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.
“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.”
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.