Thursday, April 23, 2015

Nurse in Istanbul

By Ralph E. Hayes, ©1970

When Donna Mitchell left City Hospital for private nursing, she didn’t expect her first job to take her halfway around the world—to Istanbul. But there she was, accompanying her employer-patient—a wealthy importer named Eastman—on a business trip. Besides Donna, Mr. Eastman had with him his secretary, Penelope Winslow, and Steve Chandler, his accountant. Donna liked Steve from the moment they met and sensed that he like her, yet he tried to talk her into quitting the job! She couldn’t imagine why … until an accidentally overheard conversation made he wonder about the nature of Mr. Eastman’s business in Istanbul. He was there to buy a rare emerald-studded necklace, the Green Medallion, and everything about the transaction had to be kept secret. Was it possible the necklace had been stolen, Donna wondered. If so, did Steve know it? The questions were still unanswered when a murderer struck … and the Green Medallion vanished!


“Is this a nurse or a go-go girl?”

“They definitely did not tell me in nursing school that there would be days like this.”

“Donna was suddenly very impressed with Steve’s ability in hand-to-hand combat.”

The back cover blurb, above, is one of the more dull ones I’ve come across—and an apt predictor of what’s inside that same cover. Our heroine, Donna Mitchell, is a paradoxical creature who can’t decide if she really loves the genuine ass she is dating, yet the next minute is credited with being so steady of mind that she single-handedly recovers a priceless stolen artifact (a tribute we readers, who have witnessed the whole affair, will receive with astonishment). I guess it’s possible to be both, but the author does not have the talent or depth to pull off a character this complex.

We first meet Donna when she is interviewing for a private nursing job for the “wealthy but aging gentleman with a serious heart condition,” like there is any other kind in a VNRN. Everything that is wrong with the status of women in 1970 is summed up by the opening remarks of his secretary: “You are a lovely girl,” the woman tells Donna. “I think Mr. Eastman will be pleased. I’m unmarried, dear, and you may call me Penny.” Mr. Eastman’s accountant, Steve Chandler, tries to warn Donna against accepting the job, but here she shows her spunky side: “I’m quite capable of taking care of myself,” she snaps at him, a declaration we later find to be completely untrue.

Before she leaves for Turkey, Donna must sort out her love life. She can’t decide if she really loves Dr. Richard DeForest, whom she describes as moody, presumptuous, condescending, arrogant, and unbearable, concluding, “she did not like her young doctor very much.” Yet even in the middle of sort of breaking up with him (“I just need to get away for a while, to sort out my thoughts about you,” she tells him), she thinks, “She still felt something for him.” As he has aptly demonstrated throughout this scene that he is a complete Neanderthal, we can’t imagine why she would, or ever did.

On the slow boat to Turkey, Donna begins to realize Mr. Eastman is not the innocent businessman when Steve tells her not to ask questions or “get involved,” and that she is in danger on this trip. When they finally arrive, they are ensconced in the “glamorous” Istanbul Hilton, which sports luxuries including “the latest automatic elevators.” It’s not too long before she stumbles across a meeting between Mr. Eastman and “two very dark gentlemen with heavy moustaches, looking very Turkish,” during which they discuss a necklace called the Green Medallion. During her eavesdropping, she notices that Steve is wearing a holstered gun—“Accountants definitely did not carry guns,” thinks our astute heroine, finally starting to catch up.

Cue the postman, who brings a letter from Richard. As it happens, he is in Beirut, and informs Donna that he’ll be popping up to Istanbul to apologize for his atrocious behavior. Naturally the wishy-washy Donna is soon dropping tears on the pages, wondering, “maybe she still loved Richard,” even though she’s also starting to fall for Steve, of course.

She does get in a little sight-seeing, visiting the Grand Bazaar, and when she returns, she finds that Mr. Eastman has “stepped out of character” and bought her a brass lamp (upon which Donna wishes for love, ew!). Not long afterward, the old man is found beaten to death in his room. Over the corpse, Steve decides to enlighten Donna regarding the fact that “Mr. Eastman was a dapper gentleman of the underworld,” who had come to Istanbul to purchase the Green Medallion, which had been stolen from the Topkapı Palace. Steve himself is revealed to be a Federal agent, and Penny is packed off to the Turkish authorities, to be extradited to the U.S. for “a short time in a nice comfortable American prison, and then get a legitimate job.” Uh, yeah, you keep telling yourself that.

On their way home from the police station, however, Steve and Donna’s cab is chased and shot at. The pair jumps out at a corner and ducks into the old Roman cisterns, where they jump into the water and hide behind literally the first column they come to. Donna barely endures this brush with death without shrieking at the thought of “all sorts of slimy things crawling on her legs in the dark water” and the bat that had flitted by them—neither of which actually bother her. The bad guys follow them into the cistern but can’t be bothered to venture beyond the doorway before quitting the scene. “Come on, honey,” Steve says. “Let’s get out of here.”

