Monday, March 14, 2016

Nurse in Las Vegas

By Jane Converse, ©1975
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

Lana was never sure if she had taken the Prince case because of the lure of Hollywood and Las Vegas, or because Dr. Gil Whitaker had practically forbidden her to get involved. But what started out as an uncomplicated case and a chance to be near the doctor she loved turned into a nightmare. Her patient, famed comedian Reggie Prince, decided he wanted a closer relationship with Lana than medical rules required. And he certainly was a charming host, surrounding her with the glamour of TV, nightclubs, and posh estates. But nothing seemed to work out right. As Reggie’s attentions increased, Gil seemed to content to drop out of the picture. Was she doomed to lose the man she loved over a one-sided flirtation with a Hollywood Romeo…?


“A thing doesn’t hurt any less because it’s trite.”

“If this is what the doctor ordered, I’m ready to cooperate.”

“She was dark-haired, dark-eyed, a sultry siren-type who had taken on pounds along with years and was now desperately trying, with the aid of cosmetics and an expensive, hopefully slimming pants suit, to fight the battle against middle age.”

Our heroine, Lana Stafford RN, is a dope. She’s in love with Dr. Gil Whitaker, who operates a specialty practice, treating patients who are movie stars, writers, and television personalities. He’s gone to lunch with her a few times and once to the movies, but he just hasn’t demonstrated any real interest, damn the man. Then Lana learns of a private duty job caring for one of his patients, fading comedian Reggie Prince, and decides to apply for the job, just so she will be able to see Gil from time to time … and, just maybe, “in a glittering atmosphere, not hushed and subdued and miserable, where she wasn’t overworked empathizing with a dying patient, he would see her in a different light.” Gil takes her to dinner in an attempt to talk her out of the job, calling her childish and naïve to think that caring for this allegedly glamorous personality will be anything but hell on wheels. But she insists until, “half irate,” he agrees to take her to meet Reggie Prince to see how awful he really is.

At Reggie’s monstrous, Grecian-style mansion, the Prince puts on quite a show, screaming at his employees and discussing the merits of rose-hip tea and ocean kelp diets with Gil. The doctor, the only one in the room with any sense, suggests that instead of dieting, Reggie should stop drinking, smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, and popping benzos, but Reggie seems less than interested in this advice. So naturally Lana decides to take the job, because “it would be fun, going to Vegas, being around during the filming of a TV special,” even though Gil is livid that she has disregarded his advice. Maybe not the best way to win his affection, but that’s just my opinion. Curiously, Lana seems bewildered that Gil doesn’t kiss her goodnight when he drops her off.

On the job, she finds she has little to do except lie around the pool and unsuccessfully attempt to persuade Reggie to stop drinking, smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, and popping benzos. Despite his utter disregard for her advice, and his increasing regard for her figure, Lana adopts a protective attitude toward him, suggesting to his ex-wife and current girlfriend that Reggie is “wound up like a clock spring,” and doesn’t need them “hassling him about whatever it is that’s annoying you.” This does not win her any friends, needless to say, and it’s also rather inexplicable, as there is really nothing at all in this character to arouse pity.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the story involves watching Reggie wind himself and his staff into increasing frenzies as they prepare for the taping of a TV special that they are writing and producing. Reggie is in dire straits, it turns out, and the special is intended to revive his wilting career. Lana feels increasingly sorry for him, despite his abusive and self-destructive behavior, and continues to feel puzzled and hurt that Gil is cold and distant. Neither of her attitudes toward these men is in the least bit comprehensible, which makes the book seem a lot longer than it actually is.

Eventually Reggie and his motley staff head for Las Vegas to tape his show. Given the hysteria Reggie has worked himself into, it is small wonder that the show is a complete flop. Lana, oddly, lies to him and tells him how great he was—she’s traded in the role of nurse for that of major enabler. Then Reggie starts gambling heavily with three vicious-looking sharks, and when the big loss comes, Reggie literally hustles Lana out the back door onto a private jet that takes them to his ranch in Texas. The rest of the gang catches up a few days later, scared and pissed off, and Reggie’s business manager has been beaten to a pulp to boot. Turns out Reggie’s in the hole for $150,000 and has 48 hours to pay or he’ll be fish food—but naturally he’s in debt up to his bloodshot eyeballs and can’t come up with the dough. When the thugs finally track Reggie down, they’re not too happy, and one of Reggie’s party is murdered. Lana is kidnapped so they can “dispose of the witness”—though they could have just killed her on the spot—but before they have a chance to do her in, the cops track them down, shoot up the car, and rescue Lana, miraculously unhurt. Reggie is carted off to the psychiatric ward, and Lana has two pages at the end to admit how wrong she was to not do as Gil had asked. And listen to his admonishments: “Like, when you promise to love, honor, and cherish, that’s not the end of the line. You’ll have to listen to my advice. When I think I know what’s good for you, you’ll have to pay attention,” he tells her, and not at all smugly, either.

Jane Converse does enjoy the over-the-top Hollywood character, but Reggie is just an abusive ass, unpleasant to read about. Lana’s inexplicable concern for him and immediate enlistment as enabler-in-chief makes the book even less enjoyable. Jane Converse will always occupy a tender place in my heart, largely for her magnificent Surf Safari Nurse, but this was just not one of her better efforts, and I suggest that you leave Las Vegas behind.

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