Monday, April 27, 2020

Harbor Nurse

By Arlene J . Fitzgerald, ©1964

Lovely Dawn Darwell had worked hard to perfect her skills as a nurse. But she found her job in Dr. Phil Beeman’s swank society practice strangely unsatisfying. So when struggling young Dr. Rave Canfield begged her to assist him in the remote fishing village called Moon Bay, she accepted. Even though it meant testing her skills in a make-do rural clinic, and separation from her socially prominent and wealthy fiancĂ© …


“I hope Dr. Canfield doesn’t turn out to be some old man whose hands are so shaky he can no longer control the scalpel—or, worse yet, some scoundrel abortionist who’s come here to hide.”

“She swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the lump of apprehension that clogged her esophagus.”

“‘I wish things had turned out for Gus,’ she told him, remembering the man who lay dead in emergency.”

“Without warning, the moment that Dr. Canfield had held her tight, his heart throbbing beneath her own, with violent life, beside Gus Lardo’s death bed, was fresh in her mind. It was moments like that, she thought, that gave life its deeper meaning.”

“Every good nurse had to learn to control her emotions, no matter whether they stemmed from that first, sinking feeling of horror that gripped her at the sight of a hopelessly mangled body, or from the magnetism that could attract her to a member of the opposite sex.”

“Belle needed a man. It was obvious in every twitch of the exotic girl’s well rounded hips.”

Who in the world would name the hero of their novel Rave? Well, the same author who picked Key and Stag in past works (that would be Northwest Nurse and Daredevil Nurse, respectively), and who here has given us a spectacular offering truly worthy of one of our perennial Worst Authors: Previously slipping to the number five spot in 2020, with this appalling novel she is likely squeak past horror show Jeanne Bowman for second place come next year’s VNRN awards. Tune in next January to see if she lives up to the promise of this novel!

Though I’m not sure it’s worth the time, I can give you a quick rundown of the plot’s lowlights: Nurse Dawn Darwell is engaged to the quintessential society MD, Dr. Phil Beeman of San Francisco. We are told that “she was in love with the guy—after a fashion,” which means, if appearances are anything, not at all. “She felt hardly anything at all for Phil. He was just there, someone to be taken for granted, like the office furniture.” When she drives the office lab technician back to her home town on the harbor to recover from mono, she meets the local doc, Rave Canfield (whom Phil amusingly refers to as Rage Cantle), and is instantly smitten with his “indefinable magnetism that few men possessed.” So impressed is she that her first glance into the depths of his blue eyes “caused the muscles over her solar plexus to contract suddenly in a little spasm of sheer animal delight.” Her frank lust only grows from there: “She was overwhelmingly aware of the long, hard, alive length of his big body, warm against hers,” and “she watched him go, aware of the powerful flexing of muscle along the length of his lean thighs.” Hubba, hubba! It takes her all of ten minutes after she returns to the posh office of Dr. Beeman before she gives notice. Though she’s had not one nice thing to say about Phil, on her way out the door of his clinic, she thinks “that it wasn’t very wise of her to risk losing Phil like this.” Still she walks out, saying, “I’ll drop you a card. Until then, goodbye, Phil.”

Back she goes to Moon Bay to work for Dr. Rave (and send Phil perfumed letters, probably not mentioning her major crush). “It made no difference to her what romantic attachments Dr. Canfield might have. She hadn’t come to this small fishing won to land herself a handsome husband.” I’m not sure who she thinks she’s fooling, but it’s not us! Life in Moon Bay is so much more thrilling than Dr. Beeman’s office: On her first day she was “glad for the urgency that filled her every moment at the clinic,” such as when she weighed a pregnant woman and then set out equipment Dr. Rave would need to take out some wire skin sutures (wire skin sutures?).

But we needn’t quibble, because soon there are adventures galore, such as the two babies that are born (one of which Dawn delivers solo, the other she brings back to life while Rave saves the mother from hemorrhaging to death), the local vagrant who has treated his brewing appendicitis with a packet of powder he’s found in the gullet of a dead fish on the beach and overdoses on cocaine (I kid you not!), a woman dying of cancer who is helped into the grim reaper’s arms with more cocaine by her wannabe son-in-law, several daring sea rescues by Dawn and Rave during major storms, and we haven’t even started on Rave’s plans to get the government to build a seafood research center in town, which will surely boost its economic prospects. Seafood research, you ask? Apparently it’s super important, because Russia and China have already gotten a jump on the U.S. with their own seafood research centers, but with the resources of Moon Bay, soon America will be great again! And as far as Dawn’s personal ambitions go, it’s not long before Dr. Rave pulls her into his arms and kisses her, literally a second after she’s registered that the patient on the table before them has died. “His hard, square mouth captured her red lips in a kiss that sent her heart racing, driving out the death chill that had infiltrated the small room.” What a romantic fool, that Rave Canfield!

