Friday, December 31, 2021

Doctor Mary

By Jeanne Judson, ©1964

Her fiancé, Henry Clifford, a rising young lawyer, couldn’t understand why Dr. Mary Spencer chose to live in Chinatown. Her best friend, Dr. Edith Silliman, wanted Mary to join her in an expensive practice in an exclusive neighborhood. Both Henry and Edith thought Dr. Mary was a fool. And perhaps, thought Mary, they were right. Who but a fool would alienate her best friend and her sweetheart and the prospect of the successful career, to follow a dream — a dream of helping the poor. But, wise or foolish, Dr. Mary was going to continue in the past she had marked out for herself.

GRADE: C+

BEST QUOTES:
“People who are always right are unbearable.” 

“It’s surprising how many people in New York will go anywhere if there is a prospect of lots of free champagne.”

“In cases of high blood pressure there is almost always some frustration or worry that increases the trouble.”

REVIEW:
Sometimes it’s hard to pick up a book because its cover is so appalling. Eventually, though, you become so sick of looking at this cover that you are forced to read the book just so that you can put it away in the back bedroom with all the other books you’ve already read, saving your delicate sensibilities from further encounters. Such was the case with me and Doctor Mary. The fact that it was written by Jeanne Judson, who has been known to put out some excellent books—though I haven’t met one recently, unfortunately—was not much of a lure. But now the job is done, and I can report that the book is in fact better than its cover, but maybe not so much that you should run out and buy a copy. 

Dr. Mary Spencer is a lonely orphan who, upon graduating from medical school a year earlier, moved to Mott Street in New York City’s Chinatown to practice medicine. She had picked this spot as a launching pad for her medical career because during her internship she had encountered many Chinese patients and found them “so patient and polite.” “I haven’t any family to impress with my brilliance, and I don’t know any Joneses to keep up with, so when I finished at St. Vincent’s that’s where I went,” she explained her decision. She likes the interesting neighborhood and her patient population, even if she’s not getting rich like her med school classmate Dr. Edith Silliman, who at book’s open is pressing her to join a practice with her on E. 71st St. “If only you’ll be sensible, Mary,” chides Edith. “If you’ll get an office uptown and stop all this do-gooding,” she says, Mary might be able to keep her fiancé, up-and-coming attorney Henry Clifford.

Edith has a point: Henry has already told her, “You can see for yourself that it wouldn’t do for a member of one of the leading law firms to have a wife working in the slums. If you stay here, it will be no marriage at all.” But Mary wants to “work with an uplifted heart,” and has found her calling: “For her, it was a vocation; for Edith, it was a profession.” It takes Mary no time at all to refuse Edith, and not much longer to come to her senses after Henry tells her, “You must choose, Mary. I love you, but I have no intention of ruining both our lives by letting you continue in this absurd obsession about helping people who aren’t willing to help themselves.” So when the afternoon mail brings an engraved wedding invitation to Edith and Henry’s upcoming nuptials, “when her head stopped whirling, she thought that nothing could be more suitable.”

Mary spends about ten minutes feeling sorry for herself, but then she starts thinking about this guy she met while taking care of a patient with pneumonia. Jim Tracy is unemployed and living in a seedy residence hotel: “Despite the need of a shave and a haircut, he was well dressed. Also, and more surprising, he looked clean. He had spoken like an educated man. He was young and, though underweight, apparently healthy. But what was he doing in Joe Grimes’s hotel when he was perfectly competent to hold down a good job, routine, perhaps, but respectable?” Between cases she goes out with the man, who is alternatively kind and grouchy, but he is always able to pay for dinner despite his low living conditions. Even more curious, he is able to engage Dr. Grenning, the city’s top cardiologist, to see an impoverished pediatric patient of Mary’s for free. Unfortunately, after a mere three encounters with the man, “the awful truth came to her. She loved him. She loved him. Thief, murderer, whenever he was, she loved him. She wouldn’t marry him because he wouldn’t have her. Still, it was good to love even if the love were never returned.” Ugh.

When the cardiologist shows up, it turns out he’s an old friend of Jim’s, who is—surprise!—Dr. Jim Tracy, “one of the best bacteriologists in the country—a man who could have a big future.” But Jim is done with his career, he says: “I got this way by killing my wife.” It’s only another dozen pages before we find out that his wife was a pretty but shallow debutante whom Jim had married too quickly, only to find out they weren’t compatible. She had wanted to party, and he had wanted to work, which meant they lived essentially separate lives, she with her socializing friends, and even a few gentlemen escorts as well — until one day, coming down the stairs in a beautiful, trailing gown to open the door for another party, she “tripped on some chiffon and fell halfway down the stairs.” She lived “long enough to tell Jim that it was all his fault, that it was his indifference, his coldness, that was killing her.” That or the broken neck, it’s hard to tell for sure. After this revelation, though, all the guilt that has caused Jim to abandon his former life for years is quickly boxed up and put away into storage, never to peek out at us again.

As the closet door is swinging shut, Mary is enlisted by Dr. Grenning to help persuade Jim to sign up for a two-year stint at a brand-new hospital in the wilds of Brazil, though at the dinner party where Jim is won over to the project, she doesn’t do much more than pass the gravy. One thing I do like about Dr. Mary, however, is that she goes after what she wants. Before the dinner with Dr. Grenning, where she had learned the truth of his past, she had written to Jim to say, “Whatever they have to tell me, I’d rather hear it from you. I don’t want to know anything about you that you don’t want to tell me yourself. I love you.” And on the way home from dinner, Jim talks about how the new hospital’s staff (being all male, of course) is not likely to be married because “for the wives it will be insects and heat and snakes and noise.” Undaunted, Mary retorts, “It might be different for a woman if she were a doctor, too.” You go, girl.

Overall this is a fairly straightforward story without exceptional interest, outside of the ad for Newport cigarettes bound into the book, which was printed in the era before cigarette advertising was outlawed. If one or two characters demonstrate bigotry toward the Chinese, Mary does not, seeing only hard-working immigrants pursuing the American dream; her most prominent Chinese patient eventually brings his two grandsons to the country to study at Columbia, aided by Jim Tracy, who had grown up alongside Chinese workers on his family’s pineapple plantation in Hawaii and is completely fluent in multiple dialects of Chinese. Actually, in this book it’s the white family that is stuck with a drunken, abusive, jobless patriarch, and no one is sorry to see him drop of pneumonia in the end; the black and Asian families Mary cares for may be poor, but they won’t be for long, especially when the kids graduate from an Ivy League college. It’s pleasant enough, but a little disappointing for author Judson, who has given us the delightful Small Town Nurse, Visiting Nurse, and City Nurse, three A-grade gems. Those books came out in the 1950s, however, giving more evidence to my belief that the more recently a book was written, the worse it is likely to be. Given the fact that the four reviews of her books published in the ’60s earned a C+ average with no grade higher than a B, it seems that this dread curse is so powerful that not even the talented Jeanne Judson was immune to it.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Doctor Chris

by Elizabeth Seifert, © 1946

When the new doctor arrived at Lakeside Hospital, the reaction was lively. Nobody had expected Dr. Chris Metcalf to be a girl. The nurses were not pleased, for another young woman meant keener competition for the attention of the handsome Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff himself was not pleased, for he believed that medicine was for men alone. So Chris had something to fight against, as well as a lot to learn during her year of hospital life. It was anything but a dull year, however, what with this vigorous opposition, with sabotage in an Army Ordnance plant nearby, and with the personable young lawyer in town who appreciated Chris as a woman rather than as a doctor. In her latest novel Elizabeth Seifert shows the development of Chris Metcalf is a person and as a doctor, and adds a vivid new story to her popular group of novels about doctors and the drama of their work. 

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“Just so I’m the biggest something in your life, sweetheart.”

REVIEW:
Poor Dr. Chris Metcalf is a 24-year-old intern, having just graduated from medical school, and is arriving at Lakeside Hospital somewhere in Missouri. Of course, the initial joke is that with the nickname of Chris, everyone thinks from her resume that she is a man. What fun when she arrives wearing a skirt! Well, maybe not fun, as she gets the fisheye from multiple mossbacked and/or jealous nurses and doctors, including her new chief, 40-year-old Dr. Key Edmons. (I know, “Key” is about the worst name ever, but it’s not the first time we have met one, and probably won’t be the last, unfortunately.) But Chris is not intimidated: “I’m not frightened of you, and you don’t shock me,” she tells him. “Another thing you can count on, I won’t bother you by falling in love with you.” That shows him! Except maybe not, as he has an exceptional amount of prejudice to overcome, and she is perennially smacking into that wall. Frankly it gets more than a little tiresome to continually encounter remarks such as, “There is something you’re going to have to learn, Dr. Metcalf, though I’m damned if I think you can learn it. Because you’re a girl!” Or, “You didn’t handle the father, and the reason you didn’t is the same reason we have against your trying to be a doctor. You’re a girl.” Honestly, Chris is never going to experience any gender confusion, she is reminded so frequently of hers, though it seems likely that she has progressed through puberty and actually qualifies as a woman.

