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. 

No comments:

Post a Comment