Sunday, September 18, 2016

Night Ward

By Noah Gordon, ©1959

On call … for love. The nurse – beautiful, blonde, and recently jilted by her fiance – has sworn off love. The doctor – handsome and wealthy – is torn between his society background and his medical future. The policeman – ambitious and honest – is on the trail of a psychopathic killer loose on hospital grounds. Each man wants to marry her. But complications of the heart set in when she finds herself falling in love … with both of them.


“The Red Sox were at bat, and as Ted Williams stepped to the plate Mrs. Hanscom poured herself a large glass of lemonade and drained it thirstily. Then, as Williams flied out to center field, she got up, sighed, and switched channels until she found a soap opera that would make her cry, too.”

“Any nurse who expects a doctor to be able to keep an appointment is either a fool or an optimist.”

“Massachusetts men, it seemed, like to make their dates interesting.”

Ruth Mason, RN, is a doubly tragic figure: Orphaned at age 15, she lived with friends of her parents in Monterey, went to nursing school while her high school sweetheart attended Stanford, and waited some more while he did a tour in the Navy … and then a friend filled her in on the fact that he’d married a wealthy young woman from San Diego. So as the story opens, Ruth is doing what many stalwart VNRN heroines who have been jilted do: fleeing California for the small town of Dutton, Massachusetts, where her mother hailed from, but where she herself had never lived. She quickly lands a job on the night shift at Dutton Memorial Hospital, and soon after that hears the rumors about Dr. Alden MacKenzie, a gorgeous and talented doctor who never, ever dates nurses. Well, we’ll see about that!

Life in this small town are not as dull as one might expect; there’s a crazed lunatic running around knifing folks in the back, even killing some. Ruth, of course, is soon caring for one of the victims and fending off Detective Sergeant Ed Gillis, who hails from South Boston and is eager to question the latest victim.

You’ll be shocked to hear that soon Dr. MacKenzie has asked Ruth out, and during their date he tells her that his mother, with whom he still lives, is planning out his career as the town’s “society doctor”—meaning he will see rich, psychosomatic patients that require not much more than hand-holding. He’s not wild about the idea—he’d rather go into research—but is unable to stand up to his mother. Ruth is unimpressed.

She begins dating Sgt. Gillis as well, though the doctor puts on the full-court press—but when he brings her home to meet mommie dearest, the matriarch tells Ruth that her son needs a wife with social standing, and since she has none, she is not suitable wife material. Ruth, to her credit, tells Mrs. MacKenzie that her ideas are all wrong for her son and will ruin his life and career as an important cancer researcher. The doctor himself seems intent on marrying Ruth – but then at the hospital ball, he becomes very drunk and is the driver in a hit-and-run accident, and then is arrested on suspicion of being the knifer. Ruth has words with Ed Gillis about this, which seems to doom their relationship, much to Ruth’s chagrin.

They do make up, however, on the hospital roof, with kisses and promises, but after Ed has to leave, Ruth is attacked by the crazed killer! Usually at this point in a VNRN, the man would return to save her, but our sturdy heroine needs no assistance, thank you, and between her brains and her brawn, is able to dispose of the attacker with just a mere flesh wound to show for it. Now she just has to choose a man, which isn’t as easy as you’d think: Her gumption has rubbed off on Dr. MacKenzie (now cleared of murder charges and taking a taxi for a  while until his driver’s license is reinstated), who has decided to go into cancer research after all, in Nagasaki, where there should be plenty of patients to treat.

This book is decently written: not especially campy or amusing, however, and the characters are a smidge too flat to make this an A-level book. But I am always mightily impressed with a heroine who can land a punch or a one-liner with equal aplomb, and care for her patients with compassion and intelligence to boot. The cover art even makes it a book worth looking at, in addition to reading. So I can without reservation suggest you spend some time on Night Ward. 

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