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.

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