Sunday, August 18, 2013

Nurse Greer

By Joan Garrison
(pseud. William Neubauer), ©1954

Pretty young Nurse Mary Greer suddenly found herself the center of a shocking scandal that brought a bitter attack on her professional integrity, an end to her engagement to Paul Tate and threatened Paul’s chances of being the next mayor of the town of Port West. When wealthy old Mr. Clarke left his fortune to the nursing home where Mary worked he disinherited a conniving niece and a weakling nephew who weren’t about to let their uncle’s riches slip through their fingers. Their charges of “undue influence” against Mary and the home brought Nurse Greer’s fighting spirit to the fore. But they also brought pressures from Paul who urged Mary to compromise her principles and avoid any further unpleasantness. After all, Paul was running for office and he valued public opinion, perhaps even more than truth. Truth mattered to Mary, mattered more than anything. And so he rolled up her sleeves and prepared to fight it out—alone, if necessary. She found a valiant ally in Bill Underwood, a newspaper man with an eye for a good story, an innate respect for truth and, as it turned out, a grade A case on Nurse Greer.


“Know any girls, Pop? She can be old or young, fat or lean, just as long as she can cook and wash socks properly and keep a fellow’s shoes in order.”

“Girls kill. You think they don’t, Son. You walk up the aisle with them and you smell the orange blossoms and you see ’em in white and you say to yourself, ‘Say! This is pretty durn good.’ Only thing is, they kill. You start supporting ’em, Son. And it goes on year after year. And you grow old. And you tucker out, and the first thing you know you’re dead, and there they are spending the insurance they made you buy.”

“She was very attractive. He liked the feathery arrangement of her auburn hair, the animation of her sparkling hazel eyes. He liked the tan gabardine suit she wore. He liked her figure. His intensely male nature was charmed, and then she smiled coolly and she became merely another woman to him.”

“ ‘That will be fine, Bill. Just toot your horn and I’ll come scampering.’ Really, she thought later, she’d sounded positively eager and desperate! Her mother, of course agreed. ‘Oh, fine,’ she exclaimed in Mary’s bedroom. ‘A man crooks a finger and you go running. Don’t you remember any of the things I’ve taught you? A decent, maidenly reserve! One time in ten, perhaps, a pleasant yes, but only if the fellow has worked hard for it, and only with the sweet air of making a very kind and generous concession.’ ”

“In another age, he thought, she’d have made a fine pirate.”

“You may have my permission to seize your dreadful instruments and have at my poor, helpless body.”

“Lord love men, she thought, they were strange.”

“I was so sure that if I could just dress decently I’d make a nice marriage.”

Nowhere will you find more terminally ill wealthy people than in nurse novels, and Mary Greer is yet another kind, generous nurse benefitting from a last-minute discussion with an attorney. It’s curious that the author bothered to make her a legatee at all, however, since Mary’s “inheritance” is the promise of a job at the nursing home where she currently works—indeed, it is pointed out by several people throughout the book that since she already has what the will is promising her, she isn’t really benefitting at all. But the nursing home where she works will receive enough money to build and run another building where poor elderly people can take up residence, and it is for this ideal that Mary takes up her sword when dear dead Mr. Clarke’s scoundrel relatives, niece and nephew Harriet and Frank Clarke, threaten a lawsuit to block the will unless the nursing home agrees to give them half the estate.

Enter Paul Tate, Mary’s fiancé, who is running for Mayor of Port West. He’s behind in the polls, and tells Mary that the scandal that a lawsuit against her would bring will damage his campaign, and he asks her to settle. She, of course, is appalled that he would sell out the old folks so quickly, and their engagement comes to an abrupt end when she goes to the local newspaper and gives them a statement to that effect. But all is not lost for Mary’s love life; in the course of breaking off publicly with Paul, Mary meets Bill Underwood, the newspaper’s editor, and they soon start dating. She admires his dogged pursuit of the truth, and his restraint in not publishing everything he knows, and that he stands by her when she has her day in court. There she pulls out her trump card, a letter written to her by the late Mr. Clarke, which she reads aloud—up to a point, where she stops and asks Harriet Clarke if she should continue, it being clear that Mr. Clarke is about to reveal a certain breach of ethics on his niece’s part. Harriet instantly decides to drop the suit, and soon the architects are breaking ground on the new nursing home building.

