Monday, September 2, 2013

A Nurse Abroad

By Marion Marsh Brown, ©1963
Originally Kathy Cramer thought of her visit to her Army-based family in Germany as a brief vacation. But it soon became something more important in the life of the lovely, auburn-haired young nurse. First, a handsome, charming, yet strangely elusive young man named Mike Davidson made her pulse beat far faster than normal. Then came a wonderful chance to join the staff of a local army clinic. And finally there was that growing sense of mystery and peril as Kathy stumbled onto a dark conspiracy within the hospital walls. Suddenly the gallant young nurse had to play a new and dangerous role to foil the schemes of the enemies of her country, while pursuing her own campaign to win the man of her heart.
“She jerked open the car door and saw the blood gushing from his chest. Instantly she stepped out of her half-slip and started tearing it in strips. I’m glad I wore a cotton one, she thought.”
“I was never eager to go out with him—but, perhaps, for the good of our country, I should!”
The Candlelight Romance imprint continues its reliable record of producing mediocre tripe with A Nurse Abroad, in which recently graduated nurse Kathy Cramer flies to Frankfurt to spend six weeks with her family before starting a new job back in the States on August 1. We know this book is half a century old by the fact that on the flight over, Kathy is able to step over her sleeping seatmate without waking her and repairs to the lounge with the hunky man across the aisle, Mike Davidson, where she “slid onto a comfortably cushioned, plastic-covered daveno” (a ’50s term for couch) and whiled away five and a half hours eating eggs out of an eggcup and falling in love.
Arriving in Germany, she gives Mike her address, he says, “I’ll write to you,” and then he’s gone, leaving her crushed on the curb outside customs. But Mom and Dad and sister Sue are there to pick up her luggage while she manages the shards of her heart, and soon they’re touring German tourist attractions before arriving at the Cramers’ home, Ramstein Air Base, where Mr. Cramer is a dentist. He soon sets up Kathy with a job at the local clinic, working alongside Dr. Gruenig, whom she doesn’t care for—“he’s just not human,” she tells her shocked family, no matter how dreamy he is. He treats all his patients without any compassion, even poor little Johnny Turner, “the spastic.” In contrast, Kathy, when she meets little Johnny, immediately starts asking him how much he’d like a dog, and when “his head jerked pitifully,” Kathy decides that he must have one, though his mother is quite adamant, over several clinic visits, that she sees no pets in Johnny’s future. In her further attempts to convince Dr. Gruenig that kindness is good for his patients, she chats up the 19-year-old pregnant girl from Virginia so that the patient will relax and the doctor can “properly complete his examination.” You know it won’t be long before Dr. Gruenig sees the error of his cold, cold ways.
In the meantime, Kathy’s worrying about clinic pharmacist Herman Heinrich. He’s supposed to be from East Germany, though she notices “something different about his accent” that no one else seems to have observed, and decides “she didn’t trust him. She supposed it was his eyes.” There are other incidents, too, that trouble her—she keeps seeing him leaving different American housing complexes on the base, and spots him on a tourist boat with a group of men she’d noticed in a restaurant just the night before discussing an emerald they were planning to use as a bribe: “By now there was little doubt in Kathy’s mind that Herr Heinrich was working for the Communists.” Dad, as conspiracy-minded as his daughter, promptly goes to the CIA with all this. But who needs the CIA when you have Kathy Cramer, RN, on the job? or plotters dumb enough to discuss their plans in a restaurant loudly enough for other tables to overhear?
And just what is Herman up to? As it happens, Kathy’s dad is in charge of the survival kits that have been placed in the basement of each of the Army housing units to aid residents in the event of a nuclear attack, “if there should be any survivors.” It’s Mr. Cramer’s job to instruct all the families in their unit how to use it, if blankets and can openers have been heretofore unknown to them. After Herman comes to Kathy’s house to ask her on a date, which she reluctantly accepts so as to better keep tabs on him, she’s getting ready for bed—“oh, dear! She was getting very sleepy! And she hadn’t creamed her face”—when she sees Herman leaving her building, an hour after she’d thrown him out of her apartment. She immediately rouses Dad, and the two of them investigate the survival kit in the basement—the seal has been broken! It seems the medicine in the kit has been partly replaced—only the bottles on the left side, and Herman is left-handed! and a pharmacist! with untrustworthy eyes!
The CIA is moving too slowly for Kathy’s liking, so she decides to keep watch from her apartment windows to catch Herman when he returns to finish the job. Fortunately it’s only her second night on guard duty when Herman obligingly pops up. Kathy follows him to the basement, and when he pulls a gun, she reprimands him indignantly: “You wouldn’t dare! I’m a U.S. citizen.” Even Communist saboteurs recognize the power of her nationality, so instead of gunning her down, he just bashes her on the head. But her scream brings three sleeping couples awake, out of bed and their apartments, and into the basement before the slow-witted and slower-moving villain can escape up a single flight of stairs. No wonder Communism is such a failure.
Kathy has clearly missed her calling in not going in for intelligence work—the captured Herman turns out to be a Russian spy—though it turns out that Mike Davidson has, which we discover when he shows up at her bedside, explaining that he couldn’t see her until he’d cleared up this troublesome ring of saboteurs, or at least until she cleared it up for him. Next we know, it’s the following weekend and Kathy and Mike are planning where to get married before returning to the States and Kathy’s new job next week: “The train pulled into another tunnel and there were no more words for quite a while.” Which is about as graphic as VNRNs get.
Even with the overblown mystery of Herman Heinrich and the survival kits—and all the manufactured patriotic hysteria that ensues!!—this book is ho-hum. And devoid of logic: Why bother tampering with a survival kit that wouldn’t be used unless a nuclear bomb had been dropped? The tens or hundreds of people thusly harmed is ridiculously small potatoes in the wake of a bomb that would have killed hundreds of thousands of people, not to mention long on effort for such a small and unlikely return. (In another demonstration of lack of sense, the author dedicated the book to a doctor “who has been helpful in many ways,” and then christened her villain with the same given name as the doctor she wished to honor. It could have been an inside joke, I suppose, but with all the other lapses, I’m not sure.) The writing is not bad enough to make you cringe, but the characters are as perfunctory as Kathy and Mike’s engagement. Even when poor spastic Johnny gets his dog in the end and is promising to gain weight, this feels as hollow and exploitative as the book’s other plot devices. If it’s armchair travel you seek, don’t bother heading abroad with this nurse.

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