Tuesday, July 31, 2012

When Doctors Marry

By Elizabeth Seifert,©1960
Cover illustration by Tom Miller

When Dr. Cannon Penrod read about the appointment of Dr. Corliss Walker as resident surgeon to the Memorial Hospital staff—the first woman ever to receive such an appointment—he could not believe that a woman exposed to so much pain and suffering could have feelings of her own—womanly feelings. A freak accident was to bring the two doctors together, and Dr. Penrod would learn that Dr. Corliss Walker was truly a woman—a woman almost too pretty to be a doctor, a woman who wanted to love a man, who wanted to have her own baby, even to know her own sorrow and hurt for someone she loved and who belonged to her. Dr. Walker was a woman who wanted to love a man, but not just any man …


“A woman able to be a good doctor might not have the time to get into mischief, as a lot of women do.”

“The men liked her, most of the men. But they would have liked her better in her proper place, as a pretty woman, decently established before her own cookstove, beside her own baby’s crib, or tremulous and welcoming at her own home’s front door.”

“She was slender, and it would not take much to make her too thin to do surgery.”

“I’d purely love to have someone care enough for me to want to boss me around.”

A couple of chapters into this book, I had to flip to the title page to check the copyright date. This sweet, gentle, meandering book reads much like a Lucy Agnes Hancock or Faith Baldwin novel from the 1940s, so I was surprised to find it was published in 1960. Its attitudes toward a woman doctor are slightly more updated, but in the end, for all the teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling about the conflict of being both a woman and a doctor, the heroine never really arrives at any personal resolution to the issue.

Our hen medic, Corliss Walker, is a 30-year-old surgical resident when the book opens, the first woman surgical resident at University Hospital in St. Louis. Cannon Penrod is ten years older and chief of staff at Melrose County Hospital  when he reads of her appointment in the local paper. He is not impressed. “A woman’s not strong enough for surgery,” he says. “Physically, and probably emotionally. I’d certainly now a woman like that for a wife!” So when Corliss, en route to her new job, becomes very ill with a bowel obstruction, stumbles into Cannon’s clinic, and passes out, he’s smitten. No one knows who she is, because she left her handbag by the side of the road when she’d stopped to vomit earlier. Curiously, no one bothers to ask. So it isn’t until several weeks in the hospital, after Cannon has taken Corliss to surgery and saved her life, that Cannon, only by overhearing her telephone conversation with her employers to let them know that she’s going to be a little late, discovers her true name and identity. Naturally, he’s furious, contending that she lied to them all by omission. I struggle to see how this could be so, particularly since I feel that her doctors—not to mention the billing department!—have an obligation to at least attempt to learn this basic information about their patients.

By the time these weeks have elapsed, however, Corliss has decided that she wants to marry Cannon, and that she really loves this little town, because everyone there is so nice to her, and for no reason whatsoever; it’s just how they are. After years of struggling against the prejudice of her fellow (male) med school students and doctors, she enjoys being treated respectfully. But eventually she’s well enough to leave the hospital, and she goes off to her residency in St. Louis. Months later, Cannon turns up on her doorstep. His partner is leaving the hospital, and he wants her to take his place. So when her year is up in St. Louis, she’s back at Melrose County, this time as Cannon’s partner.

Her two closest friends in town are somewhat dubious characters. Luther Dennison is a smooth-talking, vaguely irritating (by Corliss’ own admission) wealthy ne’er-do-well who lives with his momma and constantly attempts, unsuccessfully, to convince Corliss to marry him. Lane Harper is a professional pianist who had a relationship ten years ago with another doctor in the hospital, but left town to pursue her career. He’s married now, to a solid but ugly former nurse, and has two daughters, but that’s not stopping Lane from putting the moves on him, because now that she’s eaten her cake, she wants to have it, too. Cannon approves of neither individual, and to be truthful, it seems like Corliss isn’t entirely in raptures about them, either; she appears to be more lazy than fond in her friendships. And stubborn, as if Cannon’s disapproval is what keeps her hanging with them.

Midway through the book, Corliss convinces Cannon to marry her. She, of course, loves him, but he’s a bit harder to read. He’d been married 12 years ago, but his wife was a floozy and they were divorced. Now he has a difficult time trusting women, and Corliss’ relationship with Luther—particularly since the man’s objectives are well-known—isn’t helping matters. So half of this almost 300-page book chronicles the ups and downs of the Drs. Penrod. Which is pleasant enough, but it’s round and round on the same issues. Does Cannon love Corliss? Can she “be a woman,” whatever that means, and a doctor, too? Lane, who gave up the man for the job and now seems to regret it, tells Corliss that she shouldn’t try to be just one or the other. “A career alone isn’t enough. You can have a career, and very little else. No home, some clothes, perhaps a hotel suite—It’s a lopsided, flat way to live. And a one-sided life is never enough, Corliss. Whatever that side might be. Home and family only—or a career only.” But Corliss doesn’t find it so easy. “Often it is hard, this being a doctor at this side in the hospital, and a little woman here at home, too,” she tells a friend. “Often I don’t know why he married me. I mean, whether he married me as a woman, or as a doctor.” Even Cannon, who deeply respects Corliss’ medical abilities and has no problem whatsoever with her working, occasionally wrinkles his brow on these topics: “Corliss had gained a firm place in a man’s world, and perhaps it was folly to expect her to remain all woman. Though Cannon wished she could be more woman than she was. He supposed his trouble was that he wanted things both ways, and it began to seem that he couldn’t have them.”

Of course, no one ever debates the question of whether Cannon can be a doctor and a husband, and in the final pages the now-peaceful couple agrees that neither of them could give up their careers or their family, and that neither of them should have to choose. So that question, at least, has been settled. But there’s still the question of their marriage: of Cannon’s inability to trust, or be open with, his wife, and Corliss’ inability to respect her husband enough to stop flirting with Luther. This is temporarily bridged, in the end, by a fire in the hospital that threatens one of them, but in the end I have to ask how long this is going to last.

