Saturday, March 23, 2019

Tender Nurse

By Hilda Pressley Nickson, ©1957

Few women could resist the handsome good looks and polished charm of Martin Graham, the brilliant surgeon. But Nurse Andrea Grey was one of the few; she had only dislike for this man who seemed to take pleasure in humiliating her. How different he was, she thought, from Godfrey who, lacking Martin’s brilliance, was ever  kindly, warm-hearted and considerate. But as the days went by and Andrea had increasing opportunities of watching Martin’s untiring hands at work, she was forced to admit her first judgment had been hasty. For all his faults he was a man of character, never sparing himself any more than he spared those who worked with him. And Martin, too, was forced to think again. Accustomed to feminine adulation, he found himself increasingly drawn toward this cool, independent girl who never seemed to give him a second glance. In the circumstances, it was inevitable they should fall in love …


“Andrea would not have been surprised if a row of heralds had been arrayed on either side of the ward door ready to play a fanfare of trumpets on his arrival.”

“Uncertain love is no sort of love at all.”

“Any knowledge of your job I can gain will make me all the more fit to be your wife.”

This is one of those lame stories that have absolutely no plot line apart from the gradual, 160-page long rapprochement of the two love birds. In this case our nurse is Andrea Grey, who was late getting into nursing and so is considered “old” at 21—too hilarious!—as she starts nursing school. She has a young  man from her childhood whom she goes out with periodically and seems  mildly fond of. Poor Godfrey seems far more attached, or eager for a housekeeper anyway, as he stands around the sidelines “waiting to give her love and the security of marriage.” He’s one of those guys who feel that Andrea should marry them immediately and give up her ridiculous idea of becoming a nurse. “He had tried so hard to persuade her against taking up nursing,” because, he tells her unselfishly, “you’ll become so engrossed in your work you won’t have time for me.” Andrea persists, however, out of a dedication borne after caring for her mother on her deathbed, and tells him she cannot marry him until her three-year nurse’s training is complete.

Early on, Andrea encounters the oft-discussed surgeon Martin Graham, who is revered at the hospital as much for his looks as he is for his skill. The first day she is to attend him on rounds, he enters the ward just as a patient is asking her for a drink of water. Rather than drop the poor parched man, she helps him to a drink, keeping the team waiting—and fuming—though it’s not clear why rounds would wait for a first-year student nurse. “A real nurse, one who puts her patients first,” Dr. Graham says, “even if she has to keep four other people and a whole ward of patients waiting,” so his first impression is that of a pompous jerk. Though Andrea recognizes his fault and is angry and full of disdain for someone who “allowed and encouraged everyone to pander to him,” she, too, disappointingly remembers “the deep grey eyes that had held her for a brief moment in their spell,” and so I am sorry to report that Andrea fast becomes “one of a crowd of worshippers at this particular shrine” and “had at that moment begun to fall in love with Martin Graham.”

Out with her pal Godfrey, his car breaks down and threatens to make Andrea late for curfew until the heroical Dr. Graham pulls up in his Jaguar (here we will pronounce it jag-you-are, since we are in Britain) and offers to drive her back to the nurses’s barn. Still fuming over his treatment of her, she is less than enthusiastic toward him and as they spar, he pulls over—she thinks to abandon her by the side of the road—and “pulled her suddenly towards him and brought his lips down upon hers in a hard, commanding kiss.” After this assault, she is one of the few VNRN nurses who feels shame and anger, and avoids Dr. Graham as much as possible—until she is posted in the OR and again melts in his aura, “amazed at his skill. She watched entranced as without the slightest hesitation and with a sureness of touch he made his clear-cut incision, noticed his dexterous handling of delicate instruments, the steadiness of his hands, the rapidity with which he worked and gave his orders, and saw the intense concentration in his cool grey eyes. All held her enthralled.” Ugh.

