess he doesn’t think I’m a total loss.’ Not as a nurse, she thought ruefully, but definitely a loss as a friend? As a woman?’ ”

Then during a Christmas Eve blizzard, when Sandra’s home alone feeling maudlin and full of self-pity, Rand pounds on her door. He needs her help to deliver a baby at this farmhouse out in the country. After Rand has saved both the baby and the mother, they drive back to town and Sandra invites him in for coffee cake. Before three minutes have passed, Rand has broken down over his belief that he killed his father, Sandra has comforted him, Rand has proposed marriage, and Sandra has planned the wedding: “Like any girl, I want my parents with me. I want to wear the most beautiful dress I can find, and my mother’s wedding veil—and of course I want to be married in church.” It’s to be a small wedding, though, close friends and family only, and her mother will make her dress, and well, “there will be all sorts of arrangements to be made. Maybe by rushing things we can be married on Easter Sunday.” Instead of running screaming for the door, Rand instead “agreed meekly.” And we still have 25 more pages to get through.

So to give us something to do, Dr. White, the aging Chief of Staff, obligingly drops with a heart attack in the OR, and despite open-heart massage, Rand is unable to save him. Dr. White’s gorgeous daughter calls Rand a murderer—it’s déjà vu all over again—and he runs off. While driving out to see him, Sandra and Frank witness a plane crash into a housing development. They’re trying to rescue a man trapped in a burning house when the building collapses on them. Frank’s arm is badly injured, and the doctors at the hospital are insisting that it must be amputated—though it would mean the end of Frank’s career as a surgeon. Only Rand believes the arm can be saved, and calls in a prominent orthopedic surgeon. As he’s wheeled into the OR, Frank apologizes to Rand for calling him a murderer, and now the only thing left to be saved is Sandra’s Easter wedding …

The best thing about this book is the surgery. It’s accurately described, and we get lots of it: a Whipple, an appendectomy, a Caesarian, and of course the fight to save Frank’s arm. I also liked Sandra’s relationship with her roommate, Peggi (yes, spelled with an i), though I wished Peggi weren’t so obsessed with “catching” intern Tod, who runs hot and cold on her. Beyond that, though, this books runs toward the saccharine, and Sandra’s attraction to the dour Rand is completely inexplicable. The cover is great (apparently Richard Prince thought so too; part of it is featured in his work “Nurse in Hollywood #4”), but the book is not much.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 VNRN Awards

Welcome to the second annual Vintage Nurse Romance Novel Awards! Winners are chosen from the VNRNs I have read this year, which for 2011 is 78 different books by 43 different authors. Only the Best Authors category is cumulative, including all the VNRN books I have ever read. May they inspire your own reading in 2012!

1. A Challenge for Nurse Melanie, Isabel Moore, 1963
2. “K,” Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1914
3. City Nurse, Jeanne Judson, 1959
4. Ski Resort Nurse, Jane L. Sears, 1962
5. Aloha Nurse, Ethel Hamill, 1961
6. Nurse at the Fair, Dorothy Cole, 1971
7. Runaway Nurse, Florence Stuart, 1964
8. Graduate Nurse, Lucy Agnes Hancock, 1947
9. Nora Was a Nurse, Peggy Gaddis, 1953
10. Visiting Nurse, Margaret Howe, 1956

1. Conflict for Nurse Elsa, Jeanne Bowman, 1968
2. Door to Door Nurse, Jeanne Bowman, 1967
3. Challenge for Nurse Laurel, Fay Stone, 1970

1. Terror Stalks the Night Nurse, Blanche Y. Mosler, cover illustration by Lou Marchetti
2. Ozark Nurse, Fern Shepard
3. Nurse Forrester’s Secret, Jane Converse
4. Las Vegas Nurse, Jane L. Sears
5. Nurse on the Beach, Arlene Hale

1. “With a small sigh she turned in the seat, gazed at the back of Charles [sic] neat neck beneath his chauffeur’s cap, and let her fingers idly trail along the leopard skin upholstery. ‘My gosh!’ she whispered to herself. ‘Wait until Olive hears about this!’ ” Ski Resort Nurse, Jane L. Sears
2. “Go embellish Mother Nature while I pop around the corner. I believe I noticed a haven for weary travelers as I drove up.” Nurse in Hollywood, Jane Converse
3. “ ‘Now when I was a kid, about your age, there was a character known as Popeye who was something of an authority on spinach. Is he around any more?’

“Bobby’s round blue eyes gazed up at her with utter disgust. ‘Oh, to hell with Popeye,’ said Bobby.” Runaway Nurse, Florence Stuart
4. “She wondered where he was and if he was still tortured.” Ski Resort Nurse, Jane L. Sears
5. “As always, Gail longed to take the child in her arms, to give him a big bear hug. But a bear hug could kill Jimmy.” Runaway Nurse, Florence Stuart
6. “He had a strong, distinguished-looking face, even with half of it lacerated and bloodstained.” Arctic Nurse, Rose Dana
7. “Don’t eat that candy! It may be poisoned!” Nurse’s Alibi, Jane Corby
8. “ ‘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.’ ” Marie Warren, Night Nurse, Blanche Y. Mosler
9. “I told you if you went off like that by yourself you’d make a fool of yourself. And now look at you—running around in slacks, for Heaven’s sake, and that awful shirt, and not even tucked into your pants.” Nora Was a Nurse, Peggy Gaddis
10. “Let’s make this last dance really Hawaiian! The rest of you make a circle and undulate!” Surfing Nurse, Diana Douglans

1. Faith Baldwin (4.0 average, 2 reviews)
2. Margaret Mooers Marshall (3.7 average, 2 reviews)

3. Alan Jackson, writing as Rosie M. Banks (3.5 average, 2 reviews)
4. Jean Francis Webb III, writing as Ethel Hamill (3.5 average, based on 2 reviews)
5. Adelaide Humphries (3.4 average, 3 reviews)
6. Florence Stonebraker, writing as Fern Shepard and Florence Stuart (3.0 average, 10 reviews)
7. Jane L. Sears (3.0 average, 3 reviews)
8. Margaret Howe (2.9 average, 2 reviews)
9. Lucy Agnes Hancock (2.8 average, 3 reviews)
10. Adele Kay Maritano, writing as Jane Converse (2.6 average, 10 reviews)