Saturday, July 30, 2016

Nurse Barlow

By Lucy Agnes Hancock, ©1954

Against a background of life and death in a hospital, with its intrigue, triumphs and heartaches, emerges the story of Natalie Barlow, a beautiful young nurse, bitterly disillusioned by the inconsistencies of life. Natalie’s struggle to overcome her personal problems and to take her place among the gallant women whose devotion to duty, loyalty and spirit of self-sacrifice are a source of inspiration to her, forms a vivid and compelling picture of the drama that is a nurse’s everyday life.


“Don’t sacrifice your own life for that of your offspring. It’s not only a waste but a detriment as well.”

“It’s one of my favorite pastimes—eating. It—well—it does something to me.”

“A dress could make all the difference.”

“Is it that you don’t care for cocktails? Neither do I, but one must keep abreast of the times.”

“It’s only in books men make those noble gestures.”

“He had it in him to be a great doctor. It was too bad he was so good-looking—so charming and that he was well-to-do. If he had been poor and ugly, he would have undoubtedly become famous. But perhaps he had no desire to be famous. Perhaps he was perfectly satisfied with himself as he was. She was inclined to believe that it was. What a waste!”

“Mine not to reason why—mine but to do and grouse.”

“Once upon a time I was a good, sweet girl—before I entered training to become a nurse. Would you ever have thought it?”

Talk about harsh openers: Right on page one, Natalie Barlow is being jilted by her fiance’s mother. Overseas for the war, Geoff Mercer has apparently found someone Sweder to love, and has delegated the task of relaying this information to Mrs. Mercer, who is overjoyed to do it. This turns our ridiculously sweet heroine into a bitter pill where men are concerned. She remains, however, a devoted and highly skilled nurse at the hospital, befriending old Judy Stark, who is the matriarch of a wealthy but cold-hearted family. Judy has a grandson, Eben Stark, who is Judy’s favorite and actually a standup guy. Natalie, however, resists him mightily because of her prejudice about the other family members.

When Natalie is not nursing patients and resisting Eben’s gentle advances, she’s hanging out with her witty best friend, Beatrice Horne, who calls ’em as she sees ’em in the finest VNRN BF tradition, and says things like, “So he actually had the intestinal fortitude to call all by himself. Brave lad! No wonder he got a medal in the late unpleasantness!” She has dates with some of the fellows now and then but falls for none of them—and then Geoff Mercer turns up again, partially crippled and blinded by war, and attempts to win Natalie back, largely by accompanying his mother when she visits Natalie, and remaining silent. It’s a brilliant strategy, but somehow Natalie manages to resist. As the number of her dates thins, she becomes increasingly forlorn, but not to worry: Eventually the right man turns up and claims her as “Mine—mine—mine!” in what is unfortunately one of the lamer moments of the book. Skip the last page, however, and this is an entirely satisfying book in the soft and sweet vein of older VNRNs (see also Doctor’s Wife, Nurse Into Woman, Visiting Nurse, District Nurse, Surgical Call, “K”—how I could go on—), a pleasant walk along a shady country lane with a good friend.

Lucy Agnes Hancock has the capacity to be a brilliant writer (If you have not read Graduate Nurse, you should!), and here we find a fine example of her work. Short on plot, maybe, when the book is this enjoyable, who really cares? The characters are the kind of people you are sorry to see leave the room, and the interwoven stories of patients are interesting slices of other lives that don’t always turn out as expected. Add a fantastic cover and Nurse Barlow is a complete package. 

This book was also published
in a hardcover edition.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Student Nurse

By Peggy Gaddis, ©1959

“Being nice to you could easily become habit-forming,” he said quietly. Loyce Hamilton, pretty student nurse, felt a warm sweetness in her heart at handsome Reed Shelby’s words. For he was the head of the Shelby clan—and a bachelor to boot! But when Loyce realized the callous way the Shelbys dominated everyone in town, the warmth began to chill. And Reed’s jealousy of Dr. Gordon Grant didn’t help matters …


“People who are destitute or almost, and who have mental quirks, are called crazy! But if they have enough money to get themselves out of unpleasant jams, then people say they are merely eccentric.”

