Saturday, December 29, 2018

World’s Fair Nurse

By Dorothy Daniels, ©1964
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

Carol Allison, R.N. hid a dark secret out of her past from her friends at the World’s Fair. But her more immediate problem was Tina, the delicate ballerina at the Fair who had an incurable heart condition. Carol warned her that if she danced, she risked death. Yet Tina refused to quit, and threatened to reveal Carol’s secret if she went to the authorities. Standing by Carol were the two men who loved her. Each man knew that only one would win Carol, yet they both worked to clear her name. But it was Carol alone who had to choose between saving the life of the dancer or her own nursing career.


“I’m Dick Walden. You will address me as Doctor when any patients are around and I’ll give sharp orders to show what a fine medical man I am. Otherwise, I cotton well to Dick.”

“She’s better looking than a spanking new electrocardiograph machine, Jane. And much more fun.”

“I want you back here. Not only because you dress up the scenery so well, but because you’re so capable.”

Nurse Carol Allison finished her RN training, but then decided to continue her studies with a baccalaureate degree in nursing as well. Always a top student, she earned the college’s first perfect store on her final exam—but what does she get for her hard work? A hearty handshake? A job offer? No—it’s a blank piece of paper where her diploma ought to have been, because a shred of a stolen answer key was found under her chair, so she’s accused of cheating, and the school board is launching an investigation, but who knows when that’s going to be finished?

While she’s waiting for her lawyer fiancé Marty to finish working on that important case that keeps him too busy to answer her calls, she takes a job at—you guessed it—the World’s Fair in New York City. There she works alongside Dr. Dick Walden, who from the get-go says way too many creepy things like, “You’re very attractive, know that? I hope it’s Miss Allison,” and, “Not next year. We’ll probably be married by then.” And this is just on the first day they meet.

The problem with a lot of these plots of false accusation is that the alleged crime and the ensuing drama is just completely overdone, and this book is no exception. The hysteria is heightened by the fact that the fair’s prima ballerina (and it’s always spelled like that in the book, in italics), Tina, has a congenital heart condition that no one has diagnosed through many years of arduous training except Carol, and if she tells anyone about it, Tina’s evil manager will expose the cheating allegation and Carol will never work again—Never!!—but if she doesn’t tell, Tina will drop dead on the opening night of “Woodsmen’s Legend.” Oh, what to do, what to do? Well, we’ll spend about 80 pages watching Carol worry, not to mention step seriously outside her scope of practice by administering IV papaverine and oxygen when Tina has a cardiac crisis during practice.

In the meantime, Dr. Dick is putting his alarming moves on, and Carol, who might ace her final but is not smart enough to work out this situation, is also not smart enough to recognize sexual harassment and seems to be going for Dick, even though Marty appears to be a fairly stand-up guy, a novelty in VNRN fiancés. There’s really not much more to tell about the story, and the ending will surprise exactly no one. Everyone is perfunctorily disposed of, some in ways that seem startlingly out of character (Marty being one of them), but let’s not quibble—the sooner everyone is paired off and Carol’s diploma and sterling reputation safely restored, the sooner we can close this profoundly insipid and stupid book—the cover art and title easily being the best things about it.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

White Cap of Courage

By Ann Rush
(pseud. Sara Jenkins Cunningham), ©1960

When Nurse Sally Camlin learned that politicians threated to close the doors of Memorial Hospital, she knew she had to fight. The big, old hospital was the only source of medical aid for the surrounding slums. Sally’s only ally was young Dr. Peter Adamson. But he was a rough, aloof young man who came from the slums himself. He was known to consort with the biggest wheels in the powerful vice syndicate, who were hand-in-glove with the politicians. Sally threw her career, her reputation, her very life, into this fight. Would she win?



“You can always get a rise out of a housekeeper if you say she doesn’t work hard, but she’ll belittle it herself if given half a chance. Ask a woman patient what she does and she’ll tell you, ‘Just a housewife,’ as if it weren’t the most important thing any woman can be.”

 “She’s much too pretty to be rich.”

“I’m specializing in the bedside manner, dear.”

“Nursing’s no job for a gently raised girl.”

“Lalla had always been a predatory female to whom a  man who was another woman’s property was worth twice what that man might have been roving free.”

There’s a lot of excitement at shabby old Memorial Hospital as Chapter One opens. Nurse Sally Camlin is working the night shift in the Emergency Department when her friend Nurse Janet tells her that the hospital board is planning to close the scrappy establishment. Then a gunshot victim is wheeled in, and Dr. Peter Adamson is called to staff the case. “She could not like the young doctor,” who goes around with a defensive scowl on his face and never says hello. But he has a tragic past, with a drunk father and a mother killed when he was five, and he grew up in the town’s slum, the quaintly named Shacktown, so hes had to work hard to put himself through school. “He’s been too busy to learn how to make friends,” admonishes the kindly chief of staff Dr. McLeod, Sally’s longtime family friend and Dr Adamson’s medical mentor. “Pete Adamson’s a fine boy. And a good doctor.” And when Dr. Adamson takes the shooting victim to surgery, Sally helps out as scrub and learns that the doctor knows this hoodlum, but also cares about him, and Dr. Pete even compliments her for her work on the case. So—and this should come as little surprise—Sally is soon asking Dr. Peter to come sit with her and her friends at lunch.