Now Paul is back again, his interest in Mary rising with his numbers in the polls. Mary agrees to go on a picnic with him, but she is not as wild about him as she used to be. We’re not, either; he has a penchant for saying things like, “Up and at ’em, woman. History says it’s women who get the meals on the tables for mighty men.” But Bill has stopped calling Mary, so she reluctantly agrees to a few evenings with Paul. In the interim, Paul has found a discrepancy in the town’s accounting—$100,000 has gone missing. He’s not elaborating on the details, just saying that it’s up to the present mayor to explain. The mayor is saying that he never took any money and can’t explain the discrepancy, and it’s starting to look like Paul might actually win the election, after all. He asks Mary to marry him again, but she’s not biting. “What would happen if once again he had to choose between that love he talked of so glibly, and the political success he seemed to be on the verge of scoring?” Take a wild guess, honey.

But she’s saved from actually answering the question by the telephone: It’s the mayor, inviting her to City Hall for an important meeting. It turns out that Harriet Clarke is threatening to reveal that she made a $500 contribution to Paul’s campaign in exchange for his attempt to persuade Mary to split the estate with her. Harriet will not talk if Mary will give Harriet the letter Mr. Clarke wrote, thereby eliminating any evidence against Harriet. Mary instantly refuses to hand over the letter, choosing honesty over protecting Paul’s campaign. So Harriet tells Bill that the missing money is really just an error of accounting—the money isn’t really gone, it’s just in the wrong account. When Bill prints this in the paper, Paul is forced to withdraw from the race. He then tries to salvage the other thing he’s lost, his relationship with Mary, but she tells him that she thinks he was cheap to tarnish the mayor’s reputation when he knew that the mayor hadn’t stolen any money, that he was fickle to dump her when he thought it would hurt his prospects. And she conveniently decides that she never really loved him in the first place. I hate that; the plot device that insists that what she felt for the man she doesn’t choose wasn’t real love.

This book is better than most nurse novels. It has an actual theme—honesty vs. convenience—and even works hard to present Paul’s case as being an acceptable course of action, suggesting that Paul may have made a better mayor than the incumbent, and that he had chosen the best course of action, despite its moral dubiousness, to achieve that grand—and good—goal. It offers some amusing and sparkling writing, a very spirited appreciation for nursing as a professional calling, and even a very touching section about an elderly patient of Mary’s who dies of cancer. The characters are drawn well, if perhaps a bit too lightly: I admired Mary’s spine, but wished she’d smacked Paul’s face when he ordered her to set the table; I loved bad-girl Harriet, but wished she’d showed more claws. The ending was especially nice, a rarity in these formulaic novels. Joan Garrison only wrote one other nurse novel that I could find, Rehabilitation Nurse, but after Nurse Greer I will pick up that book with high hopes. 

NOTE: After this review was written, I learned that Joan Garrison is the pen name of William Neubauer.                                                                                                                   

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Navy Nurse

By Ruth Ives, ©1962
Cover illustration by H. Kane

When lovely Nurse Pamela West was assigned to Lattimer Air Force Base to be part of the government’s space-training program, she realized that her new work would be both complex and demanding. Pam worked hand in hand with the first eight astronauts as they went through their rigorous training. The chief doctor on the base, tall handsome Steve Forrester was assisted by Sybil Paige, a very attractive young woman. Pam had a great deal of admiration for Dr. Forrester, but she was also aware of Sybil Paige’s hostility, although she could not understand it. Then someone warned her: “Don’t get involved with Steve Forrester. Others have and got nothing but trouble…”


“Hey, angel, I’m ready to orbit anytime if heaven has gorgeous dolls like you waiting.”

“Whenever I stick a pin into you, I draw ice water instead of blood!”

“Other gals have made cow-eyes at the guy before—and got nothing but a hatful of trouble.”

“Delia looked wonderful—in spite of the fact that in a few weeks, the wife of the astronaut was due to ‘launch’ her third child.”

“She’s thirty-five, an old maid, and always will be.”

“His brief smile sent a glow of happiness through Pamela, from the top of her primly starched nurse’s cap down to the tips of her neatly shod feet.”

“I know I’m not supposed to burden him with my feminine foolishness.”

“It was good to have decisions made for her, she thought, as she snuggled down in the red leather bucket seat.”

Pamela West is a lovely blonde from Connecticut when she lands at Lattimer Air Force Base, where she is to take up a new position packed with “the glamour and thrills of space nursing.” Not that she’ll actually be working in space, mind you—girls don’t go into outer space, silly!—but she’s assisting with some vague tests involving oscillators and G-force simulators on eight men who are being groomed for two spots on a spaceship that will soon be orbiting Earth.

