Saturday, June 29, 2019

Make up Your Mind Nurse

By Phyllis Matthewman, ©1964

Staff Nurse Tracy Morland was the most envied girl in the hospital when eligible Doctor Colin Brent asked her to marry him. She accepted, and then found the demands of her career interfering with their marriage plans. But would she have let them interfere if she had been truly in love?


“When we’re married it’s me you’ll be required to worry about and plan for, and don’t you forget it.”

Nurse Tracy Morland really likes Dr. Colin Brent. He is a hot tomato of a medico who goes around flirting with all the nurses, but in the past three months he seems to have settled on Tracy, to such an extent that he’s pressuring her to marry him. She’s, well, just not sure! “What I do know is that Colin means more to me than any other man,” she tells her best friend Jean. “I love going about with him, and I know I should feel frightfully flat if all that stopped. But liking to be with a man doesn’t mean you want to be married to him. In some ways it would be lovely, of course, but I hate the idea of having to consider someone else all the time. I do love him, Jean, but I’m not sure if I love him enough.” Jean, at least, has some sense and tells Tracy quite firmly that she does not love him enough and should not marry Colin. This is exactly what everyone else says, but Tracy, not one to listen to reason, goes and accepts him anyway.

On the evening of their engagement, which is 80 waffling pages in arriving, she is introduced to Colin’s older brother Neville, who is a sea captain. Needless to say, the pair hit it off immediately. “I don’t feel as if you’re a stranger,” Neville tells her within minutes of their meeting. “The way you move and speak; you yourself, in fact, are so familiar that it’s as if you were someone I used to know very well but haven’t met for a long time.” Further telegraphing occurs when they hit the dance floor later on: “Is it that our steps fit unusually well?” he asks her. “I seem to know exactly what you want me to do next,” she answers. “It’s rather fascinating.”

What’s not fascinating is that when Neville promptly embarks on another three-month tour, we are left to pages and pages of Tracy’s confusion about whether she loves Colin enough to marry him, even though “the times they spent together she found perfectly satisfactory,” and we are forced to suffer through her attempts to stave off what should be the inevitable marriage. And his attempts to convince her to give up her career once they are married, about which she is feeling very reluctant. Meanwhile, all their friends watch this unfold, and think to themselves how Neville is really the better man for Tracy, while the cute physical therapist Rietta is the better woman for Colin: “Tracy was too direct to disguise the fact that she often thought her own way the  best, and Colin was not forceful enough, except where his work was concerned, to domineer over her when he thought her wrong. Rietta, with a much more feminine outlook, would have managed things very differently. She would have made Colin take the lead and would have deferred to him, but she would have made sure that he wanted what she wanted, and this without Colin guessing that his ideas had been hers in the first place.” A happy wife is a devious, manipulative one, apparently.

Eventually, when Neville writes a letter to Rietta, Tracy becomes wildly jealous and so finally figures out that—you are not going to believe this—“what she felt for Colin was a pale reflection of what she felt for Neville,” a man she’s spent one day and one evening with. If she takes 150 pages to finally figure it out, she immediately sets off to let Colin down, only to stumble over VNRN Trope #54, which is that Colin has been in a car crash and may be unable to walk again, so how can she break up with him now? (Flashback to Tender Nurse, which wasn’t any better than this book.) If only there were a beautiful and charming physical therapist who is so much better suited for Colin than Tracy is who is going to be working with Colin on a daily basis and could set him to rights!

