Monday, October 17, 2016

Doctor By Day

By Thomas Stone (pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1944

Doctor Anthony Collier voluntarily renounced catering to a stylish clientele, and set himself up as a general neighborhood practitioner. His aim was service rather than success. He didn’t realize that certain of his patients would demand service of a kind he hadn’t anticipated, and that idle women and neurotic men didn’t frequent only specialists’ streamlined offices. A frivolous blonde office assistant with a “fixation” on the doctor; a boy afraid of the draft; and a jealous fiancée were a few of the cases Doctor Tony was called upon to treat. And in the course of his treatments, he sometimes found himself personally as well as professionally involved in his patients’ affairs.


“I suppose I can stand it just once—being admired for my sterling qualities of mind and character. Just so it doesn’t get to be a habit with men.”

“Men think up much snappier stories on a full stomach.”

“I suspect the psychiatrists are all wet when they say sex is at the bottom of the happy marriages, or the unhappy ones. Why does it never occur to them that coffee is at the root of the problem? Imagine a man ever leaving a woman who could make coffee like this.”

“When Betsy Jane dreamed of High Romance, she didn’t mess with it. She really went to town.”

“Now look—what were we talking about when my fiancée blew in like a wild tornado, and called you a slut, and the two of you mopped up the floor with each other?”

“Rita looked like a gal on sinful pursuits bent, and as if having made up her mind to it, she’d sin or know the reason why.”

“If he cut out dames, think of the time he’d have for so many of the things he had always wanted to do, but had never seemed to get around to. Reading up in the classics, for instance, in his spare time.”

I wish I could tell you that this is the best nurse novel I have read all year, or possibly ever. Doctor by Day is, without question, an utterly fantastic book—but unfortunately there is not a nurse or female doctor in sight; this book is about a male doctor and his various girlfriends, so it does not count as a nurse novel. But it’s just too good to let go without shouting from the rooftops that everyone reading this should instantly hop over to Abebooks and procure a copy. I’ll wait.

Now that you’re back, let me explain: Dr. Anthony Collier is engaged to sultry tease Rita Shreve, a wealthy and controlling woman who wants to transform Dr. Tony from a general practitioner into a highly paid, glamorous consultant. He loves Rita and yearns for her badly, but is increasingly displeased with the pressure she is putting on him. On one epically bad evening, Tony’s secretary puts the moves on him, and he brushes her off. He then takes a call from a piano playing milquetoast with an overbearing mother and a terrible fear of his upcoming draft into World War II. Tony, fed up with the weeping youth, suggests that he lose his virginity, which will make a man out of him. Rather than follow this interesting advice, the mopey lad takes himself home and attempts to commit suicide by shooting himself in the shoulder, bringing the wrath of the boy’s mother down upon Tony. In an attempt to do right, Tony goes to the boy’s house, where he finds his cast-aside secretary feeding false information to the distraught mother and the boy suffering from a minor flesh wound. He also finds neighborhood gal Kathie Downing, who owns a tea room and is on hand to lend support. She steers Tony away from the situation before it escalates further and brings her back to her house to help buck him up. Once there, though, he realizes that she is a beautiful, vibrant, kind, intelligent woman who understands him much more than Rita, and he convinces her to allow him to spend the night with her. Yes, like that—a unique plot twist pretty much none of our VNRN heroines would indulge in.

Back at the home of the suicidal boy, the secretary is finally setting off for home herself, thinking about what more she can do to destroy Tony. A clever lass, she decides to drop by Kathie’s home just to see what’s what, lingers before the kitchen window for a while, and then goes home with a satisfied grin on her face. Early the next morning, she drops a dime to the home of Rita Shreve, suggesting that her young man would be so glad to see her, if she could dash over to this little cottage right away. Well, needless to say, when Rita arrives, fireworks ensue. This does put a bit of a damper on the love blooming in Tony’s heart, and crushes Kathie, though she is a tough, realistic lass and wastes no self-pity and few tears on the situation after Tony bodily drags Rita from the house.

It’s just a matter of time before everything is sorted out between these three, but in fact it really doesn’t matter how all this is accomplished. Because in Doctor by Day, author Florence Stonebraker has absolutely outdone herself. She should have won a Pulitzer Prize, or some similar major literary award, for insanely brilliant writing in the genre of hard-boiled fiction. Every page has a beautiful turn of phrase or a fabulous description: “He thought of Rita’s apartment in that exclusive and frightfully expensive building on The Strip. It had been done by an interior decorator with a French name, mincing ways, and a national reputation for achieving strikingly unique effects. And it looked it. It was so unique, and so definitely Hollywoodish, and so expensive looking, that you felt like making a low bow when you went into it, and apologizing humbly for daring to sit on the delicate, salmon-colored upholstery.”

At the same time, the writing also very evocatively describes the growing love between Kathie and Tony without inspiring nausea and the dry heaves, itself an extremely remarkable feat (says the intrepid guide who has read more than 250 of these books): “She had a way of looking at you, and walking right into your life as she did it. There was a warmth about her, and a sweetness. You wanted to tell her things.” The writing evokes a slightly softer Dashiell Hammett: sharp, witty, and intelligent—and at the same time charming, beautiful, and sweet. This book is an undiscovered classic, and (alongside her other outstanding work, City Doctor) permanently solidifies Florence Stonebraker’s reputation with me as the pantheon of pulp romance novelists, nurse themed or not.

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