Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jill Nolan, R.N.

Book 1 of 4
By Adeline McElfresh, ©1962
Cover illustration by Mort Engle

Young, dedicated, Jill Nolan was the private nurse, and the private property, of Dr. Vince Merrill, a glamorous society doctor. A Christmas vacation, a sudden blizzard, and a tragic accident combined to throw Jill into service in a mining town, and into the arms of young Alan Harper, M.D. There was a world of difference between Dr. Merrill’s plush city practice and Dr. Harper’s plain, hard-working mountain clinic. As a nurse, Jill Nolan belonged to both these worlds of medicine. As a woman, she could only belong to one man.


“She was thirtyish and pregnant and not happy about either state.”

“Never keep a man waiting, lest his ardor cool.”

Adeline McElfresh, having finished up the six-volume Dr. Jane series, apparently wasted no time before picking up her pen to begin another series, this one about Jill Nolan, R.N., as this inaugural volume was copyrighted just a year after Dr. Jane’s Choice, the last of six books about that good doctor. This book offers us a heroine who has a bit more maturity than Jane, and the same pleasant (and occasionally amusing) writing, so we’re off to a good start with Jill—and the fact that there are only four books in her series could be a plus, as it may keep her from becoming too dull.

At book’s open, she is engaged to a fairly commonplace VNRN character: the aspiring, successful, heartthrob doctor who cares more about his patients’ wallets than he does about their health. Jill has spent the past six months as his office nurse, a time in which she often felt her pulses thrill to his kiss but her mind fairly unengaged. Then, while dropping by the mountains of Kentucky in the dead of winter to visit her old nursing school chum Karen Hannah, she lands in the middle of a mining accident and immediately is pressed into duty. It’s more action than she’s had, well, since she started working for Vince Merrill, and she immediately finds the work immensely satisfying, even if the décor in Dr. Alan Harper’s office is a bit more frayed. As Karen’s husband is severely injured in the mining accident, and Karen is now needed at home to care for him, Jill agrees to stay on for a time until Karen can get back to work.

Needless to say, the job is busy and satisfying, and we spend a lot of time following Jill and Al around on their daily rounds, meeting upwards of 30 different locals with varying ailments. And listening to Jill’s ruminations about the differences between Vince and Al, which becomes increasingly wearing as time goes on. It’s a common device that the fiancé is actually a heel, but it’s not clear why an otherwise talented and sensible woman wouldn’t just break up with the louse once her ardor cools instead of trying to talk herself into love with a man she is constantly criticizing in her head. Though to Jill’s (partial) credit, she doesn’t try to convince herself that she really loves Vince, but this makes the reader wonder even more why she doesn’t give him the heave-ho.  And she never actually does, which is a puzzle—is any man, no matter how despicable, better than none? Is she just waiting for the next fella to come along before she feels she can actually say goodbye to the first one? Whether it’s laziness or scheming, neither characteristic is admirable.

Really, there’s just not much more to say about the plot, because it’s more than clear from the first word how it will end. In between, there’s some amusing dated chatter about the impending nuclear crisis, as Jill spends some time planning for how the local medical staff would respond to a major hit of radiation, either from the Russians or the atomic research facility 100 miles away in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Author McElfresh does have a tendency to trot out some very ham-handed medical metaphors, such as, “Jill tied a firm mental ligature on the malaise,” and, “she and Karen had dissected their thoughts about nursing with keen thought-scalpels,” but these clinkers are infrequent enough to be forgiven. The ending is a bit confusing—it appears that Jill is actually out-of-the-blue in love with a third character!—which makes for a lot of head-scratching. But overall, even if it’s fairly conventional and straightforward, this is a good book as it stands. 

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