If that groaner weren’t enough for us, Neville returns from the sea and has a heart-to-heart with his brother, in which Colin admits he’s actually in love with Rietta and says, “A pity you didn’t meet Tracy first. It might have saved all of us a good deal of trouble, not to mention a certain amount of unhappiness,” and it’s entirely possible that he is including us readers in the list of victims. Neville teams up with the resourceful and self-interested Rietta to ambush Tracy at Rietta’s apartment that night, and the trap works: The minute he walks through the door, “the sound of love and longing in her voice and the glad, incredulous look in her eyes” tells all, and they confess their undying love for each other. We know it’s meant to be by the domineering tone Neville immediately takes with her: “You’re mine, my girl, and I won’t ever let you go,” he says during their first embrace, and shortly after tells her he’ll make his own decisions, which is that she’s going to marry him, though uninformed readers might have thought that was her decision to make. “It never would have done if Neville hadn’t had the sense to force things,” she tells Colin when they do end their engagement. Because all a headstrong woman needs is a bossy man to rein her in. Neville does, however, realize how important nursing is to Tracy and tells her that she should get a job as nurse on his ship, and they can sail the seven seas together. But when she says that on their journeys around the world she wants to pop in and say hello to a longtime patient who’d taken up a lot of subplot in the book and then moved to Australia, he bizarrely says no. Well, she doesn’t care after all: “It’s you I want and who counts with me, darling, and it always will be,” she says, and my disgust with this book was complete.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Nurse Deceived

By Diana Douglas (pseud. Richard Wilkes-Hunter), ©1973
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

When Dr. John Rentoul drove Michelle Banfield home, it seemed the start of a romance between the tall, handsome surgeon and the beautiful, gray-eyed nurse. Then, suddenly, out of the night rushed a car driven by a man intent on murder. In its wake lay a girl whose memory had been destroyed, and whose face was so disfigured it would take all of John Rentoul's surgical skill to mend it. As Michelle watched the miracle of restoration, John, like the Greek sculptor Pygmalion, fell in love with his creation. It was only then that Michelle sensed the evil person behind the lovely mask being formed. What could she do to save the man she loved from a fascination that might destroy him—and ruin her own chance at happiness...?


“Cosmetic surgery is as necessary to humanity as—as the appendectomy.”

“If there’s one thing murderers insist upon, it’s privacy.”

When we meet nurse Michelle Banfield, she is walking into the office of Dr. John Rentoul, who is looking out the window onto the San Francisco Bay. “He always stood by the window at the end of the day’s surgery, while he waited for her to bring his coffee,” which is among an OR charge nurse’s essential duties, apparently. Dr. Rentoul made all his money by doing cosmetic surgery, “surgery of vanity,” the doctor ruefully tells Michelle when he speaks of the lack of respect other doctors have for his line of work. Undeservedly so! Michelle snaps, “An aging woman who wants to keep a little of the beauty she once had can be suffering from a psychological need that only cosmetic surgery can heal.” Um, therapy might work too, and last longer, but maybe not.

Anyway, to assuage the guilt of his wasted talents, he moonlights at Bay General Hospital, doing reconstructive surgery on accident victims, but for the amount of time he’s spending at Bay General, it’s hard to believe he has a full-time career elsewhere. Especially after he almost literally runs into the patient who comes to occupy most of his time. Driving Michelle home from work, in what could be the start of a beautiful friendship, their car is almost involved in a crash in which a taxi is deliberately slammed by another car. The taxi driver is killed, and the woman in the back seat with all those bags of cash beside her is badly injured, her face completely destroyed.

The patient is rushed to their operating room, where Dr. Rentoul begins the months-long process of rebuilding her face, which involves completely swathing it in bandages the entire time. Unfortunately, when she awakens from her first surgery, the patient is found to have amnesia, “caused by a hysterical response as she realized and feared what was about to happen when she saw the car charging her taxi.” Right. Curiously, no one seems to be seeking her, and no one is reporting a ton of cash gone missing. The patient decides to call herself Beverley, though Dr. Rentoul call her his “puppet” and sees himself as Pygmalion creating his own Galatea, a pretty high-class reference for an otherwise pedestrian novel. Dr. Rentoul is “giving you a face most men would consider attractive,” Dr. Rentoul’s partner tells Beverley. “You already have a beautiful body to go with it—so what more could a woman in your situation expect?” Respect would be a nice start, but it is the 1960s.

