Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ski Lodge Nurse

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

For raven-haired, sports-loving Ria Madden, being a nurse at Hurricane Valley Ski Lodge had been, for the past three seasons, the perfect job—glamorous, exciting, fun. But this year was different. This year was trouble, and Ria knew it. It began with the strangely persistent romantic attentions of Thor Carlsen, the handsome Nordic skiing champion. It increased in intensity with Dr. Leon Marshall’s inordinate concern with Ria’s every after-hours activity. And then, without warning, it exploded into an avalanche of danger which forced her to face the ultimate challenge of her nursing career—and to make the most crucial decision of her life…


“Some of the women who come to Hurricane Valley would melt a glacier.”

“Thor appreciated her not only as a woman and a nurse, but as a skier.”

“The hunter on the mountain was insane.”

More than any other author I’ve encountered, Richard Wilkes-Hunter’s novels—Casino Nurse, Surfing Nurse, Beauty Contest Nurse, Sea Nurse—read like justifications for writing off that expensive vacation. Ski Lodge Nurse may be one of his better books, but in the end it’s really just more of the same. It has a lot more action than some of his other books, but action doesn’t make up for stupidity.

Ria Madden has worked at the Hurricane Valley (curious name for a ski resort—wouldn’t Blizzard Valley have been more appropriate?) in Colorado for the last three winters with Dr. Leon Marshall. She likes him, and “it was something more than admiration of his six feet of sturdy male strength and his gray eyes that could so easily mask his feelings.” But while they got along great for the first two years, last season she found him possessive, jealous, and “like a bear with a sore head. […] She had almost grown to hate him.” And so far, as this season opens, he’s not much better, snapping at the nurses and stomping off in a huff.

Competing for Ria’s affections is the lead ski instructor, Thor Carlsen, a Norwegian who won some skiing competition long ago. He invites Ria out for the first run of the season, and there’s a blow-by-blow description of every trail and move made by the pair that recalls the surfing passages from Surfing Nurse: too much jargon and an assumption that you care about every bump and turn they make on the way down. The layout of the mountain is also poorly described, so though a lot of action occurs up on the mountain, it’s largely confusing when you can’t picture what is happening.

There’s a lodge up on the mountain for people who get stuck, and while he is out with Ria, Thor notices smoke is coming from the chimney, so he sends up his number two, Niki Casello, to check it out. Niki is engaged to the other nurse, Brigid. Niki is competing in an international ski comptetition, which this year will be held in Hurricane Valley. He is deathly afraid of the ski jump but enters the event anyway because he thinks that if he does well the ensuing fame will earn him a top post at another ski resort and a salary large enough to support him and his bride, who of course he cannot allow to work.

Curiously, Niki loses the first aid pack he takes up the mountain and is as snappish as Dr. Marshall about it when he gets back, saying he did not find anyone in the cabin. The next day, he’s up at 6 a.m., climbing the mountain on foot. No one thinks twice about this until Ria and Dr. Marshall, out skiing that afternoon, hear gunshots. Then Niki falls off a cliff that a ski jumper could have taken easily—he tries to abort the jump at the last minute but his momentum carries him over—and is saved from death by a mysterious skier in white carrying a rifle who digs him out of the snow before Thor, who has seen the accident through his binoculars from a neighboring mountain peak, can get there.

That night, someone breaks into Ria’s room in the hospital. Before she has even clapped eyes on the fellow, Ria has a diagnosis: “The man out there was sick, her training reminded her. Dangerous, but sick. People like that were frightened of light, because their sickness was a thing of darkness and secrecy.” She turns on the light and runs to the window, intending to beat the intruder with her shoe, and discovers it’s the white-garbed hunter. He is muttering in Italian, but guess what! Ria’s mother was Italian, so she’s able to chat the guy up. He’s just looking for food, and he tells her he’s afraid of the men who have been chasing him. She explains they just want to ask him to stop popping off his rifle, because the skiing season has opened and they don’t want any tourists to get shot, which would be bad for business. He doesn’t believe her, though. “They plan to kill me. I have often heard them speak of it. They are clever, often they come upon me at night, unseen, whispering of cruel things …” She rushes off to fill a pack full of food for him, musing that this guy looks a lot like Niki.

The next day, when the men hear about this, they decide to posse up. They chase the poor guy for two days until he jumps off a cliff and is injured, but he gets away. The men are camping on the mountain that night, and at 5 a.m. Ria hears noises outside her window again. The crazy skier is back, passed out in the snow. Ria gets some ski instructors to carry him in, calls a doctor in town for a recipe for a chemical straitjacket, sets his fractured humerus, and arranges for his transport to the nearest hospital. One of the ski instructors heads into the mountains to bring in the posse, and when Dr. Marshall gets back, is he impressed? Heck, no! He snaps at her for giving the man sedatives and because she gave the man food earlier, telling her that her “thoughtless generosity probably contributed to the accident he had.” That pack of guys relentlessly chasing him had nothing to do with it; it most certainly was the pack of food on his back destabilizing his landing, the stupid girl!

Only after the skier—revealed as Lorenzo, Niki’s long-lost older brother—has been safely packed into an ambulance does Thor tells the stupid doctor that he is going back to Norway—alone—and that Ria is in love with the doctor. “All men are jealous of their sweethearts before they marry. But afterward never, for it is an insult to be jealous of your wife,” says deluded Thor. So Dr. Marshall goes back to the hospital and kisses away Ria’s tears, and then it’s all over but for the skiing competition, which Lorenzo attends. He’s now living with his parents in Denver, and “if Lorenzo heard voices now, they had become subdued, part of a familiar pattern that now he understood better and no longer heeded.” Dr. Leon is cured as well—“He wasn’t jealous of [Ria] anymore,” we are told—so that’s two miracle cures in one chapter! All we need now is a top-three finish for Niki in an event that doesn’t give him the willies, the slalom, and we can close the book with a sigh of relief. Check and check.

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