Over the next hundred pages the two date, and the OR chief nurse gets jealous and is mean to Andrea, and Martin turns cold to her also, and she is completely despondent. She passes out in the OR out of heartbreak and having been driven so mercilessly by this mean nurse, and Martin scoops her up in his arms and carries her to the nurses’ lounge and explains he was only being a dick because he was trying to get the mean OR nurse to lay off and hadn’t bothered to mention his plan to Andrea in advance. Then Andrea is out with Godfrey, about to tell the long-suffering dear that Martin has proposed and she’s accepted, when they are in a car accident and it seems Godfrey may be paralyzed from the waist town. She decides, therefore, that “if Godfrey is going to be a cripple for life, I can’t let him down.” Astonishingly, Martin says, “No, darling, you can’t,” though he continues to see her and assure her that somehow their love will triumph.

Guess what—Godfrey turns out not to be a complete fool. After Andrea is relentlessly snappish, cold, and rushing off in tears every time she comes to visit him and declare her undying love, pinking up only when Dr. Graham stops by to check on the patient, he starts to catch a clue. We needn’t feel sorry for Godfrey, however; he’s fallen in love with his nurse, Andrea’s roommate, who conveniently has been dropping hints since early in the book that “she knew only too well, what it was like to love in vain,” but who could she possibly have feelings for??? Equally wonderful, the literal minute that Andrea and Godfrey are actually honest with each other for the first time ever, you’ll never guess what!! “Something’s happening—something’s happening to my legs,” he cries out. “I can feel a queer sort of pricking sensation. Oh Andrea—Andrea—can it mean—” It sure can!

Now no longer insisting that she finish training before getting married, Andrea tells Martin that their wedding “must be quite soon. I don’t want to wait for anything—” Not even her RN? asks the sly Martin. “Not for anything, Martin! All I want now is to be your wife and to be with you for always,” she says, apparently planning on chucking the lifelong dream that was so vitally important at the beginning of the book, the fickle wench.

Really this is a very straightforward story with not one the detours or side roads—patient stories, adventures with the roommate—that make VNRNs worth reading, and there is certainly no camp or humor in the writing. You can’t even call this a real nurse novel, since our heroine is about to become a first-year nursing school dropout. There’s nothing I can point to that’s overtly bad here, just nothing that’s overtly good either, so I can’t especially recommend you stick your fork into this tender nurse.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Nurse Lavinia’s Mistake

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1968

Staff Nurse Lavinia Bolland was tired and worn out by her responsible job in a busy hospital, so when she was offered a post as a nurse in a girls’ boarding school, she decided to accept. Her friends all told her she was making a big mistake—but Lavinia couldn’t agree with them …


“Being a nurse is more than looking neat and laying a cool hand on a fevered brow!”

“Most folks can do a great deal more than they imagine if they’re only determined!”

“Mrs. Wordsworth is a sweet little woman, who asks nothing more than to be left alone to look after her home and to tend the pot plants she’s grown herself from seed.”

Nurse Lavinia Bolland has been, like many VNRN heroines, working at an understaffed hospital in the throes of a flu epidemic. She’s completely exhausted, so she opts for something most VNRNs reject as a point of pride: the escape hatch. She is nursing the headmistress of a girls’ school through appendicitis, and Miss Clamp—who begins the book named Mary but makes an unexpected change to Laura midway through the book—offers her a job as school nurse. Taking this job is the “worst mistake of your life,” Nurse Lavinia is told, though it’s hard to see how, since the matron offers her her old position back any time she wants it. But the job is seen by everyone in the book as a lesser position: The school doctor Marshall Bowie, her new boyfriend Roy Conliff, even Mary/Laura Clamp herself all tell her that they hope and expect that Lavinia will not be slumming in this position for long.

Part of the reason Lavinia has left town is because of Dr. Peter Noble, a researcher working on infectious diseases who spends most of his time in the lab. Those rare occasions when he emerges he is “always expecting her to be there, ready and waiting to fall in with whatever mood happened to be his at the time.” She’s dated him casually for two years now, though she has no idea what his intentions are as he has never mentioned love or marriage or offered her more than a chaste peck. Nonetheless, she “would be quite willing to wait until he had done all he wished to do …. It would take years, but …  Peter would never be able to hold it against her that she had not thought enough about him to be able to wait.” Pity he doesn’t think enough about her to make any feeling whatsoever plain to her.