Although my research has turned up nothing, I cannot believe that Arlene J. Fitzgerald is not the pen name of Adelaide Rowe, who also infuriated as Adelaide Humphries and especially as Kathleen Harris. All the hallmarks are there, and uncork the Pepto Bismol, because I’m going to recite them for you: First we have our heroine’s serious thoracic disease to contend with, as she suffers from “a little twinge of pride trembling behind her sternum,” “a feeling of urgency and excitement throbbed through her thoracic mediastinum,” “impatient throbbing behind her sternum,” “sharp pain sliced suddenly behind her sternum,” “a jagged little stab of fear penetrated behind her sternum,” and “a strange commotion in her mediastinal region,” to name just a few of Dawn’s alarming symptoms. I was also having a strange commotion, but it was located more in my epigastric region. (See, if you dare, Nurse Nolan’s Private Duty, written as Kathleen Harris.)

We are reminded at least 13 times that Dawn has violet eyes, and pretty much every part of Dawn—including hips, skirts, chin, and nose—is described as pert, God help us. Dawn is lucky to possess a magical quality called “firm, nurse’s discipline,” which allows her to do many, many things, including ignore her pounding heart (thanks, Dr. Rave), force down the feeling of horror that comes over her while rescuing a fisherman out of the ocean, and zipline out to a fishing boat during a hurricane to help amputate the leg of a fisherman who was attacked by a shark. (I’ll wait until you stop laughing.) If they could bottle firm nurse’s discipline, the world’s problems would be solved.

Her FND also bestows her with the ability to manage her feelings like a surgeon: she cauterizes, snips, slices through, and sears off negative feelings with “quick, mental cautery” or “a firm, mental scalpel” on at least eight occasions, not to mention the “firm mental clamps” (Dawn is big into firmness) she applies to her thoughts on at least three more. Author Fitzgerald does not limit surgery to emotions but also gives us pages of snip-by-snip description of several surgeries (not the circumcision, however), but for all their detail they’re not very accurate, at least by today’s standards, such as when Dawn enumerates a patient’s symptoms in great clinical detail, decides that the patient has “cocainism,” and treats him with “gentle slapping.” Hard to believe, but this treatment proves not very effective.

As hot as Dr. Rave is, Dawn is apparently quite a bombshell herself, and we are treated to her “slim, rounded body” “clad only in panties and bra” as she scrubs up for surgery—not sure how exactly she’s going to get her scrubs on now that her hands are clean, but we’ll let sterile technique slide for the sake of a cheap voyeuristic thrill. Some of these mentions of her body are laughably incongruous, such as when she runs up the beach, “savoring the salty breeze that grazed her full, red mouth.” (We met similar silly lust for both hero and heroine in Young Nurse Rayburn.)

The upside of this book is that it gives you so many laugh-out-loud moments (much to the increasing irritation of your teenaged son, tragically kicked out of college and imprisoned in the house by coronavirus). The prose is over the top, such as in: “The gale-churned expanse of water beyond the tiny town writhed in a morass of undisciplined, white-capped waves that pounded the long dock, and the stretch of debris-littered beach.” The pity is that this passage only hints at Ms. Fitzgerald’s deep passion for commas, which are liberally sprinkled across every page like glitter after a princess-themed birthday party. There are glimmers of a good plot here, but the writing is so lazy and repetitive that it completely crowds out what little of genuine interest that could be found here. Though this book nears so-bad-it’s-good status, you’ll need all your firm nurse’s discipline to put a firm mental clamp on the strange commotion in your gut if you decide to wade into this harbor. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Dr. Barry’s Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1968

Betty Richards, R.N., was upset. Old Dr. Barry, her highly respected employer, was going to retire—and had planned on turning over his practice to his physician-son, Mike. But that wasn’t all. The old doctor was bound and determined to see Mike and Betty married! It was hate at first sight when they first met … but they soon realized that the elder Dr. Barry was dangerously ill. So, out of consideration for his health, they went through with the pretense of falling in love. Then—one dramatic afternoon—the curtain fell, once and for all, on the scene they’d performed so well.


“All the doctors in the building ogle you. So you’re not such an innocent little lamb!”

“The intellectual types always had moods, it seemed.”

