Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Nurse to Marry

By Patti Carr 
(pseud. William Neubauer), ©1967
There should have been nothing unusual about a young, handsome multi-millionaire having a hobby. But in Nicholas Meers’ case there was. His hobby was collecting wives—and number five had already cost him a lot more than he bargained for … physically, emotionally and financially. As a nurse, Carol Drake felt sorry for the man. As a woman, she felt confused. And as the rumors began to fly that she would be the sixth Mrs. Meers, she felt herself becoming inextricably involved in a case that could not only destroy her career, but her dreams of happiness—forever.
“Money puts one above the bother of being polite.”
“Hal Brent ordered: ‘Pucker, please.’ ”
It’s not often you get to meet such a collection of nutcases in a single novel, all of them passed off as normal human beings. Our own heroine, Carol Drake, proves herself to be rather unsympathetic right off the bat when she is rudely condescending to her nurse roommate, who’s having a hard time with nursing. According to the all-knowing Carol, Pat isn’t cut out for the profession because she was raised by well-off academics; farm-raised girls like herself, Carol thinks, are best suited for nursing. So when Pat sighs that it’s hard taking care for terminally ill patient, sympathetic Carol snaps, “Be a play nurse in some ad for Noxema if you want just the uniform rather than the work.” I’m not sure why the author felt this would be a helpful addition to the character’s backstory.
As the book opens, Carol has been sent to deliver papers explaining a potential business deal to multimillionaire Nicholas Meers, who will only see “dollies” and not bankers like Carol’s fiancĂ© Hal Brent, who is desperate to obtain Meers’s backing. Meers is so outrageously out of touch with the real world that upon arriving at the bench on his estate where she is waiting for him, he tells her, “Presently, I may converse with you. I’ve not made up my mind.” So the pair sits in silence until her pressing schedule forces her to hand over the papers. During their ensuing short conversation, he can’t remember the names of his wives, refers to himself in the third person, and tells her, “I permit women to smoke in my presence.” Her impression of him, therefore, is that “he’s young, fairly attractive, and very rich,” and she can understand why so many women want to marry him. And so the rumors that she’s to be his sixth are born.
And when the otherwise perfectly healthy Meers is admitted to the hospital for some unspecified tests that will take weeks, Carol gets the job of specialing him. She doesn’t have much to do, since there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with Meers, and though talk swirls of a desperately needed psych consult—ordered after Meers attempts to shoot himself in the head and misses—it never materializes. But while on the job, she learns that Helen Meers, the current wife, has some unspecified hold on her husband that makes him incapable of divorcing her. He’d like to, we are told, because when he attempted to assault her, she fought back with a hard blow to the solar plexus that left him gasping. This is presented as the crowning evidence of Helen’s deviousness, regardless of the fact that this is a pretty clear-cut case of self-defense. Then Carol is sent on a three-day drive to Vancouver to retrieve an envelope from Meers’s safe, which he instantly shreds the minute it’s delivered into his hands back at the hospital.
But what the document was is never revealed. It’s presumed to have been a will, but who cares? Mrs. Meers’s hold over her husband also vaporizes when he offers her a divorce and a paltry $100,000 or enforced residence at one of his homes in India; apparently living in any other of his many homes makes her guilty of abandoning him, and never mind that Mr. Meers has no intention of living in India himself, so if she were there, the pair would still be separated. Carol, for her part, advises Mrs. Meers, “All you have to do is be a proper wife to Mr. Meers. He needs someone who cares about him.” Um, sure. That and a lengthy stay at a psych hospital.