She has a fiancé, of course, Dr. Bob Quenton, who is relentlessly pursuing an established surgeon at the swanky hospital across town, hoping for a cushy job where he works three days and golfs two, but somehow this unfortunately means also pursuing the doctor’s beautiful and sneaky daughter Lalla. So Bob spends a lot of time out on dates with Lalla, with or without her father, in the name of chasing the lifestyle—one that the hard-working and dedicated Sally doesn’t approve of at all. That’s Classic VNRN Trope #2, for those of you keeping scores at home.

As the hospital heads toward shutdown, Sally enlists Pete and a number of her more dedicated hospital pals (Dr. Bob not being among them) to start a campaign to keep the hospital afloat. In the meantime, she’s often working alone in the ED, which is a most happening spot at 2:00 am, very popular with the local gangsters, who turn up with such regularity that one wonders why the hospital hasn’t hired a guard. Tony Amando, the mob boss, drops in with his lovely daughter Maria, who’s swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills after finally figuring out what dear old dad does for a living, and a few days later Tony’s thugs, the adorably named Spud and Vin, wander in to threaten Sally in order to extract information about how the young gunshot vicitim is recovering from his wounds. Sally helpfully tells them everything they want to know, including the room where Nick is parked, so they can just nip up and collect his weakened body and haul it back to their shack in the woods, taking Sally along with them, since she could ID them to the cops.

Pete also ends up at the shack, on the business end of a pistol belonging to another mobster named Abalone (tee hee!), and the anxiety of the situation causes them to fall into each other’s arms. Surprisingly, in the big showdown scene at the end, Sally actually winds up taking a slug in the gut, which is apparently cured not with immediate surgery but lots of bandage changes and three weeks in the hospital. It’s a stupid mistake, one that is easy to research, but it’s honestly about my only beef with this book. In the closing pages, when Sally breaks up with Dr. Bob, he’s outraged that she wants to keep working: “In other words, your work is more important to you than I am.” She sensibly responds, “No matter how much I loved the man I married, I’d have to go on being myself, not just a shadow of him.” Pete, on the other hand, is thrilled to find that Sally has a house of her own to offer him, not to mention her deceased doctor father’s completely stocked home office, and that she wants to keep working at the (saved, of course) hospital “until you get on your feet.”

Sally is always a strong and forthright character who calls it hypocrisy when she sees it. Early on, she tells Bob she doesn’t understand why they have to wait to get married—although this device conveniently allows the heroine sufficient time to come to her senses and realize that her betrothed is an ass. “I wanted us to be married, wanted to help with your expenses at graduate school next year so that we could be together. That’s a wife’s privilege, Bob—to help wherever she’s needed. You’re too proud to accept things from me, but jump to Dr. Roberts’ whistle because he can help. I can’t understand it.” (Bob pulls out all the stops with chauvinism and irrationality when he says, “It’s a matter of masculine pride. I don’t want to feel obligated to the woman I love.” He should feel obligated every time she walks in the door.)

The writing here is of that peaceful, fat style of early VNRNs, where the camaraderie of the hospital staff is tangible and the characters feel honest and true. It’s not laughably campy, but the kidnapped-by-gangsters plot line is certainly delightful (and not altogether uncommon; see also Emergency Room Nurse and Society Nurse). If Pete starts out the book with more than a whiff of Asperger’s (“‘Kerosene and—’ Peter began, then broke into a grin. ‘You’re joking. For a minute—’”), and his Darcy-like transformation isn’t completely convincing, he is a compassionate and competent character that we can appreciate for his respect for his bride-to-be. Interestingly, the other VNRN of Ann Rush’s that I’ve read (Eve Cameron, M.D.) gave us a woman who was a doctor, but much more of a spineless loser than Nurse Sally. Ms. Rush has penned at least three more nurse novels (one of which is enticingly subtitled Passion at the County Hospital!), and I look forward to discovering if her next books give us more stalwart characters like Sally or just stale pushovers like Eve.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Nurse of Brooding Mansion

By Paulette Warren, ©1967

Young,  beautiful Connie Bartlett was understandably thrilled when Doctor Fletcher sent her to Ganton Manor, the fabulous Fifth Avenue home of the legendary Gantons. But the thrills began to turn to fear almost as soon as she entered its massive doors. Her patient was to be the great John Ganton himself. But it did not work out that way. As soon as Connie arrived, Tom Ganton, the reckless daredevil of the clan, was brought home from an automobile accident. He became Connie’s patient—and she found herself falling in love with him even as he tried to force her to leave. Then events grew more bizarre. Ganton Manor held secrets of shame and madness, and Connie found herself drawn inexorably into their midst. When Doctor Benton, apparently a cold-blooded schemer, was shot by the emotionally disturbed Fran, he too became a patient. And when Connie began to learn more about what was happening behind the doors that were always closed, she knew she would have to choose between love and duty. But the final choice would be even more difficult than she could possibly realize …


“Even though she was a dedicated practitioner of Florence Nightingale’s art, Connie was 24 and attractive, and she had eventual aspirations that reached beyond the sickroom. Love and marriage, for instance.”

