Saturday, February 22, 2014

Doctor Garth

By Elizabeth Hoy, ©1959

Cover illustration by Paul Anna Soik
“What exactly is an honorary?” Joan Langden asked her fellow nurses on her first day at St. Angela’s.
“A visiting consultant—either physician or surgeon,” explained the senior. “Usually they are men with big reputations. They give their services to the hospital free.”
“Oh!” though Joan softly. So Garth at twenty-nine was an “honorary.” An important surgeon with a reputation. She had known only vaguely of his connection with St. Angela’s and hadn’t been sure just what it was. It warmed her heart to hear the quick commendation of him in this girl’s voice. It made her glow with secret happiness that she might see him soon at his work … but although Joan had known Doctor Garth most of her life, she now found there were many things she didn’t understand about him. Why did he make her feel she was something “special” to him and yet keep so distant? And what was his connection with the pretty mother and her son on whom he was to operate? The story of Joan and Doctor Garth is an unusually appealing one.
“There was no use being a nurse if you were going to be squeamish.”
“It would be good indeed if a heart could be no more and no less than Miss Don was describing it, a little chalk sketch on a blackboard, a queer, impersonal muscle with complicated vascular and arterial equipment, a bundle of valves and pumps that had nothing to do with aching and grieving, that could not possibly lie like a lump of stone in a person’s breast day after day!”
Joan Langden is a 21-year-old nurse from the English countryside who has been in love with 29-year-old Dr. Garth Perros since she was knee-high to a tea table. She’s just starting her nurse’s training in the hospital where he is a surgeon, and all is going swimmingly between them until the arrival of the adorable seven-year-old Ivan Petrovna, stricken with appendicitis, and his mother, ballet dancer Vera. From the moment he claps eyes on Vera, Garth is “ashen” and walking around like a zombie. Soon enough, Joan learns the horrific truth: Garth knew Vera eight years ago, and the little tyke Ivan is the product of their friendship.
Joan is almost literally hysterical with this news, acting as if she has learned that Garth is a serial axe murderer with anal warts. “Garth was lost to her,” Joan wails, and she is incable of even speaking to looking at Garth, much less speaking to him. “She wanted to be done with him now and forever. He had failed her,” she moans. Eventually, however, Garth forces her into a corner, where he offers her an explanation: He is actually married to Vera, though they had only gotten hitched because she needed a green card, and stayed together for just one summer before she took off, and he had been unable to track her down. So after 25 pages of Joan’s frantic heartbreak over Garth’s bastard child, now that the poor boy has been legitimized, we relive the sloppy hysterics anew over his marriage: “Garth was lost to her hopelessly and forever! The dream of her whole girlhood was burned to ashes. Garth! her heart cried in anguish. Garth!” And there’s another 25 pages of pale cheeks, stony looks, sobbing in bed, and sickening jerks of the heart now that we know that he’s not just a father, but a husband as well.
Eventually Garth corners Joan again and tells her that Vera will agree to a divorce if he promises never to see Ivan again, so will Joan marry him when it’s all fixed? After thinking it over, though, Joan selflessly decides that she cannot accept Garth’s proposal of marriage—if she turns him down, Garth will stay with Vera, and, more importantly to everyone concerned, with Ivan, who needs a father. And indeed, soon Vera and Ivan have moved into Garth’s flat, and Ivan is the happiest boy ever! But if Garth and Vera couldn’t last more than a summer when it was just the two of them, things aren’t going to last that even long now that there’s the boy to consider as well. Vera, it turns out, is unhealthily obsessed with Ivan, refusing to allow him to go to school or even have friends his own age. She is furious that Garth wants her to give up the stage, and has her Russian friends over for vodka and caviar and loud, brash parties. Take a wild guess as to how we dispose of Garth’s bride.
But before she goes, Vera—who until now had been a largely sympathetic character and even a friend of Joan’s—becomes “the poor girl with her mind half crazed at last, hiding her son in that poverty-stricken cottage, changing her name, half-starving herself, driven on by the senseless fears which were a legacy from her terrible, tragic childhood.” It’s as if VNRN authors can’t bring themselves to treat these up-until-now noble characters so shabbily unless they give them a hideous makeover first, a literary insult to injury. Furthermore, even before Vera is dispatched, all the utter impossibility of being with Garth, the pages upon pages of wailing and gnashing teeth, are utterly forgotten. “Her heart was singing suddenly as she slipped on her soft fur coat, thinking that after all it was she who had the most precious part of Garth Perros’ allegiance in spite of all that lay between them. Vera might have his name—his son. But to herself he had given his love.” Which she’d had from chapter one, but it wasn’t much consolation then, so why is it now?
For all my carping, this is mostly an agreeable book. True, Joan’s weeping is a bit much, and the wild oscillations of her logic when it comes to Garth are hard to follow. But the writing is pleasant, if not as stellar as that which brought us Nurse Tennant. Elizabeth Hoy knows how to create real emotion in her readers, and this book, if not the best, is a pleasant outing, worth taking.