But it’s all moot on the very next page, when Mr. Meers, now out of the hospital, succeeds with his second suicide attempt, a drowning at sea. So what’s the point of the story? Damned if I can figure that out, so this book, annoying at the outset, just remains true to form straight through to the end. As with Ms. Carr’s other book, TV Nurse, I didn’t care for the characters and couldn’t even really find much of a plot worth pursuing. Don’t waste your time with this irritating throwaway.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Nurse Carol

By Maud McCurdy Welch, ©1955
Carol Gabrielson, one of the prettiest student nurses at Riverview Memorial, was about to be graduated when Dr. Steve Barrett returned to the hospital to be resident physician—and her own boss. Steve had helped her through her first student days, and now that he was back, her world seemed wonderfully complete. At least it was until she learned he was to marry lovely Angela Ashby, daughter of the head of Riverview. Carol threw herself into her work with increased dedication, but despite her demanding job and the attentions of other attractive men, she couldn’t stop thinking about Steve—somehow he didn’t look like a man in love, but a man troubled by a dark secret …
“I’m having a nervous breakdown, or perhaps I’m falling in love. The symptoms are similar, aren’t they?”
“Honey, your figure is something you read about in the ads.”
“If you weren’t so darn pretty, I’d be mad at you.”
“Maybe it looked that way, but she wasn’t trying the old trick of domesticity and good food to get a man away from another girl.”
“All women are alike when it comes to men. There’s only one.”
“You think coffee can solve all the problems of the universe.”
Carol Gabrielson has such a cumbersome last name that the staff calls her “Miss G,” and one recurring joke is the string of patients who always manage to mangle it. The 1950s were such simple times; what would they have made of Zbigniew Brzezinski? But somehow Carol manages to stagger along under the weight of such a burden. She’s doing better at book’s open because her childhood friend, Dr. Steve Barrett, has come back to the hospital after a year’s absence, about which he will say nothing, and not only because no one, including his dear friend Carol, ever seems to have tried asking him where he was. She’s just graduated from the nursing school, and has started working as a private duty nurse because she wasn’t asked to join the staff, though everyone wanted her and is very upset that she wasn’t. It turns out that the chief of staff’s daughter, who is maneuvering to marry Steve and is jealous of his brotherly attentions to Carol, somehow managed to block her hire. It does make me concerned for the hospital’s future that they let a non-employee barely out of her teens make these sorts of decisions.
But Carol lands on her feet when she takes an apartment with fellow nurse Lora Breck, a mopey sort who appears unstable and is given to staring off into space and saying things like, “Love can—can make you go a little crazy.” We watch the young ladies renovate their new home into a pleasant retreat complete with a parakeet named Pip that sings songs and talks—he’s quite a parakeet! From here they set off for this job and that job, Carol all the while trying to fend off the wealthy, persistent cad Bill Lennox, who keeps insisting that she marry him. One of her patients is the difficult Mrs. Perrin, who after a few days of wearing Carol to rags takes a terrible turn. Her son Andrew is called in from San Francisco—and he turns out to have been Lora’s fiancĂ© at one time, but Lora had broken the engagement because his domineering mother objected to the match. Though Andrew tries to win Lora back, Lora plans to marry another man she’s been seeing, a worthless check who is minutes away from being indicted on fraud charges.
Carol, meanwhile, is growing increasingly jealous of the catty Angela, who snubs Carol at every opportunity. The pair’s engagement is finally announced in the papers, and Carol is forced to admit to herself that—gasp!—she’s in love with Steve! But I shouldn’t poke too much fun, because here the “shocking” revelation that has been clear to us from page one actually plays out with sincerity and comes across as far less contrived as it does in most other VNRNs.
I need say no more about the plot, as it plays out predictably. Even the reason for Steve’s disappearance is something you probably guessed at. But if it is obvious, I was relieved to find that author M.M. Welch managed to find a different plot here, as the other two books I have read, Nurses Marry Doctors and Country Nurse, shared the same one. And it’s a pleasant read: There are the occasional witticisms along the way, such as when Steve asks Carol, “I suppose you’d call that—er, contraption on your head a hat, or wouldn’t you?” and she replies, “If it isn’t, somebody gypped me out of ten dollars and tax.” The gentle, amiable air of most VNRNs from the 1950s, including Ms. Welch’s prior two, pervades this book as well, and Carol’s comings and goings are enjoyable to watch. Even if it won’t land on the Best Novels list on January 1, 2015, you could do a lot worse than spend an afternoon with Nurse Carol.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Girl in the White Cap

By Margaret Howe, ©1957
Cover illustration by Rudy Nappi
Assignment: With complications ...
