Thursday, December 29, 2022

Paula Wayne, Wasteland Doctor

By Isabel Stewart Way, ©1962 

With looks and a figure that belied the seriousness of her profession, young Dr. Paula Wayne had come to the California wasteland to take over her ailing Uncle Eric’s practice, and to join his fight against the come-lately faction trying to put up another hospital in the desert. It was a bitter contest, and old Doc’s will to live hung on the outcome. It didn’t help matters when, unwillingly, Paula fell in love with Dr. Joel Leander, who led the opposition—but the real trouble came with Mike Comarra, richest rancher in the desert. An animal of a man, well-aware of his influence, he threatened to switch his support to Joel if Paula rejected his advances. “Life” to Paula had always meant the antiseptic facts and colored illustrations in her medical books. Now, she faced a reality she was ill-equipped to deal with. It took the primitive desert and emotions burned raw by the sun to mature her, to teach her that as long as there was honey, there would always be the taste of vinegar.


“Well, if we have to carry on the fight, I’ve sure got the best of it—with such a gorgeous enemy! No holds barred, I trust?” 

“Fact is, I never did see a woman doctor this close before!”

“Maybe you weren’t an ethical doctor, for those few moments, but you were all woman, and a damned fine one!”

Dr. Paula Wayne, fresh out of medical school, has come to the desert outside Palm Springs to take over her uncle Eric’s general practice after he is laid low by a heart attack. She’s not exactly excited about the prospect: “There could never be enough challenge for her in the life Uncle Eric lived—managing his small ten-bed hospital and attending his patients who were scattered over a large area of the desert,” she thinks to herself. But she is faced with challenge almost the minute she lands, because the only way she can get out to the small town from the airport is to accept a ride with Dr. Joel Leander, who is her uncle’s arch-nemesis. 

Joel is under the impression that Uncle Eric’s practice and Wayne Hospital are not up to snuff. “The equipment’s out-of-date and it’s inadequate,” he tells her, pointing out that the hospital’s nursing staff is headed by Tori Travis, who has no nursing degree and chronic tuberculosis to boot. Actually, Joel’s explanation seems reasonable, that Eric shouldn’t have complete control of the community’s only medical facility without input from others. Paula thinks so, too—and also that Joel himself is pretty gorgeous. “She had wanted to impress him, she admitted in all honesty, and she had wanted to do it as Paula Wayne, good-looking blonde female, measurements 36-26-34, and not as Paula Wayne, M.D.!” He is impressed, and the pair are soon kissing.

Paula soon finds that Uncle Eric really hasn’t been maintaining a modern practice, when on her first day she meets an old woman with a gallbladder infection and discovers that the woman has few records and fewer tests. “How could her uncle have treated a chronic case like this, over a period of time, without insisting on full GI tests?” It won’t be the last time that she encounters shoddy methods, and slowly she begins to come around to Joel’s way of thinking—until, while reapplying makeup after mussing hers while making out with Joel, she sees a negligee on his bed, and decides this belongs to his nurse, Diane Holsworth, whom he’s also been dating.

This sends Paula into a very peculiar tailspin. “Just what was the matter with her, anyway? Had she suddenly gone neurotic? Or was she what her roommate at General used to prophesy she would eventually become—a frustrated virgin?” Paula “had chosen to remain a virgin, but not strictly from moral reasons,” but because “sexual continence seemed a cleaner, more organized way of life.” But now she thinks if she hadn’t seen someone else’s underthings in Joel’s bedroom she would have slept with him that night, and what seems to be bothering her most is that she “had let him know she was willing and ready to be kissed! So she was a frustrated virgin, after all.” 

Her morality struggle is compounded when she meets rancher Mike Comarra, a commanding presence against whom she is warned by three different women before meeting him, and who immediately make the pass at her despite the fact that he is married and she is only at his house to treat his wife’s migraine, which he attributes to the fact that he wanted to “visit her bedroom.” He asks, “Dr. Paula, just what can you give a man who has a frigid wife?” Well, she can give him a kiss, just six pages after her encounter with Joel. Then things really get interesting, because when Paula tells him it was a mistake, he declares that he is going to throw his support behind Joel Leander’s push for a new hospital if she doesn’t sleep with him. She refuses, and soon Joel is sending out of flyer for a town meeting to discuss building a new hospital, with funding from a real estate pal of Mike’s. It’s not frequently that we encounter such blatant sexual harassment in a VNRN, and this may be the most blatant case I’ve seen to date, actually.