In Loyce Hamilton, we have a nurse named in one of the finer Peggy Gaddis traditions (see also her Leota, Luana, Leona, and Linette). Also like these lovely ladies, Loyce is a strong, capable, and compassionate nurse working in Georgia in a small community hospital of only 40 beds out in the sticks. There she meets another Gaddis staple, the stuck-up city doctor who hates the country but is forced to work there until his med school loan is paid off and he can go back to the city and become the highly paid specialist that only pompous, lazy, heartless snobs endeavor to be.

While she serves out her month-long rotation, Loyce rooms with the Shelby family, local landowners who own, well, everything in town. The family is headed by Ruth, the “very, very handsome” but “big—very big” spinster sister doomed never to marry, the numbers stacked against her: age (30), height (5'10"), and weight (200). Rounding out the family is Reed, the big brother, the obvious love interest, and Marcy the sister-in-law, widow of Hank, who died in the war. Marcy has a son, Paul, but she has been divested of any responsibility for the baby, who is cared for exclusively—and has even been renamed—by Ruth. Marcy is essentially a prisoner of the family, which they frankly admit: “Marcy wanted to stay in California and get a job after the baby was born. But of course we couldn’t permit that,” Reed tells Loyce. Marcy, though she has an inheritance that could support her, can only hand over the baby on command and cry. Loyce, hearing this story, is incredulous: “But for goodness sake, Marcy, he’s your baby!” she says. “I can’t see any reason you shouldn’t take the baby and go away.” There is no logical answer to this; all Marcy can do is fume that she’s a prisoner. She’s not exactly wrong; when she asks Reed if she can leave Georgia, he says she is free to go—but the baby stays. “This is his home; he’ll stay here and grow up here and take his rightful place.” Since she lacks the gumption to just take the boy and go, there she stays.

Loyce comes to fall for Reed, which we saw coming from page one. The two go on several dates, including to lunch at the Cloister, a historic hotel on Sea Island, which I know well; it’s like unexpectedly meeting an old friend when we drive up the causeway past the “century-old oaks, their massive limbs draped in swaying curtains of green-grey Spanish moss.” Despite these dates, when Marcy suggests that Reed is in love with Loyce, she all but falls off her chair: “I have never heard of anything so silly in my life,” she stammers. “Why, he’s never given me a second glance or a second thought!” This, after pages of him giving her tender looks and calling her “darling” and “wonderful,” and suggesting they honeymoon at the Cloister. If it were simple insecurity that makes Loyce respond so, I could forgive it, but it comes across as a false modesty that “nice” girls were forced to adopt in the day, pretending not to notice a man at all until the day he proposed, which I find irritating and stupid.

After the Shelbys grudgingly allow it, Marcy takes a volunteer job at the hospital, and while she’s there, she comes under the notice of Dr. Grant. So Loyce goes to bat for Marcy, telling Reed that she thinks the family is domineering and cruel to the spineless little lamb, pretty much pouring ice water on her blooming romance. Dr. Grant then shows up at the Shelby mansion for a meeting with the extended family, where he tells them he will stay in Shelbyville and marry Marcy—though he has never had any discussion with Marcy about his feelings for her—once again treating her like a voiceless pet. This time, however, she doesn’t seem to mind so much, and agrees to marry the doctor after he says that he will take her and the baby away from the Shelby house. 

Though the family is in uproar, Reed later thanks Loyce, surprisingly enough, for having pointed out some hard truths, and he tells her that they will make it up to Marcy, possibly by even “allowing” her to remarry. But there’s another marriage he wants to discuss, and he asks Loyce if she will mind becoming part of such a domineering family. Loyce, horrifically enough, after having fought for Marcy’s independence, is thrilled to have the chance to shed her own: “After being alone most of my life, having to make my own decisions, hoping they were right and sort of muddling through, I can’t think of anything more wonderful,” she coos. Even if she insists that she is going to work after they marry, it can’t quite resolve my nausea after she says, “No place in the world where you are could ever be dull to me! It would be exciting and beautiful—because I love you so much!” Ew.