Monday, February 17, 2014

San Francisco Nurse

By Barbara Grabendike, ©1964

Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti
As a nurse, Bret Ames had always dreamed of marrying a doctor, yet when handsome Dr. Nels Larson proposed, she began to have her doubts. Strong, yet gentle, he was the kind of man a girl could lean on. But that was just the trouble. Was he too self-sufficient? Somehow she found herself irresistibly drawn to Dick Travers who needed her care and her love, but who belonged to another woman.
“He’s under sixty and male—that makes him just your type.”
“Half of you is twice as much as any other woman.”
“I won’t deny your husband’s obvious charms, but charms were meant for bracelets, not marriage.”
“Why is it that the unhappy people of this world hold so much power over the happiness of others?”
“How those smashing waves and rough rocks must be torturing his tender stumps!”
“I didn’t lose my head, just my legs.”
I’ve waited a while for a nurse novel as campy as this one—and camp is something I hold quite dear. So it is with disappointment that I must declare that as much as I wanted to adore this book, the story line just couldn’t match the zingy one-liners. Besides, I was disappointed that a novel called San Francisco Nurse gave us little apart from a dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf—where only tourists venture—of that fine city.
When Chief of Nurses Bret Ames first claps eyes on Dick Travers, he is a “sour apple.” In for a nephrectomy after stones destroyed his kidney, he is as mean as they come—and now, with just one kidney, “only half a man,” he despairs. But she has a way with these types, and so she gladly takes on the challenge of trying to perk him up. Darn it, though, he is just so stubborn! “Look, Little Miss Sunshine,” he snaps at her, “you can save the routine for vaudeville, it may come back some day and you’ll need it.” You can see why after just a couple of minutes of his bitterness, she’s ready to throw in the towel, and not just because “she felt piqued at being so thoroughly ignored. There was no admiration in those dark eyes when he looked at her tall, well-distributed figure.” The nerve!
She soon finds out what his problem is—it’s Virginia Travers, Dick’s malevolent wife, who drove him to the brink of bankruptcy, left him for a wealthier man, and then nearly ruined his reputation when she found out he was in love with one of his graduate students. Her sugar daddy played out and the grad student long frightened away, she’s returned to Dick’s side, insisting he take her back. “I know now what his trouble is—a she-devil wife,” Bret concludes.
Under the terrible strain of his loss of manhood and the return of his evil wife, Dick refuses to smile for Bret. She eventually loses her cool with him, calls him—to his face!—an “ungrateful sour apple,” and then surprisingly kisses him full on the lips. “Dear God, I’m in love with him! Completely, crazily in love!” Bret thinks to herself. And so we have yet another dopey heroine falling for a man who has been nothing but mean to her. It isn’t too long before he’s taking her in his arms and kissing her, but given the Mrs. stomping around the hospital on her stilettos, those scenes are few and followed by guilty quarrels, as Dick sees no way out of his marriage.