This book has a lot in common with He Married a Doctor. Here, too, some of the driving force of the plot is removed when the couple marries halfway through, and the main theme becomes whether or not they will stay married. The fact that they’re married allows the author to hint—delicately, of course—at their sex life, and this adds a couple of grains of cayenne to the soup. The writing, as I have already said, is calm and soothing, occasionally even quite humorous. If the central questions of the book are not answered, it’s still a pleasant trip, and one worth making.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mystery Nurse

By Diana Douglas
(pseud. Richard Wilkes-Hunter), ©1968

Strange orders awaited Nurse Diane Halliday on the estate in Baja California. She was to wear bikinis instead of uniforms, dance instead of dose, appear to be living la dolce vita, but in reality be prepared to deal with a life-or-death crisis that could strike anywhere, anytime. The flaming redhead was to care for a patient who had a pathological hatred of nurses—a woman who must never guess who or what Diane was. A beautiful RN lives a hazardous lie in a gripping novel of love and danger in exotic Mexico.


“Doctor, I didn’t feel right about leaving my uniforms behind. I’ve always thought a uniform gives a nurse the authority she needs to control her patients. A nurse without her uniform is just another girl.”

“It takes a bikini to separate the girls from the women, I always say.”

The problem with a cover like that adorning Mystery Nurse is that it gives you high hopes for what lies inside it. The problem with this particular cover is that it—along with the cover lines—conveys the impression that the story is going to be frightening and suspenseful. Wrong on all counts.

Diane Halliday has been hired to be a private nurse in Mexico. But when she gets there, she discovers that her patient, Irene Cartier, is not to know that Diane is a nurse. Irene, age 51, is a wealthy asthmatic with the beginnings of heart failure. It is mildly interesting to see how what is now a commonplace and easily managed disease was handled in this book—never leave the house, don’t excite yourself, monitor your vital signs religiously, two-hour naps every day, and slit your wrists out of unrelenting boredom by your 25th birthday. The reason for Diane’s subterfuge is that Irene absolutely despises nurses and refuses to have one in the house. So Diane’s story is that she’s the sister of a friend of Irene’s son John, who has hatched up this plot and hired her. She and John are supposed to have dated, but now they’re just good friends. She knows so much about asthma treatments because her mother was supposed to have been an asthmatic, and also she has some friends who became nurses, the poor, misguided souls.

Diane is not very good at this pretending thing. Her first day—after unsuccessfully attempting to persuade Irene from coming to the beach, where the damp sea air will be bad for her lungs and walking on the sandy beach will be too tiring—she starts babbling on about subcutaneous injections, how you should hold a pill under your tongue to give it time to work on the bronchial muscles and nasal membranes, that temperatures taken in the armpit aren’t as accurate as those taken orally, that nursing schools only take students from the top third of their class. Before long, everyone is giving her the hairy eyeball. Except John, of course: “You look swell in that orange slacks suit, Diane,” he tells her.

Irene has a major attack in the middle of the night, and Diane is on hand with her properly sterilized syringes to give an injection and to veto another dose of barbiturates. The next morning, “Irene Cartier’s eyes were hostile as she looked at Diane.” But then everyone is off for a day of deep-sea fishing—again, over Diane’s protestations of Irene’s poor health—and Diane soon puts her thoughts of Irene aside and bags a 300-pound yellow fin tuna, the biggest one of the day, the show-off. But tragedy strikes: The Mexican boat captain, who might have been wearing one of those red uniforms from Star Trek, falls into the ocean and is attacked by a barracuda. Diane springs into action and expertly bandages the man’s leg to stop the bleeding, refuses a tourniquet that would cause more damage than good, anticipates the thirst that will follow after such blood loss, accompanies him to shore in a speed boat, persuades the balking local doctor to operate immediately, and assists in surgery. I was wondering why she didn’t just fly him to a level-one trauma center in her invisible jet.

Back at the hacienda, Irene has made a few phone calls and discovered the shady truth about Diane’s profession. After threatening to have Diane jailed for her charade—oh, and thanks for your help with my asthma attack and for saving the boat pilot—Irene reveals that her husband, who was hospitalized with terminal cancer, died when a nurse left him to go flirt with a doctor. And get the hell out of my house. Diane, sick at heart that she isn’t going to see John again, hires a broken-down truck to drive her to the nearest airport. But en route, John stops them in his flashy red convertible. Not to propose marriage, but to let her know that his mother is having a heart attack that will surely be fatal if Diane doesn’t come back at once and save her life. Off they go, and after some good old-fashioned CPR, Irene is as good as new. I swear, when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he found he had three missed calls from Diane Halliday, RN.

This quick little book is over in a couple of hours, almost faster than it takes for Diane to blow her cover. Despite that, it’s not worth reading, even to marvel at Diane’s superhuman abilities. It’s not campy, and it’s not even really interesting, orange pants suits notwithstanding. (I was also not impressed that despite setting this book in Mexico, he didn’t bother to take a minute to learn that the phrase is no comprendo, not no comprender, as repeated multiple times throughout the book. The author is at his best when he’s discussing Diane’s surfing lesson, but that’s not why we’re here. I’m beginning to think that a good cover illustration is a kiss of death. In this instance, it certainly is.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Nurse and the Pirate

By Peggy Gaddis, ©1961
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

After five months as a cruise nurse on the luxury liner Santa Theresa, Kathy was glad that the trip was almost over and that she soon would be back to the demanding atmosphere of a big city hospital. Suddenly, during a starless tropical night, a desperate band of men seized the liner by force and terrorized the passengers and crew. All at once Kathy not only had more nursing to do than any one nurse could handle, but she had become the special object of attention of the leader of the pirates!


“You talk too much, sister, and with us that’s not healthy.”

“ ‘Yes, Doctor,’ said Kathy in the colorless polite tone a nurse learns very early to use to a doctor.”

“You can’t blame a guy for wishing he was sick in bed of some interesting disease and an angel without wings like you was coming to soothe his fevered brow.”

“With somebody as pretty as you to look after her, she could make a speedy recovery at that. Who wouldn’t? I may even consider breaking an arm or a leg, if that’s what it takes to arouse your interest.”

“I’m a devoutly practicing coward, if you must know.”

“You mean you don’t know how to do brain surgery? What kind of a doctor are you, then?”

“No matter what Kathy wore, she would still be the most beautiful woman aboard. Even in shorts and a halter—though I can’t imagine a girl like Kathy, with her decency and self-respect, ever allowing herself to be seen in public in such an outrageous garb.”

“I do believe our kitten has claws!”

“Nothing gives a doctor more prestige than a wife who can hold her own in any social gathering; and nothing gives a wife more courage to face her husband’s most important associates than to know she is wearing real pearls.”

