Sunday, January 4, 2015

Runaway Nurse

By Ethel Hamill
(pseud. Jean Francis Webb III), ©1955
Cover illustration by Rudy Nappi
For Nurse Jennifer Stowell, flight seemed the only solution. After the scandal involving her with the head of the Octagon Hospital, Jenny fled to the peaceful beaches of Hawaii, hoping to escape the gossip, the whispers and the pointing fingers. No one, it seemed, had believed her innocent. But on the smooth sands of Waikiki, handsome Dr. Brian Craig fell in love with Jenny. And Jenny, knowing all too well the damage that malicious gossip can do to the career of a promising young doctor, had to run again—this time from the arms of the man she loved.
“I don’t want to be a lady, Aunt Alma. I want to be an artist.”
“Doctors are just men. Ask the girl who owns one.”
“If you absolutely must, you may confess later on that what really sends you is not my ardent kisses but assisting at a long session of episkeletal surgery.”
“Sit here and contemplate the rewards of sin. I’ll case the joint.”
There are a few VNRN authors who give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and Jean Francis Webb III is one of them. Snappy writing, excellent plotting, great characters—Webb is a master, and I am grateful he chose to bestow a few gems to the VNRN genre.
When we first meet Jennifer Stowell, she has more than a little back story: She’s coming home to New York after running off to Hawaii for an extended vacation, escaping a scandal at home that had placed her in the arms of a prominent surgeon in his apartment after midnight, which had been captured on film by newspaper reporters and the doctor’s wife. While on that vacation, she had gotten chummy with Dr. Brian Craig—so chummy that the doctor had actually proposed marriage. But since she had told him nothing of her career or her shame, she’d felt obliged to leave him an insulting note and flee the islands, because being associated with her would have ruined his career, too.
But darned the guy, he follows her home and insists that she loves him and must marry him. She alternates between clinging tightly to him one minute and then to her belief that his association with her would ruin him, and does her best to fight him off with one lie after another, including the story that she actually was involved with Dr. Phil Grocer, and that they are planning on getting married when the dust has settled on his divorce.
You know that eventually the truth will out, as does the real story of how and why it was that Jennifer was lured to Dr. Grocer’s apartment, which not even Jennifer knows. In the intervening pages, Jennifer’s incessant insistence that she cannot marry Brian—as well as Brian’s almost-stalkerlike determination that she must—would be far more than the slight annoyance they are in the hands of the masterful Webb. The mystery, once revealed, is not simplistic or stupid, as some secrets are (see Nurse of the North Woods), but it’s not so complicated as to be unintelligible. In the meantime, the writing is smart (“This isn’t a place for tender confidences”) and even, dare I say, poetic (“A construction crew alongside the tracks were stripped to underwear above their belts, and their beef and muscle had begun to turn golden in prophecy of summer’s mahogany stain”). The characters are vivid and thoroughly enjoyable (well, Jennifer’s constant worrying does drag her down a bit), especially Brian, who has a tendency toward the bon mot, and the peripheral femme fatale character, the doctor’s publicist. The only thing that mars this story is not even the writer’s fault: Jennifer’s conviction that her disgrace will ruin Brian’s life just does not translate to modern times and so feels quite silly, especially since the book’s central problem hinges on it. Beyond that, however, this book is a delightful romp, and further cements Mr. Webb’s standing as one of the top five nurse novelists of all time.

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