Arlene Hale is not my favorite VNRN author; of the 20 books she’s written that I’ve been obliged to read, this is only the fifth to score in the B range (she’s never gotten an A). Here we have an example of her finer work: Dr. Barry’s Nurse is not a flashy story, but it is moderately interesting and doesn’t make you sorry you picked it up. A low bar, I know, but unfortunately that’s all we have to work with.

Betty Roberts is actually a fine character: strong, competent, hard-working, and intensely loyal to old Dr. Barry, who paid her way through nursing school after—you guessed it—her parents died, so that she could keep her house, and offered her a job after graduation. That must have been about five years ago because now she’s practically arthritic at 25, a dog’s age in VNRN terms. She’s paid off her debt to him, but he’s like a father to him—she even calls him Pappy—so she’s continued working for him out of her love and loyalty.

But Dr. Barry is bringing in his son Mike from Chicago, fresh out of his residency, to take over the business. Mike is not red-hot on the idea, and Betty, who’s met Mike in passing over the years, hasn’t been overly impressed with him, either, though it’s not clear why: “For reasons she couldn’t quite pin down, she was in no hurry to begin their association,” we learn before he’s even shown up. He blows into the office “like a cold wind off the Arctic,” snippy to the staff and even to patients who could use some reassurance. Betty tells her roommate that Mike is “a stiff-necked, arrogant, cold fish,” and he deserves it. “She could never, never like that man,” she decides, but we have heard that one before!

It soon comes out that Dr. Barry has been hiding a heart condition that has conveniently held itself in check these years until son Mike shows up, and now he’s clotting off his coronary arteries like it’s going out of style. As he’s going down for the third time, Mike tells Betty that they should pretend they are dating to make the old guy feel better. “We both know he could have a severe attack at any time and might not pull out of it. Why would it be wrong to pretend a little, for his sake?” She can think of a lot of reasons why it would be wrong to pretend a little, for his sake, and never exactly agrees to this crazy scheme, but she never says no when he drags her out to the gazebo and starts kissing her because Dr. Barry may be watching. “Make it look good,” he says, so she does—and berates herself endlessly afterward. “Why had she kissed him back so ardently? For Pappy’s sake or her own?” So when the ersatz couple visits Dr. Barry in the hospital after his fourth and final attack, he tells Mike he wants them to marry. “Now. It must be now!” Later that day Mike proposes, and Betty indignantly turns him down—and then realizes she’s in love with Mike after all, and decides she’s only turned him down because he does not love her. But back in Dr. Barry’s hospital room, she and Mike tell him that they are engaged. “Good. Good! That’s all I wanted to hear,” he says, and promptly drops dead. Mike tells Betty she doesn’t have to go through with it, that he’s leaving for Chicago, and she packs up her car to head out of town too. Guess what—they both end up back at Dr. Barry’s office, and you will never guess what happens there!

Though obvious from the start, this book isn’t a complete waste of time. There’s even some humor in it, such as when a would-be masher tells Betty, “I promise you an evening to remember,” and she answers, “That’s what I’m afraid of,” and ducks under his groping arms and out the lounge door. Or when Mike tells her she has “good common horse sense,” she says, “Well, that’s one thing I’ve never been accused of before.” (Though like those trailers on TV that give you every funny line in the film, there aren’t many more in the book.) There are a few curious side plots, like the patient who falls off the Ferris wheel and has amnesia, and her sort-of boyfriend who draws a comic strip is an interesting character. It is too long at 158 pages, and there’s not much new VNRN ground here (even the amnesiac patient is a well-worn old hat; see Doctor Down Under, Nurse Kathy, Nurse Deceived, Nurse with a Problem). But you could do worse, as Arlene Hale certainly has, so maybe we should just be content with that.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Doctor Napier’s Nurse

By Pauline Ash, © 1967

Catherine Hewson—Midge to her friends—and her cousin Derry, another Catherine Hewson, were to start their nursing careers on the same day, but at different hospitals, and Derry had suggested, for some purpose of her own, that they change places. But Midge was not at all sure that it was such a good idea …


“Did you know there was a disgusting dummy that we pretend is a patient, and practice on it? It has all the lifelike etceteras, and I almost killed it with pneumonia yesterday by leaving it uncovered during a blanket bath.”

“Three other people sharing a secret, and it was a secret no longer.”

I’ve been a little crabby with VNRNs lately; it seems every book I pick up is another dull rehash of the usual threadbare plotlines (looking at you, New Surgeon at St. Lucien’s, Nell Shannon, R.N., Dr. Holland’s Nurse, Staff Nurse Sally). So it was with great dismay that I realized two pages into Doctor Napier’s Nurse that I had actually read this book before, but had failed to write a review—and remembering little of it now, would have to read it again to be able to tell you something about it. I should have noticed, however, that this book is by Pauline Ash, who also gave us With Love from Dr. Lucien, a lovely book that earned an A- and a fond place for the author in my heart—with that knowledge I would have groaned less loudly, thereby not startling my travelling companions on the subway. In the end this book does not come up to Dr. Lucien, but is definitely not groan-worthy, and possibly even worth a second read.

