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.

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