After a fairly good run of C- and D-grade novels (am I getting cranky in my old age?), I was pleased to meet Kathy Martell, the quintessential spunky Peggy Gaddis heroine. She defers a bit overmuch to the doctor, but she retorts and blazes and marches off, her head held high. Even if I have met this character frequently in Peggy’s books, I’m pleased to meet a gal with a spine.

Kathy is near the end of her cruise as a ship’s nurse when, as advertised, a band of about 70 pirates storm the ship. Col. Jose Manuella is a Portuguese-speaking revolutionary from an undisclosed country, and his band of thugs is planning to use the ship to spring political prisoners and stage a coup against the dictator running his home country. He doesn’t speak English, so he has a bilingual American who calls himself Edward Teach (after Bluebeard the pirate, from whom he claims to be descended). Teach is casting a roving eye at Kathy, who gets feisty when she is brought in with Dr. Burke Jerrold to mop up after the pirates have had their way with the bridge crew.

But at least he’s an honorable pirate. Kathy decides “if he thought she was in love with Dr. Jerrold, that might make him leave her alone.” A bit of a stretch, but it’s worth a try. And as fate would have it, the ploy works! “One of the first things a fellow learns in my business is to keep away from the other fellow’s girl,” he says. But now she and Dr. Jerrold—who has previously had nothing to do with anyone on board outside of a strictly professional exchange, even taking his meals in his room so as to avoid personal contacts with the passengers—have to pretend that they’re in love. The heretofore agoraphobic doctor takes to the act readily, throwing his arm around her and calling her “honey” and “darling” in public. What’s up with that?

Kathy now has a hospital full of patients to tend to, which might have kept her over busy for the rest of the book, but when she’s asleep one night, leaving her critical patients alone for a good eight hours or so, the pirates dump them all on an island inhabited only by bloodthirsty natives. Or were they really tossed over the rails? These pirates are so mean, they’re just going to torture Kathy with worry over the true fate of her patients. But this means she’s free to cavort with the doctor and sass the pirates.

And get married. As the ship drifts at sea, the Colonel decides that, to compensate for the dwindling food supplies, the passengers deserve a little entertainment, and so insists that Kathy and Dr. Jerrold get married before the entire ship to lend “a romantic touch to the voyage.” That is one sentimental revolutionary. The betrothed couple agrees that, even “if things were different, I’d be honored to marry you,” they can have the farce annulled once they reach shore. So they agree to the ceremony, and all agree Kathy is the most beautiful bride ever.

Now what should we do? I know, let’s murder the Colonel! Kathy and the doctor are standing at the ship’s rail when they see the ship’s pharmacist, who has been revealed as a double agent for the revolutionaries, knocked down by the Colonel. He shouldn’t have done that. The pharmacist, curiously named Miguel Evans, is a native of the Colonel’s country whom the Colonel had personally railroaded into a jungle prison. (Oddly, though he took so much trouble to persecute Evans, the Colonel has never laid eyes on the man and so does not recognize him.) Evans escaped the prison and spent years living with native Indians, who taught him all sorts of interesting things about poison. Now he carries a blow gun up his sleeve—or is it an unusual cigarette holder given to him by a Chinese girlfriend in Hong Kong, as he insists? Suddenly, the Colonel lurches against Teach, clutching his heart, and the pair tumble over the rails into the briny blue. Was it a heart attack or, as Dr. Burke insists, Evans’ blow gun? Though numerous passengers, including Kathy and the doctor, witnessed the entire episode, no one seems to have seen Evans actually dart the pirates. And now, more than a week into the crisis, it is abruptly over. All we have to do is get Kathy and the doctor to reveal their true feelings for each other—and wrap up all those flapping loose ends—and we can close the book.

Actually, forget about resolving the loose ends, as we are going to be left hanging on a number of points. For example, (1) an elderly dowager becomes obsessed with the idea of adopting Kathy and bequeathing her fortune to her, as her only heir is a lazy cad whom she intensely dislikes—even accusing of trying to murder her (by breaking the news of the pirate takeover) so as to inherit all the sooner—but this side plot abruptly drops off the port bow as soon as the ship limps into the harbor at the end of the book. (2) We get hints that the cad himself actually cares deeply for the old bag, and a classic Gaddis device is to unite warring generations, but apparently she forgot here. (3) A question of whether or not the Colonel is deathly ill becomes moot once he drops overboard. (4) A plot to overthrow the pirates that is apparently being hatched below decks by the double (or triple?) agent Evans never comes to pass, unless the plot was simply Evans’ blowgun murder—but this hardly seems intricate enough to merit involvement of two entire classes of passengers and the dowager’s maid. (5) The true fate of the injured crewmembers that were dumped on the island, or overboard, is never explained.

There are more, but who’s counting? (Wait, I guess I was.) Because in spite of the sloppy plotting, this book isn’t bad. Kathy, as I said earlier, is a plucky lass and enjoyable to follow. Her blooming love for Dr. Burke is not nauseating, another nice plus. And there’s enough of a camp factor in the writing to make for an occasional chuckle. I must confess, though, that I was somewhat disappointed that, despite the prurient hints suggested by the back-cover blurb and even, however gently, by the book itself, it’s entirely tame—as we should have guessed it would be. But it’s a decent little book, particularly after the losers I’ve met recently.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Nurses of the Tourist Service

By Gladys Fullbrook, ©1962
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

Just as Paula had passed her nursing and midwifery finals, her fiancé backed out of their engagement, and to try to recover from the blow she wanted to get away from everything. Accompanied by her loyal friend Rosalind, she joined the Tasmanian Tourist Nursing Service. Her efforts were rewarded, for, in that smiling apple-blossom island, she found a new life, and a greater happiness than she had ever known.


“Was he, in spite of his pleasant looks, a narrow-minded prig?”

“You can stop manhandling me. I’m OK now.”

“I’m sorry for people who are dead.”

“I don’t think forty-seven is such a terrible age.”

“They were young, they were good to look upon—and they were going to a party.”

By the time Nurses of the Tourist Service had crawled its way through 191 pages, I thoroughly disliked our heroine, Paula Bruce. This is probably not what the author had in mind, but there it is. If we’re given a limp dishrag that is essentially drifting through her own life and making little or no effort to steer, I’m just not going to be grateful.