She does not have much spare time, being an intern and all, but soon Chris has hooked up with a local playboy, 35-year-old attorney Allan Gifford, who is apparently about to be engaged to one wealthy socialite while also having an affair with the chief OR nurse. If that doesn’t make him enough of a catch, he, too, is ridiculously prejudiced against women doctors. “Why should a pretty little girl like you go into anything so gruesome as the practice of medicine?” he asks her when they first meet. He repeatedly pressures her to marry him, but is very open about his insistence that she quit medicine if she does, so she doesn’t really take him seriously.

The book rolls along and we watch Chris tackle with varying degrees of success various medical situations, always carrying the weight of her entire gender on her back. I will say she is a bit on the wimpy side and does have a tendency to break into tears, but the pressure of one’s intern year combined with the accompanying lack of sleep might do that to anyone. She is fierce in her regular and ongoing battles with Dr. Edmons about her capabilities, I will give her that: “Don’t you dare say that’s why I have no business doctoring,” she snaps at him when he tells her that women can’t be doctors because they have “a tender heart.” “Men have tender hearts, too. Don’t they? Don’t they?” (Dr. Edmons, who is obviously falling in love with Chris, begrudgingly admits she may be right.)

Two of the more interesting cases that Dr. Metcalf encounters involve reproductive rights: a young woman, pregnant by a bounder, who asks for an abortion—Chris refuses because it’s illegal and she is only an intern without the requisite skills; it’s not clear which is the bigger obstacle—and in another case a woman who is having her appendix out asks to have her ovaries removed as well. Dr. Edmons refuses to do it because the ovaries are not diseased, but Chris replies that they would take out healthy ovaries during a hysterectomy. The argument is dropped before it progresses, but it is curious that author Elizabeth Seifert introduces these weighty topics in such an offhanded manner.

Eventually, as you knew there would be, there is a case of serious sabotage at the nearby Army ordnance plant in which a plane crashes into it, and Chris and Dr. Edmons work all night to save the burned men. Chris than deduces who the scurrilous foreign agent is—the only character with a German accent (*eyeroll*)—and plays a large role in bringing the criminal to justice, with the help of Allan Gifford, who turns out to be FBI! Unfortunately, “all the glamour Cooper and Hoover have given to the G-men, the aura of Sherlock Holmes—all glimmered about Allen’s big, homely person” and now she thinks she is in love with him and accepts his ring, “the badge of submission, of subordination.” Well, that sounds lovely! Then he is injured in a shooting accident and she saves his life, proving to everyone that she is a “real” doctor—but also to herself that she is not in love with Allan: “Have I got so hard, so unfeeling that I could have done what I did for Allan, if I really loved him—the way I should love him?”

Overall, this is a low-key, satisfying book by an excellent author. It’s not especially exciting or unique, but it is well-written and has a quiet humor in several instances that unfortunately doesn’t translate to the Best Quotes section. It certainly is a slice of life of a young woman trying to forge her way through a career that is difficult today, much less 75 (!!) years ago, and if the incessant prejudice is trying for us to endure, I imagine it was a great deal more so for the brave women who actually lived through it. If this gentle book isn’t the most memorable, it has a pleasant competence that makes it worth reading about Dr. Chris.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Part-Time Nurse

By Elizabeth Houghton, ©1964

At home, Karen was very much in the background, coming a poor second to her glamourous half-sister Celia, but in her work as part-time nurse in a home for old people, she was loved by all her patients, and she found a good friend in Simon Guthrie, the consultant physician. And then Simon met Celia. Would the inevitable happen? 

GRADE: C-

BEST QUOTES:
“Love isn’t just a one-way street. Parents have to earn it as well as their children.” 

REVIEW:
It’s really an insurmountable problem when the heroine of your book is unlikeable. Is the author so out of touch that she can’t understand what qualities the reader will find admirable? There must be a few books I’ve liked despite its heroine, and in these situations a generous reader might believe that the author, for some unknown reason of her own, chose to write a dislikeable heroine while assembling a more interesting supporting cast and story line. A better option would be to create a heroine who starts out badly but improves through personal growth, but these, too, are rare. This book, unfortunately, is neither of these. Here we have the milquetoast Karen Shelley, not aided by the modern meme imposed on her first name, who is several times referred to as a Cinderella who has given up her hospital nursing job to care for her aged, invalid mother—a woman in her mid-50s who’d had “a heavy cold and threatened pneumonia” that “was brought under control with drugs in a few days” and now, months or possibly years later, mother is still not allowed to leave the house by her physician, and Karen is obliged to spend every waking hour waiting on the “whining invalid,” a mean and ungrateful woman who runs Karen down as much as she spoils Karen’s younger half-sister Celia, who contributes neither labor nor money to the family but insists Karen be home at 9:00 am to wake her up for her job as a receptionist for a real estate firm.

Through what may be divine intervention, given the thin eye of a needle she is threading, Karen finds a job at Langdale Place, an old folks’ home that needs her only between 7:00 and 9:00 am—and ever-grateful mum is peeved both that Karen is not starting sooner because they need the money and also because Karen will be out of the house when she’s usually bringing in breakfast on a tray: “I suppose I’ll have to manage,” mother says “grudgingly”—and never mind that Celia would be at home and could get breakfast for her if she’s unable to do for herself, though it’s difficult to see why she can’t.

All this mistreatment has left Karen beaten down: “She had learned long ago not to heed the defensive urge to talk back.” She’s horrifically spineless, absorbing direct and implied insults from her family without a word, but curiously, in her first encounters with Dr. Simon Guthrie, who oversees the Langdale Place residents, she slams out of his car before he’s even started the motor because he’d asked her if she was sure she wanted to work with geriatrics—and then she freaks out for the next five pages that he’s going to fire her the next time he sees her.

Bizarrely, Simon seems interested in Karen though her minimal hours mean they never cross paths, and she’s such a pansy that she is blushing almost constantly in the first pages. But maybe that’s what he likes, as he swoops in and, without discussing it with her, frees her mother from the doctor’s orders that have kept her indoors, offers mom a job at Langdale Place, and tells Karen that she’ll now be working full-time, so less than halfway through the book its title is no longer applicable. Karen is so grateful to be liberated from her prison that she fights him at every turn, even concluding pathetically, “Celia will never wake up without me there!” (Simon reminds her of this handy invention called an alarm clock, and Karen reluctantly goes along with his plan, but only because she’s sure mum will refuse to take the job at Langdale Place. She doesn’t.)

The plot next turns on a real estate deal that threatens the building Langdale Place occupies, but coincidentally Celia works for the financier behind the deal, apparently doing more than just answering the phone, as she’s spotted in clubs and limos in cocktail dresses and mink coats accompanied by old men with “dark greedy eyes” “licking his lips,” disappearing with her suitcase apparently en route to Paris with her boss but turning up at home in the morning, her dress ripped, and her sometime boyfriend Barry worrying that Celia is “getting mixed up with something nasty” as Karen thinks of “white girls kidnapped for Moroccan night clubs”—but no one ever bothers to ask  Celia what’s going on.

Simon at least plays true to character and organizes a plot that he never explains to Karen even as it’s unfolding, in which Celia uses her influence on her boss—though it’s not clear how, as Langdale Place is ultimately torn down—and is “taken” by her boss’s gang for the evening, all very murky and never explained. In the end, the most we hear is that Celia has “decided to forget it ever happened. It’s the best way.” Oh, OK.