So, in an attempt to cool her jets, Bret oddly decides to go visit Mrs. Travers at her home on the Berkeley campus of State University (and times have certainly changed; she drives across the Bay Bridge at 35 mph and is not killed, and the toll is 25 cents—now it’s $6 during rush hour). There, she tells Mrs. Travers that she is going to marry Dr. Nels Larsen, a fabulous doctor and all-around swell guy. “Self-possessed, he needed no one’s reassurance or approbation,” she thinks of Nels on their second date. “She would never lose her identity as Nels’ wife. He would not demand that her every waking thought be devoted to him—he did not need that kind of reassurance.” Sounds like a peach! Naturally she’ll never be able to love him.
When Dick finds out about this, though—and Bret is oddly shocked and furious that the Mrs. should pass along the 411 about the engagement to her spouse—Dick turns right back into that sour apple. He’s nasty, cruel, and shows up at Bret’s engagement party to slap her with the news that he got divorced four days ago—it apparently not crossing his mind to let her know before the announcement party—and chews her out for not waiting for him, when he gave her no reason whatsoever to do so. He also dares to say that “Nels will never give you the chance to be yourself,” when this is the opposite of what Bret had thought of him. “Nels needs nothing from you to make him a man!” he claims, and then clubs her with his parting shot: “I became a man for you. But I overrated your courage by asking you to be a woman for me.” Whatever that means, it completely overlooks his effeminate lack of kidney.
But now all we have left is to undo the engagement between Nels and Bret and all will be right. For your further enjoyment, there’s a side plot about a young man whose legs had to be amputated after a car crash, his engagement to a nurse friend of Bret’s, and his insistence that he cannot marry Sue unless he, too, can “be a man,” even with mere stumps for legs. I’m not sure what all this manliness is all about and why it’s so important to the gents in this book, but it really doesn’t seem to be worth the trouble for them or for their lady friends.
I was also not impressed at the way Nels is built up as a great guy in the beginning of the book, only to be depicted as a completely different man when Bret needs to dump him. His character change lets Bret off the hook too easily; she should have to man up herself, acknowledging the simple truth that she can’t marry Nels because she loves someone else, regardless of what an ass that man is, and not pretend her fickleness is due to any alleged flaw Nels possesses. She neither has to make any effort to go after Dick, because the very second she decides that she’s through with Nels, Dick’s hand drops on her shoulder. So while the zingers are hilarious fun, and these alone make San Francisco Nurse worth reading, the plotting just doesn’t have the backbone to carry this book to the top of the mark.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Prison Nurse