Here we have the 19-year-old Catherine Hewson, called Midge, and her cousin of same name and age, called Derry. They are also both orphans—they have a surprising amount in common, this pair—and have been raised by formidable aunts Eleanor and Sapphira, who have decided that the young ladies will be packed off to nursing school: Midge to Tapley’s under Eleanor’s friend Dr. Blair Napier, and Derry to St. Augustine’s with Sapphira’s acquaintance Dr. Paul Pinder. Derry is a wily gal with a fondness for the lads that got her booted from her boarding school, and her plan to buck the yoke imposed on the cousins involves switching places with Midge. The  problem with this is that Midge is just not at all the sort of person who would sign up for such an obviously bad idea. But for the sake of the plot, she does, and regrets it mightily on every page that follows.

Both doctor-mentors have been alerted as to the natures of the incoming nursing students, so Dr. Napier is puzzled by Midge, who frequently “forgot she was supposed to be rather dim and frivolous, and settled in to help anyone who required her.” Turns out that despite her upper-class upbringing, “she was liking the life and the work more and more every day,” and soon comes to regret the fact that her little escapade is likely to undo her future career as a nurse. Dr. Napier also happens to be 28, and before long, “Midge faced the fact that she liked Dr. Napier. Liked him more than was sensible for a little P.T.S. nurse who was probably a good ten years his junior.” But because her plot with Derry involves a lot of sneaking out to see Derry so as to deliver mail she would have received and to head off aunts coming to visit, Midge is perennially in hot water with Dr. Napier, who soon insists that he drive her everywhere when she sets foot out of the hospital and is always lurking in his car outside any shop or pub she ventures into, and then glaring at her and crooking his finger at her to pull her in for a ticking off. Frankly, it’s pretty darned creepy.

To her credit, Midge is not impressed with his behavior, either. When he objects that she won’t call him by Blair, his first name—which does suit him, because he is frequently blaring at her—she says, “I can’t. Every time I see you, you’re looking like thunder. You just have to keep picking on me for something. I just can’t please you, can I?” She proceeds to tell him off, shaking with anger. But he can figure out that something is amiss—the girl that Aunt Eleanor told him smokes like a chimney chokes on the one he forces on her, and her work is too good for a young lady who is alleged to have no mind or interest in work or school. “I find it more and more difficult to believe that you are that sort of person at all,” he says. “It’s as if your good aunt is talking about someone else, a stranger. I just can’t understand it!”

She also quickly comes to despise Derry, who, having talked Midge into the stunt in order to further her relationship with a film star she’d pursued in boarding school—a fact that she had not previously revealed to Midge—now shows no inclination to help Midge out with the various entanglements she’s in over it, and in general demonstrates that she is really a horrible person. “Had Derry ever felt anything more deeply than the two words ‘I want’ could conjure up? Had Derry ever felt remorse or compassion for the people she had twisted, in trying to get her own way?” The aunts finally disclose that the way they’d decided to bring Derry to heel is “to get her married off. Someone nice and stolid and long-suffering, with plenty of money and only male relatives.” So the switch turns out to be beneficial in that regard, as Derry’s MD mentor Paul Pinder is 45, and apparently foolish enough to accept the wild Derry—the mystery is why she decides to accept him, and the fact that he is 26 years older than she is means both of the young women’s beaux are not men the reader can be easy with.

Most of the book is one series of near-misses and escapades that can be a bit confusing to follow and eventually just exhausting, given the constant state of high anxiety that Midge is in. Of course everything is sorted in the end, but it does involve a train crash when both Catherines are on board, and most unfortunately, our independent, hard-working, intelligent heroine agrees in the end to give up too much: “From now on, I take the weights. I shoulder the burdens. Right?” Dr. Napier insists. “I take all the responsibility, and make life easy for you. Agreed?” For her part, she foolishly agrees. But the writing is quite good, with bits like, “all of her chins wobbling in her anxiety” to keep us amused, so if the plot gets a bit too much at times, we can feel for our heroine and enjoy the book overall.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Dr. Holland’s Nurse

By Jane Converse, © 1963

What the gossips said about Dr. Holland’s nurse and his handsome young assistant wasn’t true … Kim Sargent was engaged to Bill Holland, a brilliant doctor much older than she. The lovely nurse admired and respected her fiancĂ©, was sure she could be happy with him, make their marriage a success, and learn to love him as much as he loved her. Then one day a young doctor named Reid Coleman walked into her life. And Kim knew, heartbreakingly, too late, that he was the man she should have waited for!