There are happy endings for all in the end, and Karen wins a prize at work, though we’re not sure why, since all she seemed to do was submit everyone else’s ideas for the new home that’s to be built when the current building is torn down. This is the book’s most consistent problem, that Karen is a spineless cipher to whom good things are given after her term of suffering, for little apparent effort or merit of her own. I do wonder whether a Cinderella can really be a likable personality—if you have willingly subverted your wishes for your own life, are you likely to be interesting when set free, particularly if you played no role in obtaining your freedom? Karen is not a character we root for, and so her liberation is meaningless to us, and we have no regrets when we close the book on her, apart from the hours wasted in her insipid company.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Nurse Martin’s Dilemma

By Rosamund Hunt, ©1961
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti 

For eighteen months Nurse Beth Martin was stalked wherever she went by the nightmare of her past. At last, in a remote New England hospital she found safety and love. With Dr. Chad Dennison she began to forget her tragedy. Then a little man arrived—asking questions and looking for Nurse Beth Martin. If she ran again, she’d have to run forever …

GRADE: C

REVIEW:
The abducted-baby plot is a bonus because it offers our accused nurse-heroine an oversized scandal, followed by an equally righteous triumph in the end—and an opportunity to sneer at the mother at the same time. Here Nurse Beth Martin has agreed to care for boarding school chum Harriet Sawyer’s infant son—not that she deserves a baby, and we are allowed to ask if she even wants one: “the beautiful spoiled” Harriet had “complained constantly” during her pregnancy and, when the child was born, “didn’t want any of the burden of its care,” to the point that she’s never seen him undressed and “had held him only when he was dressed in his expensive, handmade little garments. Even then, she had been only too glad to hand him back shortly, had seemed to see the baby only as proof of her own accomplishment, a new possession to be shown off to admiring friends and relatives.” Then one afternoon, Beth is alone with Baby Bunky—“Harriet had gone off on a shopping expedition”—when the phone rings and rings until Beth goes inside to answer it, leaving Bunky on the terrace, and when asked to hold, she does, apparently for quite some time, as when she gets back, Bunky is gone! 

The police can’t convict her, though “the tabloids had had a field day,” and she’d fled to Europe until her apparently substantial inheritance (she’s an orphan, of course) has run out, and now, 18 months after her graduation, she has returned to America, somewhere in New England far from the Californian scene of the crime, for a job as a charge nurse of the surgical floor. It’s a tough assignment, as the patients are demanding and the hospital is short-staffed, and Beth, in her first hospital job, “could not have got off to a worse start if she had been trying deliberately.”  She flaunts her college degree before a top student nurse, who, rightfully offended, tells Beth she shouldn’t “ride the girls who know what they’re doing because they’ve learned it by actual experience”—a valid point—and then sets out to ruin Beth’s life. Beth does not learn from this incident, unfortunately, and continues to prove herself to be a snob.

She’s not helped by the ridiculously coincidental appearance of Dr. John Chadwick Dennison, known as Chad, whom she’d known as a child and of course been crushing madly: “She had always felt that the reason she had never fallen in love again was because no one had ever measured up to the ideal she had met, and lost, when she was 16.” Now we watch Beth make an even bigger ass of herself as, having unburdened herself about the Bunky mishap to Chad, she decides that she’s still in love with him and literally thrusts herself between him and Nurse Elinor Chase, who anyone can see he actually cares for. Now she has her obsession to “give new meaning to her life,” and she spends every evening alone in her room waiting for Chad to call, remembering all the words he’s spoken to her and “reading into them what she wanted to be there.” She snubs good-hearted Dr. Bill Holloway, who is the only person to stand up for her when she snatches a tin of salted nuts away from a hospital trustee three days after an open cholecystectomy. She decides on their disastrous date that “she wanted to repay him” and so “if he wanted to kiss her tonight, she would not resist. There would be no disloyalty to Chad. It would be merely a friendly gesture, her way of saying ‘Thank you.’” Um, thanks, lady! Of course, she’s insulted when he doesn’t.

And then a mysterious man shows up at the hospital asking for Beth, and, combined with Chad’s engagement—not to Beth!—she decides “she would have to leave the hospital and the city,” because she cannot face “what a fool she had been.” It seems to me that a little facing up would be good for Beth, but it’s not strength of character but of Mother Nature in the form of a weak blizzard (only 12 to 14 inches of snow, kids’ stuff!) that keeps her in town, trapped on duty as the nurses who live farther afield are unable to show up for work for 36 hours—these can’t be real New Englanders! The stranger is brought in with a heart attack, triggered by standing outside Beth’s rooming house waiting for her, and soon it’s revealed that he’s not out to harm her, but to tell her his mentally ill daughter was the one responsible for kidnapping Bunky, and that the baby is alive and well as one can be when they’re living in Florida.

If nurses can’t get to work, at least planes are running, so Beth is off to the airport, but not before she hears “the voice in her own heart telling her that she was in love with Bill Holloway,” which is especially tragic because she still has to leave town forever, as “she could not drag him or his fine family” into “the publicity, the gossip which would spread, like a flame in a high wind, throughout the city where Bill was building up a reputation as a successful young doctor.” She’s assuming he wants anything to do with her, a bit of a stretch in my opinion, but these VNRN docs aren’t always the smartest of guys.

Of course, Bunky’s mother Harriet couldn’t pick her own child out of a lineup, and only Beth knows about the birthmark she had never revealed to Harriet, knowing that Harriet “had always had a passion for perfection. She had wanted everything she possessed to be flawless.” Summoned by Beth to collect their newfound child, Harriet and husband Ben arrive and so too does Bill, insisting, “I’m taking over!” After he and Beth are married, he suggests, “your past will be nobody’s business,” and besides, it wasn’t her fault! Initially I was hopeful: “No one can be completely free from human errors,” Bill scolds her—everyone, that is, except Bunky’s mother. “If she had been home that day, never letting the baby out of her sight the way most mothers are happy to do, the whole thing might not have happened,” he explains. “It’s rottenly unfair that she slid out of taking any of the blame!”

And so it’s a happy end for everyone except Harriet, who now has to take care of her own child, at least on the plane ride home and until she finds a new nurse. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to be satisfied with Beth Martin, who has been narrow-minded, jealous, and immature from the beginning, only to be transformed with the turn of a page into someone who recognizes all her past mistakes and is held accountable for none of them. There are some enjoyments to be had from this book, and not just from the fabulous Lou Marchetti cover (but who is the blonde? Surely not Nurse Elinor!)—it is fun to be exasperated with horrid Beth—but not many. The dilemma about Nurse Martin is why anyone would care about her, but it needn’t be yours if you just decline to open the book.  

Monday, December 6, 2021

Special Nurse

By Jean S. MacLeod, ©1944
Cover illustration by Paul Anna Soik 

When a woman believes herself indebted to a man, should she offer her heart as a sacrifice? Nurse Lindsey Hamilton knew that she owed to Richard Stewart Harvey, surgeon, the almost miraculous recovery of her dearly-loved brother. She knew too that she could—that she did—love Richard himself. But when, by coincidence, Richard’s own brother Douglas came to the same hospital as a patient, it seemed that she could best repay her debt to Richard by marrying Douglas. In a world where daily sacrifices were asked and made, she had this much to give. What would be her decision?

GRADE: B-

BEST QUOTES:
“A man never likes to think he’s been helped on to his feet. He likes to believe he’s struggled there of his own accord!” 

REVIEW:
Dr. Richard Stewart Harvey is everything a young woman would want in a man. “He’s got that look about him—remote, yet assured,” says Nurse Lindsey Hamilton’s best friend. Guess who Lindsey’s going to tumble for! And he’s at least a decade older than her too, which makes it even better. And when for unknown reasons she’s transferred to a rehab hospital on the other side of Scotland—surprise!—he’s working there too. His brother Douglas is a patient there, as he’s a pilot who was shot down in the war. It’s not clear what exactly his injury is, as he’s able to walk for miles without even a cane, but his depression is keeping him from agreeing to the final surgery that will make him even more whole. Interestingly, Lindsey also has a brother, Norman, also trained as a surgeon, who also sustained some unnamed psychological damage during the war. “I can’t go back into surgery, I’ve lost my nerve. I’ll never operate again,” he tells Lindsey, but somehow he ends up as an assistant to the great Dr Stewart Harvey and slowly begins to bloom.

Douglas, too, starts to unbend under Lindsey’s expert care, but unfortunately this means that he decides he’s in love with her. She tries to be cool and professional, but he’s insistent in a way that is uncomfortable at best: “You’re going to get used to the idea of loving me one day,” he tells her, even throwing in that it’s what Rick wants, though it’s clear that it’s not at all what Rick wants. “I told you you belonged to me,” he adds, ratcheting things up an awkward notch. Brother Norman sees what’s going on—her feelings for Rick and Douglas’ for her—and tries hard, even if only obliquely, to keep Lindsey from doing something stupid. “You’ve never let anyone down in your life, Lindy, and I believe you would even go to the length of sacrificing your own happiness if you believed the cause justified it,” he tells her, on several occasions. The cause, in this instance, is her gratitude to Rick for his help with Norman, as Rick is increasingly giving the shell-shocked doctor more responsibility and gradually luring him back to the OR.

