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.

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