Thursday, July 23, 2020

Dental Nurse at Denley’s

By Marjorie Lewty, ©1968

Everyone at Denley’s was wondering what the new dental surgeon would be like. But when Alison Blake learned that his name was Christopher Stevenson, she knew only too well—and her heart sank …


“There is nothing like a dental surgery to make all men equal.”

“On the whole men liked the outside of the package to look glamorous before they bothered much about what was inside.”

“The bad things you know about are so much easier to face than the bad things you just have to guess at.”

Marjorie Lewty, who wrote the splendid Town Nurse—Country Nurse, has written only two other pseudo–nurse novels, I am sorry to say, so there’s only one more after this one. All three novels are about dental nurses, who assist during oral surgeon and so are not immediately disqualified as hygienists but do not neatly fit the category of Registered Nurse. But with books this good, I’m willing to be a bit generous.

Alison Blake is a dental nurse at what appears to be a large factory called Denley’s, which is especially odd, because there are three oral surgeons working for the outfit. Three years ago, when she was just starting out, she had worked for Dr. Terry Stevenson, and had fallen madly, blindly in love with the suave cad. But one day, Dr. Stevenson had made a huge blunder and pulled out the wrong two teeth of a teenager, and the mother, rightfully ballistic, was intent on ruining his career. In the throes of her infatuation, Alison the dope agreed to take the blame by creating a new chart in which she falsely indicated the teeth he had extracted as the ones on the hit list, and he got off scot-free while she shouldered the blame—but due to her youthful inexperience was not punished. In his gratitude, Dr. Terry had taken her in his arms and kissed her madly, declaring that they would be married soon. The next day, though, when she had shown up for work, Terry was gone, and his older brother Christopher—also an oral surgeon—was there, telling her she was being fired for her “mistake,” and she never heard from Terry again. Well, until we meet him in this book, which surely you expected.

In her present life, the old surgeon Alison works for is retiring and a new one is coming in, and it turns out to be big brother Christopher. She’s convinced he will sack her the minute he claps eyes on her, but he does not recognize her, and instead they quickly become like perfectly paired steeds in the harness, “on the same wavelength, but we got on marvelously together. Before the morning was finished I felt as if I’d been working with him for years.” And, of course, she’s soon in love with him. But he has one big pet peeve—he cannot stand to be lied to, which he makes plain to Alison early on. So … she continues to keep secret that she’s worked for Terry, because then she’d have to explain about the sacking, and she’s not sure he’d believe her over his own brother that the error had been Terry’s.

Needless to say, it isn’t too long before Christopher asks Alison out to a concert, as they are both passionate about music, and he kisses her afterward. She is giddy with the prospect of their blooming romance—but the next day Terry shows up, and Christopher soon learns of the prior relationship, and his disgust at her dishonesty by omission cools him to approximately the temperature of a bag of frozen peas. The interesting point is that Christopher is aware that Alison had covered for Terry’s mistake—the blighter had gotten into a car crash the night of his “engagement” to Alison and killed Christopher’s fiancée, who had been in the car with him (VNRN readers picking up on the hint immediately), and while recovering in the hospital Terry had told Christopher all, and more!

Now Terry, who lost fingers in the crash and can no longer work as a dentist, is in town to obtain a job at Denley’s in the hush-hush Department Y on Christopher’s reference, so he’s hanging around causing more trouble for Alison in Christopher’s eyes, who has a tendency to misconstrue every interaction Alison has with a man, unfortunately, and to be relentlessly snippy at work. To her credit, she finally tells him off: “Suddenly I’d had enough of his irony, of his jumping to conclusions, of his misjudgment of me. I was as angry as I’ve ever been in my life. I was on my feet, facing him, and I hardly recognized my own voice as I said, ‘Just stop, before you say any more. What right have you to judge me? You just seem to put your own construction on everything that happens,’” and she sets him straight on several matters, including that the two men he’s seen her out with are engaged to other women, as well as the fact that she thinks Terry is actually an industry spy stealing secrets from Denley’s. Well, somehow this isn’t such bad news as you might think, because suddenly Christopher is over his Big Chill and takes Alison in his arms, tells her he believes her, and kisses her silly. Then they go to the authorities and report Terry, who manages to escape the law, but no matter, they’re engaged, and now “I’ll have to find myself another nurse,” Christopher says, tragically, at the end.