Lindsey and Norman become increasingly entwined with the Stewart Harveys and their home life, staying with their dad at the family home in the country and meeting the neighbors, including a young woman who is clearly in love with Douglas but is nonetheless completely gracious to Lindsey. Interestingly, pretty much every man in the book, including Douglas’ father and Norman on at least five occasions, hints to Lindsey that she should not marry Douglas, though no one comes out and actually says it, and Lindsey doesn’t seem to hear what they are telling her. Eventually Douglas is persuaded to undergo the final surgery, and Rick is in a car crash on his way to perform the op, so Norman is obliged to step in and do the job, in a scene that I, as a surgical PA, found the most thrilling of the book. Underplayed was the role that Lindsey served as Douglas’ nurse in keeping the fact that Norman was to do the surgery from Douglas (unethical as that may be), as she was as cool and professional as they were in preparing him for the operation.

Then we push through another particularly frustrating 50 pages, watching the push-pull of Douglas and Rick on Lindsey’s left fourth finger, and her crushing feeling of obligation to Rick, her bizarre belief that he is interested in another woman, and that she must marry Douglas. It’s a long time to hold your breath, and it’s frankly a bit exhausting, even if eventually it all pulls together well. Overall there’s a lovely camaraderie amongst the three families—it happens that the six young people all pair up evenly—which include three parents and a child. The writing is easy and pleasant, with rare drops of humor, so even if the book is too long and drags at a bit at the end, if you can just sit back and have faith, it’s an enjoyable outing in the Scottish countryside, without too much awkward attempt to write the accent to distract you. Author Jean MacLeod, a Scottish author who cranked out romances for more than 60 years, may not have here delivered a particularly special book, but it’s good enough for an afternoon.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Desert Nurse

By Jane Arbor, ©1963 

After the break-up of her romance with Greg Ryder, Nurse Martha Shore decided that the best thing to do was to find a new interest, which she did with a vengeance when she accepted Doctor Jude Tarleton’s offer of a past at his tiny hospital east of Aden. She had successfully managed to jump out he the frying-pan. But did her new job, in the burning desert heat, not ominously resemble the proverbial fire? For it was not long before Martha had to admit her love for Greg was forgotten in her new, overwhelming attraction to Jude—an attraction which he made it clear was not returned. How could she hope to appeal to him, anyway, when the experienced and glamorous Naomi was already so firmly in the picture?

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“That’s how feeling needed does take one, I think—grateful for the chance and set-teeth determined to be worth it.” 

REVIEW:
I had been dreading reading Desert Nurse, and with good reason, given the VNRN genre’s track record with foreign peoples, and the cover illustration was not very encouraging. But I am happy to report that Jane Arbor has here drawn a portrait of Saudi Arabians as being different from the English, of course, but no less honorable or dignified. Nurse Martha Shore, who in fact has spent some time in the area as a child and speaks some Arabic, returns for a one-year stint at a hospital supporting a rural (can that word be used with a desert?) community and a team of Brits attempting to strike oil under the auspices of Dr. Jude Tarleton—and her reason for doing so is the dissolution of her engagement to Greg Ryder, a pilot who prefers to marry the rich daughter of his intended employer instead of our steady, honest, plucky heroine.

Given that beginning, you can easily deduce the bones of the story that follows, including Greg’s crash landing at the settlement and insistent efforts to take up again with Martha—his fiancée had left him when he’d carelessly let fall to her father that he’d considered his daughter “good company and a looker, and if she was the price of her old man’s backing, that was all right.” Martha is no longer interested, but the big question here is why she would ever have had anything to do with the shallow, conceited ass for a minute, much less be engaged to him for a year. The usual misunderstandings between her and the camp’s doctor, Jude Tarleton, unfold, but there are side stories demonstrating Martha’s strength and pluck to amuse us—even if she does have a tendency to fall (sometimes literally) into scrapes form which Jude must rescue her.

The plot holds no surprises, but the writing is pleasing and we are treated to multiple interesting peripheral characters. I was even actually convinced of Martha’s feeling for Jude, “a secret madness that didn’t show” no matter how intensely she feels when their hands brush. The final conversation reconciliating their misunderstandings went on for far too long and could easily have been cut altogether: As Frank Capra said of the scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart skipped a page of the script in their first and only take of the scene in which they kiss, “with technique like that, who needs dialogue?” A thin plot, though it might keep a book out of A-range grades, is not a big drawback in a VNRN, and the rest of this book is charming enough to make it a welcome oasis in a too-often dry genre.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

A Strange Case for Dr. Rolland

By Jeanne Judson, ©1962
Cover illustration by Lou Marinelli 

It seemed like a routine call when young and attractive Dr. Teresa Rolland was summoned to see a patient in the slums of Manhattan’s West Side. But later she was glad she asked for a police escort—especially since he turned out to be a handsome and attentive plain-clothes man named Bill Fraser. For when she arrived, Teresa found no patient. Instead she found herself caught up in a case which demanded not only her skill as a doctor, but all the wisdom of her woman’s heart …

GRADE: C+

BEST QUOTES:
“If I’d wanted a really easy life I’d have studied dermatology. That’s the best racket of all. People with skin diseases seldom get well and never die, at least not from their disease.” 

“Who would want to marry a doctor, anyway? Always smelling of iodoform and things.”

“If only one could take them away from their parents and give them to people who need children, people of wealth and culture. We could soon change the world. Believe me, Doctor Rolland, environment is everything. Heredity means very little.”

“When men talked about women leading normal lives, she knew they were referring specifically to having babies.”

“He had confused liberality with generosity. He had given his niece and nephew everything they asked for, but they had never asked him for companionship or understanding or love because people, especially young people, never do ask for those things. They only hope for them.”

REVIEW:
I am a fan of author Jeanne Judson, who has given us three A-grade novels out of five reviews, so it was with enthusiasm that I picked up this book, spurred on by the Lou Marchetti cover illustration. And if this book is slightly outside the VNRN norm, what with a female doctor and a “mystery” for a plot, neither of these aspects contributed much beyond an initial flash of interest that rapidly faded as it became clear that neither would offer much to think about. 

Dr. Teresa Rolland is a “pediatrist,” old by VNRN standards at 26, and just starting her first year in practice in New York City, on one of the 10th Streets near Fifth Avenue. Jenny Dorian is a “beatnik” who is married to a musician and has a five-month-old son, Jerry, who is a patient of Dr. Rolland’s. Jenny’s uncle, John Flemming, calls up Dr. Rolland to ask about Jenny and, in a huge breach of ethics, the doctor tells what she knows of the Dorian family.

And then we drop that story line and move into another prong—the “mystery,” if you squint hard enough at it—which involves a 3:00 am call to Dr. Rolland from a shady address on West 43rd St. requesting her immediate attention. Concerned about the “anything but reassuring” neighborhood, she calls the police and asks for an officer to meet her there and act as bodyguard, apparently not an unusual request. Sergeant Bill Fraser shows up and escorts her into the building, where she meets a gypsy family that is apparently unaware of why the doctor has been summoned—the mother produces a healthy but tired two-year-old, and after she agrees the boy is perfectly normal, Dr. Rolland heads for home. Days later, though, the mother Isobel Flame shows up on the doctor’s doorstep saying that her family has sold her son into an illegal adoption, and the purpose of the early-morning call was to have a witness of the boy’s existence, should the family deny he had ever been born, and—if he ever turns up again—another person who can identify him.

Numerous hints already having been dropped by John Flemming, along with a completely random lunchroom encounter with a talkative stranger who suggests that “if only one could take children coming from bad backgrounds away from their parents and give them to people who need children, people of wealth and culture,” it doesn’t take long to spot the metaphoric red neon arrow lighting the way to John’s friend Lila Vale, who is in the market for a child identical to little Johnnie Flame, or to figure out that Johnnie is the son of John’s estranged son Jerome Flemming (Flame was the pseudonym he used to publish his poetry), who had died of pneumonia shortly before Johnnie was born.

Now we can turn our attention to Dr. Rolland’s ringless fourth finger. The police sergeant makes a valiant and reasonable effort, while John Flemming and Dr. Rolland’s gadabout officemate offer more lackluster options, if they themselves seem far less plodding than poor always-stern Sergeant Bill. But since Isobel is a gypsy, she can read Dr. Rolland’s cards and let her know that when a fourth man, who kisses her after a page and a half of conversation, is her real love, and we learn that “Isobel had told true.”