Kate Mallory was pretty and red-headed, but as old Dr. John said, “there was no nonsense about her.” That is why he chose her as the nurse for the Vincent case.
The Vincents were a powerful family, and Kate knew that caring for a crippled child in their isolated mansion would be demanding, but her job was not made easier by—
Sam Vincent—the handsome, charming widower who came to need and depend on Kate.
Dr. Sargent—suave and successful, who came to see the baby, but was much more interested in his nurse.
Dr. Peter Vincent—who treated her as a teammate, but who turned out to be the most troubling of all.
“It’s a relief to see a girl with naturally curly hair; also, something that approaches a real female figure.”
“I don’t want every man present to regard my girl as though she were a lollipop.”
Visiting Nurse was a top-ten VNRN of 2011, which has made me eagerly search out more books by Margaret Howe (see also Special Nurse and Debutante Nurse). Unfortunately, none has lived up to the promise of that first book, and The Girl in the White Cap is more of the same disappointment.
Kate Mallory is a nurse at Vincent Memorial on the OB/GYN ward, caring for the nasty hussy Rita Vincent—she’s married one of those Vincents—who is going into premature labor. She’s pissed as hell that being pregnant has ruined her figure, and none too happy that when she gets it back she’ll be saddled with a squalling brat. Or that the nanny will be. But Rita won’t give us too much trouble—she’s dead six pages in, leaving an overly distraught widower, Sam Vincent, with nought to do but hire Kate to care for his son Daniel.
At home, Sam has nothing to do with the baby; he’s too busy struggling with his conscience, for his physician has decided that it’s Sam’s fault that his wife died: “He indulged her and humored her and accepted her tantrums. High tension and hysterics are poor preparation for what that girl faced.” Making his grief all the more insurmountable is the fact that Daniel has club feet. “A normal child might have healed Sam’s hurt in time, reconciling him to his loss. But what about a child with crooked, deformed feet?” Instead of a romance, this book should be a mystery story—see if you can understand why Sam loved Rita and despises Daniel, and why Kate Mallory is going to tumble hard for a gloomy, rude curmudgeon.
On duty 24/7, Kate soon is hopelessly devoted to baby Daniel—though we seldom see the two together. It wouldn’t be hard at all to draw us a few bonding scenes to demonstrate her attachment to the infant, but instead we’re mostly told about her fondness for him. She’s so fond, in fact, that she decides to leave her post, so that it won’t destroy her to leave him later on. Get it? She tells everyone she’s going, and they even find a replacement nurse—a young colleague of Kate’s who has made no secret of her plans to attempt to win the heart of the rich widower—and then she changes her mind at the last minute, leaving the hospital gossips abuzz with the idea that Kate is in love with Sam. Which she is, but whatever. To squelch those rumors, she dates the baby’s pediatrician, Dr. Ray Sargent, who is one of the creepiest characters I’ve met in a VNRN, who practically screams, “I’m a date rapist!” as he ushers Kate into the car. Having barely escaped one date with him by fleeing on the tractor of a passing farmer, she naturally agrees to see him again but is saved when the baby’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Peter Vincent, tells everyone that Kate is engaged to marry him. What a mess!
The ending is a bit of a surprise, though it all makes sense in a satisfying way. But it’s generally a slow read, and if Margaret Howe’s prose is pleasant, it has little witticism or humor here, and not much more of a plot. It’s not a bad book, but it doesn’t really have anything to recommend it.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Nurse Lily and Mister X

By Diane Frazer
(pseud. Dorothy Fletcher), ©1961

Cover illustration by Jerry Allison
Her first impression was a huge head with silver-white hair, a bristling mustache and fierce eyes. It was like seeing the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum for the first time after having looked at it hundreds of times in magazines or on post cards. Lily’s professional smile was frozen on her lips. Usually she would approach a patient briskly, her hand outstretched, and introduce herself. She had been taught how to do it in nursing school—with just the right amount of cheerfulness. But this was a man who simply didn’t lend himself to this kind of approach. This was a man who had terrorized the White House, a man even the President was said to be afraid of…
“The most perfectly recovered patient necessarily suffers a relapse when confronted with the bill.”