By Dr. Louis Berg, ©1934
Young Dr. Evan Dale was in prison, paying society’s just price for transgressing its commandments. This courageous outlaw was the man Judy Grayson loved, but when his life hung in the balance, the only person she could turn to was powerful, ambitious Dr. Hartmann, who wanted Judy for himself. Dr. Louis Berg, out of his years of experience as a prison psychiatrist, has written this frank and shocking story of actual life in the twilight world of men stripped of everything but their primitive desires—and of the lovely girl who came to live among them.
“Between fighting off internes who made passes at her in the ward kitchen, evading the attentions of elderly patients with Romeo complexes and parrying the advances of the attending staff, Judy became a nurse and a woman of the world at one and the same time.”
Judy Grayson’s first job out of nursing school is at the local prison, where she works with Dr. Jack Stewart, the overseeing surgeon, whom she knows from the hospital where she trained. Jack is in love with Judy and wants to marry her, of course, but Judy does not reciprocate Jack’s feelings, even if Jack is a handy guy to have around to take Judy to dinner and out dancing. She is a bit horrified by Jack’s reason for wanting to practice medicine in the prison: “That place is a surgeon’s paradise,” he tells her. “I can get more surgical experience there in one month than I could in six at Medical Center.” She calls this attitude “cold-blooded,” but I find it more practical and, in fact, true; just because you are interested in acquiring experience and seeing unusual cases doesn’t preclude you from providing good healthcare, as Jack is demonstrated to do at the prison on more than one occasion.
In fact, the resident who is supposed to be on call to the prison, Dr. Gustav Hartmann, is really the abomination. He shows up drunk at the clinic, never comes when paged, fails to order life-saving medications despite repeated requests, and is skimming pain medication out of the clinic to sell to Red Mike, the inmate with the warden’s ear. (Dr. Hartmann does not, however, demonstrate any designs on Judy, despite the promises made by the back cover blurb, above.)
Red Mike and his gang have occupied the dormitory that gives onto the hospital ward and is supposed to be reserved for young patients, to protect them from the “wolves” in the general population before they are transferred to the “farm.” There they sleep between linen sheets, dine on steak and wine, and stroll through the hospital—indeed, even the entire prison—at will. If you can believe it, Judy even encounters Red Mike in the city hospital one day, where he has gone on leave to visit a sick friend. Red Mike is so thoroughly in charge of the prison that he even has a hand in Judy’s hiring, telling the warden, “It ain’t often that we get a nifty piece of fluff like that around here, and I’m sorta sizin’ her up for myself. I need a relief from ‘fags.’ You understand now, don’t you? She’s my stuff.” He pays for his luxurious life by selling drugs and whiskey to inmates, and by skimming off prison supplies for the warden’s own fencing business, so there’s no use complaining about the shocking goings-on to the warden, as Judy quickly finds out!
Her ally in all of this is Dr. Evan Dale, who is six months into a three-year sentence for having performed an illegal abortion on a family friend who was going to kill herself if she had to carry the baby to term. So while the book wants us to feel horrified by the concept of abortion, Judy firmly believes that Dr. Dale was justified in performing this one and should not be imprisoned for a “pardonable mistake.” Frequently people who are opposed to something in theory don’t have such a hard time with it when it applies to them personally. Dr. Dale is the “inmate nurse,” and spends his days doing the work that Dr. Hartmann should be doing if he weren’t sleeping off his latest bender. So Dr. Dale spends a lot of time with Judy, and proves his worth early on when she swoons after delivering morphine injections to the prison’s addicts (don’t ask), and he catches her before she drops to the cold, stone floor.
The bulk of the book follows the fates of various inmates, Dr. Dale and Judy’s blossoming romance, and Red Mike’s “sizin’ up” of Judy. It ends fairly predictably, though the prison is allowed to plod along in its corrupt and sinful ways at book’s end. I was quite surprised to find the copyright date of 1934 on this book, which makes it one of the oldest VNRNs I’ve met. It certainly is dated, with its cute slang—can, fish, scratch, wise—all hung with apostrophes like ornaments on a Christmas tree. The nicknames are adorable too: Wouldn’t you like to hang out with Cabaret Lou, Broadway Rose, Frankie the Dope, Tough Tony, Three Ball Johnny, and Ice Wagon Reilly? The book is not badly written, but I think most of its excitement is supposed to be in the drug use and homosexuality, which we are supposed to find “shocking” and even, to quote our heroine Judy Grayson, “disgusting.” At this point in time, however, it all seems fairly straightforward, so unless you’re particularly interested at a look at prisons as they were 80 years ago, this book doesn’t have much to offer.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Nurse against the Town