The only aspect approaching interesting in this book is the discussion of adoption. Isobel is pressed on several occasions to give up her son to the shallow, foolish Lila Vale, who admittedly has a habit of losing interest in everything after a week. Predictably, Lila loses interest when it becomes increasingly clear that Isobel is not going to give up her son and says, “You know, I’m rather glad I can’t have the baby. He wasn’t much fun.” Though she quickly comes around to the humane point of view, even Dr. Rolland “thought for one minute that all the wealth in the world could take the place of Isobel, no matter how poor she was.” The story could have been more interesting if Lila had been a valid potential mother, and we could have had some discussion about parenting and wealth and class, but unfortunately author Judson ducked this deeper subject, just skimming the surface with comments like, “He would go to the best schools, have the best food and clothing that money could buy.” Designer clothing obviously doesn’t equal good parenting, but we never hear that from Judson. Even Man Number Four—“though his heart wasn’t in it,” a lousy cop-out—makes an attempt to persuade Isobel to give up her child; he is actually Lila’s lawyer, and we could talk about whether a person’s lawyer should attempt to accomplish their client’s bad decisions, but we don’t. Only honest Sergeant Bill never doubts Isobel as a parent, and his good heartedness earns him no credit with Dr. Rolland. The fact that Isobel is a gypsy also lends a tinge of racism to the entire incident—no one is asking the dumped Jenny to give up her boy, and it isn’t until Isobel has rejected all exorbitant offers that they tell her that as Jerome’s widow she is now quite wealthy, and can give her son all the same luxuries that Lila Vale can.

Perfunctory, obvious, and dull, this book is far from Jeanne Judson’s best. It’s only the sixth one we’ve read of a dozen nurse novels she seems to have written, though, so maybe we’ll do better next time. It’s just especially sad to see buried here the bones of a good book that we were never given.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Nurse Incognito

By Fay Chandos
(pseud. Irene Mossop Swatridge), ©1964 
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

When a love affair between a nurse and a doctor goes wrong, the unhappiness of the situation is naturally increased if they have to go on working in the same hospital. That was why Caroline was glad to get away from St. Keverne’s … and Brandon … to a temporary job in the lovely Bahamas. It was disconcerting, though, for her to find herself in the middle of a family feud. Her first loyalty was to the old lady who employed her, but she couldn’t help liking and trusting Roland Dayler and sympathizing with his refusal to give up his children; couldn’t help, either, liking (though she didn’t trust) that “wicked” younger brother whose bad reputation was enough to make any woman look twice at him.

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“Men are children at heart. Given the opportunity, they all grab at the fairy on the Christmas tree. It’s a wise woman’s job to lead her man firmly in the other direction, not to let him stand under the tree, gawking up at the glitter.” 

“Sparks aren’t a fire, but they can start one.”

“At my age, one rarely cares for advice, however sound.”

“Wouldn’t you like to try your hand at civilizing me?”

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost’ than to be obliged to realize that one has been played for a sucker.”

REVIEW:
Poor Nurse Caroline Whytham has pinned all her hopes on Dr. Brandon Hessare, who has been taking her out for years, and now that she is about to graduate from nursing school, they are going to announce their engagement! Unfortunately, “if she had to look out for herself, she always would be among those stranded at the bus stop. She lacked the assurance and initiative to fight her way on board.” So she misses the first car to the graduation party, which is held at the family mansion of her best friend, Clover Pontock-Pikey, and when she does arrive—could she have been more than 30 minutes behind Clover?—she discovers that Brandon and Clover have, in that narrow window, fallen in love and become engaged. 

The silver lining to her sudden freedom is that Clover’s grandmother decides to take her to the Bahamas with her, ostensibly to serve as her nurse—the battle axe has a heart condition—but also to help Mrs. P-P wrest her great-grandchildren, six-year-old twins Viola and Sebastian, away from their father, Roland Dayler, who owns a large estate. It’s kind of staggering that we’re asked to believe that the claims of a great-grandmother outweigh those of a father, even if he must be a man, but here we are, and we must make the best of it. Roland had been married to Mrs. P-P’s granddaughter Pearl, a beautiful but shallow flirt who had lost interest in her husband almost immediately after marrying him, but who had died in a water-skiing accident—while pregnant, no less, losing the baby as well. An odd detail we’re not quite sure what to do with, but there it is. Clearly the couple weren’t as estranged as all that.

Upon their arrival, sinister things begin to happen! The electricity in both Caroline and Mrs. P-P’s rooms fails, and the candles that are always stocked in the bedrooms vanish! Worse than that, someone lets a kitten loose in Mrs. P-P’s bedroom! Attention turns to the children’s nanny, Annette: “She wants to drive me away from this house. Anyone can see that,” Mrs. P-P concludes after her narrow escape from death. Though there are other possible suspects, including Roland’s brother Ruy (how do you pronounce that?), who with Annette is “allied against me,” Caroline concludes, not wanting to miss getting in on the paranoia.

Further nefarious adventures ensue: Mrs. P-P is drugged into a stupor by the children, who are obeying the orders of a mockingbird outside their window, who sounds like Annette. Caroline falls hard and fast for Roland: At their first meeting, “she was seized by an extraordinary sense of exultation—as though this was the moment she had been waiting for, half her life.” The rub is that she very much resembles Pearl—which is just creepy, though it’s not the first time we’ve encountered this trope. And Ruy, who has been in love with Annette for seven years, she herself chasing Roland, decides to complete the circle by kissing Caroline, who astonishingly decides to go for it without giving a single thought to Roland. “She couldn’t go on mourning over Brandon. That was futile and humiliating. If Ruy was trying to flirt with her, why not let him?” Because, um, Roland?

Here the book becomes part Gothic novel, part mystery, and almost not a nurse novel—as despite the fact that Mrs. P-P seems to be sinking further into a coma, Caroline cannot reveal she’s a nurse, and so leaves Ruy’s secretary Jessamy to babysit the apparently dying woman, and even when the two children also ingest the same poison and the remaining conscious adults “work on” the children all night to bring them around—Caroline, curiously, taking the less dangerously ill child—her occupation remains a secret until the last page.

It’s an odd book, with machinations and suspicions abounding, and the poisoning/attempted murder of four different people, the guilty party still roaming free on the last page, and no discussion of their being taken into custody. Author Irene Swatridge continues her affinity for alliterative names, but also unfortunately displays a tendency toward paragraphs made up entirely of questions: “Had Pearl found him a domestic tyrant? Was that why she had preferred the amenities and social life of Nassau to her home here? Or had she been bored by Roland’s pre-occupation with the estate and its crops? Had she been weighed down by him? Take away his good looks and his old-world courtesy, and what was left? Mightn’t he be singularly heavy and humorless as a husband?” Also I do wish Caroline were less of a wimp. “Roland seeks subconsciously for a gentle, loving wife who will be his complement, and content to be ruled by him. You are such a one, I think,” she is told—and even worse, she answers, “Thank you.” Not surprisingly, her nursing career seems likely as over as the book is on the last page. Still, this book is curiously compelling, as Swatridge’s books have proved to be so far (see Nurse Willow’s Ward and Jubilee Hospital). Also, there are beautiful ball gowns! And a fabulous, snidely witty grande dame in Mrs. P-P! So if it’s not Swatridge’s best, she’s still not done badly by us, her readers, at all. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Nurse with a Dream

By Norrey Ford, ©1957
Cover illustration by Chapman 

When Jacqueline Clarke came from France to nurse at a Yorkshire hospital she had never known any Englishmen except her father. Soon she was to meet two very attractive ones; her farmer-cousin Guy, who ruled over his broad acres from a centuries-old farmhouse, and the distinguished surgeon of whom nurses spoke in awed whispers as “the great Mr. Broderick.” Guy fell in love and started proposing marriage almost at once, while she wasn’t supposed even to speak to Mr. Broderick—and what a sensation there was when she did! She couldn’t presume to imagine that he would ever give her a serious thought … and yet the idea of him seemed to come persistently between her and Guy.

GRADE: A

BEST QUOTES:
“We’ll make a nurse of you some day. Even if we kill you.”

“We all condemn what we can’t understand.”

“No house is big enough for two women if they don’t agree.”

“He is a doctor, but only just, I’d say. I mean you could still see bits of eggshell and fluff on him.”

“Whoever heard of two weeks’ convalescence, when we’re short-staffed and you’re not actually dying?”

“Only twelve more operating days to Christmas, Nurse?”

“‘He showed me the Charleston. His grandma taught him.’ She rolled down her nylons and proudly displayed blue bruises. ‘Those old-timers must have been tough.’”

“Bad as January was, it rushed all too soon into February, and those nurses taking the examination went about with glazed eyes and moving lips.”

“If you understand children, you understand men, mostly.”

REVIEW:
Jacqueline Clarke is a Cinderella of a nurse. Orphaned during “the war,” she has “warm youth and vitality,” “richly curved red lips and gentian-blue eyes, fine skin as delicate and rosy as a ripe, sun-warmed peach.” Her father was English and her mother French, and she was raised in France her entire life, so though her English is perfect, she speaks with “the slightest trace of accent, just enough to make her sound enchanting to English ears.” I hate perfect heroines; what’s wrong with being a normal, flawed woman? 