“He’s had a sedative, and he’ll probably konk off any minute now and sleep all night. If he doesn’t, maybe you can amuse him by reading him the obituaries.”

“He took her hand in an objective manner and studied it as thought he’d never seen a hand before and wondered what made it work.”

“I know you aren’t going to hand me a share of the loot because you like the way my uniform fits.”

“You should be a private detective. You ferret out information better than you wind a bandage.”

“He could not conceive of a female’s using her own mind when accorded the privilege of using his.”

“As Connie helped him toward the window, she prattled on as though she’d helped a great many people out of burning buildings and there was nothing to it.”

The title of this book gave me great hope for a campy frolic, and the opening chapters made me think it was going to deliver as we met the saucy Constance Bartlett just as she was setting off for a private duty job at a tony upper Fifth Avenue mansion caring for the wheelchair-bound elderly John Ganton. Upon her arrival, however, she is immediately asked to change patients and care for John’s son Tom, who has just broken his leg in a car crash. And the book goes off the rails, darn the luck.

Her new patient is petulant, immature, and mean, and tries to get Connie’s goat their first day together by smoking pot in his room, which makes her decide that he is “a defiant little boy. His emotional problem was serious.” The next night, however, he kisses her—but then they hear gunshots, and Tom insists she leave the house immediately. Unfortunately, “it was the first time in Connie’s life that she had ever been dominated. She had been in the process of surrendering herself to a man, and thus, she was emotionally under his domination in the manner in which a woman always surrenders her own personality to a man in such a situation,” so she says, “All right, darling. Whatever you say. … You will call me?”

On her way to dutifully pack her bags, she is grabbed by John Ganton’s secretary, Ken Sorenson, carried to her room, and locked in for the night. The next morning, finding that her bedroom door is now mysteriously unlocked, she rushes from the house to the doctor who had assigned her to the job to tell him the story—but while she’s in his office, he gets a call from Sorenson, who reports that Connie had become completely unhinged by a backfiring car and required restraining for her own safety. Bizarrely, Dr. Fletcher completely swallows Sorenson’s story despite (or maybe because of) having worked with Connie for years, and even Connie starts to think “she’d made a complete idiot of herself,” so she goes back to the house for more madness.

Nights are busy at Ganton Manor: That evening she hears loud marching, and in snooping around to find the source of the noise, she discovers that John Ganton is at the center of a Nazi-like cult intending to take over the country—and then the world! mwa ha ha ha!—with an army of 30 men who are drilling in the  basement. She also finds that the Gantons’ doctor, Ralph Benton, has been shot in the leg by another house lunatic, Tom’s cousin Fran, who is in love with the doctor and has an odd way of expressing it. In typical megalomaniac fashion, the doctor quickly spills to Connie that he is the brains behind the personality cult, along with the news that he’s convinced John Ganton to put $1 million in cash in the house safe, and he knows the combination!

As ridiculous as Benton’s decision to tell all, Connie decides to enlist in the plot to rescue her wimpy boyfriend, and plays a lukewarm gangster moll, telling Benton that Tom is wise to the racket, and is gonna squeal to the coppers, see? So Benton asks her to get Tom out of the house for a week so he can get Fran committed to an asylum, and then they’ll split town with the loot. This plays perfectly into Connie’s warped planning: Ostensibly to save Tom, she proposes marriage, because, she tells him, she is “willing to assume” that she’s in love with him—and it makes her feel only slightly uncomfortable that she’s just learned that all the Ganton money is actually Tom’s, inherited from his mother, and that he takes control of the trust fund from his squandering father as soon as he is married. After her proposal, “Connie sensed defeat” in Tom’s eyes. He agrees to marry her, they exchange “a single tender, passionless kiss,” and Tom tells her she has “a mother complex where I’m concerned. You see me as a son.” This is, without question, the weirdest marriage proposal in any VNRN I’ve read. Oh, and Connie fails to mention that she is pretending to join up with a man who is trying to steal Tom’s money, because he might not understand: “Objectively, she had to admit that Tom was not the most reliable person on earth, not the most evenly balanced.” Two pages later we’re told “she had committed herself to her love for Tom. It was a thing she should have questioned.” We readers, who can make no sense of it, heartily agree.

So the tepid lovebirds charter a jet and a series of limos—the lifestyle makes Connie woozy—to North Carolina and are perfunctorily married by a JP. The next day, Connie drags sulky Tom back to the house, her intention of keeping him safe utterly forgotten now that there’s $1 million at stake—admittedly only a small fraction of Tom’s net worth, and a sum he himself doesn’t seem concerned about when she tells him of Benton’s plan (though not her part in it); he just says, “Uh-huh. But there’ll be plenty left.”

Back at the house, Connie is completely let down to find that Tom has not transformed into a courageous knight, that “no magic alchemy resulted. It was as though nothing had happened, nothing whatever been accomplished. The signing of a marriage oath did not change him. What am I going to do?” What she does is go to see Benton, who tells Connie to clear out the safe and drop the dough in a locker at the bus station, leave the key at the baggage counter, and wait for him in her apartment. For once, Connie’s sense does not desert her. “Did he think anyone other than a fool would blindly follow such directions?” One might ask if Benton himself is a blind fool to give Connie $1 million and send her out the door, but we are in so deep with this rambunctious plot that it’s probably not smart to get meticulous at this point.