On occasion Peggy Gaddis can turn out a great book, but this is not one of her best. The biggest problem is that it rehashes of all the usual Gaddis gimmicks and sexist attitudes, even if the latter are largely a product of the times and the region. For most of the book Loyce is an admirable, outspoken woman who fights for the underdog, and Gaddis’ writing is generally entertaining. Though she’s capable of better, this book is enjoyable enough for an afternoon on the veranda with a mint julep. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Police Nurse

By William Neubauer, ©1964
Cover illustration by Rudy Nappi

They warned her—you’re asking for trouble! But Nurse Elaine wouldn’t give up. As a police nurse it was her job to help people, and Ed Morley, accused of murder, needed her help. His youth, good looks, and wealth had turned the whole town against him. Elaine was sure he wouldn’t get a fair trial unless Lydia Shelton helped. Lydia was the owner of the town’s paper—and Elaine’s rival for reporter Mike Jones’ heart. And Lydia promised to help, but her price was high—Nurse Elaine must leave town and never see Mike Jones again.


“The purple eyes glared. Elaine didn’t die.”

“Girls, you know, have the oddest minds.”

“If it wasn’t for men, us girls wouldn’t have no trouble. I say a girl which marries a guy can’t blame anybody but herself. Don’t ask me to say more.”

“True feminine beauty, Warburton, is compounded of appearance and serenity. Always be serene.”

Elaine Warburton is both a police sergeant and a prison nurse, which makes her one exceptionally tough cookie. And this proves very helpful to her, for at book’s open, she is embroiled in a political situation that I never quite got a handle on—one of the book’s few weaknesses. As far as I can tell, the hospital director, Dr. O. Walter Thorpe, is tussling for control of the prison hospital with Police Commissioner Hendricks; the mayor, too, is involved in the fray, and the upcoming election is going to decide the fate of the prison ward. Elaine, who is head of the prison ward, is being thrown under the bus as a means of demonstrating that the police are not suited to run a hospital. The problem here is that by pretty much everyone’s standards, Elaine is absolute tops at her job. As various factions push to get her fired, she ups the ante by threatening to quit, and is quickly begged not to leave, which gives her more power than ever. It’s a real pleasure to watch Elaine Warburton successfully wrangle numerous politicos and doctors with a hard-boiled aplomb that would do Sam Spade proud—she even knocks out with a punch to the face someone attempting to abduct her. Doing her one better than even Mr. Spade, however, is the fact that she’s a damned good nurse, knowing even before her surgeons what they will need next.

Complicating the situation is the fact that one of Elaine’s nemeses is Miss Lydia Sheldon, who is publisher of the Pacific City Times, 400 pounds, and angling to steal Elaine’s boyfriend, newspaper reporter Mike Jones. Lydia’s scheme is to set Mike up as editor of the paper if he will marry her. Interestingly, though Mike is, of course, an excellent reporter, he understands that he is not a very good editor, which conflicts with his desire to hold the top spot. In a way, this inner discord helps him choose the right woman in the end (you knew he would), but it adds a bit of unexpected complexity to the story.