Anyway, Jacqueline has returned to Yorkshire, the land of her father, to learn about his home country. She says she’s never met a young Englishman, which seems hard to believe, given that she works in a hospital. Not that it matters; “I’m not interested in men. I just want to be a nurse,” she says. Then we hear about the lion surgeon Dr. Broderick, who “doesn’t care for nurses. He’s a terror and twists their heads off, like eating shrimps.” I’m betting $100 he’s starring on the last page.

On her first weekend off, she takes a trip to the moors to see the farmhouse where her father was raised, and meets a birder named Alan who takes her on a long walk with him. She’s telling him how nice her father was to her, when suddenly she gasps, realizing that “today she had been happy and comfortable with a man who had not talked down to her, or patronised, or treated her as a pretty little woman fit only for flirting; to this man, as to her father, she was a person, with a mind and ideas of her own.” Heady stuff! They talk of love, and he insists, “my love is elsewhere”—perfect grounds for a misunderstanding, as indeed there is one about his identity, which we saw coming half the moor away.

At the farmhouse, she meets her half-cousin Guy, and his mother Connie—her father’s wicked stepmother, who indeed “looked like an earthy troll”—and he is a big, handsome Guy, who makes her pulses race, but you know there has to be someone to interpose. Actually, it’s initially more complicated than that, as, when Jacky takes a stroll on the moor, she spots a dog and is then knocked unconscious. She’s soon found by Alan, however, and carried several miles to the village. She wakes in her own hospital, but the curious twist is that she has lost her memory of the day, and when Alan shows up and chews her out for being irresponsible, as he thinks she had fallen from a steep crag he had warned her about. She is livid, and spars feistily with him, even threatening him with a water jug before he ducks out the door. “As a junior nurse, I’m less than the dust, but as me I won’t be anybody’s doormat,” she declares, winning my heart instantly. And … Alan turns out to be Dr. Broderick! Who would have guessed!?!?

Of course, she can’t believe that a mighty surgeon could like her, even though they have frequent friendly and amusing exchanges. Her confusion is manipulated by Guy’s sister Deborah, who is hankering after Dr. Broderick herself, and she convinces Jacky to agree to marry Guy, so as to avoid subjecting Dr. Broderick to idle gossip that he could be involved with such a lowly creature as herself. “It was so plainly a breach of hospital etiquette to have her life saved by its most eminent surgeon! Perhaps if he had known she was a nurse, he’d have left her lying there, and saved himself and everybody else a great deal of unpleasantness!”

For his part, Guy has been pressing her for her hand—insisting, actually, in the most unpleasant and frankly alarming way. He tells her he’d like to hold her in his hand—“Slowly, keeping his gaze on his palm, he closed his muscular hand till the fingers were pressed down tightly and his knuckles showed white.” Yikes! She valiantly resists: “You can’t just say ‘that’s for me’ as if I were a cake in a confectioner’s window,” she insists, but he does anyway. He doesn’t improve his case when he says, “As if a woman’s career mattered, when she has a chance of marrying!” (To her credit, she laughs in his face, saying, “Do men think they are the be-all and end-all of a woman’s existence? Do you think we’d throw anything over that we cared about, just to marry one of you?”) But she gets flustered when he kisses her, so she wonders, “Was this love, this pounding of the heart, this disturbance of the senses?” Eventually she figures out it’s not, but by then she believes it’s too late to get out of marrying Guy, which is a preposterous manifestation of honor, and I would say that it’s dishonorable to marry a man you don’t love, to yourself and to the gentleman in question.

Anyway, everything sorts out in the end, as you know it will, but the great fun is watching it all unfold. This book has some really lovely people in it, but tops is Jacky’s nurse friend Bridget, who fortunately has to recover from her own stomach troubles in the bed next to Jacky, so we have lots of time to appreciate her sense of humor. Bridget is the kind of pal who, looking down on her cafeteria tray, quips, “When I came off-duty I was hungry enough to eat a dead dog, but I didn’t think I’d have to.” Pretty much everything she says is equally glorious. Initially disappointed with Jacky’s looks, I was quickly won over with her spunk and her ability to stand up for herself, even when facing dragons like Dr. Broderick. I even liked Dr. Broderick, who really was mostly respectful of Jacky, and at one point he berates himself for his hand in the charade that was Jacky’s engagement to Guy in a way that felt honest: “Fool, fool, fool! He had not even tried—not raised a hand to stop her falling into Guy’s grasp. He’d shown too much darn self-sacrifice, too much nobility; in fact, he’d been a stuffed shirt.” The question of who clubbed Jacky over the head is a bit of unnecessary detour for the plot, though it’s not badly done, and I was left wondering until the end, and the reveal offered some interesting insights into minor characters. And the writing! So witty, so amusing, so enjoyable! Writing this good is rare enough that it must be celebrated, and I am happy to pop a cork for Norrey Ford and this lovely book.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Hotel Nurse

By Tracy Adams
(pseud.
Sofi O’Bryan), ©1964
Cover illustrations by Lou Marchetti 


When pretty nurse Kay Mercer agreed to take a part-time job at the luxurious Hanes hotel, she found herself in a new world. Here, in the plush, elegant hotel was a way of life so gay and glamorous that it seemed to have everything she had missed in the grim halls of Deepwood Hospital. And there was handsome, gifted young pianist, Johnny Riels. He wanted to make this Kay’s world too. But could she forget the life she come to know and understand at the hospital? And how about the young doctor who had broken her heart?

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“The day she had to work to hang on to her guy, as Madge said would be the day she’d turn in her womanhood badge.”

“They were all like this man during the first few hours in a hospital, apprehensive, suspicious as to what was being done to and for them, and afraid, terribly afraid unless they were well informed. And few patients are well informed, Kay often thought, because it’s easier not to know the truth sometimes.” 

“I’m going to do a few tests, find a fancy name for what you’ve got and then send you a bill.”

“What the hell kind of nurse are you anyway?”

“Why don’t you try to hang onto yourself until your doctor completes his tests?”

“I’m indestructible. I’m a nurse.”

“‘I’ve got things to ask you, Nurse,’ he said. ‘Like what to do about blood pressure when a guy’s kooky about a girl and all that!’”

“‘I’m a nurse.’ It was more than a word; it was a badge; it was honor and duty and love and fulfillment for any woman.”

REVIEW:
Kay Mercer RN is, in a word, stubborn. This can be a useful trait, as it was for our poor orphaned heroine, but she calls it “pride”: “You have to have lots of pride to wear hand-me-down clothes, to go to high school without extra money, and more pride to borrow from a girlfriend for lunch hoping you’d get a baby-sitting job to pay it back. Kay’s determination to get an education, to enter nursing school and graduate had also been sustained by her pride and the wish to not give into [sic] circumstances but to fight and get what she wanted most out of life.” And one of the things she wants most out of life is Dr. Mark Bell. We don’t really get to know Mark, because the first time we clap eyes on the alleged heartthrob, he’s squiring TV starlet Penny Adair, who is doing research for her upcoming role as a nurse, around the hospital. 

Unfortunately, in addition to stubbornness a.k.a. pride, Kate is also mighty jealous. This portends an ominous future for the lovebirds. Mark is so busy showing Penny around the hospital that he’s not free to talk to Kay about a part-time job she’s been offered: Her friend Ruth, who is heading off for six-week (!!!) honeymoon, is desperate for Kay to fill her part-time nights-and-weekends job while she’s away or she’ll lose it. Working for a 1,100-room hotel with a full medical staff—what mega-luxury hotel is complete without an operating room?—is not all glamour; “A guy in the kitchen whacks off a finger, we have to be there to pick up the pieces.” Literally.

Kay, won over by the allure, wants to take the job, knowing it will bring in extra money so her little sister Betty, in college and with a part-time job herself, could quit working and focus on her studies. But Mark’s reaction to the news of her six-week gig is that of a possessive lout; he implies that he will mention her moonlighting to the director of nursing, who might kibosh the deal, and adds, “I don’t like you fooling around some hotshot hotel. I have a little enough time to be with you; this means I’ll never be able to make a date with you.” Kay immediately spots his hypocrisy, thinking, “last night he’d been busy with Penny Adair or when they might have had that hour or so together. It was all right for him to take on extra-curricular activities such as Penny Adair, but not for her to do it!” The snarky remarks tumble from her lips, and half a page later, she’s storming off and he’s not following after her. Or calling, or dropping by her apartment, or speaking to her in the hospital hallway. “Stubbornly, however, she clung to the thought that in this instance she was right and he was obstinate.” Which doesn’t help as the days go by.