By Jane Converse
(pseud. Adele Kay Maritano), ©1966
“Murderer” they whispered of the man she loved. Why did the people of Barfield avoid their doctor? Why did they whisper “criminal” about its director, Dr. Jerry Sterling, when they talked of the mysterious death of his beautiful wife, Naomi? And what was driving Naomi’s brother, Henry Barfield, to use his membership on the hospital board to ruin Dr. Sterling? Desperately, pretty Ellen struggled to find the answers. Pitted against her consuming love for Jerry Sterling were the hostility of the neighbors and the terrible suspicious she could not shake free from her own mind. In a story shaken with passion, hiding at its heart a dreadful secret, Ellen Whitaker finds herself all but alone as the nurse against the town.
“Ellen’s mind had posed the awesome questions about Jerry Sterling’s innocence. Her heart answered them.”
Ellen Whitaker has left her post in Chicago and come back to Barfield, Colorado, her home town, for one simple reason: She is desperately in love with Dr. Jerry Sterling. She knew him when she was just a kid, see—though “the senior class president and undisputed scholastic leader at Barfield High had barely known of a shy, chestnut-haired freshman’s existence”—and was so besotted even then that “his decision to become a doctor had spurred Ellen’s desire to become a nurse.” When he went off to college, she had “lived” for holidays when she might catch “only surreptitious glances” of him—and then she saw nothing at all of him until now, eight years later. Her devotion to Dr. Sterling is held up as an admirable thing, but to me it seems like a very unhealthy obsession.
In the interim, Dr. Sterling married beautiful heiress Naomi Barfield, but she was found dead in a ditch a year later, victim of “an illegal operation,” wink, wink. It’s rumored that she ran around with a lot of men and that Dr. Sterling tried to end her pregnancy but botched the job. Never mind that he has an airtight alibi for the time of death, the locals won’t have anything to do with him or the hospital he runs in town, so it’s uninhabited pretty much all the time. Naturally, Ellen feels this is an opportunity that she should jump into: working at an empty hospital hoping to catch glimpses of Dr. Sterling, who, widower for a year as the book opens, might begin to start looking around any minute now. But since he really only passes her in the hall every now and then, it’s not clear why he might opt for her. While she’s waiting for him to notice her, she befriends Dr. Sterling’s best friend, Porter Hubbard, and they even start dating, though she’s made it clear to him that her heart lies elsewhere.
All this is set up by page 20, and the rest of the book is an endless back-and-forth between Porter and Ellen about how they can help Dr. Sterling and whether Porter can convince Ellen to marry him. Eventually a Dark Secret is brought to light, but it doesn’t really change anything: We still don’t know who killed Naomi. Or actually, we probably do: We find out about an old doctor who had made a small practice of giving abortions, and who had committed suicide “right after that awful thing with Naomi.” But we’ve been aware of him since about midway through the book, so if he’s the killer, neither we nor the townspeople of Barfield should be at all surprised. We don’t know who the father of Naomi’s baby is, nor are we likely to, since it is common knowledge that she slept with pretty much every man in town. Yet, somehow, Dr. Sterling’s reputation is restored, and somehow manages to fall into Ellen’s arms at the end.
After Surf Safari Nurse, brilliant in so many ways, I will cut Jane Converse a lot of slack, but this is a phoned-in job, not worthy of her. Nothing happens throughout the book, the “climax” is actually irrelevant to the plot, and Dr. Sterling is such a complete stranger to both us and to Ellen that her infatuation with him is more than a little creepy. The writing is pleasant, as Jane Converse usually is, but it takes more than good sentences to make for a good story, and Nurse against the Town is anything but that.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Disaster Nurse