So she is happy to meet Roy, who is a coach about to become a housemaster at the boys’ school down the road, and who immediately treats her with far more interest, kindness and ardor that Peter ever did. After a few dates with Roy, their blooming romance is going swimmingly, and Lavinia suddenly realizes that since starting her new job “she had not given one thought to Peter Noble!” From then on, unfortunately, she makes up for lost time by thinking of Peter Noble constantly, and the emotional writhing that ensues quickly becomes wearing.

The hook that she hangs her neurosis on is the fact that a spoiled, wealthy 17-year-old girl has a crush on Roy and is planning to have her father fund his career as a professional athlete—a career and a girl that Roy emphatically tells Lavinia early on that he has absolutely no interest in. One minute Lavinia is confident that “there was nothing underhand or deceitful about him, she would have staked her life on it!” and the next she has a “prickle of fear along her spine” because “of the man himself she had no knowledge, only her instinctive feeling that he was kind and generous, and that he hadn’t a mean thought in his head.” You can see why she would feel so anxious about him, when he’s calling her daily and is disappointed if she puts him off. One minute she’d decided she can’t talk to him about her concerns and the next she does, and he is completely sweet and reassuring, but ten pages later we’re back to worrying the issue to death. She does not deserve Roy.

If more evidence of this were needed, she invites Peter Noble up for the weekend and starts dreaming about this cold clam of a man who has given her literally nothing in the two years she was dating him. Again we encounter her schizophrenic ability to simultaneously think two contradictory things of her beaux: “Now she thought of him, thought hard, of all the friendly outings they had enjoyed, the casual goodnight kisses which had evidently meant nothing to either of them, and wondered. He must think something of her, if only as a friend … and, for the first time since she had come to Avonlea, she felt he might prove the port in a storm she had thought of him as being once before.” With no apparent reason, Lavinia has worked herself into a crisis and thinks of choosing between Peter and Roy as “one of the most important decisions of her whole life!”

It’s just not clear why she feels she needs to consider Peter at all, since he has clearly never considered her once—and when he shows up, continues to trend with a monologue about the bacteria he’s growing in the lab. Finally she realizes Peter is a dud, and her frantic worrying of the last chapter is quickly rendered a tempest in a teapot—so she manufactures another one by deciding she must quit her job immediately so she won’t stand in the way of Roy accepting the rich girl’s proposal, a proposal he has utterly no interest in. Lavinia needs some serious therapy.

In the interim, Miss Clamp is bizarrely trying to set up Lavinia with Dr. Bowie, though he is clearly in love with Miss Clamp and she with him, and then the dorm catches on fire and Lavinia has to rescue a teacher who’s gone back for her makeup case, and the catastrophe—and a new promotion—spur Roy to propose, and she agrees that she’s always known that they’d be together for always, the liar, and we can close the book wondering if Lavinia will have ten minutes of joy before she’s back in the throes of irrational insecurity, and how long it will take Roy to realize that his betrothed is a nut job.

If Lavinia weren’t so completely neurotic, the book would be pleasant enough, but I just can’t enjoy watching this kind of self-inflicted emotional trauma, and it’s not clear to me why the author would think the endless waffling would make a good book.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Nurse Willow’s Ward

By Jan Tempest 
(pseud. Irene Mossop Swatridge), ©1965

When two devoted sisters love the same man, there is bound to be unhappiness; especially in a case like this, where young Dr. Fyncham couldn’t make up his mind between Willow, the competent nurse, and Rose, the sweet, shy home girl. Probably it was just as well for all concerned that a more forceful character took a hand in the game.


“She wished desperately that the conventions didn’t insist that a girl must wait for a man to voice his intentions toward her.”

“Why must sons be so hopelessly obtuse where their mothers are concerned?”

“Never try to be arch or playful. You just haven’t the figure for it.”

“When a girl appears to make it obvious that she has no time for a certain man, that man can be sure she is interested in him.”

“You don’t grovel. You couldn’t. It would spoil the perfect creases in your trousers.”

“Why don’t you kiss more and argue less?”