For their first assignment out of nursing school, Paula and her best friend Rosalind Lane enlist in the Tasmanian Tourist Nursing Service. Before they go, however, there’s the matter of Paula’s fiancé, Bob Shaw, to dispose of. This is actually done on the novel’s first page. But after a few days of “convulsive sobs,” Paula pulls herself together—a little too well, actually. A few pages later, “I’ve wondered if I really and truly loved Bob.” Well, call me fickle. Then, when she arrives in Tasmania and is out on a date with Dr. Christopher Deane, a surgeon in a large hospital there, who bobs up professing undying love but, well, Bob. He pulls her off to dance with him, holds her hands and kisses her, and though she tells him that it’s all over, Christopher seems to think it’s all over for him and leaves without saying goodbye.

Paula regrets the evening, as she kind of liked the old man—he’s 37—and vows that if she runs into him again, “she’d try to let him know the true facts. He might not be interested, but at least he would know she was not that sort of girl and that was what mattered most.” She actually contrives their second meeting, at the hospital. It’s the end of her late-night shift, and a fellow nurse offers to call a cab for her. But she turns down the offer and actually lies to the nurse, saying that a friend is giving her a ride. She knows Christopher will soon be leaving the hospital, so she waits by the door until he comes out, knowing he will see her setting out alone in the dark and do the chivalrous thing; he apparently has a lot more honor than she does. He drives her home and walks her to her door—“Oh, good! Paula thought thankfully—but then he sees a photo of Bob in her handbag and becomes a little chilly. Instead of explaining, she becomes inexplicably angry and stomps off in a huff.

One such idiocy is an acceptable moment of weakness, but this pattern repeats itself again and again, to my progressing annoyance. Paula pines for Christopher with increasing ardor when they are apart, soon coming to realize that she loves him and at the same time understanding that he was hurt and misled by her behavior with Bob. But she just can’t bring herself to be a mature, reasonable adult, instead transforming into a rude shrew the minute he is in the room. The next time she sees him, it’s at a dance; he kisses her, and she again becomes angry and storms away. It’s not that she doesn’t know better: In between these meetings, she’s stewing about how badly she manages things: “Her own stupid pride was partly to blame. She had been hurt and angry at Christopher’s attitude, and she had cause. But, and she sighed again, it was not the way to clear the air between them. Was it too late even now? Paula wondered. Could she sink her own pride and break through this web of misunderstanding?” Apparently not; on at least four more occasions, she has an opportunity to let him know the actual state of her relationship with Bob—not to mention whom she actually is in love with—but she only snaps at him and walks away. Then he’s seen out with a clinging, beautiful redhead. “She was seized suddenly with bitter regret she hadn’t been bold enough to shape the pattern of the last few months. She could have done it, she felt, if only she had been willing to sink her own pride. And now it’s too late. Perhaps I did make a mistake.” The lights are on, but nobody’s home.

It’s not just with Christopher that she’s unable to be open. Her friend Rosalind becomes engaged to Angus Lowther, the best kind of man—a wealthy, older gentleman with a heart condition. But before this comes to pass, both women initially believe Angus’ attentions are intended for Paula, and even the dimmest reader can see that this is the cause of Rosalind’s increasing coolness toward Paula. Though Paula often wonders what’s up with her friend, she can’t actually ask. “There was a hard flippancy about Rosalind these days that she did not very much like. But she said nothing and waited.” This, in a nutshell, is her problem: Whenever her relationships are not working out, she says nothing and waits. What really makes me angry is that this strategy is always completely effective. When Paula finally figures out—entirely on her own, since she can’t ever have a conversation with anyone—that the two are in love, she’s out on a double date with Angus as her beau, and Rosalind is with another guy. Now, any sensible good friend would immediately make an effort to cut the other young man away from the herd and give Rosalind and Angus time alone. Instead, she says nothing and waits—and soon the young man is “taking her arm and drawing her a few paces away from the rest of the party. She allowed herself to be led away.” What a good friend you are, Paula.

If she’s not remaining passive and quiet, she’s telling a lie. When the two finally clear the air—a conversation initiated by Rosalind to break the news of her engagement—Rosalind says, “I thought Angus was in love with you.” “So did I for a while, Paula thought. She smiled at Rosalind and said, ‘What a ridiculous idea!’ ” Maybe it’s not the worst lie ever, but it does demonstrate her inability to be forthright.

And she’s not going to learn anything from her mistakes, either; her failure to communicate, much less act, continues right through the final reconciliation with Christopher. After settling things with Rosalind, “Paula yawned widely and lay back on the pillows. She supposed she might as well get some sleep if possible, and she was tired of thinking and wondering about Christopher. It’s up to him now, Paula thought, and closed her eyes.” You can’t get much more passive than when you’re asleep, I guess. When she wakes up, she dresses too nicely for a lone stroll on the beach, so you know someone’s coming, and lo and behold, there he is. He tries to tell her that he’s skittish because his first wife ran out on him and died in a plane crash a week later, and she says, “Please, Chris, I—do understand, really. Don’t—say any more.” You can’t reconcile if you’re not saying anything. But he persists, the dumb oaf, and soon “she would marry him and go with him wherever he went.” She should have stayed asleep.

The only interesting thing about this book is the Australian addiction to tea; on several occasions, almost immediately after giving birth, new mothers are medicated with a hot cuppa. “Don’t you want to hold her?” Paula asks Mrs. Aust. “Well, just for a minute, but I could do with a cup o’ tea now. Should be still hot, shouldn’t it? Shame to waste it,” replies mum. Well, in her defense, it’s her fourth, so it’s little wonder she prefers the tea. The writing is as blah as our heroine, and I realized in the second chapter that this book was not going to be a winner. I did want to like it, based entirely upon the font of the title on the cover. But few books irritate me as much as this one did.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Psychiatric Nurse

By Mary Mann Fletcher, ©1962
Cover illustration by Rudy Nappi

Brad Andrews’ unhappy past drove him from reality to the walls of a private mental institution. And Nurse Holly Warren did not realize how involved she would become with her handsome patient until she helped Dr. Mike Barrish administer the “truth serum” to uncover his secret and make his life more bearable. Soon Holly found herself very much a part of Brad’s life. He needed her love—while Holly’s own heart was drawn to the fascinating doctor who belonged to another woman.


“He hoped that in two years, he would learn to love his fiancée as much as he loved her father.”

“I’m a nurse, I’m not interested in men.”

“Where other hospitals had a speaker system to call doctors, except in the wards where they used a system of lights, Riveredge had a system of bells, with a code for each doctor; this was because calling the doctors by name excited the patients.”