By Peggy O’More, ©1968

Mina Anne was troubled. She had loved Paul ever since the accident that had brought him to Cutler Hospital. But—one thought turned her days into torment. How could she love a man and still despise his outlook on life? How could she marry a man who so violently disapproved of the job she was doing?


“Put two girls and a can opener in the kitchen, and you have a feast.”
“For a physician, you are really very uninformed in a certain field of diagnosis.”
Mina Anne Richards is, in addition to one of the more awkwardly named VNRN heroines I’ve met, a public health nurse. She’s concerned about a population of migrant workers who are living without basic plumbing or running water, and now they’re about to be evicted from their squatting grounds, apparently because “the camp was a veritable breeding ground for communicable diseases.” You could say the same about hospitals and elementary schools, but whatever.
Mina Anne’s boyfriend, attorney C. Paul Parker, is pressing her to give up her job and marry him, but she’s not completely convinced. Paul is particularly earnest in his proposal because the president of a large company will give Paul’s firm his business but only if Paul marries Mr. Chalder’s daughter—a very peculiar arrangement in a number of ways—and Paul will be off the hook if he’s already married, he explains to Mina Anne. When she objects, he responds, “Once we’re married, I’ll be able to show you where your perspective is out of focus.” Curiously, Mina Anne neither flings a skillet at his head nor shoves him out the door, but continues to consider, no matter how tepidly, his proposal.
The book gives us a lot of back-and-forth between Mina Anne and Paul, and even some mildly interesting if dated debates about welfare—one poor family with only one pair of shoes between the two children refuses to accept welfare, and Mina Anne debates whether this is admirable or “false pride.” A casual dinner or two with Dr. Louis Marquand, her boss, and then, at the book’s halfway point, it begins to snow. When Mina Anne and her roommate Joan, trapped indoors for several days by the blizzard, begin to snap at each other, wise medico Mina Anne chalks it up to dehydration: “The department warned us of the possibility.”
But then, even worse, the weather warms, and now it’s raining. And raining. The river is rising, and Mina Anne sets out in her galoshes and mackintosh to rescue, well, pretty much everyone: a man with an infected cut on his arm, a farmer and his family, a cattle rancher and his family, the entire migrant camp, a woman having a baby, a family trapped in a grove of trees, Paul’s parents. Just when you think we’re going to have a minute for a sandwich and a nap, someone is tapping on Mina Anne’s shoulder again and she’s off in the chopper with Dr. Louie. Sixty-plus long pages later, it’s finally over, and suddenly Paul has fallen madly for roommate Joan, whose “love would be an ever-burning searchlight on the roiled waters.” Even worse, a marginal character takes Mina Anne in his arms out of nowhere, and she agrees to allow him “to take care of her, not let her take care of him,” if you think you can take it.
Peggy O’More Blocklinger, whose work we have seen before under the pen name Jeanne Bowman, is not my favorite author, which should not surprise the regulars. In Disaster Nurse, she manages to do a little better than usual, which is still, clearly, not all that great. Her condescending psychobabble is slightly less prevalent, but we’re regularly treated to bon mots such as, “Premonitions are usually based on logical deductions distorted by emotions,” “Paul’s poverty was restricted vision,” and “This time I am thinking of our state inventory tax, of merchants buying heavily for the Christmas trade and being stuck with merchandise and having to pay taxes on what the weather kept them from selling.”
O’More’s main theme about poor migrant workers could hold some interest, but instead of making her points by showing them through her story, she hectors us with long pedantic lectures. When Joan ponders why the migrant families don’t take more pride in their admittedly temporary homes, instead letting them get so run down, Mina Anne climbs up on her soapbox: “I think it is an inner rebellion at their status. They can’t pinpoint the cause; it’s too ephemeral, ever-changing. So they rebel against their fellow man.” Then Joan jumps on the bandwagon: “They believe not: ‘The world owes me a living’ but rather, ‘The world owes me the right to earn a living.’ And when they can’t earn it, they don’t blame an impersonal escalating automation coinciding with population explosion; they blame those who have managed to maintain at least the appearance of economic stability.” Thanks, Professors, for elucidating these contemporary sociopychological tensions. I feel so much better now.
I’ve never met a Peggy O’More book I could recommend—unless it was so catastrophically bad that it could be worth a peek, like slowing down when you drive past a car accident (I’m looking at you, Conflict for Nurse Elsa). This book is neither good nor bad enough to bother with, however, so you’re best leaving this disaster to fend for itself.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cruise Nurse