Nurse Willow Madderley is one an interestingly named family that includes sisters Anchusa, Saffron, and Rose, plus their father. On the opening page, we are attending the reception of sister Saffron, who just having been “safely” married, all but ceases to exist to the family and will barely be mentioned for the remainder of the book. The Madderleys have moved to town recently because their father got into trouble by telling fortunes and was denounced as a fraud. So here they are, trying to keep a low profile in this small English town.

At the reception, we are trailing along behind Nurse Willow, dancing with Dr. Howard Fyncham, who “had a weakness for attractive girls,” but “there was no future in any of his flirtations. His mother saw to that.” Willow has unfortunately succumbed to Howard’s superficial charms; though she seems aware of the shallows of his character, she is still unable to resist him. Howard is also jerking along Willow’s sister Rose, who serves mainly as unpaid maid and companion to his whining barnacle of a mother, crippled by what sounds like rheumatoid arthritis. Willow feels that her major handicap in winning Howard for herself is that she is “too large altogether,” but she would do better to focus on her inclination to be nasty. When the dance is interrupted by a 13-year-old apparent vagabond seeking help for her little brother Perry, who has been pinned under a farm truck, Willow and Howard rush off to assist—Willow making snide remarks to Patty, who immediately nails Willow and calls her “bossy and conceited and horrid.” Willow immediately proves the last charge by worrying more about her dress than the child squashed into the mud: “She didn’t intend to ruin the first new evening gown she had bought for two years.”

Meeting Patty and Perry’s older brother March Carrick-Carre, “a large, raw-boned, ungainly looking man with close-cropped, bristling, fiery-red hair,” she immediately lays into him for not having fetched a blanket, and her meanness is chalked up to an “outraged maternal instinct,” which is pretty hard to swallow after witnessing her rude condescension to Patty on the ride over. “Would March offer to pay for the damage to her slippers, stockings and evening gown?” she fumes “caustically” through gritted teeth as she helps carry Perry down a dirt road on a stretcher. Back at the hospital she cares for young Perry on the night shift, who has not endeared himself to the rest of the staff because he is angry and suspicious—it seems both his parents died after being admitted to a hospital, so he is convinced he is going to die there as well. March, who it turns out has been repeatedly denied access to his brother during the day, climbs in through the window to see Perry, and Willow fights some more with him, bringing up—yet again—her ruined party clothes. “What’s a ruined frock compared with your inward glow of virtue?” he counters, and though he offers to pay for her dress, she surprisingly declines, after all her fussing about it. March is quickly revealed as a funny, straightforward, affectionate man who doesn’t deserve the nasty Willow; he and Perry decide that she’s less of a willow and more of a horse chestnut, or possibly a copper beech. When he calls her handsome, capable and durable, she snaps that the words sound like an advertisement for a household appliance. “You would be quite a valuable appliance in any household, I imagine. You grow on one,” he answers coolly. Love will clearly ensue, sealed by the additional fact that he’s much bigger than even the towering Willow. “I dare say some fellows would call you a hefty armful, but you’re just right for me. Care to experiment?” he asks her. If Willow does resist, I find it hard not to love this guy.

Instead, Willow continues to pine for Howard, who increasingly demonstrates that he is a limp, exploitative, unfeeling ass when he allows Rose to spend hours a day caring for his mother, neglecting her duties as housekeeper of her own family, without even a word of thanks. “I don’t like to feel that we’re imposing on her good nature,” he says to Willow, who seems to have caught some of March’s honesty and replies, “You are, of course.” So in a moment of weakness Howard proposes to Rose, but then goes crawling off to Willow to try to get her to help him out of it, now that he’s had time to think about the qualities he wants in a wife, who could “do so much to lighten her husband’s burdens. It was amazingly difficult to get a competent secretary to answer the telephone, keep accounts, and help in the surgery,” and a nurse like Willow, “who was so crisp, astringent and undemanding,” would be ideal. During this pathetic interview, Willow is “quivering with anticipation” in the hope that he will declare himself to her, regardless of how abominably he’s treated her sister. “‘This is it,’ she had thought eagerly. ‘Hold tight, girl! Dreams do sometimes come true…’” After a number of horrible excuses about why he should dump Rose, he’s about to tell Willow that she’s the one he wants—and it seems she’s horrid enough that she might accept—when March barges in to deflate them both. “Have I interrupted a tender moment? Good! Doctors and nurses are better apart in their private lives. Who wants to go around in a perpetually hygienic and sterile atmosphere?” he laughs. He is way too good for Willow, but seems stuck on her anyway.

