Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Nurse Made Headlines

Adelaide Humphries, ©1962
Cover illustration by Tom Miller

For lovely Cheryl Lanier, nursing wealthy, elderly Trevor Rutledge at his magnificent estate seemed a routine assignment. But that was before Rutledge’s nephew, Victor Lawson, arrived. Perhaps Cheryl should have known  better than to fall in love with the handsome playboy. Certainly there were those—especially the young lawyer, Carl Drew—who warned her about Victor. But Victor’s promises drowned out all warnings—until, amid sudden tragedy and scandal, she heard a different voice: that of agonizing doubt. Had she made the greatest mistake of her young life? Had she given her trust to the wrong mad? And how could she know for sure before it was too late?


It is incredibly frustrating to read a book that is thoroughly annoying, yet has glimmers of what could have been a good story. Even more frustrating than that is the knowledge that the author—in this unhappy case, Adelaide Humphries, who brought us the delightful The Nurse Knows Best, Nurse Landon’s Challenge, and Office Nurse (as well as, it must be confessed, a few duds)—is capable of pulling off that better book. And so here we contend with the disappointment of The Nurse Made Headlines.

Cheryl Lanier is a beautiful, smart, steady, dedicated nurse who has been hired to care for Trevor Rutledge, a wealthy man in his 70s recovering from a heart attack. He is childless, so his huge estate will pass presumably to his nephew Victor Lawson. Vic has been lovin’ ’em and leavin’ ’em for many years, but hearing about Dear Uncle Trevor’s brush with death, he hurries home to suck up to the old man in the event that the recovery does not go well.

He immediately targets Cheryl as a potential plaything—and also the red-haired barmaid Jackie Barnes—but Cheryl has the advantage of having a lot of influence on Trevor, and a lot of information about Trevor’s health and plans. So he cultivates her by taking her out for high-speed drives that muss her hair and her nerves, and visits to the gazebo that muss her lipstick. And he pumps her for details. Initially Cheryl manages to resist Victor’s interrogation tactics, reminding herself on several occasions of the importance of not discussing what would today be called confidential patient health information. But Victor is so beautiful! “Quite the handsomest she had ever seen”! And when she is under the spell of his hypnotic dark eyes laughing down into hers, her cheeks flush, her heart pounds against her ribs. And gathered in his arms, she whispers passionately, “I believe your uncle wants to make some changes in his will.”

And so Victor learns that Trevor is going to turn his estate into a rest home for poor elderly folks. Lawyer Carl Drew is going to come over to have Trevor sign the new will, the day after he takes Cheryl out to show her how to use the tiny automatic Colt that once belonged to Trevor’s deceased wife, not to mention take her to dinner, fall in love with her, and give her a much more reasonable love interest. Except that “Cheryl did not find him exactly exciting. The touch of his hand, a look from his eyes, did not start her pulses to pounding,” unlike Victor—“Darn it, why did her pulses race whenever her eyes met his?” Oh, but there’s also David Earling from back home, who makes an unexpected and essentially parenthetical appearance on page 75 as yet another man who wants to marry Cheryl, but “he had failed to strike the necessary spark.” Unlike the forest fire that is Victor Lawson. Run, Bambi, run!

On return to the  mansion after her dinner with Carl, Cheryl discovers—you will never believe this—Trevor’s lifeless body in his study. Turns out he’s been shot through the heart, but before she can start screaming, Cheryl is knocked unconscious, and when she comes to, she has that infernal tiny automatic Colt in her hand and the housekeeper standing over her. Victor promptly throws her under the police van, and she is hauled to the station as Suspect Number One. But Carl Drew, bless his wholesome but not nearly so handsome heart, steps in to get her out on bail, and a few days later everyone gathers for the reading of the will—when we learn that Trevor actually had managed to sign his new will a day ahead of schedule, disinheriting Victor. This shocking turn of events causes Victor to completely and inexplicably lose his head, whip out the actual murder weapon and reveal himself as the killer, but since the room has at least three cops in it, he goes down without a fight. As he’s hauled away, Carl decides that he will give Cheryl time to get over her trauma—she’s coming back in a few months to run Trevor’s nursing home anyway—and Cheryl decides she’s going to call her mother and let her know what’s new with her, and to ask mom to pass on her regards to the barely mentioned David Earling.

At the end of this book we are left with no clear love interest for Cheryl—a rarity in VNRNs—and indeed a big huh? over one of her potential options. Exonerated with the police, with the reader Cheryl is easily convicted of being an annoying patsy who abandons everything she stands for to tumble for an obviously manipulative con man, whom even Cheryl can see through. hihHhhOf course good women have been known to fall for bad men, but we are not given any sort of reasonable explanation why Cheryl would be such a dope, just descriptions of her weak-kneed compliance with Victor’s every selfish request. If Ms. Humphries had put in the effort to write a character study that explained Cheryl’s wildly self-contradictory behavior, this could have been an interesting book—and at a crawling 180 pages she certainly had room to pull off something—anything!—more complex and interesting than the plate of indigestion we are actually served. As it is, The Nurse Made Headlines is an exasperating, overly drawn-out story that wraps up in three rapid-fire pages and isn’t worth the time it takes to read, well, a headline.

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