By Joan Sargent
(pseud. Sara Jenkins Cunningham), ©1960
Cover illustration by Robert Maguire
Sheila Dorrance was young and lovely, and determined to make the most of her God-given assets. With memories of her impoverished youth always in back of her mind, she set out to use her nurse’s training as a passport to wealth and luxury. And the job as ship’s nurse on the pleasure liner Southwind certainly provided ample opportunity. There were any number of wealthy playboys aboard, and more than one of them was interested in wining and dining—and maybe even marrying—the pretty young nurse. But in spite of her longing for luxury, Sheila found herself falling for the Southwind’s dedicated young medical officer. And she knew that before her job as cruise nurse was over, she would have to decide whether her destiny was to be ruled by her head … or her heart!
“You couldn’t be sure how an intern might turn out; he might be one of those who could think only of serving humanity and would never bother to collect a bill.”
“You never can tell young people anything. They always know everything.”
“After we’re back home, I want your job to be me.”
Our heroine, 21-year-old Sheila Dorrance, is admittedly shallow: She decided to be a nurse so she could “meet a doctor or a prosperous patient, marry him, and never again have to worry about being poor.” She is quite candid with her aspirations with Dr. Peter Stowe, the young doctor on board the cruise ship where she is working; he turns out to be one of the noble types who interned at a local charity hospital and so is off her banquet table. But after an initial spat about it, he seems to forgive her, because after all, she’s a very competent nurse.
Sheila soon meets Clay Masters, an apparently wealthy young man with pressed white linen pants. Soon he’s beauing her around the Caribbean ports—she’s on the night shift her first week—and she’s dreaming of sparkly diamond rings. But she is also growing to like—take a guess—the good Dr. Peter, who is a sturdy, dependable sort and less inclined toward frivolous parties than Clay. So one evening, when Clay loses his head on a moonlight deck and kisses her a bit too much, Sheila panics and tells him that she isn’t ready to be serious. She soon tells her friend Peter, explaining that though she hasn’t ascertained Clay’s net worth, she hasn’t really thought about it much, only that she has fun with him, and that this isn’t enough to base a marriage on. He laughs, “Sheila Dorrance, you’re a fraud. You’re not honestly looking for a rich man. That’s just the way you talk.”
Soon Sheila is encouraging Clay to take out mousy Elise Ferrier, a browbeaten millionairess whose mother all but chains Elise to the radiator to keep her under her thumb. Mrs. Ferrier has been felled by her appendix and is recuperating ever so slowly in sick bay, leaving Elise to her own devices for the first time in her life, and she likes it!
The book trots along predictably, but there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s an enjoyable ride. The scenery—Havana, Haiti, Kingstown—is well-drawn, and as the plot progresses we are offered increasing glimpses into people’s characters. Clay, says his sister, enjoys taking Elise out because he can boss her around, and “this one would mean ‘love, honor, and obey’ if she said it.” When Sheila expresses surprise at this characterization, Angela Masters replies, “You didn’t know him very well, did you?” Touché, but to Sheila’s credit, this was one of her own objections to getting too deeply involved with Clay. Though the poor little rich girl does grow a bit of a spine, standing up for herself when her mother tries to insist that Elise stop seeing Clay, she doesn’t make any superhuman recovery. She’s always going to be emotionally fragile, Sheila realizes: “Elise would always need somebody who could make most of her decisions, somebody she thought wise beyond anything human.”  The thought of feeling that way about someone makes Sheila herself snort in disgust, so we are left to feel pleased that Sheila was saved from Clay—who in the end turns out not to be rich, after all, so double phew! And on a tour of the Trinidad countryside, where the children are mostly naked with the swollen bellies of severe protein deficiency, Sheila and Peter’s taxi breaks down, and Sheila spends an afternoon at the hut of a rural woman and her seven children, coming to realize what real poverty is.
This is a fun little book, with a pleasant population, interesting armchair travel, and an occasional dose of humor. The writing is quite good as far as VNRNs go, and the plausible evolution of the characters is a welcome surprise. My only disappointment is that the book backing this Ace double novel, Calling Dr. Merryman, is not another nurse novel, and so is wasted on me. But apart from that, this is a cruise worth taking, and though there seems to be just a pitiful handful, I will look forward to more novels from Joan Sargent.