What does help, however, is for meeting the hotel’s piano player, Johnny Riels. Johnny regularly presses Kay into a corner table with a cocktail after work while he performs for the lounge crowd, then takes her to tiny, exclusive jazz club until 3:00 a.m. This is not a woman who believes in sleeping. But the glamour of it all! “Kay heard music such as she had never heard, improvised music, sweet and low, sad and haunting. There was jazz that tingled, and time was forgotten as the men played because they loved every sound and every tone that came out of their instruments.” So she decides, “From now on it was going to be glamour and excitement and Johnny by her side.”

Eventually Mark turns up at the lounge to see Kay, for the first time they’ve spoken in five weeks, and proposes marriage—though he still has to live at the hospital, for some reason, for another six months, until he finishes his residency. He plunks a ring on the table—and then Johnny comes over and kisses her on the mouth. Mark, not surprisingly, decides to head for the door. “Let him go then; let him stalk off like a spoiled brat,” she thinks to herself. “What had he to offer her, ever? Waiting, hoping, planning and then who was sure they’d ever get married? Who could be sure Penny wouldn’t come into the picture again and make him change his mind?”

It seems unlikely this will happen, given the genre, and equally unsurprising is that calamity that strikes—but here, unfortunately, the calamity is that a small plane has crashed into the building. In the post9/11 world, it’s PTSD-inducing and, less importantly, unrealistic; the floor where the plane has crashed is still largely intact, with just a small fire, and the pilot’s body is undamaged enough to determine that it’s dead. This scene also a study in what not to do in a mass trauma situation; the hotel doctor focuses on a woman with a broken leg and worries about a blood clot instead of concentrating on victims who might die if not treated immediately. It’s over in two pages, though, and the hospital MD prescribes for his staff, passing around paper cups of brandy and saying, “Chuck-a-lug and that’s an order.” He’s not the only one: Mark shows up at her apartment and tells her, “It’s time I stopped being patient with you and started giving orders,” he says, though I don’t think the cold shoulder counts as being patient, and don’t get me started on the “giving orders” bit. Instead of slapping him, Kay says, “Mark, I was just going to say the same thing.” Any esteem I might have had for Kay melted away when she tells him that while she had been working on the crash victims, “I even prayed you’d come charging in, like they do in the movies, or the Penny Adair television things, you know? Then you’d rescue me and we’d cling together.” Except that she was a rescuer, not a victim.

Though she’s eager to be saved—and ordered around—by her man, when Johnny shows up and tells her to quit her job and marry him, she’s not convinced. “I don’t dig that medicine jazz, sweetie,” he says, adorably. “I want my woman warm and soft and smelling of perfume, not antiseptic. I want you to kick the habit and come out to the west coast with me. I can give you plenty to take care of—me.” As appealing as his language is, she tells him she’s “from another world” and slips out of the club while he’s playing a song for her, deciding that for him “love was as make-believe as the tinsel decorations,” which seems heartless and convenient.

Overall, it’s not a terrible book. Even if she shows no growth of her character during the story, Kay is a strong, independent woman—well, up to the end, anyway. The book demonstrates a lot of respect for the nursing profession, and the writing overall was pretty good. This seems to be the last of the three nurse novels written by Sofi O’Bryan (see also Washington Nurse and Spotlight on Nurse Thorne), both in terms of chronology and in reviewed books, and I am happy to report she’s going out on a high note.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Nurse in London

By Jane Converse 
(pseud. Adele Kay Maritano), ©1970
Cover illustration by Bob Abbett 

“I want you, Luv,” said Lee Watson. He was the star of The Tree of Life, the top rock group in England and America, and he lay in a hospital bed, victim of a crippling motorcycle accident. In pain and despair he had clung to Nurse Holly Brooks. Now, he was going back to London to resume his career. “I love you, Holly,” he told her. “Come with me.” And Holly came because he needed her … stepping, unaware, into a frenzied, psychedelic landscape where The Tree of Life flourished, and she was a stranger.

GRADE:

REVIEW:
Lee Watson is the creative genius behind The Tree of Life, a rock group that “the young patients on our floor rate up along with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones,” except that this music is “country baroque. Banjo meets harpsichord.” Whatever that is. He and his band have come to the U.S. on tour, and while out for a ride one day on his donorcycle, Lee missed the curves of Topanga Canyon and went over the edge, resulting in injuries that insisted on the amputation of both legs. Though “he hasn’t lost his talent,” the accident set him back on his heels, if you don’t mind the metaphor, and he’s become reliant on Nurse Holly Brooks for his emotional as well as physical recovery. 

Interestingly, we meet here an orthopedic doctor who is concerned that his patient will become addicted to opioids (a rare species in this day and age) and who works with Holly to wean Lee off the morphine he’s been getting. “I am not so certain, not certain, at all, that our young man is unfamiliar with analgesic drugs,” he tells Holly. “We cannot risk addiction.” His solution is to administer an IV placebo, but guess what?

Lee is a volatile individual who one minute is screaming in Italics, “There isn’t going to be any tomorrow! It’s over! Can’t you stop playing your idiotic games and see that it’s all over?” and the next minute he’s going on “like a gushing fountain” about a proposal that his group give a free concert in a London park. He’s a bit manic, if you ask me, but no one else seems to have noticed. In the first scene between Lee and Holly, he tells her—hot on the heels of him rejecting the pills and begging for “a shot”—that he loves her and wants her to come back to London with him. His orthopod agrees: “To prevent him from becoming addicted to a narcotic, to keep his morale high enough so that he does not refuse to follow the routine of his exercises; this appears to be within your power,” he tells her. “Your presence at this time could mean the difference between recovery and total collapse.” But no pressure, luv. And, of course, contrary to all teachings about addiction; only the addict is responsible for their addiction. On Holly’s side, she feels “the flattery of being singled out by the exceptionally attractive idol of thousands of girls,” and has a “breathless sensation” over being invited. So off she goes, and her attitude about being able to save Lee does not bode well for either of them.

Dr. Glenn Raymond is the doctor who is taking over in England, and he quickly turns mean when Lee shouts for her in the middle of a press conference, “C’mon over and give us a kiss, pet. Give these ink-stained vultures something to write about.” Nonetheless, as Dr. Raymond continues to be “blunt, unsympathetic,” “smug and unpleasant,” Holly decides that she is falling in love with “this dictatorial, waspish man,” because nothing turns a woman on more than a man who is an asshole. Dr. Raymond suspects that Lee is on drugs, given his “mercurial” “manic-depressive” presentation. Furthermore, Lee won’t let anyone see his arms, and Glenn and Holly decide that Lee is “hooked on morphine,” provided to him by one of the groupies. They discuss getting him into drug rehab, but Holly thinks Lee will not cooperate. She wants to wait until after the big concert: “You can’t imagine what it means to him … a chance to prove that he isn’t a useless, unwanted cripple.”

The doctor stomps off, and Holly paradoxically decides that “whatever was done to save Lee had to be done quickly, and it had to be done, Holly decided, by herself alone.” She’s worried that it would be “an unforgiveable breach of ethics” because she would be “proceeding contrary to his orders,” but “all heroic acts were acts of defiance, were they not?” Lee’s monstrous egotism has apparently rubbed off on her. So she gets into a fistfight with the groupie who is dropping off the drugs. Lee’s manager stops the fight and throws out the groupie, and then a hellish night in which Lee suffers withdrawal ensues.

The next morning she summons Dr. Raymond. If Lee is not cured of his addiction that night, Holly recovers from her “arrogant conceit.” Dr. Raymond arranges to have Lee moved to rehab, but before he can accomplish this, Lee flies the coop. They tried to make him go to rehab, but he said no, no, no! He’s got to finish preparing for his big concert, see, and after that’s over, he’ll go, pinkie promise! Dr. Raymond comes over to yell at Holly some more, but after he’s done, and after he’s learned that Holly is not engaged to Lee, he warms up considerably and tells her that he’s in love with her. After some smooching, they decide to get married, because their one date and his subsequent horrible behavior have told her she needs to spend the rest of her life with him.

The concert goes off, and during the last number, Lee wheels himself offstage before the music has concluded. Holly has an ominous feeling and rushes after Lee, only to find that he’s shot himself dead in his dressing room. It’s soon revealed that Lee has left his entire substantial fortune to Holly, and Dr. Raymond trots out his Mr. Hyde personality again, accusing her of having pretended love for Lee to engaged and win his fortune. She dashes off to the airport, but it’s taking her so long to get a ticket that Lee’s manager, Bart, catches up with her. “You’re as bad as Lee, thinking you can run away from yourself!” he says, adding that Dr. Raymond had immediately realized, after hanging up on Holly, that he’d made a huge mistake, and had been trying to track her down ever since.