The mystery, of course, revolves around Beverley’s true identity, but a side plot involves a local abortionist who is killing the young women that go to him—or her! Our nurse Michelle is actually not deceived by Beverley, deciding she is a sinister character who is using Dr. Rentoul and his growing infatuation with her for her own ends—yet her true identity begins to come to light when a patient next door to Beverley mysteriously has her oxygen levels adjusted from their previously inaccurate setting to the right one, thereby saving the patient’s life. Michelle has her suspicions: She “remembered how, during the first examination when John Rentoul had suggested incising the endotracheal airway for anesthesia, Beverley had known what a tracheostomy was. Michelle was sure of it. She had been terrified at the thought of having a hole cut in her throat through which to breathe.”

Eventually Beverley’s face is perfected through microsurgery, which is laughingly described here as being literally microscopic: “The finger movements of the surgeons were so slight that they could seldom be seen by the naked eye. And they used equally minute needles and thread. Absolute concentration was essential.” While everyone else is eagerly wondering how this superhuman surgery will improve Beverley’s eyelid, “she had  been thinking of what it might do to John. She had read somewhere that tension from the degree of concentration needed for microsurgery was almost unbearable.” Perhaps it’s not jealousy that makes her suspicious of Beverley’s months-long amnesia, or why “something niggled at the back of her mind.” What the niggler is we never find out, but in the end a vicious murderer crashes through the hospital window in Beverley’s room to kill her. Her new face hasn’t been enough to hide her, because Michelle had told some rude, shouting boor who’d phoned the hospital to ask if a woman who’d been in a taxi crash has been hospitalized there that yes, indeed, they do have just such a patient! Oh, wait, no, she didn’t: “I was careful about that,” she tells police Lt. Harding. “I simply told him that if he came to the hospital and asked for me, I’d take him to her.” And never mind that the fellow’s taken several months to get around to inquiring, you still have to admire his persistence.

Curiously, when Michelle disarms the intruder, Beverley loses her cool, grabs the gun, knocks poor junior resident Dr. Sinclair unconscious, and flees the hospital, apparently feeling no gratitude to the doctors who gave her a gorgeous new face—“she was certainly no ravishing beauty” before the accident, apparently. Her methods aren’t any more effective than her would-be attacker, as both are quickly captured by Lt. Harding’s officers. Beverley is actually Mrs. Friedman—no first name, poor thing—an intern MD who lost her license for stealing drugs that induce uterine contractions, apparently set on a career as a criminal abortionist even fresh out of medical school. And one of her victims had turned out to be the girlfriend of a crazed thug who swore revenge, though Mrs. Friedman turned out to be a better assassin than he was.

The curious thing is that when the whole escapade is explained in the hospital chief’s office afterward, it turns out that Dr. Rentoul had been aware of Lt. Harding’s suspicion of Beverley and had agreed to help with the investigation. So it is especially odd that he spent so much time and care rebuilding her face, and that he seemed to be falling in love with her. “It was odd the way I felt about her, Michelle,” he pathetically attempts to explain. “I believed that Harding’s suspicious had a sound basis right from the night of the accident. Yet, as I watched the surgery bring shape and life and expression to her face, I was attracted, too.” So despite this weird twist in Dr. Rentoul’s character, Michelle agrees to a date with him on the last pages, and “it was as though Michelle had come home to where she had belonged.” Back to serving him coffee in his office?