There’s a lot more to this book than the plot I’ve revealed here, though. There are two roommates with men troubles, Christopher’s charming mother to have tea with, men friends to hang out with, and jokes galore. The writing is quite witty and amusing, and makes the book a pleasure to read. The characters were well-drawn, and if Alison’s immediate and deep passion for every Dr. Stevenson that walks through the door is a bit hard to understand (though to be fair, she readily acknowledges now that Terry is an ass in designer clothes, and she had been too naïve at 17 to pick up on his actual nature, which she easily spots now), as we don’t really see much of Christopher that’s especially attractive. But in a book this enjoyable—and it has been a while (December 2019, if you want to know) since we’ve had an A-grade review—minor flaws are easily forgiven.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Nurse Morgan’s Triumph

Book 2 of 4
By Rubie Saunders, ©1970

Don’t get involved. That was the hospital rule, but how could a beautiful, sensitive nurse keep her distance … when she is nursing a 5-year-old back to life after an accident that has killed the child’s parents? … when she watches a boy’s mother trying to keep her son an invalid? … when a dynamic young artist finds her as absorbing as the hospital mural he’s commissioned to paint? … when the handsome new chief resident comes to dinner and doesn’t want to go away?


“You can’t really get to know a girl until you’ve seen her at the kitchen sink.”

“She was certainly a good-looking girl, and intelligent, too. Maybe too intelligent. Marilyn had often wondered if that scared men off.”

“I never would have slept through the noise of you being chased around the sofa—or maybe him being chased around the sofa.”

“I just got off duty. I need to be revitalized.”

Note: This VNRN series is being reviewed out of order; see also Marilyn Morgan, R.N. (#1) and Marilyn Morgan, Cruise Nurse (#3).

Marilyn Morgan is a nurse from Harlem who, fed up with her parents, moved out of the family home on 127th Street and into an apartment near City Hospital with her best friend, fellow nurse Marcia Goldstein, in the first book of the series, Marilyn Morgan, R.N., and now, almost a year later, we pick up with the swinging bachelorettes. One of Marilyn’s boyfriends, Matt, has just moved to Chicago for a residency there, so she’s down to just Dr. Bill Burke—but never fear, Marilyn is quite the dating machine! In no time flat she’s added Dr. Hank Brown and artist James Mitchell to her collection, and is out and about with all three on a regular basis. Hank, though, is a bit problematic—a senior resident, he’s ready to marry, and three weeks after his first date with Marilyn he suggests they tie the knot. “No, she didn’t want this to happen. Hank needed a woman who was ready to be a wife and mother, but it wasn’t Marilyn. ‘I don’t think I’m ready for those things,’” she tells him. They still date, but not with the same ardor—and when Marilyn’s “old maid” sister Liz stands in for Marilyn when Marilyn has to work, well, it’s not hard to see the writing on the wall, especially after it turns out that Liz and Hank both like to go to concerts but Marilyn does not.

In the interim, there are patients to care for—Marilyn works on the pediatrics ward of one of the busiest hospitals in New York City, so there are lots of stories, including a five-year-old girl who is seriously injured in a car crash that kills her parents, a young boy who is trying to regain use of his legs after back surgery but his mother seems determined to keep him an invalid, and lots of tummy aches after ice cream and cake are served on the ward. It’s a hectic life!

But the main interest in the story is Marilyn and Marcia’s admirable social life. Their apartment is quite the swinging pad, and there are many parties to throw and attend, dates to go out on, whisky and wine to drink, and boys to kiss! But the book isn’t all fun and games—there is one subplot involving M&M’s new upstairs neighbors, Lucy Anne Hancock and her husband George. The issue is that Lucy Anne is from Mississippi, and Marilyn decides from day one that “I’m just not in the mood to meet any cute little thing from Mississippi, and I doubt if she’ll ever be in the mood to meet me,” though her fear of Lucy Anne’s racism is not overtly mentioned. She warily avoids Lucy Anne at work—because of course Lucy Anne is a nurse on Marilyn’s same ward—but the pair are thrown together caring for the orphaned little car crash victim. Their relationship is mostly formal, but Lucy Anne does call Marilyn at home one evening to tell her that the little girl has finally regained consciousness, and slowly the pair become, well, not exactly friends, but not enemies. Then Lucy Anne runs into Marilyn in the otherwise empty kitchen at one of the wild parties, George’s lethal champagne punch unlooses their tongues, and they have an honest talk about racism. “Do you know that’s the first time in my life I ever sat down and talked to a colored girl?” Lucy Anne says, recalling their first conversation in the nurse’s lounge. “The only colored people I’ve ever known before were my mother’s cleaning woman, or the next door neighbor’s cook. It’s not the same at all. You see, that morning I talked to you as a person. That’s what made it so important.” Marilyn admits that she had decided Lucy Anne couldn’t be a good nurse because she was from Mississippi, and had been determined not to like her. “That’s just how distorted these things can get,” she ends. “Oh, Marilyn, I hope someday things can get undistorted all over,” Lucy Anne sighs, and even if this conversation was not quite as enlightened as it might have been, it was a step in the right direction, for 1970 and maybe even for today—half a century later—and I sighed, too.

