Thursday, September 19, 2019

Frightened Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1976

When Nurse Gwen Powell arrived at Tampa airport she caught sight of Dr. Reece Ramsey, who’d hired her for her new post. He left his car, smiling warmly, hands outstretched in greeting. A wild, sudden thought leaped unbidden into Gwen’s mind: some day she was going to marry this man! It wasn’t long before they arrived at the palatial home of the Nordykes. Introductions to the family members took place quickly. And then Gwen met her patient, the elderly Henry Nordyke. But—almost from the first—strange, freakish problems occurred in Henry’s case … accidents … overdoses of medicine … and Gwen became uneasy. Then there was a night of terror as Gwen, thoroughly alarmed by still another incident, rushed to the room of her patient. Her hand shook uncontrollably as she turned the knob. She knew then that someone was trying to kill Henry Nordyke.


“Gwen knew she shouldn’t be eavesdropping like this, but the conversation was too fascinating to pass by.”

“I had no idea when I came down here from Chicago I was going to get into a nest of intrigue!”

This book would have been better named Mildly Perturbed Nurse, so bland is it that fright is much too strong an emotion to be experienced by any character in it, much less anyone reading it. Gwen Powell is a Chicago-based nurse whose fiancé Ted had been killed in a car crash six months ago. She’s still  heartbroken, not surprisingly, and so decides she needs to leave town to recover. She’s accorded that opportunity when Reece Ramsey, an old friend of her fiancé’s, invites her to Florida to serve as a private nurse to business magnate Henry Nordyke, who has suffered a stroke at age 75. He’s a stubborn, cantankerous old goat, so naturally in no time flat Gwen has him eating out of her hand as she rubs his fuzzy ears.

The other members of the house and family prove to be more troublesome. There’s son Kevin, who is a painter: “ ‘I’m an artist,’ he shouted. ‘Do you hear, an artist! Not a bookkeeper or office manager, not a seller of foods!’” He even defaces canvas from time to time to prove it, resides in the garret and mopes constantly about the fact that dad won’t pay for him to go live in Paris, though no fewer than four major characters in the book point out that Kevin could just get a job and earn the money himself—indeed it’s acknowledged that he has gotten apparently significant sums from his father in the past. “I’ve advanced you money from time to time, over and above the trust fund that was set up for you. What do you do with it all?” asks Dad. “That’s my business,” Kevin snaps, and that’s the end of that.

Daughter Carol has married boozer frat boy Howard Dane, who has another crazy scheme to make money that involves investing large sums that he doesn’t have, and the pair drop by almost daily to harangue Henry into giving them some. Crazy aunt Flora, Henry’s sister, is a joint owner of Henry’s business, but seems to have a tenuous grip on reality—yet still is given the responsibility of caring for Henry when Gwen has evenings and Sundays off. Lyle Thelman, Henry’s business partner, feels Henry’s business is about to go under but could be saved by a merger that Henry refuses to agree to, so Lyle waylays Gwen on the beach several times to urge her to use her influence on Henry. She declines and he tries bribery instead, which is equally unsuccessful.

Now this is the frightening part! Or might be if the plot and writer were much, much better. Gwen comes home from a bad date with Kevin in which he forcibly kisses her and calls her a “moody little witch” when she fights him off, to find that Henry is barely breathing because somehow he’s taken an extra sleeping pill! A determined night of pouring coffee into him and chafing his wrists and he’s back to normal, but who could have tried to kill Henry? And what kind of drug is nearly fatal with a second dose? The mild intrigue masquerading as a mystery continues when Gwen goes to check on Henry one night to discover the window has been left wide open. “Had someone slipped in here while he slept and opened it? Had someone wanted him to lie sleeping in a draft?” There must be a homicidal maniac on the loose! Next, Henry wheels his chair out onto the patio one night in a driving rainstorm and is locked out; who was he meeting out there? “None of your business,” he snaps, a common refrain among these Nordykes, but somehow he survives this deadly encounter with the weather, likely due to the hot bath and medicinal cup of tea that Gwen treats him with.

Then a car follows her and Kevin on their next date—of course there is one, despite his deplorable behavior on the last one, because “she could not help but find him attractive” and soon is “returning his kiss and enjoying it.” And Gwen sees a man on the lawn watching the house, though of course the police are not called. Then! The golf cart brakes fail while Gwen and Henry are out for a ride, but Gwen turns off the motor and the golf cart, hurtling down the sidewalk at a breakneck 10 mph, dwindles to a stop. “There was something very strange going on here and had been ever since she’d come. She wasn’t sure she was up to much more of this!” Her anxiety takes hold of her in the middle of the night and she rushes to check on Henry. “He was all right!” Nonetheless, “she couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was coming to a head, that they were just marking time until zero hour. When something horrible was going to happen!” Are you scared? Maybe someone will leave a banana peel on the top stair!!!

Eventually one of her midnight checks on Henry uncovers a man in Henry’s bedroom who has a heavy object in his hand “and then it came crashing down on her head”!! Next thing we know, she’s waking up to learn that the evil schemer behind all the shenanigans was Howard Dean—who’d not been at the house the night of Henry’s overdose or of the ruthless open window incident, and the patio episode is never explained. His brush with death averted, Henry undergoes a complete personality change and gives the lazy bum Kevin $30,000 to go to Paris, money well spent to get the lout out of the house. He also accepts the merger deal as well as his daughter back into the house, as she’s divorcing Howard, but given the fact that Howard’s now in jail, it’s not clear why she can’t remain in her own home. Gwen finally succumbs to the smooth moves of Reece Ramsey and seems poised to embark on a relationship with him, though it’s not clear why she suddenly prefers Reece to Kevin—but then, it was never clear why she preferred Kevin in the first place, so  maybe I shouldn’t be too demanding.

This dull book has little to recommend it: The writing is ordinary, the characters insipid and dislikeable, and the plot is boring—an even worse crime than usual since author Ms. Hale is apparently attempting to give us a thriller. I have never enjoyed Ms. Hale’s books, giving the 17 books of hers that I’ve read an average grade of C+ (unfortunately for me she’s written at least another 20! Insert chagrined emoji here), and I continue to be amazed that she was able to get so many of her works published. A sad commentary on the VNRN market, and on my future reading list.

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