The book is fairly perfunctory, without interesting writing or plotting to keep it going. There’s a lot here about facial reconstruction surgery, which fills the pages, and the story line about Dr. Rentoul falling in love with this woman solely based on her appearance—which he is giving her himself—despite his suspicion of her lethal hobby would be too hard to swallow if you haven’t read more than 300 other VNRNs in which men repeatedly do similar stupid things. And if you hadn’t spent years in the company of real-life American men. Michelle is a cipher throughout most of the book, mostly just witnessing the activity around her until she uncharacteristically leaps into action at the end to disarm the thug. I was also surprised that Beverley would jeopardize her disguise by aiding another patient; I’d be more convinced if she’d instead acted to bump off someone who might have been able to identify her—and it would have been easy enough to put one of her former patients in the next room. Lastly, I'n not sure why this book is called Nurse Deceived when in fact the nurse was not deceived one bit. All in all, this book is unsatisfying and uninteresting, and you should not be deceived into reading it.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Nurse of My Heart

By Jill Christian, ©1955
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

When Sally gave up her hospital career to go home and nurse her sister Jeannie, she was making a bigger sacrifice than anyone knew; for Jean had married the man Sally loved. All the same, she looked forward to seeing her beloved Cumberland again; she could even visit the farm that was her own property and meet the tenant who had such a reputation for being dour and difficult.


“The awful thing about stalking out in a temper, she reflected with a rueful grimace, is that sooner or later you have to go back.”

“In these circumstances, I’m not a woman, I’m a nurse. There is all the difference in the world.”

“The eyes of the man at the door rested on Sally, and she was worth it.”

“It’s them we injure as we hates the most.”

“The capacity of the average man for making a martyr of himself is quite remarkable and doesn’t impress me.”

“Love needs a dash of pity to sharpen it, like lemon juice in a veal stuffing.”

“So long as someone needs a woman she is alive; the deadly thing is for no one to need her.”

“That’s what happens to all the big moments of our lives, she thought with bitter amusement. Someone butts in with a plate of meat-paste sandwiches and the moment is over.”

It’s not often that we meet a heroine like Sally Gaskell, who is a very feisty gal excelling at her job in a London hospital.  She’d essentially run away from home three years ago after her sister Jean had married Chris Hardrigg, the hunky farmer she herself had fallen in love with. But now Jean has fallen—from the hayloft, that is—and suffered an unspecified back injury that has left her unable to walk at present, though six months of hard therapy should put her to rights.

Off Sally goes to move into Chris and Jean’s home to help with Jean’s recovery. Though Sally seems to feel she has no choice in leaving her job to care for Jean, she also makes much of her loss of a rewarding career: “She did love it here; the work, the companionship, the patients …. But it seemed that Jean was to take everything from her. Chris—and now the career into which she had put so much of herself.”

Once home, she finds that Chris is actually a somewhat stodgy “Victorian papa.” “I let your undeniably handsome face come between me and reality,” she tells him candidly, confessing her youthful infatuation as well as the fact that she no longer yearns for him tragically. In her forthright manner, she also lets him know that Jean is never going to walk again, because neither of them want her to—“Doesn’t it suit you better to have an invalid wife? The normal, day-to-day husband and wife relationship is suspended until she is better.” There’s a problem in their relationship that neither wants to face: Chris saw a woman kissing a married man and thinks it was Jean—when it was his sister Heather wearing Jean’s coat. Heather has made Jean swear not to tell Chris the truth, because she refuses to believe the cost her adventuring has had on her brother’s marriage and is afraid that confessing the truth will make Chris despise her. But Sally’s attempt to talk sense into everyone and bring the pair together goes nowhere, as do her efforts at physical therapy: Everyone just yells and cries at her “cruelty,” and back Jean goes to bed.

Meanwhile, Sally is falling into a tempestuous relationship with Ross More, who is a tenant on the farm she herself owns, inherited from her grandfather. More is a stubborn, reluctant outsider to the insular rural community, full of new-fangled ideas and insensitive to local traditions, but Sally campaigns on his behalf amongst the townspeople and badgers him spiritedly to get him off his high horse and be a little nicer to everyone. Though Ross has a reputation around town as a big grouch, she is never frightened by him, instead always doing the right thing, even if they do come to blows on a regular basis: “I’ve eaten fiercer men than Ross for breakfast,” she says, and we can  believe her—all that time on Men’s Surgical back in London taught her a trick or two.