The book ends much as it began, with a new drought of men on the horizon for Marilyn, as Dr. Bill heads off to Chicago to accept a fellowship alongside the departed beau Matt, and Hank gets married—you’ll never guess to whom! But you can scroll on over to the review of Marilyn Morgan, Cruise Nurse and learn that our Marilyn never has to spend her nights alone for long. If this series does not exactly count as a VNRN, since the heroine never ends up engaged at the end, I like its forthright honesty about how Marilyn feels about settling down, and honestly, I am wildly jealous of M&M’s social lives, as they really have a lot of interesting friends, amusing conversations, and endless parties (though I have to say I was a little shocked that Marilyn would roll out of a party at 4:30 am and into the hospital less than three hours later for a full day on the floor, with her and the other hungover nurses joking that they hoped they would be able to give the patients the right medications, ha ha ha!). The humor in this book is quite good and fairly nonstop, especially when the boys are around, and I’m sorry to say there’s only one more book in the series, the last one: Nurse Morgan Sees It Through. If I can't really explain what triumph Nurse Morgan experienced that the book’s title might be referring to, except her victory in not getting married, I can easily state that of the four nurse novel series I’ve read, Marilyn Morgan handily beats all the others by a mile.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Nurse Molly

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1964
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

After Molly Patterson was jilted, she was determined never to trust a man again. But she was a very attractive girl, and more than one man was anxious to make her change her mind. Was Molly going to be able to stick to her decision?


“It never pays to run away from anything, not really. It, whatever it is, has a dreadful habit of catching up with you sooner or later, and it usually turns out it wouldn’t have been one half so dreadful if you’d stopped and faced it out in the beginning.”

Molly Patterson introduces herself to us as a bit of a moron: She’s about to quit her career, less than a year old, to marry a man whom it does not take a reader experienced in VNRN tropes to recognize as an ass—but then, it’s seldom that these men aren’t obvious from the outset, though it’s not clear to me why it always needs to be so, and why the heroines aren’t as clear-eyed as us readers. Is this lazy writing? An author’s low opinion of her readers’ intelligence? But anyway, as the curtain rises, Guy Vale is not listening as Molly speaks, his “thin, too-clever face touched for a fleeting moment by a thin smile, then the previous scowl was back,” “his dark grey eyes wearing the cold expression she hated. ‘I don’t know what made me ask you to marry me,’” he tells her, right there on the first page. The only reason the ring doesn’t hit him in the eye is that he hasn’t given her one—oh, wait, that’s not how she feels at all! She offers to take this really fabulous job she’s seen advertised to help with expenses, but he explodes that she will not work! And besides, “anyone with a grain of common sense” would not want that job, which “sounds like something out of a story book—for five-year-olds,” he sneers.

Shockingly, Molly is completely devastated—she faints, actually—when Guy breaks off with her (by letter, the louse) less than two weeks before the wedding to chase a wealthy heiress, so Molly ends up taking the job after all. Also strangely, she is insulted when her new colleague nurse Annie Hart assumes that Molly “would forsake her career for the first bit of masculine attention which came her way.” To her credit, she instantly recognizes her own hypocrisy in that she was about to do exactly that for Guy, but goes no further in her introspection, merely stating that “I’m not interested in men. I’m over the love virus, once and for all time.” You bet, kid.

Enter Paul Thanet, barrister, and son in a very wealthy family that anchors the very small town she’s moved to for this new job in the north of England, far from her former life. He’s kind and solicitous, and very helpful when who should turn up but—brace yourself, don’t want you fainting like stalwart Nurse Molly—Guy Vale with his lady friend-employer Monica Blessingbourne, on an expedition to strip-mine a really beautiful, enchanted piece of the neighborhood that was sold after the son contracted polio and his prolonged illness and ensuing disability proved very costly (this book being written before the advent of the vaccine and the National Health Service).