Connie goes back to her room, cries, puts on fresh makeup, and then empties the safe and goes to look for Tom, who is missing from his own bedroom. She decides “he would be of no help to her. It was a bitter admission, because strength from Tom had been the goal of every move she’d made—a desperate  hope,” one she had not mentioned to the reader until this point, but there I go again, looking for logic in this hopeless mess. She heads to the basement, where a meeting of the neo-Nazis is in progress, to find Tom on stage telling the bootjacks to clear out quick before the police storm the joint. Then he delivers the news to his dear old dad that he’s married now and in charge of the money! Connie rushes to him—but he tells her he’s heard her plotting with Benton and is wise to her double-crossing tricks, adds that she’ll be hearing from his divorce lawyer, and hobbles off.

Making no effort to pursue Tom, she heads back to her room to pack her bags for the third time in a week and curiously decides to intervene in a scene between Benton and a still-pistol-packing Fran (no one thought to take it away from her after the last shooting?). Fran decides to bludgeon Connie unconscious—we’re just sorry we can’t join in the fun—and when Connie wakes up, the house is on fire. She stumbles to Tom’s room, where she finds that he’s fallen and can’t get up, but not before he’d found the $1 million, which Connie had hidden in the drawer where he keeps the maudlin poetry he writes. So now he knows she really does love him, and she helps him to the window so the fire fighters will rescue them and they’ll live richly ever after … especially now that “Tom had proved himself a man!” Though not in this last scene.

The hints of greatness at the start of this book included sparkly gems like, “His nurse turned suddenly disloyal. She rushed off and got married,” and “‘I am Mrs. Bates,’ she said with an economical lack of lip movement,” and “the bed was huge enough to let you sleep with a stranger you would never have to actually meet.” But as the plot and heroine dissolved around us, so too did the writing, and by the end any camp seems sadly unintentional. This story has more holes than a golf course, but I’d be OK with that if I felt like the author was skillfully leading us on a tongue-in-cheek romp. Instead I feel like we were dragged—and her along with us—by a mad circus elephant of a plot. There’s still some fun to be had here, but sadly not as much as there could have been by an author with more talent or interest in this book.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Nurse in Paris

By Renée Shann ©1964

Nurse Sara Farriday was no stranger to trouble. Hospital duty had made her familiar with all kinds of pain and suffering. But she was totally unprepeared when disaster struck at her own  heart. Her romance with Don had been beautiful. She had never dreamed anyone could fall so deeply in love. But now, abruptly, it was over … the engagement was broken. And Sara left the shattered pieces of her old life behind to try to find a new life and new hope in Paris, the city of dreams. At first, it seemed to be working. To her own surprise, she found herself falling in  love again—with the dashing and charming Jimmy. But another tragedy brought Don back into her life—and she was faced with an impossible choice…


“‘Enter Florence Nightingale,’ he said, ‘only much more fetching. A great woman, Florence Nightingale, but no glamour-puss.’”

Why do we poor blighters never get the pretty nurses? I suppose Matron’s scared one as good to look at as you would speed up the pulses. Mine’s racing, isn’t it?

“But who had tricked her and why? She began to consider fantastic possibilities. White slavery still existed in the world; unsuspecting girls still got tricked and sent to South America. Only a few months ago she had read a report about it.”

Paris is full of strange people. I dare say London is too, but they seem stranger here.

It’s quite a city.  A girl who keeps her nerve can have a lot of fun round here.

“For a man with a Colles fracture he looked remarkably perky.”

A place like this makes you wonder why these people ever leave home. As soon as they get to Paris they nose out all the English restaurants, eat English food, never speak anything except English, read the English papers and go back at the end of a week thinking they’ve had a wonderful holiday abroad.

The girl who was with him in the accident died a short time ago. Just as well, perhaps. She would have been much disfigured.

“He was in the hospital for a minor stomach ailment that only a man with a lot of money could afford to indulge so luxuriously.”

The Princess is keeping your boy-friend Pablo warm for you.

“The driver took them across Paris with the usual Parisian disregard for life and law.”

Sara Farriday is a 24-year-old British nurse engaged to a man she met while vacationing in Spain. She’s deliriously in love (though no one else seems to like the man much) and shopping for the dress she’ll wear to her wedding, which is to be in six weeks, when Don drops a bomb: They can’t get married in church because he was married before and got divorced. This is a blow, of course, surprisingly not because all the good alternative wedding venues are likely booked, but Sara quickly recovers. It’s only when a week later he confesses that his Mexican divorce is not legal in England so he can’t get married until he gets another divorce that she loses it and ends the relationship. It’s not clear why this is worse than a year’s worth of dishonesty about his past, but it appears to be due to the embarrassment of having to cancel the wedding and return all the gifts.