Back at the hotel, they discover that the medallion is actually hidden in Donna’s brass lamp! While Steve steps out to hide it somewhere until they can deliver it to the police, Donna meets Richard for breakfast. After she tells him that her employer is a smuggler who was murdered yesterday and she’s at the hotel with an armed government agent, Richard insists Donna leave Istanbul immediately. “Instead of trying to understand her situation, instead of listening to what it was all about, he had made up his mind that she was silly to further expose herself to the situation, and that was that.” Exactly! No, wait—“She had been right. Richard was incorrigible. He was a domineering, arrogant man who obviously felt that girls and wives should be treated like children, to be seen but not heard. He simply lacked a basic respect for her as a woman.” Right. Three pages later, Steve tells her he is taking her to the police station to be kept in protective custody, because “it might get rough at times. I don’t want you involved in it.” Our tough, courageous nurse, who has just stood up for her independence and autonomy, “smiled her warmest, broadest smile and put her arm through Steve’s. ‘All right, Steve. I’ll do whatever you say,’ ” she tells him.

But as fate would have it, they are captured and imprisoned in a stone cell, kiss, dig their way out through the ubiquitously loose bars, kiss, escape in a stolen car but are pursued by the gunmen, kiss, jump a ferry, kiss, disarm two of the gunmen with karate chops to the neck (that was Steve, actually), kiss, and are recaptured and forced to the top of a minaret. Donna saves the day by pretending to faint, allowing Steve to jump the gunman, whose pistol “went flying to the floor beside Donna.” Guess what our brave heroine does? “She stared at it fearfully as the two men fought. She could not bring herself to pick it up. She had never held a gun in her life.” It isn’t until Steve has actually knocked the bad guy unconscious that Donna “picked up the gun gingerly and handed it to him.” Thanks, honey. Then they kiss again.

The medallion returned to the Turkish authorities and the caper wrapped up, now we are given Donna’s new-born insecurities about her relationship with Steve. Though the book comes to a damp close after the crazy kids have clasped hands, “gazed into each other’s eyes and were ecstatically happy,” the fact that it’s over quickly is the best thing about it. I appreciate that the author makes a show of presenting Donna as a strong, capable person (and a very competent nurse), but in the end she is nearly helpless in the worst moments, and this dichotomy makes me dislike both the heroine and the book.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Village Nurse

By Joanne Holden, ©1964

Lorena read it in Deke’s glazed eyes. He had lost his battle to clean up River Street. And failure could mean an epidemic. As Deke’s office nurse—and the woman he loved—Lorena had to help him. There was just one way. The one who could save him was Beat Wetherill, the richest man in town. Lorena would go to him—and plead. But she was asking for trouble. Beat Wetherill—once Deke’s friend—was now his enemy. And he was irresistably attractive …


“You’re what is known as a natural dancer. I ought to have gotten the message from the way you cross the office floor.”

“I wasn’t born with a thermometer in my pocket. I’ll date anyone I please.”
“You add a decorative touch to this plain office.”

“I’m sorry you felt it was necessary to mix your threat to me and your proposal to Lorena in the same breath.”

Lorena Loring is a rare nurse with a blot on her record. Of course, it’s ill-deserved: She was once sued for assault and battery for having given a patient a blood transfusion despite the fact that the patient refused it on religious grounds. It’s actually an interesting story, from today’s perspective: An unconscious man, brought to the ED, had been ordered blood. When he came to, he told her to stop it, but she was unable to reach the doctor who ordered it. All she could do was “tell the patient once more she could not stop the transfusion except by doctor’s orders.” It’s curious in that, at least in this fictional event, (1) the doctor’s orders superceded the patient’s, (2) Lorena could not bring herself to at least put a hold on the order until the mess was straightened out, and (3) the patient didn’t just rip the IV out of his arm. I certainly hope this sort of thing didn’t happen even in the long-ago ’60s.

Anyway, she moves back to her hometown of Laurelton, in the Berkshire Hills of (presumably) Massachusetts to escape the ignominy, and quickly winds up working alongside Dr. Derek “Deke” Collingwood. There are other men on her horizons, too: the unfortunately named Beat Wetherill, the heir to the paper mill owner. This “exalted being,” as Lorena describes him, was the object of an alarming high school crush; Lorena had spent her time “lurking near the entrance to the Wetherill driveway, hoping to catch sight of Beat Wetherill. She had even been successful a few times and, as Beat flashed by in his sports car, had felt her heart jump in her throat.” What goes around comes around, though, as now she’s the object of an obsession: former casual beau Clyde Furness is convinced she’s returned to town just for him, and can hardly wait for her to marry him and quit nursing. “I’ve going to have you for my own,” he tells her. “Go on and play at being a nurse, and I’ll be waiting when you come back.”