She’s arrived with a broken heart, as her fiancé was killed in a plane crash, apparently just a month ago. But lo, upon arriving in Arizona, she meets Col. Dr. Steve Forrester, and meets up with Barney Steele, the man who talked her and Johnny out of eloping a week before his fatal crash and coincidentally is now one of the astronaut candidates. But she’s not had her first shower after arriving on base before “curious excitement stirred her.  It wasn’t just that Steve was tall or handsome or competent and admirable in his profession. It was something chemical, perhaps—or something magical, induced by the spangled desert sky that reeled overhead.” And less than a week later, she decides she’s in love with the man—and is fighting for her career against the sabotage of Dr. Sybil Paige, the lady doctor who’s trying to get her own hooks into the doc. Steve does have something to say on the matter, however, and takes Pamela out on a horseback ride into the desert and kisses her. “What do you feel, Pam?” he asks her. “Is it what I feel, too?” It is, to be sure, but she tells him that she’s afraid that her involvement with him will jeopardize her career. He says he understands how she feels—and then, back at the base, gives her the cold shoulder for a week.

She’s upset, of course, and feels that she’s ruined her chances with Steve. But there’s Barney Steele to date in the meantime, even though she thinks of him only as a friend. Soon, however, he is blaring to the entire base that Pamela is “his girl,” and Steve is shooting Pamela cold looks. But out of the blue, he asks her to go on a picnic in the desert again, and this time, when he tells her, “I don’t want to take the chance on being rebuffed again,” the sly fox answers, “Try me.” Before he has the opportunity to do so, however, a jet plane crashes half a mile from them, and they have to hike up to the wreck to save the pilot. Steve has a bad leg, though, left over from an accident in his early Navy days, so it’s up to Barney Steele, flown in on the rescue helicopter, to climb down into the canyon to pull the man out. His heroics are somehow leaked to the press, along with the news that Pamela is his fiancée. So it’s back to fish eyes from Steve, and Pamela is sure she’s lost him for good now, because she couldn’t possibly go tell the man that it’s not true. “She wanted to tell him, but how could she do it in the face of his strange bitterness? She could hardly throw herself at him, could she? What value would he place on her love then?”

So she decides to request a transfer off the base and goes to Dr. Sybil Paige who, curiously, is in charge of such things. But at the last minute, Pamela, burning with inner patriotism, says that her work on the space mission is more important that her shattered little heart and tears up her transfer request. In the face of such devotion to career and man, Sybil admits that she has given up her quest to capture Steve—“Don’t be sorry,” she tells Pamela, “my work is enough for me. It will have to be, it seems”—and that’s all it takes for Pamela to chase Steve into the garden and fling herself at him, after all. Then it’s a quick proposal from Steve, accompanied by a little shared wonderment for their mission: “You and I, Pam, can help man in his final effort to break loose from the bonds of earth that have kept man a prisoner for so many, many ages!” Steve gushes. “Our part in it is small, but we can be useful, we can do what we can to help.”

This is easily one of the campiest books I have read in quite some time, and I laughed (or snorted) starting with the first sentence: “The hot desert sun, Pamela West thought, burned as relentlessly as the determination in each of the eight carefully chosen astronaut candidates.” And the gems keep popping up at regular intervals: “Clinging to past memories was selfish in the face of the excitement of conquering space,” “the singing in her heart could not be denied,” “it was too late for dreams.” But I just couldn’t bring myself to really like the book. Pamela does not win my respect for abandoning her feelings for her dead boyfriend so quickly—indeed, like most VNRN heroines, she decides that it wasn’t really true love at all—and likewise I cannot trust that her instant devotion to Steve after one week really is the be-all that she thinks it is. I’m not impressed, either, by her refusing to talk to Steve one minute and then rushing to him the next. And there are a lot of loose ends in the book—an astronaut’s wife virtually crippled by anxiety, the question of who leaked the story of Pamela’s alleged engagement to Barney to the press, a psychiatrist’s repeated requests that Pamela share with him her opinions on the fitness of the candidates for the mission—that are summarily abandoned as the next plot twist hoves over the hot desert horizon. I was surprised to find that Ruth Ives is the same author who brought us Congo Nurse, the first review I ever posted to this blog (while this review is my 201st, if you’re counting), as I don’t recall much amusing in that book beyond the New York socialite arriving in Africa with an iron lung. But my impression of that book, that I couldn’t bring myself to care for the characters and found the ending to be too perfunctory, holds true for this one. The camp factor is off the charts in Navy Nurse, and this alone makes it worth reading, but it won’t be winning any VNRN awards.