Friday, August 20, 2021

Seaside Hospital

By Pauline Ash, ©1964
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

As a nurse, Lisa Bryant knew the importance of treatment for kleptomania, but when she found that her own sister was suffering from it she didn’t know who to turn to—well, she did know, but she was determined not to drag Doctor Randall Carson into it.


“For a girl with such an innocent face, you certainly manage to get men to run around and do things for you.” 

The first pages of this book bring Nurse Lisa Bryant’s younger sister Jacky, who has been incommunicado for three years, back into her life with a bang. “Do you know,” Jacky trills, “that’s the first time I’ve seen you in nurse’s uniform! Isn’t it perfectly hideous?” We are not surprised to learn that Jacky “takes, all the time, and has very little to give back”—but Jacky takes literally, and has swiped a solid gold cigarette case that Lisa has to get out of the pawn shop to save Jacky from ruin. And you will not be surprised that Lisa is eventually suspected to be the thief, which is how these klepto stories usually go (see The Case for Nurse Sheridan and Nurse’sDilemma). But here we have a new twist, in that the man Jacky has been stealing from was her boyfriend, who tells Lisa, when she nobly returns the case, that he won’t call the cops if Lisa will “be a hostess, a companion—which she had had to agree to as the price for Jacky’s freedom.” Ew. 

Well, she has some free time, because she’s just been jilted by gadabout Derek Frenton. You have to acknowledge that he has a point when he tells her, “You adore hard work, or else you wouldn’t be so keen on staying at that hospital of yours until you qualify, marriage or no marriage. As for myself, I’ve never done a day’s work in my life, and a working wife would bore me as badly as I should bore her. I know you’ll be sensible about this, so let’s call it quits, shall we?” The knife in the back, though, is that he’s fallen for Jacky, the louse!

She also has a run-in with Dr. Randall Carson, who is “the most important (and the most short-tempered) surgeon at St. Mildred’s,” and wouldn’t you know, the man always seems to be picking on her. “She wished he wouldn’t keep watching her. It almost made her do stupid things. She tried to assess the thoughts going on behind that lean dark face of his, and wondered what he was feeling behind those cold, slate-grey eyes. He was so efficient himself that he just hadn’t patience with anyone who hadn’t achieved the standard of perfection, she supposed.” He is, in a word, horrible—so guess who Lisa develops a crush on?

Unfortunately, Lisa perseveres with her near-suicidal compunction to clean up after Jacky, which means she gets tangled up in all sorts of bad situations, such as when Derek Frenton’s mother’s jeweled brooch is stolen at a house party, and when another cad that Jacky had been dating decides he’d rather go out with fresh, unspoiled Lisa and blackmails her to make her go along with the plan. We know the eventual assault is coming, but alas, Lisa does not.

It’s a fairly convoluted story, with all the secrets and entanglements and coverups, that it’s a little hard to keep track of who knows what, and which lie is being told to whom. Meanwhile, there’s a young boy who’s been run over, and wouldn’t you know it, Jacky’s tangled up in that, too, having attempted to steal a diamond ring from the mother right before the accident, but now the parents are not coming forward to claim their mangled son, and Lisa is playing detective to try to track them down. Of course, through all of this, Lisa tries to keep Randall from thinking the worst of her—with little success, as he is always on hand when she is getting into or out of one man’s car or another. Eventually she takes Randall into her confidence and tells him the truth, so they decide they are going to have Jacky committed, and as Jacky attempts to sneak away before they can capture her, there’s a scene on the beach with the tide coming in, and Lisa and Jacky are trapped in a cave, while the police are closing in on them as well as on the blackmailing beau, who is wanted by the cops (surprise!). Of course, Lisa takes a tumble from the cliff while attempting to go for help, but that’s just the usual clever ploy to snag her man in the end.

I was hopeful from the first sentence: “Casualty was almost empty after a really busy Monday, when they brought in the man who was to play such havoc in Lisa Bryant’s life.” The rest of the book was not as quite as interesting, particularly when they trotted out the klepto relative with the covering nurse storyline, and the plot did get a bit bogged down in the end. But overall it was a quick-paced, lively and pleasant enough book. I could swear I’ve read this trapped-in-a-cave bit, too, but I couldn’t find it – no worries, that will pop up again, I’m sure, along with another kleptomaniac and an aloof, older doctor you can’t imagine anyone would reasonably fall in love with!

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