She’s so devastated that she can’t even work again, she says, because she’d have to tell her former manager that the wedding is off, which would be just too humiliating. Her mom, though, gets impatient with Sara’s silliness and makes an appointment for Sara to interview for a nursing job in Paris, which Sara is incapable of cancelling—again due to apparent misplaced embarrassment—so off she goes, even accepting the job because she’s unable to refuse. En route to Paris, Sara has the most tragedy-ridden one-hour flight ever: First the Arabic passenger across the aisle, who boards the plane in a completely sound state of health is stricken with a flu-like illness and actually dies after he’s tucked into the pilot’s bunk and Sara goes back to her seat to flirt with Jimmy Jordan, the man sitting next to her. Then the plane’s front wheel won’t unfold and the plane crashes on landing. It’s all OK, though, because Jimmy immediately stakes a claim as Sara’s boyfriend, and on their first date, this silly woman decides she could be falling in love with Jimmy. Even more curious about this date is the fact that on her way out the hospital door, whose mangled carcass is being pulled from the ambulance but Don’s? “Supposing he begged her again to marry  him. She couldn’t be indifferent to him despite all that had happened. Especially now he had had this dreadful accident …”

She finally has to care for poor Don, completely mummified in gauze, and in what was likely not intended to be a comic scene, when he sees her, “the tears rolled slowly and disappeared into the bandages.” In bed that night with fresh roses from Jimmy on her bedside table, it’s her turn to cry: “Which man was she in love with—Don or Jimmy?” My money says this flighty infant has no idea what love is.

When a previously well nurse dies of a flu-like illness, the penny does actually drop and Sara tells the hospital doctor about the sick man on the plane. Dr. Scully contacts the airport for a report: “One can’t be too careful. These nuclear bomb experiments could cause mutations in bacteria. We live in a  terrifying world, Farriday.” While Dr. Scully mulls treatment options, looking for an antibiotic effective against this virus (though by definition an antibiotic will not kill a virus), fickle Sara holds Don’s hand and calls him darling with alarming frequency, though she refuses to discuss marriage with him and bristles when the nurse matron tells her that she needs to marry Don to give him a reason for living, especially now that his leg’s been amputated. Unfortunately, Jimmy is bringing Sara home from a date when she’s met at the front door by the Matron, who urges Sara to go see her ailing “fiancé” immediately. Jimmy, rightfully livid, breaks up with Sara on the spot, and you will be shocked to hear that Sara makes absolutely no effort to reach out to Jimmy to explain the situation, because “no girl should run after any man.” In this case she should also be discouraged from action by a guilty conscience, though I am quite sure that she is not.

Then Jimmy comes down with the fatal flu, which is now rampaging through Paris, and Sara breaks a medical protocol by giving Jimmy, who is in the control arm of a trial of a medication that might cure it, the actual drug. He is immediately cured, but Sara is sacked, and stupidly refuses to take the pay that is due her. With nowhere else to go, she accepts an offer to be a private nurse for a rich former patient who had stared at her a lot. The man is now completely well, and Sara is somewhat concerned that he has immoral acts on his mind, but all he wants to do is drive her around town in his convertible and have her wave to his friends.

Eventually, though, he does propose, and tells her he’s booked tickets for them to go to London and meet her parents and get married. Horrid Sara decides she will accompany him to London—but “once she was safely back in London she would walk out on Monsieur Bruyarde without any pang of conscience.” Unfortunately she comes down with the flu on the way to the airport, and once there becomes too sick to walk, or to understand that Monsieur is being arrested, and then Jimmy mysteriously shows up to take her back to her old hospital, this time as a patient. When she’s well, she learns that the Monsieur had been hoping to pass Sara off as his dead wife, whom she resembled, so as to keep his wife’s money, which somehow he had not inherited. All that’s left is for her and Jimmy to reunite and we can end the book.

Renée Shann has in the past given us a couple decent reads (Ring for the Nurse and Student Nurse), and we can put Nurse in Paris up alongside them. The writing is regularly campy, with great lines such as “After a time Jimmy grew tired of contributing a solo performance as the life and soul of the party,” and we can laugh through comic scenes such as when Sara and her spirited roommate Lulu are driving around the Bois de Bologne at 4:00 am trying to find two of Lulu’s boyfriends who have decided to duel over her. Interestingly, Sara is something of an unlikeable character, too wishy-washy to decide which of her own boyfriends she really loves, too backward to clear up her misunderstanding with Jimmy or look for a job, immoral enough to cheat an employer out of a plane ticket to London. The plot is a little random, with quite a few unexplained loose ends, but in the end it’s a better-than-average book with enough joy in its pages to tide you over the rough spots, even if one of them happens to be the heroine.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Annapolis Nurse

By Virginia B. McDonnell, R.N. ©1965

Red, white … and the Navy blues! Nurse Julie Arany, a former Hungarian refugee, hated all men in uniform after the Communists killed her parents and forced her to flee from her home. But at Annapolis, a courageous young midshipman taught Nurse Julie the difference between Navy Blue and Communist “Red”—and handsome Dr. Warren Stone taught her the meaning of love.


“‘And,’ she laughed nervously, ‘I outrank him. That’ll keep him in his place.’”

“An answer to an age-old problem. If only all girls who were looking for husbands could know what she’d just discovered: all it takes to get a proposal of marriage is a deep conviction that you don’t want to get married.”