“Holly felt a most unprofessional pique at his seeming lack of interest. Maybe this Brad Andrews was disturbed, Holly thought, but he wasn’t blind. She wasn’t used to men studying her fine features as Brad had done, then showing no more reaction than if they were looking at the side of a barn.”

“Mike slipped his arm around Holly’s waist and squeezed gently. He refused to let himself think of his patient or possible involvements with the pretty nurse, he refused to let himself think of his beautiful blonde fiancée. ‘I’m a pretty wonderful guy if I do say so myself,’ he whispered into Holly’s ear, at the same time blowing a wisp of her hair back under the cap it had escaped from. ‘I’m a wonderful dresser, I’m a wonderful dancer, in fact I’m just plain wonderful all over. But you don’t have to take my word for it,’ he added, feigning modesty. ‘Just ask any of my women patients.’ ”

“I know you don’t approve of him and I know he’s engaged but honestly, Anna, all we’re going to do is eat hamburgers together. We’re not going somewhere to make babies.”

“Maybe Anna was right and Mike was a heel who blithely went through life breaking hearts and messing up women’s lives. If that were the case, he could count her out in spite of the fact that her body ached for his touch.”

“You’ll still have coffee with me, won’t you? I hope you’re not afraid of me. My doctor wouldn’t have given me a pass if he thought I’d go berserk, you know.”

“You call me a woman, Holly, where is my man? You call me a woman, where are my babies, where are the people who need me, who will cry for me when I’m gone?”

Holly Warren is a young woman in the nut house. No, silly, she’s not a patient—she’s a nurse, and you can tell because she wears this white nylon uniform! But she’s very sympathetic to all the loonies she takes care of at Riveredge, because she herself once had a brush with insanity: When she was six years old, she was accidentally shut up in a closet. She was freed “almost immediately,” but Holly was never quite the same. There were the dreams, of course, and she’s always wondered, if she had been stuck in the closet any longer, “would she now be one of a group of women patients huddled about the center of the wardroom in Ward 8, women’s side, keeping away from the walls?”

Perhaps this experience is what has given her a special affinity for the mentally unbalanced. When working with a new mother who was slow to recover from childbirth, she was the only one who recognized signs of postpartum depression; the doctor brushed her off—“there’s nothing wrong with her that a stiffer backbone wouldn’t cure”—when she voiced her concerns. Then one night Holly was vindicated, of sorts, when the woman bashed her husband’s head open with an ashtray because he “would never get up at night when the baby cried.” (This is in part a response to the doctor’s concern that the mother has been “spoiled and pampered,” and “they’ve got to make her stand on her own two feet.” Holly, on the other hand, thinks her patient “might just as well have been alone for the amount of help she got from her husband. Her patient had told Holly that her husband was acting as helpless as the baby; not only did he never give her a hand with the baby, but he expected her to wait on him hand and foot!”) So let that be a lesson to you, boys.

Soon after she starts working at Riveredge, Holly is taking a shortcut through the basement of the hospital when she hears a man walking behind her. Remembering that story about a violent escaped patient who hid in the basement, she breaks into an all-out run, and the man runs after her, grabs her with “hard hands,” spins her around “so quickly her feet left the floor,” and shakes her. She’s too petrified to understand what he’s saying to her, and as she struggles to free herself he grabs her more and more tightly until “she knew the pain she was feeling was real and not the result of fear.” She’s just about to start screaming bloody murder when he kisses her “—hard—on the mouth, shutting off her screams.” Does she knee the rapist in the testicles? vomit with revulsion? No: “oddly, since she was still in the grip of fear, this sent thrills down to the toes of her sensible nurse’s oxfords. She felt herself go limp in his arms, felt her lips go limp even, and she had to fight an impulse to kiss him back.” Her shoes might be sensible, but it’s pretty clear that Holly has the sense of a gnat. Either that, or it’s every woman’s secret desire to be sexually assaulted. I’m going with the former, because it isn’t two chapters later before Holly is hopelessly in love with the rat.

And calling Mike Barrows a rat might be slandering the poor rodent. Frankly, I didn’t realize until I started going through my notes what absolute scum he is. Despite his engagement to his mentor’s daughter, he dates lots of other women—some of them married, even—and “if he enjoyed himself more than an engaged man should on the dates he’d had with other women, well, at least no one could say he’d ever tried to lead any of them on. To do him credit, he’d never even tried to seduce any one of them. A casual good night kiss was all he asked and if it went past that, it had invariably been the girl’s idea, and he was human after all, wasn’t he?

He puts the moves on Holly, but after a firm lecture from her landlady, Holly dresses down for their inevitable date. When he picks her up, his ongoing rudeness makes it quite plain that it wasn’t her mind he was attracted to and that he is a complete boor: “I think I liked you better in your uniform. At least there was no doubt about your sex,” he tells her. Nonetheless, he magnanimously agrees to go through with the date, even though it will be a terrible chore for him. “I’ll buy you a burger and a soda, Holly, but if you don’t mind, I’ll keep my face turned as I eat,” he informs her. “That’s if I’m even able to eat.” It’s no wonder that Holly is soon thinking, “It’s Mike I love and Mike I want, and only Mike forever and ever. I don’t care what kind or quantity of love he can give me—whatever it is, I’ll take it and be grateful.” My guess is it won’t be much, and it won’t be long until he’s coming in late with lipstick on his collar. But we’ve already established that Holly is a doormat and an idiot, so maybe she won’t notice.

Would that things were as simple as that. Mike stops calling Holly after their disastrous date. Then Holly—20 pages from the end of the book—runs into Brad Andrews, a frequent flyer at the asylum, who is on the verge of being sprung again and ready to start dating. Mike feels that Brad, who has an unhealthy relationship with his mother, suffered some repressed trauma that he will not reveal to Mike, and this is what is keeping him from a permanent recovery. Mike presses Holly to take advantage of her new relationship with Brad to find out Brad’s secret, but Holly is unable to get to the bottom of the story. She does get somewhere else, though; five pages after she meets Brad, “according to the hospital grapevine, Holly and Brad were talking marriage.” What will she do? “It’s really your duty to marry Brad even if you don’t completely love him, she told herself. Don’t think of anything but your duty.” But she has one moment of sense and turns Brad down. Instantly Brad remembers the woman he really wants to marry, a poor woman in Mexico, and that his mother had feigned a serious heart attack at the news and forced him to leave Mexico at once, lest her next heart attack be fatal. Brad runs off, completely cured, to have a chat with his mother and book a flight to Mexico. Now all we have to do is dispose of Mike’s fiancée—but don’t worry, it’ll just take a sentence: “Iris had gone on her trip alone, but come back with a husband.”