Honestly, there’s not much more to the story than that—Paul sees Guy forcing a kiss on Molly, saying he loves her but not enough to give up his pursuit of Monica’s money, the romantic fool—and there’s a bit of frigidity to be overcome after that, figuratively and literally, after Molly falls through the ice at a skating party, just having rescued Monica from the same predicament, and as she wakes, Paul comes in the room and in his second sentence tells Molly she’s giving up her career again, a lousy way of proposing, we quickly find.

The characters, especially the Thanet family, are well-drawn and charming, and it’s a pleasure to spend a few hours with them, as is to be expected in a book by Marjorie Norrell, and in a rare treat she is giving us with Paul Thanet a love interest who actually deserves to be one. The problem with this book is that it wants Molly to be a strong, resourceful, confident go-getter quick to leap into action—yet she is even quicker to leap out of her career the instant a man darkens her doorstep. How can any reader with any common sense reconcile these polar opposites? Can we cut to the epilogue in which a defeated and joyless Molly is in the kitchen with a screaming infant on her hip, two toddlers pulling at her skirt, a mostly empty bottle of gin on the detritus-strewn breakfast table and a copy of The Feminine Mystique in her raw, work-worn hand? In the end, I feel like I’ve been reading propaganda intended to lull the female masses into a deluded trance, to lure them into becoming willing participants in their own oppression. If I’d had a say in it, I’d have named this book Throw off Your Shackles, Nurse Molly! in the hope that Molly might stop letting men decide her life for her. But somehow I don’t think Marjorie Norrell has that particular flavor of Kool-Aid in her refrigerator.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Emergency Calling Nurse Mallon

By Jeanne Bowman, ©1964
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

Beautiful Marjory Mallon welcomed the surging drama of her new job at Southern Emergency Hospital, for it helped her forget a private sorrow—and a crushed romance. But as the young nurse plunged herself into the hectic routine of critical accidents and crucial operations, she found that her own heart was imperiled by the attentions of a handsome intern and a dashing resident…


“That kid’s all right, even if she is pretty.”

“A nurse’s most valuable asset was a sense of humor.”

“What was she—a woman or a mouse? Ah, a nurse.”

“Marjory learned some new words she doubted she’d ever use.”

“On visiting the convicted man at the penitentiary a year later, he had found him gay.”

Marjory Mallon has just left a private duty during which her patient died; she’s looking for some excitement after caring for a patient in a coma. She signs on at Southern Emergency, “a rugged assignment” at a pink concrete building on the edge of an industrial district with “low class homes and incomes.” Another reason for her search for action is that during her three months living with the Kelmer family she and son Noel had fallen in love, but on her deathbed (this must have been before the coma) Mrs. Kelmer made the pair promise they would not marry for two years, and in that time see each other “as seldom as possible.” This from a woman who claims she loves Marjory as a daughter; it’s a bizarre tactic to ensure marital bliss.

But it’s actually not a bad idea, as Noel is one of those VNRN archetypes, the idle rich. “Let’s face it,” he tells Marjory. “I have no real purpose. I can’t see going into some job someone else needs for a living.” Visiting Marjory at the hospital one evening, though, one of the hospital’s frequent mass traumas occurs, this time a crash between a packed car and a van. Noel is pressed into action, and when it’s over he has a reason for living! “I’ve found a goal,” he tells Marjory. “I want to isolate the suicide motivation behind so many of these crashes. I want figures, studies of individuals. I am going to try to perfect what insurance companies are doing: find the wrecker before he kills himself and other innocent people.” To that end he starts hanging out at S.E. with Drs. Stedman and Compton, seeing Marjory almost daily but exchanging mere pleasantries and not much else with her. For her part, Marjory is dismissive of Noel’s mission—and frankly, you can’t honestly blame her—and is annoyed that he’s not paying more attention to her. “She felt like a wrapped bandage stuck far back on a shelf, to be used if and when those on the forward part had disappeared.” She’s also annoyed that Dr. Compton doesn’t pay her more attention, either, the hypocrite: “No wonder the other young nurses developed psychosomatic heart trouble,” she thinks as she moons over his blue eyes. “Fortunate she had the thought of Noel to act as an antibiotic to inflamed emotions.” Yeah, right. Back to dreaming of Dr. Compton: “He was adorable, Marjory thought, and how utterly handsome when he laughed. She just loved him.” Quick, pass the Neosporin! In the meantime, it’s one crisis after another at the hospital. Kids shot with revolvers found in the house. At least four more car crashes. Homeless families giving birth in their car. Victims of a bar fight. And, of course, “Sunday was suicide day.”

