Saturday, May 18, 2019

A Nurse’s Quest

By Ruth McCarthy Sears, ©1971
Cover illustration by Edrien King

While vacationing in the historic California town of Monterey, Darcy Burnett accidentally ran into her old college roommate, Evie Wood, and Evie's handsome newspaperman brother, Paul. Raven-haired Darcy, just out of nursing school, was a little awed by the Woods, with their fabulous country mansion and immense fortune. But when Darcy was suddenly called to Wood Manor on private duty, she found that her dream palace was a nest of intrigue and danger. All too quickly she became entangled in a web of deception and evil. Could she trust attractive Amos Chandler, another young newsman? Or should she turn to Paul, sometimes distant, sometimes too tantalizingly close for comfort?


Darcy Burnett is a lonely orphan, window shopping in Monterey while on vacation, having just graduated from nursing school. Suddenly across the street she sees her college roommate Evie Woods and her hunky brother Paul! Evie and Paul are the very wealthy grandchildren of a matriarchal family on the Bay Area peninsula, and though Darcy has met and lusted after Paul before, he’d never given her the time of day—but now “Paul Wood had looked at her, had actually seen her this afternoon and now—now anything could happen!” Indeed it can: Paul asks Darcy to dinner, during which the engagement appears imminent. But when he is dropping her off at her apartment, a former patient is waiting drunk on the sidewalk outside her apartment with a bag of raw steaks in hand for her to cook up for him, and now it’s over between her and Paul! “Oh, he must think her an adventuress or worse! To find a drunken man on her doorstep with food for a tête-à-tête, and an empty bottle of gin!” Indeed, Paul proves to be just that shallow and barely speaks to her again for the rest of the book.

But then she gets a panicked call from Evie—Gran is dying! Curiously Darcy takes this as an invitation to give up her apartment and move in to the family manor, for her first actual job. Upon arrival she finds Gran collapsed on the bed—and Darcy, clever girl, diagnoses chronic arsenic poisoning based on a rash on Gran’s wrists! When mean cousin Natalie, who has managed to ban Evie from Gran’s room for the past few weeks, barges in, she is “clearly surprised to see a white-clad nurse composedly reading beside the lamp”!

We learn that there have been two other apparent attempts on Gran’s life—a random bullet fired into her bedroom and a fire in the room below Gran’s bedroom—but when Gran mentions that someone is trying to kill her, Darcy protests, “Please don’t say that, or think it.” And call the police? Much less a doctor? Why would we do that? Cousin Natalie and her masher husband Algy are the prime suspects, but then Darcy hears a man speaking a foreign language on her balcony, and when she goes out to investigate, a tile crashes off the roof, coming inches from killing her! Then Natalie throws a huge party for her teenaged girls and the hippies from the inconvenient commune next door show up and get the guests high on marijuana, which somehow renders them all unconscious. While this is going on, Petey, the toddler son of Gran’s widowed daughter Letitia, goes missing. He turns up with the sheriff, who has finally been called, along with the man who has abducted Petey—who happens to be Letitia’s allegedly dead husband! He’s been living with the hippies for the past four years at the commune, very slowly and ineffectually plotting Gran’s murder so that he can gain control of Letitia and Petey’s inheritance, but it’s not clear why he felt kidnapping Petey would further that aim. It’s also not clear why he waited four years to enact his nefarious plan. Letitia responds to her revived husband by melting away into a coma, emerging a week later in a greatly diminished mental capacity,  but seems to live happily ever after as a perennial four-year-old. Paul, after weeks of completely ignoring Darcy, comes to her with open arms and proposes. On the basis of one date and weeks of rudeness, she accepts, naturally.

It’s a pleasant enough book, if mildly bizarre in its plotting, but fairly perfunctory, as is the writing—no Best Quotes for you with this one. The mysterious failing murderer was not difficult to identify, and I’m not exactly what the title quest is that the nurse is supposed to be on, unless it’s after a husband, and I’m not sure Darcy did too well in that quarter. But the dated atmosphere and the characters are somewhat interesting, and you could certainly do worse than A Nurse’s Quest.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Case for Nurse Sheridan

By Nora Sanderson, ©1965

How much longer could Staff Nurse Erica Sheridan go on shielding a mother suffering from kleptomania? For, intaking on the responsibility, Erica was bringing suspicion on herself and threatening her whole career. And on top of it all, she had to fall in love with a man who thought she was no better than a thief!


“If I had a figure like yours I’d invest in a bikini.”

“A girl as distractingly pretty as you should never try defying the male of the species.”

“What a frightful waste of all the doctor’s expensive training—if he’s drowned, I mean. We’re all going to miss him terribly.”