And so we watch this pair box around each other, through farming crises and neighborhood conflicts, into the serial misunderstandings that must crop up in a romance novel if eventually they are to bulldozed over. Marginal characters in this book are singular, well-drawn individuals who add a lot of zest to the story, which moves organically and never feels plodding or mechanical. There’s a good bit of humor in this story, such as in: “Something like a solid ice-flow swept past him. It was Sally,” and never mind that this typo-stricken novel has misspelled floe, or that you run headlong into the attempts to write dialect as if you’ve hit a barn door (“He ay dead, miss? ’E cor be, bat he’m so still.”). With writing that can sparkle on occasion, if not often enough, and an ending that literally brought tears to my eyes, this is a refreshing story with a rare heroine who really deserves to be one, falling for a man who really deserves it. How rare is that?

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Jungle Doctor

By Vivian Stuart ©1961
Cover illustration by Jack Harman

Anton Kramer, a man of fierce devotion where his work as a surgeon was concerned, could never surrender to an uncompromising love like Deborah's. Had Deborah's experience of men been wider she must have known this,  but guilelessly she consented to the suggestion that she should join him as his bride in Indonesia when her three years' training as a nurse was completed. But Deborah came to learn that much can happen in three years. In three years a man can build a new world for himself, can make a new circle of friends and can learn to exchange confidences with a beautiful Oriental more intimate than ever he had shared with the woman he had promised to marry. When Deborah arrived to join Anton all these things were clear to her. Anton still loved her—of that she was certain—but was the part in his life that he offered her big enough, important enough? And even more significant, after meeting the young flyer, Hank Curtis, did she still want that part?


“Tarapang had been rent by strife and terrorists had burned and ravaged and killed in the name of Freedom, tearing down the civilization which the white men had brought, for no other reason than because the white man had brought it.”

“A post at the County Hospital, when she had finished her training, had been the height of her ambitions with, perhaps, later on, marriage to one or other of the pleasant ordinary young men she knew and with whom, hitherto, she had been content to spend her time.”

“ ‘You gave your word to Deb,’ Deb’s mother had reminded him. ‘Surely you aren’t going to break your promise to her for the sake of a few heathen natives?’ ”

“Love is giving, not taking, Miss Fane—it is making sacrifices for the man you love, devoting your life to him, humbling yourself—”

Deborah Fane has just graduated from nursing school, and as we meet her she is jetting off to Indonesia to meet up with Dr. Anton Kramer, whom she met at school in England and fell in love with. They’d become engaged before he left to go to “his own country since boyhood,” where “he had spent the war years, first as a Japanese prisoner and later as leader of the guerilla force which had opposed the conquerors.” They’ve been maintaining a ferocious daily letter-writing relationship for the past three years, but have not seen each other in that time, so anyone with a brain is going to predict trouble for the happy couple. Indeed, in recent months, his correspondence has ceased due to a revolution that has occurred on the island of Tarapang, where Anton is working. Undeterred by the wholly unstable situation, Deborah has hopped a jet to Indonesia and once there hired a private plane, piloted by cowboy American Hank Curtis, to get her the rest of the way to the island, because “her eagerness to tend and serve its primitive and misguided people was second only to her longing to tend and serve Anton himself.” If you can stand it.

Anton is unaware of her impending arrival, since mail service has been unacceptably poor during the hostilities. Hank is rightfully concerned that Deborah is a hopelessly naïve babe in the woods with an obsessive messiah complex regarding her fiancé, who is rumored to have led the uprising on the island. “The Anton she had known and loved could not possibly be the leader of a violent revolt! It was unthinkable,” even though she knows he had been one before med school. But since she’s the cutest white gal he’s seen in years, Hank signs on to the mission and hangs out with the military pilots to find out their timetable for bombing the island, so he can get the jump on them early the next morning while they’re sleeping off their hangovers. He lands Deborah on Tarapang, but not before getting shot at by another plane and taking a bullet to a convenient shoulder (it’s never to the head, is it?), from which he is completely recovered (or at least it’s never mentioned again) after five pages.