“Without problems, how could anyone grow up?”

One of the more interesting features of Annapolis Nurse is that its heroine, Julie Arany, is a native Hungarian who was living in Budapest during World War II, first under German occupation and then the Russian “liberators,” who apparently weren’t much better—they would force local young women to “go out at night” with them. Eventually her family decided to try to flee the country, which unfortunately resulted in the death of both of her parents. Her grandmother Ilona and brother Peter did manage to escape to the United States—back when our country was meeting refugees with open arms instead of tear gas—ultimately becoming citizens.

Her war experience, not too surprisingly, left Julie with a bitter hatred of soldiers. The real mystery of the book is why Julie, who reminds us again and again of how much “she feared and hated all men in uniform,” enlisted in the Navy to become a nurse. Her ostensible reason is that she’s worried about her younger brother, who will be drafted as soon as he turns 18. Her bizarre thinking is that if she’s in the military, then Peter will not be called—although she has absolutely no evidence that this might be the case and never bothered to find out before she signed up for a two-year stint caring for people who instinctively horrify her.

Stationed at a hospital in Florida before the book’s open, Julie had cared for a Naval Academy midshipman Tim Cooper, who was badly burned pulling another man from a plane crash. In hospital johnnies sailors apparently do not trigger Julie’s PTSD, so she manages to fall for Tim, and had gone so far as to transfer to the naval hospital in Annapolis so she can check up on him and make sure he is completely healed. Seeing Tim in uniform, however, she tries to give him the cold freeze, but this proves difficult given that she’d already accepted a date with him to the Academy Ring Dance, where she has a huge lapse and kisses him a lot, ultimately deciding she’s in love. Once the dance is over, however, she goes back to being cold and nasty and dating a hospital doctor who offers a plethora of alarming stalker lines like, “You  happen to be my private property,” and, “Starting now, I keep an eye on you.”

Guess what? Peter is not on the same page as Julie—he enrolls at the Naval Academy, much to Julie’s complete despair. And in a bizarre coincidence, when Peter shows up for his first year, the upperclassman responsible for making his life a living hell turns out to be Tim. Julie begs Tim to lighten up on Peter, even saying that if he does she will “try to be nicer,” but Tim is outraged and tells her off, saying, “You’ve done your best to spoil him rotten; it’s a wonder he ever made it into the Academy,” and then refuses to see her.

Peter actually proves Tim right, slipping out one night after curfew, but Tim goes after him to bring him back and keep him from getting expelled, and his caught himself while Peter makes it safely back. Tim is sentenced to two months’ confinement to campus, while Julie writes him long letters and undergoes a transformation in her attitude—or so we are initially led to think. Because when Tim is finally allowed to see her and proposes (for the second time, actually, the poor dope), on the Naval Academy docks, she’s about to turn him down again—ARGH!—because although she understands that “Tim and Peter would be different from the brutal men who usually wore uniforms. But they were not typical of military men. Tim mustn’t marry a girl who wasn’t heart and soul in favor of the Navy. Such a girl would hurt his career. Nothing, no  one must hurt his career; it meant too much for him.”

Fortunately for Tim, he’s spared another disappointment when a boat on the river suddenly explodes and a boy is thrown into the water. Tim leaps in and saves the kid—but is burned, again, and so lands back in the hospital under Julie’s care, again. So without any further explanation, she agrees to marry him—and at graduation with all those shining faces reciting The Prayer of a Midshipman, Julie completes her change of heart with the realization that “in that other military, God was denied. Without Him, the soldier or sailor became brutal.” I’ll skip debating that point, which seems clearly ludicrous—anyone else remember the Inquisition?—but in the last chapter Julie has her Annapolis wedding and cuts the cake with Tim’s sword, “the shining moment of her life,” I am sorry to report.

There’s a lot of armchair travel in this book, with an extensive tour of Annapolis, the Naval Academy, and its many traditions, which could make this book worth reading if you have an interest in any of that. But the R.N. after author McDonnell’s name is completely wasted here, as the minimal mentions of Julie’s actual work are limited to very clinical descriptions of various surgeries she assists in. And Julie herself is a frustrating, peculiarly motivated, unsympathetic heroine. Even if the writing does not make you need to throw the book, it is completely devoid of wit, camp, and even style, and the plot is certainly stupid enough to make it a struggle to continue turning the pages. My advice: Don’t bother to try.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

A Nurse Named Courage

By Florence Stuart
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1965
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

Soon after she became a nurse at Shields Memorial Hospital and met Dr Bert Ives, Courage Williams found she’d have to live up to her name. Handsome, intense and moody, Bert was known as much for his iron will as for his brilliance as a surgeon. He was not used to being contradicted. But Courage could be stubborn too, and she and Bert clashed violently over the treatment of a handsome young ward patient. Before long, Courage began to wonder whether Bert’s anger was professional—or jealous…and whether she was reacting so strongly to him as a nurse—or as a woman.


“One glance from your blue eyes, and the good doctor gives all the signs of a man entering a strong magnetic field.”

“It was doubtful, very doubtful, if the beauteous Bernice knew how to do a colotomy. But what man with all his marbles would want her to?”