This may be the strangest basis for a VNRN I’ve read: Nurse Erica Sheridan’s mother is a kleptomaniac and goes around town stealing everything she can lay her hands on. Mom Lee is desperate to keep her extracurricular activities secret because her husband, a prominent citizen in town and chairman of the board of the hospital where Erica works, would be devastated if he knew of it. So Erica’s free time is spent surreptitiously slipping the scarves, gold keys, ten-pound notes, earrings, and other miscellaneous items back to their rightful owners.

The unfortunate part is that if Lee is never once caught in the act of stealing, Erica is spotted every single time with the stolen item in her possession—clearly she has nowhere near the talent of her mother! Hospital doctor Blake Resswin also somehow manages to be perenially involved, and he spends a lot of time chastising Erica for her crimes, begging her to admit she’s a kleptomaniac. Curiously, Erica is outrageously defiant and spends most of her time with Dr. Resswin shrieking at him that she’s just a common thief and snarling things like, “You might consider having locks put on the patients’ lockers, Doctor.” And being hurt that he believes she’s a thief, paradoxically, when she’s in possession of stolen goods and admits guilt to him. He and Erica both feel that a kleptomaniac is not responsible for her crimes—“you can’t call kleptomania stealing”—so if she’s declared a kleptomaniac, Erica will not have to be fired from her job. It’s not altogether clear why Erica insists on being known as a thief, or why Dr. Resswin does not report her, though Erica does at one point allude to the fact that her father, who has worked to further Dr. Resswin’s career, will not approve of him outing his daughter as a criminal.

Also bizarre is Lee Sheridan’s really nasty attitude toward Erica, not to  mention her easy comfort with dumping responsibility for her crimes squarely on her daughter, and her manipulation of Erica to keep covering up for her. After stealing a gold key at a public function, Lee slips the key to Erica: “Do put it away in your purse, there’s a pet. People might notice you holding a handkerchief bundled up in your hand like that—and it doesn’t even match your tea-blue ensemble.” After it’s announced that the key is missing and everyone will be searched as they leave the event, “her mother was looking at her across the table. Erica returned the glance, certain she had caught a suggestion of almost spiteful triumph beneath the sweetness of the older woman’s smile.” As the mess piles up, and it’s starting to look like Erica is going to do jail time when a diamond brooch is stolen and then found in Erica’s top drawer, it’s hard to understand why Erica is willing to completely ruin her entire life—throw away her nursing training and career and go to prison—for her mother, but needless to say in the end all is revealed. Though really barely even hinted at throughout the book, with all their shouting at each other, it is also not surprising that Erica and Dr. Resswin should declare their undying love at the end. This book is certainly an oddity, and not badly written, but it doesn’t really have much to offer.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

A Case for Nurse Marian

By Adelaide Humphries, ©1957

When Marian Courtney took the job of head nurse at a secret research center hidden in the wild New Mexican hills, she realized that her responsibility was enormous. But in guarding the health of devoted atomic scientists, she was both doing her professional duty and protecting her country’s future. Then a handsome stranger joined the staff. Craig Garrett was an easy-going young devil, who charmed his way into Marian Courtney’s heart, even though she knew she shouldn’t trust him. Would Marian Courtney’s dedication to her profession stand firm? Or would she be swayed by her woman’s need for love?


“He was a scientist from the top of this thinning gray head to his rubber-soled shoes.”

“He apparently thought he had to go into the wolf act every time he met a member of the opposite sex who was not too ancient or too hard on the eyes.”

“You are much smarter than I can ever hope to be.”

“Having a baby is wonderful, Marian. Every woman should do it.”

“If Craig could see how lovely Marian looked, her face flushed and serious, a frilly apron tied around her slender waist, it would really ‘throw’ him.”

“I was reading an article the other day about the Communist Party. Did you know that they demand such complete obedience that if a member fails in any job to which he has been assigned, he knows it means death? He is pledged to execute himself, rather than weaken the Party, or betray it in any way.”

“Women shouldn’t worry about things they cannot understand or do anything about.”

“She could not give her lips to someone when her heart was so troubled.”

“The English, it seemed, would make tea if the house was on fire.”

“How could you love a man who had betrayed his country?”

I don’t find anything inherently wrong with a daffy book that defies reason and logic. These books can often be a brilliantly hilarious flight: see Nurse at the Fair. What I can’t stand is hypocrisy and sexism, and unfortunately A Case for Nurse Marian has a lot of both of these. Lunacy in a story line is more tolerable when it’s clear that the author is aware of what she is doing and is letting the reader in on the joke; Adelaide Humphries, though she has given us excellent entertainment in the past with The Nurse Knows Best and Nurse Landon’s Challenge, seems here to be oblivious of her complete lack of acquaintance with reality.