Dr. Deke wades into the action when he tells her, “I’m not going to make a practice of this, but I’m going to kiss you, and nothing you can stay will stop me. Relax.” I can only hope this never really passed for romantic, because today it’s just creepy. Nonetheless, “Lorena did as she was told and thrilled to his kiss,” but not wanting to get into a relationship with her employer, pulls away and offers him a sandwich. Having disposed of him, she now has to fend off Beat, who walks in off the street and kisses her hard as she struggles to get away. Discovered by Dr. Deke, “Lorena was furious: with Beat for his thoughtless attentions; with herself for not anticipating his actions; and with Deke for having picked that moment to come out of his laboratory.” Curious that she blames not just her attacker but herself and the one who helps her fend him off, even if he is pissy about it, though it’s unclear whether he realizes she was being assaulted.

Naturally, Lorena is soon dating the insufferable Clyde and Beat as well, perhaps just to prove Clyde wrong, who has told her that Beat would “never look at a village girl” like her. Their first date is curious, from a sociological standpoint: Out on a picnic by the river, he puts his arms around her and tries to kiss her, “but she slipped away” and started setting out lunch—and then “silently scolded herself for putting him off so abruptly.” Then she brings up the name of a young woman in town who is putting the moves on Dr. Deke, suggesting that Beat would rather have brought her to the picnic. Beat becomes annoyed, telling her, “You’re a spoiled brat. If you weren’t such a beautiful spoiled brat, I’d be tempted to spank you as you deserve.” She, for her turn, becomes upset by his “resentful attitude” when she had brought up this other woman, and wonders if she should “plead a headache and ask to be taken home.” All these headgames brought me back to junior high, yet Lorena doesn’t seem to mind them and continues to see Beat.

Deke, meanwhile, is busy mounting a crusade against the slum that lines River Street, all owned by Clyde Furness. Sure enough, a small epidemic of German measles breaks out, claiming the child of the local handyman. Clyde’s own nephew Eddie is also a slum victim: There’s a cute little rumble between the River Rats gang and the slightly less imaginatively named Bridgers of nearby Bridgerton in which several boys are injured with antiquated weapons including switchblades, a skid chain, the antenna from a car, and a zip gun, and Eddie is the only fatality. Clyde responds to this personal tragedy by stating that he will publicly (and falsely) accuse Deke of malpractice and expose Lorena’s past unless Lorena marries him and Deke leaves town. Deke agrees to go, and Lorena is furious, calling him a quitter for abandoning the poor and the effort to improve health conditions in town. Deke argues that the next doctor will pick up the effort, and that if he didn’t succeed, he furthered the fight. “I don’t feel as if I’d failed, or that I’m running away from the problem at all,” he says, though he clearly has done both. Lorena, relieved, hurries off to make instant iced coffee.

Over these refreshing beverages, Deke tells her he’s going to take a research position in New York and he wants her to marry him and go with him. Her main objective accomplished, she’s suddenly tepid: “She had thought she might be in love with him. Yet now she felt curiously detached, as if they were casual co-workers.” Her main concern, it seems, is that, “suppose he ever wants to talk to me about his work? It would be another language as far as I am concerned. A nurse doesn’t deal in abstractions or theories. All nurses deal with people.” I’m not quite sure I follow this at all, but Lorena’s landlady renders the argument moot when she points out that “you would give up nursing anyway and start to raise a family.” The ending soon follows, a tidy resolution to all Lorena’s problems, including that pesky career, as her fiance (and you knew there would be one) tells her, “I’d expect a home-cooked supper” every night. Phew!
Lorena is a curious character. On one hand, she is feisty, often ready with the snappy comeback, and not afraid to tell people off. Yet throughout the book we are given example after example of her bizarre motivations and self-defeating decisions, and the two sides of her character seem incompatible. In the end I am just puzzled by the whole book, and the nauseating ending just confirmed the feeling. With the slums about to be revitalized (and you knew they would be), the poor families are summarily dealt with in a way that the healthcare team could have accomplished themselves, had they thought for five minutes about the problem. Furthermore, Clyde’s defense of the slums still echoes: “Suppose I fixed up those houses and charged the people a fancy rent—could they pay it, when they can hardly pay the pittance I ask? How many houses are there in Laureltown where these people could go, if it were not for me? Where would they live, if not on River Street?” Now that the slums are going to be torn down, and the developer emphatically telling Lorena that he plans to make money on the deal (Lorena answers, “You deserve to make money when you do something as fine and necessary as cleaning up the River Street pesthole”), it seems that all that really mattered was that the poor folks be relocated somewhere else so their blighted neighborhood could be eliminated. Both professionally and personally, Lorena has accomplished her missions, and we can all rest easy. Unless you’re one of those poor families about to lose their homes.