“Dr. DeVries is still in Paris, isn’t he? Cutting up some important Frenchman or other.”
“Do you girls have to wear those white stockings? It ruins the nicest legs.”
“Can you tell me, please, where to go, nurse? I have a bad case of breaking heart and I need very special care.”
“People in love are always a little bit nauseating.”
This nurse novel has it all: wit, intelligence, camp, brisk pacing, a bit of intrigue, and—the cherry on top—a fabulous title and cover illustration. If you read no other VNRN this year, make it this one (or Nurse into Woman; that would be another good choice).
Lily Sorenson has been chosen to special a patient whose presence at Physicians Hospital in New York must remain top secret—hence his designation as “Mister X.” He’s a lion of an international diplomat, along the lines of a Kissinger or a Churchill, who will be negotiating a major treaty in a few weeks. If his enemies find out he is in the hospital recovering from “a delicate operation,” this might undermine his position at the conference and affect global politics for generations to come, because he’s that important. But his recovery is going to take weeks, and during the bulk of this time he’s not allowed visitors, phone calls, newspapers, or television. And that’s not going over well.
But fortunately, Lily is an excellent and stunningly gorgeous nurse—Mister X is “a connoisseur and a fervent admirer of feminine beauty”—so she alone of all the nurses in New York stands a chance of subduing the great man, who has already roared two other nurses off the job in as many days. Indeed, in minutes, after denying him the newspaper he’s demanding at top volume, Lily has him eating out of her hand. While this is a common plot device in VNRNs, Lily actually deserves it. She banters cleverly with her friends and colleagues, has no interest in giving up her career for marriage, and corrects a State Department official who says that everyone who knows of Mister X’s true identity must keep his mouth shut—“or her,” Lily answers smartly, endearing herself to me forever.
With little else to do but sleep, Mister X soon takes an interest in Lily’s personal life, which features a new young man, Andrew Carlton. Mr. Carlton is a reporter who has heard of the hush-hush goings on at the hospital and, hoping to pump Lily for information, asks the nurse he is currently dating to introduce them at a party. He’s instantly smitten with Lily, and recognizes that this poses a serious dilemma: Should he pursue the woman or the scoop? because he can’t have both.
Lily is equally taken with Andrew, and the pair spends a lot of time in silence at her apartment: “ ‘Oh, Andrew,’ she said, after a while.” She’s feeding him misinformation about her patient, as directed by the great X himself, who tells her, “Compared to your love life, Lily, affairs of state become mere trivia.” It’s a comedy of intrigue, deception, and even human interest as we—along with Nurse Lily and Mr. X—watch Andrew to find out how he is going to play the cards he is being calculatingly dealt. The story wraps up very neatly, with the final maneuvering by Mr. X putting everything to rights, and the actual ending is as pretty as VNRNs ever get.
The dialogue is superb, starts early, and never lets up. You know you are in for a great ride when Lily is called to the chief of surgery’s office on page five, and a colleague asks if she has done something awful. “Let’s see,” Lily replies. “I was picked up by a patrol car early this morning, lying drunk in the gutter. But they can’t possibly know that already.” This book reminds me of Glenna Finlay’s Nurse Pro Tem, in that they both feature that snappy dialogue reminiscent of a film from 1942. The plot is light and easy, but the question of Andrew’s character gives it enough heft to keep it from completely blowing away in the breeze. It would be a perfect companion to a preferably uninterrupted summer afternoon with cosmo, but don’t let lack of either prevent you from enjoying this delightful little book.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Student Nurse

By Renee Shann, ©1941
Cover illustration by Victor Kalin
When lovely young Shirley Davidson ran away from her tyrannical father, fate (and the kindness of Matron Anna Marsden) fulfilled her lifelong dream—she became a student nurse. Then, as if she weren’t already bursting with happiness, she fell in love. But there were complications (and heartbreak) ahead. For handsome Dr. Gerald Trent, though irresistibly drawn to Shirley, was already engage to Anna Marsden. And Shirley would rather die than do anything to hurt the woman she worshiped, who had given her her first chance for a decent life.