“All you could say for her flannel robe was that is was warm and comfortable.”

“Why don’t you get busy and rescue him from that glamorous dish?”

“Maybe she has enough brains to pretend she hasn’t any, and that’s why she’s won the man you’d like to have.”

“‘Hello,’ Courage said, and was told that if every girl looked that cute in pants, he would happily approve the fashion.”

“She smiled back, and decided that the melting feeling that came over her when he was near might well be the beginning of some form of virus.”

There are some badly named VNRN heroines out there, but poor Courage Williams may well near win the prize. Even the man she loves, Dr. Nat Warren, can’t bring himself to call her by her name, and instead calls her “Billie,” for some odd reason. Courage is named in honor of her grandfather, who captured an entire platoon of Germans during the war with just one itty-bitty rifle, and just about every unsuspecting passerby is forced to hear the story of granddaddy’s bravery. But it’s the key to Courage’s feistiness, which in this book is focused on saving poor Wally Savage, a whimpering slip of a man who’s been overwhelmed by his domineering mother.

The woman, who wears tight lime-green pants and a satin jacket embellished with a bedazzled parrot, has forced him to go to law school, when all he wants to do is—is—sing! And marry Maria Marino. But mom breaks up the love-struck kids and ruins Wally’s singing career, and the poor lad is so distraught that he drives his car off a cliff, which is why he is now a patient at Shields Memorial.

Mom has enlisted the help of Dr. Bert Ives, who is a brilliant surgeon but not too straight in the head himself. Bert is obsessed with Courage, having conflated her with his mother, who never cared for him much, but rather doted on her older son, Kevin. When that god-like hero had been eaten by a shark off the coast of San Francisco—I kid you not—Mrs. Ives had killed herself, and now Bert is living some sort of sick Oedipal complex, insisting Courage be both his wife and mother. Attacked several times in his office, even slapped in the face, Courage keeps showing up when ordered and neglecting to bring the cops with her.

She concocts a hare-brained scheme to rescue Wally by convincing Maria to marry him—Maria will surely go along with it since she’s “probably very romantic, because Italians are like that. That’s the reason they wrote so many tragic operas, all about lovers dying because they couldn’t have each other, on account of somebody stood in the way, or somebody clobbered one of them, or something.” Amazingly, the plan goes off without a hitch, and now Maria has the right to spring her husband from the hospital, just in time to save him from the lobotomy that Mrs. Savage has planned to send him for with Dr. Ives. Now if only Dr. Nat can free himself from his gorgeous fiancée Beatrice, who is “quite a dish” …

Florence Stonebraker is easily one of the best, and her prose here is top-notch. She loves a screaming shrew, beautiful or otherwise; insanity-driven shoot-outs; and the spunky roommate; and lucky us! Here she’s given us all three! There’s not a lot of the usual squirrelly games that VNRN heroines frequently play with their beaux, just some legitimate lack of confidence, which Courage easily makes up for by being one of the few VNRN women who actually tells her man how she really feels. This book is a light and thoroughly pleasurable romp, and we can be grateful that the venerable author has yet again delivered a fantastic book into our eager hands.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Nurse Is Born

By Bess Norton
(pseud. Olive Norton), ©1962
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

For a long time Candida Jones had set her heart on becoming a nurse. But her parents were on the other side of the world, and she had a hard time persuading her uncle and aunt to allow her to start training. It was a hard life for a girl, her uncle reminded her, unless she had a real vocation for it. However, Candida eventually received their consent to train at the local hospital near their Welsh Valley home. And sure enough, Candida turned out to be a born nurse, and found nursing even more rewarding, exciting, andwith the advent of Doctor Randon Lordmore romantic, than she had ever imagined.


“He must surely be a surgeon, with those slim, strong fingers.”

“Kindly do not giggle. A most unpleasant habit in a nurse. Indicative of a light mind.”

“I never knew such a girl for minutely studying the movements of every male creature on her horizon.”

“If you’re a very good girl, and get full marks for anatomy, I’ll give you a lift.”

“It’s ‘not done’ to tell a man how you feel.”

“That’s got to be a pretty dull book,” my son quipped, “while you wait for her to grow up and go to nursing school.” Fortunately, the title refers to a metaphorical birth, so we miss watching Candida Jones wean off diapers and trundle her way through high school. She’s still only 19 when we meet her, though, parking her scooter outside the hospital to stare at the man who spends a lot of time in the rose garden, on whom she has developed a painful crush despite the fact that she’s never so much as said hello to him.

She meets him soon enough, though, when she enrolls in the hospital’s nursing school. He’s Dr. Randon Lord, who is developing an anticoagulant drug made from the extracts of roses and rhododendrons. He pretty quickly appreciates Candida, too, but of course there are the usual who-likes-whom tangles to sort out. Here we actually have three intertwined messes, with Candida’s cousin and a classmate also in the mix. Plus all the usual shenanigans like a rock slide trapping one couple in a cave that only Candida can find, the dormitory catching on fire and Candida getting burned rescuing her classmates, and her parents going missing on a plane trip in Brazil—not to mention the many patient stories to round out the book as well.