Lydia’s father is planning to run for mayor, so it all loops back again to the prison vs. hospital control of Elaine’s ward. I never exactly understood why the prison ward was so important to everyone, and all the machinations of all the characters were hard to follow, but overall this is a very enjoyable book. It’s funny, written in a succinct style, entertaining, energetic, and remarkably appreciative of its heroine in a way few VNRNs are—Elaine is not just talented and smart, but powerful. Elaine’s female coworkers are supportive and strong, which I must confess I didn’t expect from a male writer (curious that William abbreviates to just the initial; usually it’s women writers who do this, depending on basic sexism that readers will assume the writer is male and correspondingly give the book more weight; was Mr. Neubauer hoping his readers would assume he is female?). I confess a fondness for William Neubauer beyond his apparently egalitarian views as suggested in this book, as he penned the fabulously titled Scandalous Career Girl under the pen name Gordon Semple—“She would do anything for success,” breathes the cover lines. Neubauer wrote many other nurse novels as well as sluttier nurse books (including Playboy Nurse) that I will look forward to after the romp—or alley fistfight—that is Police Nurse

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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Doctor Myra Comes Home

By Arlene Hale, ©1962

With an office off Park Avenue, a partnership with two established male doctors, Myra Fielding, heart specialist, felt that she had arrived as a doctor. Then Doctor Sam, who had staked her to medical school, came to New York and laid his case before her. He was old and Lake Mills would soon be without a doctor—unless Myra came back. Myra could not imagine what her reception in this small Midwestern town would be. There were only a few—among them, Ross Devon, the high-school coach; Steve Dixon, who owned a farm just outside town; and a bewildered young minister—who were willing to accept Myra on her own terms. It took a major tragedy before Myra was to know the deep satisfaction of what it truly means to come home.


“I aim to see that you don’t forget you’re a woman, as well as a doctor.”

“Come on, now. Don’t go female on me.”

Arlene Hale was a prolific writer, but unfortunately most of her books were perfunctory at best. Though I wanted to love this book—chiefly for the divine cover illustration, I’ll admit—it is an ordinary story without much heart.

Myra Fielding is a cardiologist in a Park Avenue office with wall-to-wall carpeting and a heartthrob partner who dates her occasionally. Then old Doctor Sam comes a-calling. He is a GP in Lake Mills, the town in which Myra grew up, and he had supported in every way her dreams of becoming a doctor. Now he wants to retire before his bad ticker fells him, and he comes to Myra to ask her to step into his shoes. She just can’t turn down her patron, so she packs her bags and along with her sassy nurse, Liz O’Connor, heads west.

After a couple of weeks of shadowing Dr. Sam, he heads off for some fishing and leaves her in the office … where the crickets are chirping as loudly as they are at the trout pond. Only emergencies will stoop to see this uppity New York woman doctor, but Myra soldiers on and manages every new crisis with a sure hand and an accurate diagnosis, despite the fact that few of her new patients’ diseases have anything to do with cardiology, which she has practiced exclusively for the past three years.

If the patients won’t show up, the men are certainly forming a line outside her door. Coach Ross Devon, whom she meets during athlete screening physicals, finds her attractive, as does Doctor Sam’s nephew, Steve Dixon. Good thing that impossible doctor, Wade Lincoln, who works in the nearby hospital, is such a nasty man, so she doesn’t have to fend him off as well! Oh, wait, even though he fights with her every time they meet, he still feels compelled to grab her now and then and kiss her, which makes it more of an assault than a romantic gesture, but we know that VNRNs never seem to notice the difference.

Things begin to get tense at home in the apartment Myra shares with Liz when Liz also gets a hankering for Steve; sadly, Myra prefers to fight for a man she’s not sure she really wants, possibly sacrificing her best friend and a great professional relationship, rather than let one of her beaux go. On the office front, Myra’s pocketbook gets thinner and thinner, and she’s contemplating going home to New York when a fire at an old school building puts her into trauma mode for about 36 hours straight. Shortly after this episode, every single loose end is systematically and unimaginatively wrapped up in short order. You’ll not be at all surprised to know that the townspeople eventually do warm to Myra, but it isn’t until she has a man in her arms that Myra decides “she had truly come home at last,” because no woman is complete as long as she’s single. It was a disappointing ending in several ways, mostly because it was so perfunctory and soulless. So, like many other Arlene Hale books before this, I have to give Doctor Myra a middling grade, and you no compelling reason to read about her.