With a bit of time for backstory before the doctor catches up with them, Bart tells Holly that when he made his will, Lee had had to ask what Holly’s last name was, and mentions that Lee had been married twice before, the first time to an honest woman who’d had a son with him, and who had “kept hoping Lee would come around to see the boy someday. Fall in love with ’er again, if she didn’t annoy him.” Holly tells Bart that it’s was she and his Los Angeles doctor who had made an addict of Lee, but Bart shrugs that off, telling her that Lee had been high on speed at the time of his accident, and that his addiction was inevitable. By now the doc has found a parking spot and rushed into Heathrow to give her a kiss. Immediately she starts to plan “spending the rest of your life in a foreign land. Yet wouldn’t she be willing to live anywhere, for the remainder of her days, if she could be at Glenn’s side?” The terrible problem of her estate she decides to entrust to Bart to manage for her, never mind about helping out Lee’s good-hearted first wife or son, and they head off to get a wedding license and struggle with the burden of being millionaires. Poor kids.

Author Adele Maritano can crank out plenty of great sentences, but here she hasn’t given us anything for the Best Quotes section, and she’s lousy with plots, which is a tragedy for her and for us. Here she writes of addiction as if the attitude that the addict is helpless in the face of drugs is a new one; of course, in 1970 it may well have been, so we can’t blame her for that. But it’s tiresome to the more modern sensibility, especially when a professional like Holly is not with the program and falls into all the typical traps about her responsibility for Lee’s addiction or sobriety. It’s also dated in how it treats the musical genius of Lee; we are told that his brilliance endows him with “the superiority that permitted him to behave like a tyrant and get away with it.” Again, it’s not easy to swallow that perspective 50 years on or watch him abuse people who revere him. Here we have another of Maritano’s many mediocre works that offer little beyond a flashback to another time, which of itself is not really enough reason to pick up this book. There are other, better VNRNs that will take you to London (see An American Nurse in London, not to mention many of the Britain-based Harlequin nurse novels), so I advise you to turn in your ticket and catch a different flight.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

An American Nurse in London

By Diane Frazer
(pseud. Dorothy Fletcher), ©1968

The huge jet liner was London bound. And Elaine Gibbs had left thoughts of hospital routine far behind. But when the stewardess asked her to assist a sick passenger, she couldn’t refuse. Then, she discovered that her patient was none other than Tommy Taylor, the rock-and-roll idol. At the airport, Elaine helped Tommy avoid reporters—including the handsome young journalist who was her seatmate. And so, unwittingly, she embarked on a wild adventure that changed her entire life. 

GRADE: B-

BEST QUOTES:
“Hospitals. They give you a pill to put you to sleep, and then they wake you up in the middle of the night with a blinding light in your face.” 

“She hadn’t forgotten her own days of student nursing, when you combined classwork and exams with floor duty and wondered how much longer you’d be able to stay alive.”

“Pity I’ve a wife. Healthy one, too.”

“One felt almost anything could happen when the sun shone.”

“Luck was the last ingredient for a happy life. Work and industry and giving in a relationship was what made it grow and blossom.”

“Lionel always notices legs. I’m grateful for that. I’d loathe living with a man who noticed bosoms. That always seems so common to me.”

“Behind every delightful man there’s a wise and gracious woman.”

REVIEW:.
I’m writing this review on a jet to the US from London, and I have to say that what struck me most about this book was the ease of travel and immigration when it was penned 54 years ago—no passenger locator forms, no COVID-19 tests, no vaccination certifications or multiple COVID tests to schedule upon arrival—just show up, fall in love, and stay forever in a foreign country forever. Times have changed, indeed. 

Elaine Gibbs is a nurse on vacation, and so barely acts as one during this book, apart from diagnosing fellow passenger, rock star Tommy Taylor, with chicken pox. She goes above and beyond, however, when she helps him scurry off the plane to escape the press and the crush of screaming female fans, whisking him off to her friend Erica McLean’s flat at 14 Grafton Terrace in the Bayswater district of London, which is apparently a real address. (I wonder if its current occupants know of its prominent place in literary history?) The spots on Tommy’s face, we are told, would be “just great for my image,” and that’s all the sarcastic explanation we are given as to why Elaine must escort the man out the plane’s back door, a “service exit for airplane personnel,” through passport inspection and customs, and off to Erica’s—an address no one has bothered to give to Tommy’s manager, Bernard Moss, who is accompanying him on the flight, so he’s left worrying and waiting for Tommy to reappear.

Another problem is that Elaine’s seat mate on the plane, Tony Crenshaw, is a very attractive and interesting young journalist. Dashing off without explanation, Elaine is vastly disappointed not to have been able to share a cab and perhaps something more with the young man, who is left to cab it alone into town. As for Elaine, once she lands in London, she makes the most of her vacation with a very thorough tour of the city, and we are led to Trafalgar Square, Lincoln’s Inn Fileds, Temple Church, the Cheshire Cheese pub at 145 Fetter Lane—an old haunt of of Samuel Johnson’s—and Windsor and Buckingham Castles.

In a shocking incident of insight and coincidence, Tony is lunching at Twining’s at the same time as Erica, who is a literary editor, and she inadvertently leaves behind a manuscript with her name and address on it. This simple clue leads psychic Tony to decide that this must be where Elaine and Tommy are. He knocks on the door the following day, only to be turned away by Erica. But Tony’s brief visit makes fellow reporter Liam Cobb suspicious—my God, these British reporters must all have ESP—and he tails Tony as he’s tailing Elaine, Erica and Tommy on a driving tour of the countryside. Tony, spotting Liam, punctures Liam’s gas tank  to get back to town first to turn in the story that Tommy is alive and well. Elaine, deeply crushed that Tony had learned of her whereabouts and not contacted her, is unconvinced when Tony turns up to offer a dozen roses and a box of Fortunum & Mason’s chocolates in apology. She stomps off in the rain to see Picadilly Circus (I was there yesterday, and if it’s not as horrific as Times Square, it’s certainly not a pleasant jaunt) and then to Buckingham Palace, and he trails along behind for almost an hour after she refuses to speak to him, but “he couldn’t stay out of the office all day,” so making no further effort to speak to her apart from his intial rebuffed attempt, he stomps back to work, “thwarted and seething.”

Tommy, meanwhile, is whisked back to a more suitable hotel by his manager. He and Erica, during their time together, had found themselves remarkably compatible, able to quote the same Alexander Pope poems and discuss artists with insight and intelligence—but Erica just cannot accept that Tommy is a rock and roll singer—“one of those dreadful people,” Erica insists, after two weeks of the contrary. She finally agrees, reluctantly, to attend his concert, and discovers that it’s not rock that he plays at all! Rather, he opens his show with a flamenco paso doble in Spanish, “an elegant pop number,” and when it’s over, Erica is a changed woman. “That isn’t popular singing!” she exclaims, finally won over, the shallow fool. For his part, Tony continues to shadow Elaine, and finally runs into her on the street and discovers that she’s pinned one of the roses he’d given her to her lapel, so that relationship is saved, too, without them speaking a word.

This book is somewhat problematic. Tony and Elaine, who have barely spoken for most of the book—the intrepid reporter who stops at nothing including criminal vandalism to obtain a story can’t make more than a trivial effort to speak to a reluctant woman—end on the brink of becoming engaged, too much too fast. And after all the reconciliations, Elaine makes a slip that Tommy had had chicken pox, and that’s Tony’s lead story for the early edition, so he’s apparently learned nothing at all from his journalistic misadventures. Even more curious is Erica’s debate about men vs. career; she’d dumped a man who’d wanted her to give up her career running a literary agency to marry him. “Roger had wanted her to be what she wasn’t. He’d wanted her to be just a woman, nothing else.” Working at the agency “had remade her, made a woman of her. No, she had never regretted it; it was her life. Or so she’d thought. That it was enough.” Because now, having met Tommy, she’s having doubts. Grrrr!

There are hints here of what makes author Dorothy Fletcher, here writing as Diane Frazer, a great writer, but this is not one of her best books. It’s not a terrible book on its own, rather the difficulty is knowing that author Fletcher can do so much better. The amusing wit is not as prevalent, and the absurd leaps of plot are just not acceptable from a writer as smart as she is. It’s not exactly a fair yardstick—for an author like Jeanne Bowman or Arlene Hale, two dandelions on my Worst Authors list, this book would be a home run—but this is the curse of being good at what you do, that a B grade is a disappointment.