Making it more interesting is that this is the first VNRN I’ve read that’s set in Wales, so we get to do some armchair travelling and meet people whose names contain only consonants (Twm) or who are suffixed with their occupations or hometowns (Robert Pugh, forestry; Margery Hughes, Pennal), and struggle with place names like Eglwysfach and Llwynau—what a relief when you’re only going to Cardiff!

The story trots interestingly along, for the most part, although Candida’s romance with Ran does unfortunately indulge in some overwrought crises—you do have to nod in agreement when a friend of Candida’s tells her, “You’re quite a girl for building fences so that you can climb over them, aren’t you?” Also, it feels a little creepy to me in that, though we are never told Ran’s age, he  must be at least ten years her superior, if not more, as he is superintendent of the hospital, not to mention a doctor with a prestigious research lab, stuff you don’t get your first year out of med school. And if the writing style is not especially witty or campy, overall it’s an appealing read, if not especially special.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Nurse Knows Best

By Adelaide Humphries, ©1953
Cover illustration by Tom Miller

Nurse Ellen Copeland suddenly found three men in her life:
Tom Spendler, her boy friend since high school, who was demanding she set a date for their wedding.
Paul Dixon, once a brilliant author and now dangerously close to suicide, who needed her to help him write again and to restore his faith in women and in love.
Dr. Eric Hendricks, attractive, young psychiatrist and the man Ellen was in love with. Only he seemed more interested in his work than in her.
What should she do about these three men? She had to come to a decision. Should she marry Tom out of loyalty? Should she sacrifice herself to Paul because he desperately needed her? Or was there some way for her to make Eric see her as a woman and not just as his nurse?


“This younger generation—well, there simply was no accounting for some of the things they would do, at least from what one read and saw going on. Driving souped-up cars, smoking marijuana, drinking and boldly making love in public places, getting divorces almost before the marriage had time to take. But then, in Miss Rutledge’s opinion, the whole world had gone mad, what with all these atomic experiments and tornadoes and floods and talk about so many persons secretly belonging to the Communist Party, and the entire Government, after twenty years, being taken over by the Republicans again.”

“A mother wanted marriage for her daughter, but she wanted to keep her sons as long as possible. That old saying, perhaps, that one lost a son when he married, while a daughter was a daughter all her life.”

“Dr. Hendricks, being the doctor, thought he knew more than the nurse. That might be, but sometimes, Ellen believed, a woman knew more about some things than a man.”

“It did not mean anything—a good-night kiss. Not any more. This was the atomic age, not the stone age.”

“Butch judged a man by his handshake. And if he liked guns and that sort of thing.”

“She was the life of the party and so much fun that no one cared how fat she was or what was the color of her hair.”

“I presume an author can do strange things and it’s expected.”

“Her mother was a dear, but sometimes she got weird notions in her head.”

Ellen Copeland is a psychiatric nurse, working in the plush Park Avenue practice of young, hunky Dr. Eric Hendricks, when one evening just as the office is about to close, a hobo stumbles in, saying he needs to see the doctor or he will kill himself. As the efficient front-office secretary tries to put him off until next Thursday, Ellen steps in and invites the man back into a treatment room. Dr. Hendricks is a good sort who actually sees the occasional pro bono patient, and he agrees to assess the patient, even if it is after hours. Ellen departs for home, convinced she’s lost her job, but the next day she finds that Dr. Hendricks is pleased! The patient is actually a very successful author, Paul Dixon, who has come home from the war only to find his fiancée has married someone else. He becomes so depressed that he cannot write and is experiencing a psychosomatic loss of sight. Dr. Hendricks enlists Ellen in caring for Paul Dixon, and takes her out for dinner and dancing ostensibly to discuss the patient, which Ellen enjoys just a little too much.

Ellen has a boyfriend Tom, who is pressuring her to marry him, but he is moving to Tennessee for work, and Ellen does not want to leave her family in Brooklyn. It’s fortuitous that he is packing up to go just as Dr. Eric is moving in, metaphorically anyway—soon he and Ellen are dating every Friday night.

Ellen is meanwhile helping out Paul by moving him out of his tenement apartment into a farm owned by her uncle, where Paul is finally able to write. Everyone is starting to get ideas about Ellen and Paul, particularly since Paul is clearly in love with Ellen, and she is starting to entertain horrific ideas about actually marrying Paul so as to further his mental stability—especially since Eric finally kissed her and then immediately took off to go on a cruise with a wealthy, beautiful divorcee and former patient. Because a VNRN cannot exist without multiple misunderstandings, Ellen believes Eric is pursuing marriage with the boating divorcee, and Eric and pretty much everyone else, Paul included, is misled into believing that Ellen is in love with Paul.

Naturally everything is sorted out in the end, but believe that the ride is thoroughly enjoyable. Adelaide Humphries is a superlative writer, who in her best books gives you a meaty bone to chew on, with many lovely characters, painterly scene descriptions, and few of the more frustrating devices other VNRN authors fall on too easily—our heroine is never suckered by situations that wouldn’t fool a five-year-old, never manufactures her own misery, never plays stupid mind games. A book by Ms. Humphries, in short, is bound to be excellent, and in this one, she does not let us down.