Through it all we’re treated to author Jeanne Bowman’s patented psychobabble, which is to say, a lot along the lines of Noel’s proposed thesis, that physical disease and trauma comes from psychological damage. “Mangled legs and a mangled conscience,” Marjory says of a car driver and the man he’d run over. “She wondered which of the two conditions would be easier to live with.” She and Dr. Compton seem to be social workers as much as healthcare practitioners, as they are always coming up with things like new coats for a stabbing victim whose coat was slashed: “He’ll heal faster, the patient, if a new coat’s waiting,” Dr. Compton explains. Dr. C also sets up a homeless couple in a rundown country cabin he’d inherited, knowing that the husband will work more than full-time to fix it up for his expanded family: “When you give to any but the defeated, you reach down to them. Soon their incentive muscles grow flabby. They simply sit and wait for further gifts.” Dr. Compton is full of such bon mots, including, if you can stand it, “If we can catch them before they have become exposed to the virus, defeat, they have a chance.”

In her spare time, Marjory is also working on Dr. Stedman, the floozy, and has several dates with him: “Marjory dressed with care, wishing she had bought a different type of hat, something to stun the eye of one Dr. Stedman.” (Noel, bizarrely, stops Marjory in passing to let her know he approves.) She gets what she wants, sort of, when Dr. Stedman proposes 16 pages from the end, which is when we finally learn his first name—Stanton. Well, author Jeanne Bowman has always had a thing for alliterative names. At least Dr. Stedman gets one; we never learn poor Dr. Compton’s first name. Marjory is saved from having to answer him—or Noel, who comes crashing in minutes later to tell her that his father has released them from the promise they made Mrs. Kelmer to wait two years—because of a massive explosion in the slums next to the hospital. Gosh, what a unique idea! The next few days and pages are filled with caring for the victims, and at the end the outraged citizenry have stormed City Hall and demanded that a beautiful neighborhood be built in the slum’s place. Sounds like gentrification if you ask me, but how the poor are going to afford the new apartments is not addressed, which for Ms. Bowman is like missing the fat pitch right down the middle; if she’d had her eye on the ball, she could have expounded for several chapters on this theme. The unintended consequences of this redevelopment is that the hospital too is going to be torn down, so Marjory is going to have to look for a new job. Good thing both doctors have offered her one, and she has those two marriage proposals to consider—plus a date with Dr. Compton, in which they have hamburgers with onions because they have no more patients, “and if we both have them—” Uh oh. Here comes proposal number three, the most bizarre yet:

     “Mallon? That is, Marjory—”
     “Your diagnosis is correct,” she murmured.
     “That I do love you? But I could not—”
     “Diagnose me? You were right. My condition hadn’t developed.”
     “Stop it,” he says, and we readers are right there with him.

It must be confessed that as irritating as I found this book, it’s not as bad as many of Jeanne Bowman’s books; I could actually just be having an anaphylactic reaction to the merest whiff of Ms. Bowman’s disorienting prose, far too much of which I have had to endure. Remember, she’s scored the #3 spot on the Worst Writers list on this year’s VNRN Awards, and I had to endure ten of her books to put her there. Beyond the pop psychology, the dizzying number of medical emergencies, and the complete lack of investment in the characters’ emotional lives while simultaneously suggesting they are all in a stew of attraction for each other, culminating in automatic proposals utterly devoid of feeling, there is the lack of basic housekeeping, such as a lot of incorrect medicine in this book. This sort of inattention to detail is a pet peeve; you should not write about a subject if you can’t be bothered to look up the details. A patient with an inner ear infection is said to be passing out all the time, which is not a symptom of an ear infection, and can’t be chalked up to old-timey ignorance. Carbon monoxide poisoning is treated with transfusion, which maybe it once was, and “heat to stimulate circulation,” which it does not, and we are also told that in this condition the poisoned blood “was filled with minute air bubbles.” No, that’s the bends, honey. So much to quibble about, so little time. Suffice to say that if you must read Jeanne Bowman, this is not her worst, but you can certainly do a lot better—if you pick a completely different author.