Landing on the island, Deborah is met by her true love and a gang of local soldiers driving an armed vehicle. Anton seems happy to see her—but his associate, the vixen Dr. Liang Hosien, is less pleased to encounter a rival. Anton is acting a little strangely, though, one minute completely ignoring Deborah and the next kissing her passionately. She has to work hard to convince Anton that he should abandon the island and return to the mainland with her so they can be married and live happily ever after. “Ever since I got here, I have been afraid. Of—of something. It sounds stupid but I don’t even know of what I am afraid,” she tells Anton. Could it be the armed soldiers that drive Anton around? The plane that shot at her and Hank en route to the island? The government bombers on their way to annihilate Tarapang? Nah, “it is just some sort of blind instinct, I think. I—I don’t know.”

It becomes increasingly clear to even dopey Deborah that Anton is playing a military role in the uprising, and his agreement to leave the island stems from his belief that his ragtag band of guerillas is losing the war and that they will surrender peaceably once their leader has abandoned them. Despite his current dubious second job, Deborah is nonetheless standing by her man, even though “Anton had changed. She could no longer pretend, even to herself, that he had not.” Meanwhile, Hank works overtime flirting and kissing Deborah to convince her to leave the increasingly unhinged Anton. Anton rightfully becomes jealous of Hank, who counters, “He should stick around and keep an eye on you, if he wants me to stop making passes at you, shouldn’t he now?” But Deborah, after kissing Hank twice, feels that Anton’s jealousy is completely unfounded: Hank “had risked his life to get her here, was risking it now and … he had kissed her. True, it had been nothing more than a brotherly gesture, his lips had merely brushed hers in farewell. They were confronting a shared danger and he had been about to leave her. It had meant no more than that—Hank was an American and that was the American way, casual, light hearted, a kiss instead of a compliment.” Even when Anton walks in as she is sobbing in Hank’s manly arms, Deborah seems completely oblivious: When Anton shouts, “‘Do you deny now that you’ve let Curtis make love to you behind my back? Do you?’ ‘Yes! It isn’t true, Anton!’ Deb protested, the color rushing to her cheeks.” Clearly the word “protested” should here be read as “lied.”

As it happens, a diplomat shows up on the island to negotiate peace and is shot and held captive by the guerillas. To prevent the all-out war that would ensue, Hank sneaks off to try to rescue the diplomat and is captured himself. Deborah is then forced to sneak out to Hank’s plane and use the radio to call the mainland to stop the impending bombing of the island. The resulting delay yields enough to get Hank and the diplomat rescued and to cool off the crisis.

Anton negotiates himself into the role of official leader of the island, and Deborah finally realizes “the Anton she had known and loved in England had not been the real Anton—perhaps he had existed only in her imagination.” But Hank is so much more! So in the end, three action-packed days after her arrival, she is leaving Tarapang to get married—but not to Anton, after she realizes that she’d never loved Anton the way she loves Hank, of course: “Hank, who had kissed her lightly and laughingly and had aroused in her emotions she hadn’t known she possessed, emotions she hadn’t felt for Anton, although she had believed that she loved him for nearly three years.”

This book technically counts as a nurse novel since Deborah is a full-fledged RN, but all she really does in this book in that capacity is dress Hank’s bullet wound and count hospital supplies. It’s a pretty adventurous story, though the politics are a little hard to follow (in full disclosure, I may not have accurately represented the plot here), and Deborah is a near-total moron, ignorant of basic human behavior and swinging from a years-long devotion to a man she only writes letters to, to marriage to a man she’s known for only three days. It’s an unusual VNRN and one worth reading in that respect, but not the best book I’ve ever read.