Speaking of stuck, Howard seems to be—true to his slimy character he refuses to give Rose a ring or ask her to name the day she will make him the happiest of men. Eventually the weasel works his way around to telling Rose that “they” have made a mistake, ending their secret engagement—and her indentured servitude to his mother—though later he lies to his mother and says that it was Rose who broke it off. His cruel treatment of Rose finally wakes Willow to his true nature, and here her ability to make nasty comments is put to good use as Howard tries to worm back into Willow’s good graces when it turns out that his mother wants Rose back. “If he wanted Rose to take him on again, he must do his own groveling,” she decides. Rose, for her part, is standing firm for once: “Howard had tried her too far and she couldn’t forget it.” But, alas, eventually she does, when Howard pleads—not hard enough—that she was always the only one for him. March also triumphs over Willow’s stubbornness—in part because he shows up at the hospital just in time to help after the hospital has caught on fire and she’s trying to shepherd all the pediatric patients down the slippery fire escape.

There is a lot more to this excellent, brimming book than just the stories of Willow and Rose; sister Anchusa has her own excellent story line, as does a former girlfriend of March’s. Many of the characters in this book are just delightful, particularly March, Patty, and Willow’s father. Only Willow is a slightly  bitter pill, though she improves over time. The writing is amusing and campy, and it’s easy to become immersed in this comfortable world, so addictively drawn that it feels like you’re visiting a real neighborhood. My only disappointments were that Howard won in the end with little comeuppance for his manipulative, spineless character, and that Willow too doesn’t really regret her earlier poor behavior, or seem to learn from it or evolve. But in the setting of this charming story, these flaws are minor and should not keep you from Jan Tempest’s delightful book.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Night Club Nurse

By Rose Dana, 
pseud. William “Dan” Ross, ©1965

“So I’m jealous!” Nurse Gwen Hale remembered Dr. Jack Belson’s bitter words on their last date. “Night clubs have a big appeal for you lately!” She had to admit it was true. Her weekend job as backstage nurse in Tom Rapella’s night club had opened a dazzling new world. One that was excitingly different from her hospital duties: She also had to admit something else. Before she’d met Tom Rapella, her future as Dr. Jack’s wife seemed settled. But Tom was irresistibly attractive. And being near him did strange things to her heart …


“It seemed fame, fortune and faulty dispositions went hand in hand.”

“You look especially tantalizing in your uniform.”

“I want a pretty girl like you who can hang around in evening dress but be ready to jump to her first aid kit when she’s really needed.”

“A person is bound to catch something from time to time. I’d just as soon catch whatever I get from my dogs!”

“He’s an old rogue and a torment, but I’ll miss his lovely flow of abuse. What a vocabulary!”

“You’ve got a bad case of what is delicately referred to as romance.”

“If I ever almost fall in love again, I hope it’s with someone as nice as you.”

I usually pick up a book by Dan Ross, here writing as Rose Dana (he also wrote nurse novels under the names Ruth Dorset, Rose Williams, and Ann Gilmer, as well as under his own name), with more than a little dread. I’ve reviewed seven of his books: five got a C or C-, and one each for B- and B+ (Arctic Nurse was the top scorer). But here, with Night Club Nurse, we have one of his best. It’s still just coming in with a B+, but I’ll take it.

Gwen Hale is actually one of the finer VNRN heroines I’ve come across—an independent go-getter who fights for what’s important to her and always wins. She works at a Manhattan hospital on the floor for rich patients, where she meets night club owner Louis Rapella and his son Tom. The pair convince Gwen to take a job at the Empress Club just above Times Square, working Friday and Saturday nights. She’s hoping to earn enough money to finance a trip to Europe, which is “one of those things I’d like to do on my own,” she tells her boyfriend, Dr. Jack Benson. Jack is initially shocked that Gwen is serious about taking this job: “You wouldn’t cheapen yourself by doing a thing like that,” he tells her, adding, “Cheapen me!” Which pretty much seals the deal for Gwen.