“I’ve an idea that the only sensible thing is to be crazy.”
“One needs to have one’s heart in one’s job, otherwise it’s impossible to make a real success of it.”
“Luckily one’s best beloved never saw one at the hairdresser’s. At least, not if one had any sense.”
“In all lives there are times when one has just to sit tight and wait until one feels better.”
Anna Marsden is the 35-year-old matron of the Gresham Nursing Home, one of London’s most prestigious hospitals. She’s had this job for two years—won it after a lengthy battle within the hospital board, in which trustee Howard Bleston prevailed—and feels a great deal of dedication to her job and to Howard for awarding it to her. Her fiance, though, Dr. Gerald Trent, hates her job and wants her to chuck it and marry him. She knows that “she needed some form of self-expression other than running a house and ordering meals and being decorative at her husband’s dinner table. She too wanted a career and the knowledge that she was doing something useful in the world. Gerald had said lightly and a little reproachfully that looking after him was something useful.” Why she continues to see him is a bit of a mystery.
He’s to leave for a prestigious fellowship in New York, and has asked her to quit her job and come with him as his bride. She’s all set to do it when Howard’s wife, the horrible Hilary Bleston, arrives to recover, again, from drug addiction, which will take at least three months. Given her loyalty to the husband, Anna feels she must see the wife through this crisis, and tells Dr. Trent that she can’t go with him. His ardor noticeably cools.
Enter Shirley Davidson, at 17 about half Dr. Trent’s age. She has arrived at the hospital by jumping into Anna’s car at a traffic light and urging her to drive on, because she’s running away from a life of crime forced upon her by her ogre of a father. Anna takes Shirley in and gives her a job as a nursing student, and Shirley is hopelessly star-struck with her devotion to Anna for her kindness. But upon clapping eyes on Dr. Gerald Trent, she’s hopelessly star-struck with her infatuation with the man. Since his engagement to Anna is a secret—and Gerald helpfully never mentions it to Shirley—she gratefully accepts his dates and kisses. It’s just a matter of time, however, before she finds out that Gerald belongs to Anna, and then she calls it off in an utter panic. It’s just a matter of more time, then, until Anna finds out that Shirley is in love with Gerald. Shirley quits the hospital and disappears into London’s  seedy underbelly so as to clear the field for Anna, but that great lady decides—after some indecision that leaves the reader a little nervous for a second—that she’s through with Gerald.
Everything ends well for everyone, of course, and in a wholly predictable way, but that’s not always a bad thing, especially not here, because the writing is very fine. The characters and their motivations and anguish are drawn quite beautifully, in a way that is particularly unique to VNRNs from the 1940s, as this one is. If Shirley’s character is given to flightiness and exaggeration of emotion, she is, after all, only 17, and can reasonably be expected to be both. Hilary Bleston, a nasty shrew, is fun to watch, especially as she overhears her friends gossiping about her at the beauty shop. Student Nurse is a slow book, perhaps overly so at 223 pages, and this really is its biggest flaw, but it’s not a fatal one. As long as you’re not in a hurry, this book will be a pleasant diversion.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Nurse into Woman

By Marguerite Mooers Marshall, ©1941
Cover illustration by Dave Attie
Also published as Ward Nurse
“I’m a nurse, not a woman,” said Kristine. “I’ve resolved never to marry—never to have a child. I’m a good nurse—I’ll stay one. I’m not going to be a woman.” But to Captain Jim Dudley, whose life she had saved, and to Dr. Bowen, Chief of Staff, Kristine was far more than a nurse—she was a beautiful woman—a woman to be loved.
“People with imagination turned around to look at Kristine, in the subway or on a crowded city street.”
“What’s the use of being a good nurse, since I haven’t got eighteen-karat hair and big blue eyes? Nothing else seems to count, with patients or doctors either!”
“Many nurses at Samaritan had learned to make allowances for a physically unattractive girl’s jealousy, rooted in her inferiority complex.”
“You’re like a rock. Why can’t all women be fit and fine and adequate—not just physically but in other ways? Why do they think helplessness attractive?”
“Nothing seemed to hard, no personal peril—hers had not ended—mattered a whit, if this petty, stupid woman could be made whole again.”