Holly’s relationship with Brad is so appalling that I really have a hard time moving beyond that to the rest of the book. But when I steel myself and set our heroine’s flaws aside, I find the rest of the book has lots of them, too! There’s the landlady, who lived in sin with a married man and now devotes herself to finding suitable marriages for her nurse renters, because without a man, their lives are meaningless at best. She begs Holly to stop chasing Mike and marry Brad, saying, “Holly, live—be a woman, a real woman, not a shell of a person like me.” (In other books, a “real” woman is one who has had sex, but here, apparently, sex is not enough; you have to be married to be whole.) One of her renters had an unrequited love for Mike, she tells Holly, and “if I hadn’t taken her in hand, right now she’d be sitting on one of the wards at Riveredge, waiting for the nurse to come and move her arms and legs before she got stiff. Either that or planning for her own funeral.” Again, this book would have us believe that insanity and suicide are just a bad day away for any of us.

Which brings me to the book’s infantile image of mental illness, and the trivial manner in which Brad’s longstanding illness, which has left him nearly comatose at times, is “cured.” You would think that if you are going to make psychiatry the focus of your story, you might at least spend a day or two researching the subject. Then there’s the fact that Brad doesn’t really enter Holly’s life until the tenth chapter (the book has 12), and the disposal of some fairly significant problems—Brad and Holly’s relationship, Brad’s mental illness, and Mike’s fiancée—in a cavalier sentence or two, both of which demonstrate the author’s abysmal grasp on the concept of pacing. So all in all, there’s not much to appreciate in Psychiatric Nurse, except perhaps the fine line between the patients and the staff.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Nurse Jean’s Strange Case

By Arlene Hale, ©1970
Cover illustration by Charles Gehm

Nurse Jean Reese took her new job at Webb House with some misgivings. The somber old mansion at Shadow Lake was a house of menace. Each of its occupants seemed to have a secret life—a private, closely hidden world not to be shared. In Jean’s life, too, there was a secret: a lost love which had left her sick at heart. For a time, things seemed as hopeless as they were frightening—until, one day, an exciting stranger appeared at Webb House. And Jean once again knew the brightness and warmth of love.


“To be needed was important to anyone. But it had become especially important to her. Because of Michael Blaine.”

Jean Reese has been working at a hospital in the city when she gets a call from Dr. Paul Hartford, the kindly old GP in her hometown. He’s the latest in a string of physicians to care for recluse Leoma Webb, who tumbled down the stairs at her family mansion and is now confined to a wheelchair. Leoma used to live a happy life in Chicago, maybe even with a boyfriend (this point, among many small other mysteries, is never made clear to us), but she was called home by her father when her mother died a year ago, and then the unfortunate accident kept her there. Now Leoma lives with her father, Nathaniel; her evil cousin Quentin, who torments everyone in the house yet is allowed to continue living there; and Chad, Leoma’s “youngest” brother, who is about 20 years younger than she is. (If there’s another brother, we never hear about him, for which we can probably be grateful.) It’s a nutty cast of characters: Chad wanders the estate grounds tootling on a flute, and Leoma is a neurotic who, we are repeatedly told, is minutes from collapsing into mental illness, up multiple times during the night despite repeated doses of sleeping pills—this woman manages to shake off enough barbiturates to kill a horse.

Jean has taken this job, though she’s heard stories since childhood about the spooky Webb mansion and the weirdoes who live there, because her old beau, Michael Blaine, still lives in town. She broke up with him a year ago because he refused to get serious (read: pop the question), and she’s been pining for him ever since. It’s hard to understand why, though, because he’s an arrogant, self-centered ass. He’s working on a deal to buy the Webb estate and sell it to a group of developers, but Nathaniel Webb is so difficult to get a meeting with, how will he ever get his foot in the door? Then the gas station attendant clues him in that his old girlfriend is working at the house, so he calls up Jean to ask her out. But when Nathaniel refuses to allow any visitors inside the gates, Michael tells Jean he will not go out with her unless he can pick her up at the front door “like any civilized man would do”—never mind that a civilized man doesn’t use his old girlfriend to pull off a business deal.

The irritating part is that Jean, the dope, falls for it, and tells Nathaniel that she’ll quit her job if Michael isn’t allowed to come to the house. Nathaniel, of course, acquiesces, but Michael isn’t satisfied with just getting inside the house—now he’s pushing Jean to get him a meeting with Nathaniel, and she still doesn’t get it. “If she refused him, he would be angry and she didn’t want that,” so off she trots, but this time Nathaniel puts his foot down. For the rest of their date, Michael is cold and distant, but he couldn’t be using her, no, “she wouldn’t think that!”

Then Dr. Hartford is abruptly fired from Leoma’s case for suggesting to Nathaniel that Leoma needs to be institutionalized for round-the-clock psychiatric care, and Dr. David Williams enters the scene. He’s not one to be impetuous, “except for right now, this moment—” and he’s kissing Jean. “Could a man fall in love with a girl he had seen only a few times? He laughed at himself. The answer was so obvious. Yes, he could. Because he had!” Ugh.

Meanwhile, Leoma is becoming increasingly unhinged, spending most of her time crying and moaning, while Chad spends his days diving in the nearby pond, searching for some evidence that Nathaniel killed his wife; could this be what Quentin is blackmailing Nathaniel with?

As if this “mystery” isn’t enough, the book desperately wants to be a gothic tale, with references on virtually every other page about how “eerie” and “oppressive” “that evil place” is, “a giant black spider” with “a shadow over it,” “crouching there on the lake’s edge like a huge brown animal ready to pounce,” where “hate lurked in every corner.” Jean “felt chilled to the bone after a few days in the Webb house”; “she was beginning to feel like a prisoner in some kind of a bewitched house.” OK, OK, we’re all really scared now! But no, we’re not getting off that easy, we’re going to have to overdose on fear as well: “her bright eyes were frightened,” “her eyes still filled with terror,” “she couldn’t find any basis for the kind of fear she felt. It was a cold little gnawing inside. A little shiver along her nerves.” I guess the reason you have to be beaten over the head with all this tedious description is because otherwise, you wouldn’t see it at all. But would that have been a bad thing? If nothing else, it would have made for a shorter book.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Roxanne, Company Nurse

By Zillah K. Macdonald with Josie Johnson, ©1957
Cover illustration by Harry Bennett

When pretty young Roxanne McRae gave up a glamorous post in a large New York hospital to become Assistant Nurse at the Hudson Sugar Refinery—a job with broad responsibility for the welfare of a big company—she did not realized she would be plunged into—
Danger—the hazards of a huge plant where safety measures are few and injuries many and terrible …
Romance—with Anthony Polk, young general manager—handsome, charming, and sometimes infuriating …
Intrigue—when the accident rate at the plant rises suddenly, Roxanne decides to play detective and finds herself caught in a mysterious and frightening situation


“Putting on a cast was surely indicated. And that meant teamwork of the finest kind with the attending surgeon.”