But the big surprise is that Jack does not turn out to be the usual VNRN boyfriend; instead of holding a grudge and making lots of nasty remarks for pages and pages, he quickly accepts Gwen’s decision: “I give in!” he tells her, and from then on is completely supportive. So I might forgive him for giving her “a playful slap on the cheek.” Her blossoming relationship with Tom Rapella, however, is another thing—that young man walks her home “arm in arm” after her first weekend, kisses her, and tells her, “I’ve been in love with you ever since I met you that day at the hospital.” For her part, Gwen acts a lot more smitten with him than she has with her fiancĂ©, thinking, “She’d actually wanted him to say that he was in love with her,” and after they part, “she found herself lingering over the memory of Tom’s goodnight kiss. There would be no doubt in her mind if it were not for the others,” namely Jack and the club photographer, Gina Norel, a childhood friend of Tom’s who, though Gina has not let anything slip that might suggest as much, Gwen has decided is in love with Tom.

Now comes pages of debate about which man, which kind of love, she should choose: “Maybe her hours with Jack had been less romantic but they had been filled with good things; the solid understanding each other’s problems and each other.” Meanwhile, “Tom stirred her and gave her the feeling that life could be more exciting than she’s ever dreamed.” And lies to Jack about her dates with Tom: “It was all very casual and innocent,” she says of a dinner in which the pair discussed whether they should get married. Jack, for his part, is not falling for it. “Don’t play dumb,” he says. “I can stand anything but that coy dumbness you put on.” Here again Jack proves his worth—and his uniqueness in VNRNs—by not falling for a stupid lie and preferring an intelligent, honest woman to a fake stupid one.

While Gwen is batting her feelings and Jack’s around, she is also proving her value at the Empress Club when she saves a famous model who has passed out—Gwen astonishingly recognizes insulin shock and gives her Coke laced with sugar. After this brilliant diagnosis, it’s all the more shocking that she fails to recognize impending disaster with the aging cowboy Buck Gibson, who performs rope tricks as part of the evening show and complains of worsening headaches, increasing shortness of breath, and decreasing exercise tolerance. It’s not Gwen’s concern—“you should look after your health,” is all she suggests as he staggers off stage sweating alarmingly after his act—but an overdose of pain pills that gets Buck to the hospital. There Dr. Jack diagnoses him with coarctation of the aorta, but in truth Jack is failing Buck as badly as Gwen is—CoA is a congenital heart defect that narrows the aorta at its upper end, and Jack describes Buck’s condition as a tumor compressing the aorta at its other end in the pelvis. This little medical detail will matter little to most, but it does indicate sloppiness on the part of the writer—not really surprising, since we know this about Mr. Ross all too well from past books.

Of course it takes a big crisis in the end, when Gina trips and falls down the stairs, breaking her ankle and rupturing her spleen, to suddenly turn everyone’s affections in directions they had shown little inclination toward up until now, and Gwen tells Tom, “I’ve known all along that you couldn’t really part from Gina.” Curious that we readers were clued in to neither Tom’s feelings for Gina or Gwen’s near-psychic abilities. More curious is that after Tom tells Gwen that he loves Gina, he kisses Gwen on the lips, but “it lasted only a short moment,” so I guess that makes it all right.

Though he does better than usual, Mr. Ross cannot avoid his usual bag of writing tricks. He does enjoy descriptions of women’s bodies (though it’s not clear to me why he thinks his readers will) and here we get Gwen’s roommate wearing “a black-and-white polka dot housecoat over nothing much.” He also loves to pick out one woman in the book and refer to her constantly as “the dark girl”; here it’s Italian Gina who wins the dubious prize, though she only gets it five times. Poor nurse Molly Pearson, on the other hand, gets a new adjective, “buxom,” affixed to her name on seven different occasions. But I am nitpicking a little here, though, since these tics don’t ruin an otherwise decent book, and you can feel free to pick up Night Club Nurse with little of the usual aggravation that accompanies Dan Ross’s books.