Monday, September 3, 2012

Date with Danger?

By Diane Frazer
(pseud. Dorothy Fletcher), ©1966
Cover illustration by Harry Bennett

Nurse Barbara Bradley was returning from a holiday in Spain, but just before the plane landed a woman passenger was taken sick and Barbara was pressed into service by the airline stewardess. She cared for the woman as best she could, and helped her off the plane into the wheel chair that would transport her to the ambulance. Barbara herself had assured the stewardess it would be a wise precaution to radio ahead for it. But just as the ambulance pulled away Barbara realized she was still holding the woman’s bulky handbag. She called after the ambulance, then broke into a run. But Barbara never reached the ambulance. Suddenly the bag was wrenched from her hand, and the next thing she knew she was in the office of Lieutenant McIver of the New York police force. The carryall, it seemed, contained narcotics. Whatever had Barbara gotten herself into: And how was she ever going to get out of it?


“ ‘Tell me, Miss Bradley. Would you recognize this perfect Spanish gentleman if you saw him again?’
“ ‘Of course.’ Then she looked thoughtfully at him. ‘Oh, yes, I think that I would. And yet they … they all look very much alike, though, don’t they?’ ”

Once again, a fantastic cover stiffs us with a mundane story. Barbara Bradley is on the plane back from a week-long vacation in Spain when she is called upon by a flight attendant to help a sick woman in first class. Upon arrival in New York, the woman is bundled onto an ambulance and carted off, leaving Barbara holding the woman’s carry-on bag. Running down the tarmac to try to catch up, she runs smack into Malcolm McIver, the friendly but stern police lieutenant. He drags her off to question her about the narcotics that are most likely in the carry-on bag, and she is shocked!!! that she is being considered as a suspect in such underhanded schemes!!! After 25 pages of questioning, he figures out that she’s innocent, because “part of our training includes a pretty good course in human psychology.”

Then the lieutenant gets the idea to have Barbara return the case to the “ill” woman and scope out the crooks’ lair at the same time. Now they have to meet for coffee and doughnuts, and dinner at an Italian bistro, to go over it all again and again. And to exchange meaningful glances, of course. Finally she thinks she’s prepared, and off she goes, to discover that the gang is looking to hire a nurse to perpetrate a similar plot, apparently, for their next outing. When she calls Malcolm at home to give him the update, a woman answers the phone, and the children in the background are making a lot of noise. Barbara is devastated, convinced that Malcolm is a married man looking for a little action on the side: “He had acted like a man, not like a police officer,” she sighs. After book after book of the woman vs. nurse debate, it was a rare treat to see men’s lives classified in the same way.

When she finally gets to fill Malcolm in, he seems detached and disinterested. Fine, she thinks, she’ll get to the bottom of this on her own. She makes a few calls to nursing agencies and finds one that has just hired a nurse for an overseas tour—this must be the gang! But before she can learn anything else, she’s abducted by a cab driver who picks her up after her evening shift at the hospital. She’s carted off to a house on Long Island, where she meets the Spanish ringleader of the gang! He convinces her that her only way to avoid being killed by the thugs in the kitchen downstairs is if he tells them that “this lady is very near and very dear to me and I do not wish her harmed.” The only way he’s going to tell them that is if she is very friendly to him—nudge, nudge, wink, wink—and then he’s pushing her onto the bed…

And cue the police, guns a-blazing. Not that this is a spoiler or anything, because it’s painfully obvious that this was coming. As is the truth about Lt. McIver’s home life. In fact, almost everything about this book is perfunctory, right down to Barbara’s doctor fianc√©, who is “a little bit too stuffy,” one of those medicine men destined for a posh yet meaningless practice on Park Avenue. If the question is, Date with Danger? the answer should be an emphatic, No, thanks, I have another engagement.

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