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.
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.