“Men patients always thought they were dying.”

“These new-in-America patients are just children. They can’t wait to rip the bandages off and show the wound, and every dirty finger in the neighborhood starts pawing over it. The idea of asepsis is nil. Never been taught.”

Roxanne, Company Nurse purports to be something of a mystery. The mystery is what the authors were thinking, or if they were thinking at all, when they penned this throwaway. At the book’s opening, Roxanne McCrae is a float nurse at St. Agatha’s hospital in upstate New York, and has just gotten stuck working her third weekend in a row. But then a new patient who works at the nearby sugar refinery is brought in. He’s left his watch on a windowsill at the plant, and asks Roxanne to go and get it for him. So off she trots to retrieve it, and in short order she’s been offered a job there and is working the day shift—no weekends!

Almost at once, as we are alerted by the back cover blurb (above), Roxanne is plunged into a frightening situation … she’s in a basement room of the factory when the lights go out. She hears a swishing sound, and a voice cries, “Let me out!” She panics, flails around, and then, when the lights come back on, runs into Anthony Polk, the company owner’s son. He shows her the way out, and that’s the end of that.

Except it’s not: The book keeps wondering about this scene: what was the swishing sound, who cried out, who turned out the lights and why? Eventually we learn it was a parrot who was speaking, but whose parrot? Then, when we discover (I am sorry to say) several talking parrots, which one is the guilty parrot? Why was it there? Did it drop the cigarette butt that Roxanne found on the cellar floor? Around and around, until you’d just like to bash that bloody parrot’s head in for involving you in this endless navel-gazing.

Would that were the only mystery in play here. Why is the accident rate going up at the plant? Why do most accidents happen at 11 a.m., when Anthony Polk makes his tour of the plant? Why are all the workers thinking they’ll lose their jobs if they come to the infirmary with their bleeding gashes? What does the factory reporter know? Why does the injured worker with the lost watch think something is wrong at the factory? Why is there a rumor going around the plant about “trouble in the Medical Division,” and why is the ten-year-old boy who hangs around the plant referring to her as the “bandit nurse”? (I wanted to know what a fourth grader is doing at a sugar factory, but that is one mystery the book left unscathed.) Even though I just finished reading this book, I can honestly say I don’t know the answer to a single one of these questions.

Roxanne is rather annoying. Early on she spends a chapter worrying that she’s lost the friendship of Mary, the nurse she works with at the infirmary, though I could see no reason whatsoever why Mary would be angry with her, unless all the obsessing was getting on her nerves as much as it was on mine. Roxanne is infuriatingly insecure, endlessly fretting about her abilities. “She herself had a sense of inefficiency and failure. What would she do if Mary and Dr. Nealley decided she had not the brains for the job?” When she’s the only medical staff on duty, she has “a curiously helpless feeling. She was quite alone. The idea that a doctor was not within call worried her.” She’s called to handle an accident on the factory floor, and “for an instant Roxanne’s knees went weak.” She is a far cry from the typical nurse heroine, who is a spunky, confident woman who will do the appendectomy herself if the doctor doesn’t pull himself together, stat!

Another of Roxanne’s irritating habits is that she endlessly poses a paragraph’s worth of never-to-be-answered questions: “Did he really know? Or was he just being kind? Had he guessed her secret?” “What did he mean? Was he just another who did not like Anthony Polk? Did they, too, resent his impulsiveness? And suffer from it? And then she remembered the call from the foreman. What was his name?” If it’s not question marks we’re being inundated with, it’s exclamation points: “Her job was here! Grandmother could drive! She must take that chance!” I expect the plethora of punctuation is meant to engender some sort of emotion in the reader, but all it induced in me was exasperation.

Then there’s her final mystery: What is up with her abrupt, inexplicable, baseless obsession with Anthony Polk, who apart from popping up in the dark room, has had little contact with her at all? Particularly since, at the beginning of the book, she finds him irritating? “If they could just sit beside Grandmother’s fire once more, she might be able to warn him. She might even try to win his affection. She was ashamed to have to own up, even to herself, that she wanted to. Nothing else in life now seemed to matter.” Seriously?

In the end, we discover that someone is trying to drive Anthony out of the factory, and the climactic scene plays a bit like that in The Nurse. Except the bad guy in this case has no gun, and when he tells Roxanne to hand over the incriminating evidence or he’ll have her fired, she actually considers giving it to him (never mind that if she exposes the plot, he’s the one who will be fired, if he doesn’t actually do time): “Her knees went weak. She reflected that his criticism might even prevent her from getting an executive position in any nursing field. He had it in his power, perhaps, to ruin her career! Temptation assailed her. Why should she jeopardize her career to right a wrong that was past, over, and done with?” She’s about to surrender when she realizes that his plot has jeopardized the health of the factory workers, and that the fundamental job of a nurse is to preserve health! So she drops the evidence into a locked drawer, and the bad guy turns and leaves. Wow, my knees are as weak as Roxanne’s after that frightening situation. How about you?

I desperately wanted to like this book, based entirely upon Harry Bennett’s fabulous cover illustration and the fact that it was originally titled Roxanne, Industrial Nurse, which rated pretty high on my camp-o-meter. But there is really nothing to appreciate inside this overlong, annoying book. Just enjoy the cover and move on to something else.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Walk out of Darkness

By Arlene Karson, ©1963
Cover illustration by Harry Schaare

Nurse Ellen James was torn by indecision. Chet Matthews was demanding she set a date for their wedding—but Ellen wasn’t sure that she loved him. She knew Chet had a brilliant future in the publicity field. In fact, he had just asked her to go along on a three-day walkathon to promote untamed Padre Island to tourists. Ellen decided to go along. That’s when she met Dr. Tom Phillips, a strange, lonely man, and became even more confused by her own emotions. There on a wild, desolate stretch of sand, both men were faced with a crisis of life or death. Ellen knew that the key to her future happiness depended on which man could meet the challenge—and win her heart.


