Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dr. Jane’s Mission

Book 4 of 6
By Adeline McElfresh, ©1958
Cover illustration by Bob Abbett
Dr. Jane Langford went to Africa eager to join the man she loved and help him in his dedicated work among the natives. The tiny medical mission seemed secure and peaceful, but as the days passed, Jane learned that the strange and evil powers of the witch doctors had been turned against the hospital and all in it—powers that Jane began to suspect might be stronger than modern medical knowledge!
“Sidonie turned from the window to her patient, saw that the brown-lashed eyelids were just a fraction raised. A most unromantic fraction, but then, when is coming out of anesthesia romantic? Not even the class’s glamour girl could look sexy while full of cyclopropane.”
When last we saw Dr. Jane, she had thrown off the shackles of a corrupt, smooth doctor and fled Indiana to be with her then-fiancé, Rev. Bill Latham, who had set off on a mission into the deepest heart of Africa. Now, as the book opens, the time has flown, and she and Bill have been married for seven blissful months. Jane has, of course, thrown herself into her work with complete abandon, though she’s not entirely won over by Africa. “She simply did not understand these people,” she is thinking to herself in the first chapter, upset that an obstetrics patient’s great-grandmother has attempted to administer a witch doctor’s potion after a difficult delivery. “Their social and spiritual mores, their bewitchery— She shook her head.”
That said, though, author Adeline McElfresh does a more than respectable job, particularly considering the times, of imbuing her African characters with dignity and personality, to a degree that I’ve not seen before in a VNRN. The African countryside is likewise presented with a painterly lushness that makes you feel that you are there—and more importantly that Jane is there, which again differs from other African VNRNs (see Jungle Nurse, Congo Nurse, and Bush Hospital) in which the heroine might be working in Cincinnati, for all the background we see.
Since this is supposed to be a romance novel and our heroine is married, we can all but see the bull’s eye on poor Bill’s back. Nonetheless, I was thrilled at the spectacular way he departed the scene; it was so fantastic that although poor Jane is all but prostrate with grief, it’s hard to refrain from giggling. But even with Jane back on the market, she is just not very good at love—and this has been a major flaw with the Doctor Jane series. In fact, the next gentleman she tumbles for, Tom Radcliff, basically kisses her out of the blue one day, and then then next thing we know, she’s thinking, “She did love him—of course she did!” and planning her trousseau.
But she’s about as lackluster about Tom (her second boyfriend of this name, in case you’re keeping track at home; see Dr. Jane, Interne) as we are—in fact, we’ve barely met the man—which again is not surprising for the Doctor Jane series. For with Jane, she’s either swooning like a 12-year-old at a Justin Bieber concert or approaching her beloved as she would a nail trim. Fortunately, romance is not the center of this book, and the vast majority of the time we are wandering around Africa with Jane, looking on as she cares for her patients with the unusual diseases or settings as we would expect to find in rural Africa of almost 60 years ago.
As the pages at the back of the book grown increasingly few and the book shows little intention of going anywhere, Jane suddenly, quite literally in mid-sentence, decides she’s through with Africa and can’t marry Tom. It’s just two pages for her to break his heart and book her passage on a boat down the river, and now we are free to pick up the fourth installment, appropriately titled Dr. Jane Comes Home. One of her patients, a reporter named Mike Riley, has preceded her to Halesville, so we shall not at all be surprised to find her taking up with him in that tome. But as these books pile up, I begin to lose heart that Jane will ever find a relationship that shows any of the intelligence and maturity that she displays in every other aspect except her love life. But overall, her competence, aplomb, and adventures make this book worth reading on its own.

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