“Pop’s comfort and Elaine’s education were being bought at the price of her probable spinsterhood. Hopeless, because by the time Elaine finished high school and nurse’s training, Kim would be in her thirties … a stranger to fun, an unlikely prospect for marriage.”

“A guy’s never interested in a girl unless she’s getting the rush act from at least six other fellows.”

“I adore you, Kim. You make such beautifully wifely noises.”

Here we have yet another entry for the VNRN trope of being engaged to the wrong man, plus a devastating illness to keep the heroine roped into the bad bargain as an added bonus. Nurse Kim Sargent works for Dr. Bill Holland, who is a brilliant, single-minded loner of uncertain age, but nearing his fifties—practically dead! Speaking of dead, so are Kim’s hopes for marriage because, at 26, she is approaching the cliff of spinsterhood with no hope of escape: She’s supporting the household with her job at Dr. Holland’s office, just three blocks from her house, from which she can regularly look in on her father, wheelchair-bound these several years after the car crash that killed Mrs. Sargent and every mote of joy in the house. It’s not clear why she feels she has “dismal chances for romance and marriage in the dull, provincial town” of 11,000, except that she seems convinced that she should either be at work or at home caring for her father. But here is the dubious scenario, and when Dr. Holland proposes on page 17, he points out that he can finance her father’s care and her sister’s education, and that “as Mrs. Holland, she would enjoy an undreamed-of security, an enviable position in the community.” So she agrees.

Immediately it becomes obvious even to Kim that this is a bad idea, and she realizes, “she loved Bill Holland … like a father.” Her biological father and sister go ballistic, but she will not be dissuaded: “I’ve already committed myself,” she says, because no one is ever allowed to change their minds. To prove the point that it’s a bad match, the happiest of men immediately commences to building an enormous house and excludes Kim from all planning and meetings with the architect. If that isn’t sign enough, Bill flings himself into work even more furiously than before, which means they never go out and he doesn’t bother to come around to the Sargent house to meet her family. But she gets used to “her strangely placid, semiformal engagement to marry Bill Holland. It would be a pleasant life, she decided. It would be devoid of excitement or momentous challenges, and perhaps it would lack (as it did now) the thrills young lovers encountered.” Sounds swell!

Whom Kim does encounter is Dr. Reid Coleman—“just a kid” at 27, says Dr. Holland, tactlessly forgetting that Kim is younger than that. Reid has signed up to be Bill’s partner at the clinic, and 11 pages after meeting the hot and hunky doctor, Kim realizes that “Reid Coleman brought out in her all the symptoms Pop had ascribed to love.” Virtually nothing except casual conversation precedes this announcement, so it’s a bit bewildering, though not for one second surprising; we wise VNRN readers knew poor Mr. Bill was doomed from the minute he proposed. To her credit, Kim decides she’s going to tell Bill the truth, but guess what??? Before she has a chance to drop her bomb, Bill suffers a debilitating stroke and is paralyzed and unable to speak. “If Bill survived, she would never let him know how close she had come to breaking his heart,” she decides. “Committed to a loyalty deeper than love, she would be waiting for him when and if he recovered.” We’ll see about that!

Now working with Reid every day, she quickly realizes that “this was the kind of love you experience only once in your lifetime, and when it goes unreciprocated and unrealized, you never find it again.” We’re barely halfway through the book, so we have to endure countless visits with speechless Bill, nasty but entirely true rumors in town about Reid and Kim, longing glances from Reid, and numerous tears from Kim. Eventually a widowed nurse a lot closer to Bill’s age is hired to help with Bill’s speech therapy, and exactly no one will be surprised that when Kim eventually works up the guts to tell Bill she is in love with Reid, he beats her to the punch and stutters that he’s in love with the sweet, unassuming Wilma Ellison. At book’s close, Reid and Kim go parking and decide that “older people, like Bill and Pop, like you to believe they know what’s best for you,” and that “usually they do.” Given that the entire premise of this book was about how to escape Bill’s grossly inaccurate belief that he knew what was best for Kim, it just leaves you scratching your head.

This bland, uninteresting book has little to offer in the way of interesting characters outside of the trashy, loudmouthed office secretary. The plot is trite and ridiculously predictable. The writing is not overtly bad but certainly not anything special, either. In short, if perfectly serviceable, it’s not really worth the effort.