“Wear the gold dress, all right? The special one, and I’ll bring my whistle.”

“No man wants his wife working unless it’s necessary. You’ve given over two years to humanity. Now give your time to me. This humanity needs you, honey, really needs you.”

“You have lovely legs, Ellen. Too bad you have to hide them in those white stockings and monstrous shoes.”

Ellen James is a 22-year-old surgical nurse who has been dating Chet Matthews, an up-and-coming publicity executive. (He is “about” 25, and I had to ask myself why the author wasn’t more certain about his age, given the fact that she herself was making it up.) Chet has been begging her for the last few months to marry him, but she just can’t bring herself to say yes. Part of her reluctance stems from her belief that he doesn’t love her all that much: “Sometimes she had the feeling that if she refused him permanently he would bear no lasting scars.” Then there’s his insistence that she would have to give up working if they married—and we all know how that’s going to work out for him. (I have to pause here and try to recall if a single nurse who has been unwilling to quit working before marriage ever did so happily afterward, and I can’t think of any.) But oddly, she seems to think that if she loved Chet enough, she would want to give up her career: “Did she really love him? If so, why did the thought of giving up her work at the hospital make her feel lonely and lost?”

One largely unaddressed issue is the fact that she seems to disapprove of his work and his lifestyle. “She had gone with him to cocktail parties, dinners and other social functions he must attend to keep in touch with the right people—men and women to whom he could go when he needed to raise money for another of his publicity schemes. She could never get enthused over them as Chet did.” So the thought of spending the rest of her life going to parties isn’t exactly thrilling her.

The problem about this common plot setup—the heroine engaged, or thinking of becoming engaged, to the wrong man—is that frequently the man in question is such a dolt that you can’t understand why she hasn’t dumped him long ago. Chet is indeed one of these, and Ellen spends no small amount of time ruminating over his flaws: “Chet had a habit of making snap judgments about people, and too often he was influenced solely by external factors. It disturbed her, because too often he was wrong. Chet flitted from one strong attachment to another, sometimes using people for what they could do for him rather than for their own personalities.” Then, on the very next page, she asks herself, “Why did little things about him disturb her so much?” I don’t know about you, but where I come from, if someone is manipulative and shallow, that is a major character flaw, not a “little thing.”

Chet’s latest job is director of publicity of Padre Island, off the Texas coast. He wants to turn what he calls “this God-forsaken island” into another Miami Beach, but Ellen prefers it in its almost completely wild, windswept state. (As it happens, the Padre Island National Seashore was established in 1962, the year before this book was published, so Ellen got her way in the end.) Curiously, she never discusses this with Chet, just sighs that the natural beauty she loves is being threatened. To promote development on the island, Chet comes up with the idea to stage a three-day “walkathon,” a competition in which the participants walk 100 miles along its beaches over three days, followed by television crews and a large raft of support vehicles. Such an enterprise will require medical staff, of course, and when he asks Ellen to help, she readily agrees.

The doctor for this dog-and-pony show is Tom Phillips (he’s “around” 32), a former surgeon with a tragic past who now works as a public health doctor. He used to be married, with two young children, but they were killed in an automobile accident—someone ran a red light—and he took to drinking, gradually sinking more and more, until the day he froze during an operation. He’s thrown down his scalpel and moved to Texas to get away from the memories, and now he’s just a shriveled shadow of his former self, though he did quit drinking over a year ago. It’s a little out of his reclusive and curmudgeonly character to agree to participate in this production, but to the book’s credit, he repeatedly asks himself what in the world he was thinking when he agreed to it. It seems he’s beginning to recover from his grief and seek solace in the company of other people again, even if he doesn’t realize it yet.

The main company he will be keeping is, of course, Ellen. Chet has promised to spend the race with her, but two big shot executives are coming along for the race, and he promptly dumps Ellen with Tom to make room for them in his jeep. She and Tom get off on the wrong foot when he deeply insults her by saying, “Beyond performing your duties, I expect nothing of you.” (Is this an implication that she might be thinking of entertaining him, wink, wink, after hours?) She is livid, and he is deeply embarrassed at what he said, so now he has to be nice to her, and they slowly become friends.

The bulk of the book follows the race itself: The contestants and their personal stories, the behind-the-scenes work of putting up and taking down tents, the management of the food and water supplies, the orchestration of the reporters and television crews. The crisis comes on the second day, when a brutal storm blows up and the caravan of supply trucks becomes mired in the sand and is largely unable to reach the competitors at the end of their 40-mile leg for the day, so they have little food or shelter. Chet, predictably, reacts to the crisis by driving off into the sand dunes, ostensibly to look for help, curling into a ball on the front seat, and taking a nap. Ellen notices his absence and goes after him, chews him out royally, and tells him how to take control of the situation (“loudly and efficiently”). This actually helps save the day and Chet’s career, though it puts an end to their relationship.

The other turning point in the book—the one we saw coming from the minute we got Dr. Tom’s back story—is when one of the contestants comes down with acute appendicitis and requires immediate surgery in the middle of the storm, when they barely have shelter, much less a full OR. So when Tom tells Ellen the whole truth about his past and why he can’t ever operate again, she has to whip him into shape as well, in what I found to be a great speech: “I can’t fight you,” she tells him. “I can’t fight an empty shell. I can’t shame you or call you names. But if you don’t operate on him—then I will!”(It actually gave me a shiver to see a VNRN heroine step up, strong and confident, in a way that few ever have.)

This book has more than the usual VNRN, in part due to the strong backbone of a plot provided by the race; something more than a curiosity about who the nurse was going to marry drives you to keep turning the pages. If parts of the story are predictable, well, I’m willing to overlook that if I care about the characters, and in Ellen I found a strong, intelligent (mostly, except where Chet was concerned) heroine. Tom is also sympathetic, but the growth in his character from hermit to husband was realistic in that it was not completely due to his meeting Ellen; it was already underway when they met. Then there’s a title that actually refers to the storyline with a double entendre, a rarity in VNRNs, when you’re lucky if the title has anything at all to do with the story line (see any of Florence Stonebraker’s novels). Give it a great cover illustration and top it off with a rather cute ending, and other nurse novels pale beside Walk out of Darkness.