Marian Courtney has accepted an assignment working at a plant in New Mexico near the wall border. Everyone refers to working in this remote location as being “buried alive,” a phrase that gives the otherwise sturdy Marian borderline hysteria. What goes on at the plant is conveniently hush-hush: “All that it is necessary for you to know, is that it has to do with atomic research for the protection of our country,” she is told by the creepy Dr. Edgar Blount, head of personnel, who comes by his title by way of a PhD and not an MD, though it’s not clear why an HR executive needs a PhD, or why a nurse at a plant conducting “atomic research” shouldn’t know any particulars about hazardous materials on site.

Shortly after her arrival, Professor Addison, a man we have never met, goes missing, and everyone is convinced it’s a suicide even though the body is never found, because he left a note! Marian, though, has spent enough time with him—including the day before he disappears—that she is convinced that he was murdered! Maybe even buried alive (insert “Scream” emoji here)! Because “Professor Addison may have held the secret to our country’s future—even its existence,” though then it seems like it would be better to kidnap him and get the secret out of him. Craig Garrett is the young man who shows up to take the professor’s job, and he is a handsome, muscular, tanned, wolfish ass, not at all like a scientist! “It’s a delight just to sit here and look at you,” he tells her at their first meeting. “I expected you—anyone who would bury herself alive—” AAAAH! “B-buried a-alive—” she manages to stutter in her horror! But she pulls herself together enough to decide that he’s “a typical wolf. And a girl had to slap wolves down at the beginning,” so when he begs her to have dinner with him to keep him from “feeling as though I’d been buried ali—Forgive me, I forgot!” she naturally is “persuaded against her will.” I’m not sure how that works, but that’s how things roll in the New Mexico desert.

Off they go to the only diner in the area, which is run by an obese man named Jud who stares so salaciously that Marian is uncomfortable. One date leads to another, and though Craig continues to be unpleasantly condescending—“I didn’t suppose anyone as lovely as your wife could also be such an excellent cook,” he tells the husband of a couple who have invited him and Marian over for dinner—soon they’re kissing. And more sinister events unfold: A Mexican janitor is injured when someone throws acid in his face, but Craig asks Marian to keep it secret, and she does—until the wound won’t heal and Marian tells Dr. Blount that the man needs to see a doctor, so Romez is gunned down in front of his house, the same night Marian sees Jud and Craig driving madly down a back road. Then a friend tells Marian she saw Craig walk into Jud’s establishment, give him a slip of paper, and receive in return a large wad of cash. What else is a gal to believe except that her new boyfriend is passing “a code message revealing secrets connected with the research being done at the plant,” in broad daylight in the middle of a populated restaurant, that “he must be a spy in the employ of another government—working against his own country,” who “had had some part in the mystery surrounding Professor Addison. A part, too, in what had happened to the little Mexican janitor.” Curious that she so firmly believes that the professor and Romez, men she barely knew, are innocent victims but that the man she claims to be in love with is an evil spy and murderer, a fact that Craig points out to her and she cannot answer.

In short order she is lured to Jud’s establishment only to find out that Jud and his bartender were really the bad guys!!! They’re fleeing to Mexico—well, only Jud is, after he shoots the bartender dead. Jud is going to take Marian with him, since he can’t bring himself to pop her, too—and as they exit the building, Craig and several law enforcement officers stop them, assisted by brave Marian, who karate chops the gun out of Jud’s hand. You will be shocked to learn that Dr. Blount is the top man in the scheme, though we never learn the nature of the sinister scheme, and Marian climbs into Craig’s Chevy and the pair rides off into the sunset.

There are so many holes and unexplained dead ends in this book that it’s not even worth trying to list them all. I will say, however, that it’s not clear why Marian is attracted Craig, who is initially presented as arrogant and annoying, and he never manages to overcome this initial impression. It’s not just Craig, though—every male character is overtly sexist, which Marian just takes in stride, and even goes along with. While observing that the husband of a couple they are friends with “was the type of man who thought he had to be the lord and master over the little woman,” she then firmly insists that Craig should not help with the dishes, as he has sincerely offered, because “the kitchen is no place for a big oaf like you.” On the other hand, this is the first VNRN I’ve read that implicitly discusses the freedom that a career offers a young woman: “her years of training to become a nurse had given her an independence which she treasured. This job was the beginning of the independent life she valued and needed.” Of course, months into it she’s getting engaged, so there goes her new-found independence. There’s not enough amusing or hyperbolic writing to overcome the strange flaws in the story—too bad, because the research espionage plot begs on its knees for lampooning (see Nurse to Remember)—and the hiccups in the plot are not so over the top that it’s clear the story is meant to be a farce. In the end this book succeeds neither as a straightforward VNRN or as a joke.