“A nurse knew too much of the strength of sex drives to dismiss them as unforgivable sins. A nurse went too far behind the scenes of human nature to be surprised by any revelation of its baseness.”
“Her professional pride disliked being reminded that nurses can display as much stupidity, vulgarity and petty animosity as any other mortal.”
“Love and marriage and motherhood are three reasons why a woman must live.”
Kristine Grant is a 22-year-old New York City nurse who has vowed never to get involved with anyone, because her parents died when she was a girl. “The only way to be emotionally secure is not to form personal ties,” she tells her pneumonia patient, Captain Jim Dudley. “I’ll help people who suffer, but I won’t—I won’t—be hurt again. I shall never love anyone. I shall never marry.” We’ll just see about that!
Jim is not like her other patients. Well, he is in that he immediately tumbles for the long-limbed Norse goddess of a nurse. But his love, unlike the spurious fancy that most male patients soon forget, is real: He worries about her working too hard taking care of him. He sends her gifts with personal significance, asks her about herself—but he never kisses her. Eventually he explains that there’s another woman, and when he leaves the hospital he will go disentangle himself and then come back to her. Kristine is quite smitten with this handsome, intelligent, devoted gentleman—as, indeed, so are we—but is convinced she will soon fade from his mind.
So now it’s back to nursing while she doesn’t wait for Jim to come back. Kristine goes to Quebec—one of author Ms. Marshall’s favorite places (she had a home there)—to nurse a recovering morphine addict, on vacation to Belltown (a stand-in for Kingston, the small New Hampshire town where Marshall grew up, and where we meet characters the author has illustrated previously in her not–nurse novel Salt of the Earth), then back to New York to nurse a case of psittacosis, a bird-borne illness that was at that time almost universally fatal (turns out the right antibiotic will put it to a quick end!). While Kristine is on that job, Chief of Staff Lee Bowen, at 45 more than twice her age, tells her that he’s in love with her and begs her to marry him. She trots out her childhood heartbreak: “You say I’m a good nurse—I’ll stay one! I’m not going to be a woman!”
But Dr. Bowen is not to be dissuaded, and with one sentence turns Kristine completely around: “This obsession of yours—for a girl like yourself it’s defeat, spineless surrender to the victory of the grave. You belong to life!” And now, suddenly, she knows she should get married, after all. But though she dates Dr. Bowen, she cannot bring herself to love him and tells him so. But he’s OK with that, he says; he wants to marry her anyway. She’s still holding out for Jim, however, until a young Italian woman lands on the OB ward, saying that the father of her child is Capt. Jim Dudley!!! That bastard! The man, I mean, not the baby. Kristine writes Jim a letter telling him that she cannot marry a man who would leave his child—and the mother of same—so cruelly, and that she is going to marry Dr. Bowen. He responds that she has condemned him without hearing his side of the story, denies ever having met the young woman, and says he will never see her again. She’s beside herself in misery over what she recognizes is the accuracy of his charges—made all the worse because her betrothed, Dr. Bowen, has committed suicide over a scandal that was about to be made public.
Now what is she to do? “A man wishing to make amends for a wrong could take the initiative and go to a woman; reverse the case and she could not run about town after him.” I’m not sure why, but double standards apparently abounded 70 years ago. So Kristine books a passage to Bermuda on the ship he is captaining. Now it’s just a question of catching him alone so that all can be set to right. You know exactly what is going to happen, but the writing is so exquisite that you experience Kristine’s tension and misery for pages before the crucial scene comes to pass—not to mention your own misery with the realization that another Marguerite Mooers Marshall book is nearing its end.
Marshall is a truly talented writer, easily one of the best VNRN authors out there. Her writing is smart, sophisticated, and picturesque, and her description of the vacation Kristine spends in New Hampshire has me packing my bags—if only I could get to that fictional place and time (though I am definitely going to shop for Salt of the Earth). Marshall only wrote four nurse novels that I’m aware of, much to my chagrin, three of which we’ve already enjoyed. But these four are certainly books one could read more than once, not something I would say about many vintage nurse novels.