Paula hears that one of the people at the meeting who will speak out against Wayne Hospital is going to bring up Tori’s tuberculosis, so she packs Tori off to Los Angeles for a whirlwind day of tests, which again, Dr. Eric had never bothered to run. At the meeting she steps forward to tell them that Tori doesn’t have active TB, but another lung disease that will eventually require an operation. As fate would have it, Joel is a would-be thoracic surgeon chomping at the bit to establish a dedicated service in the desert for all the folks out there who need pulmonary surgery, which would be likely about five, tops, but what of it? Tori ultimately agrees to have the operation but—and you knew this was coming—only at Wayne Hospital, with Joel as her surgeon! And, at the same time, she calls out Paula for her hypocrisy when Paula wants Tory to tell Eric that she loves him, while holding herself apart from Joel. Tori is a feisty, admirable character who greatly enriches the story.

The book plays out pretty much as expected, but the ending is a sweet twist. The most interesting thing about this book is its discussion of sexual harassment, as much as it’s capable of doing for the time in which it was written. None of the men seem to understand why Mike’s family is no longer a patient of the Waynes, and when Joel makes an inaccurate guess, “A lot you know about it! Paula thought, with a little flare of exasperation. Men didn’t realize all the truth about Mike Comarra.” And when Uncle Eric finds out that Paula has lost Mike’s support, she hints at what had happened, but Eric snaps, “Surely you realized that risk when a female turns doctor! You can hold a man in line, can you? A decent man doesn’t venture past the boundaries a decent woman puts up!” To her credit, Paula thinks, “You certainly are living in the past!” and asks him, “What does Mike Camara know about the rules for a decent man?” Not that it changes anything, because she makes no attempt to out Mike as a sexual predator.

Instead, she tackles the problem from the wrong angle, thinking not about the dynamics of power but instead about sexual desire, her own and other women’s, feeling particularly empathetic when confronted with a Hispanic ranch worker of Mike’s who bears one of his children (stillborn). She also examines her own sexuality, and chastises herself repeatedly for having “betrayed herself as a desire-filled female!” She renews her vows of chastity, deciding that “sleeping around was a careless messy habit,” and then several times she refers to Joel’s nurse as a “hussy” for having apparently slept with Joel. She’s a bit judgmental for a doctor, and her opposing attitudes toward the Hispanic woman and Joel’s nurse are not examined. Unfortunately, Mike is never called out for his behavior, and in the end is reconciled with his wife, though it is doubtful that this is going to improve his behavior. It’s a simplistic attitude, but one that could be understood given that this book predates #metoo by about 55 years.

Ultimately this is the best of the four books of Isabel Stewart Way’s that I have read, with interesting themes and glimpses back on the mores of an earlier time. Paula is a strong, independent woman and an excellent doctor, even though she is “as man-conscious as any pubescent girl!” If the ending is not difficult to foresee, it is also a relief that the male doctors value and lean on Paula’s strength and talents as a doctor, and don’t brush her off as soon as they start to work in partnership with her. Some of the characters are interesting, even if the writing style isn’t especially outstanding. Overall it’s a decent enough book, one worth reading, even if it insists on dismissing the desert as a “wasteland.”

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Marry Me Nurse

By Virginia Nielsen, ©1969 

“Funny how when a confirmed bachelor finally decides to get married, he can’t wait to find a minister!” Navy nurse Jo Mellor had to agree with her friend Pixie, but what was even funnier was Jo’s own reaction. She was in love with Lt. Jack Hurley, wasn’t she? She wanted to marry the flyer, didn’t she? Then shy couldn’t she set the date? Because it would mean giving up her career, or because—deep down—she was beginning to wonder if Jack was the right man for her after all …


“There aren’t many men who really listen to a girl. It’s irresistible.” 

“She’s a born chief nurse—all that starch!”

“’I don’t know why he makes me so nervous,’ she wailed, ‘unless it’s that he’s so wonderful!’”

“The doctor is not permitted to yell at his patient, so he yells at his nurse. This is one of the reasons he has a nurse.”

“You never knew a man until you saw him behind the wheel of a car.”

This book is made more interesting—but also more confusing—by the fact that heroine Lt. Jo Mellor, R.N. is serving in the U.S. Navy. She’s assigned to a remote clinic on Oahu, thirty miles from Waikiki, where there is also an airstrip, and there she meets—and is quickly rushed—by the sexiest man alive, pilot Lt. Jack Hurley. “No man should have a face so startingly beautiful,” she sighs, and three pages later she’s wondering in italics, “Maybe this man is the one?”  She’s not the first nurse to think this, as he’s already dated and ditched her best friend Pixie and her nurse nemesis Lisa. 

In the meantime, she has to put up with grumpy Dr. Henry Taylor, who is stuck in this godforsaken outpost lancing boils and treating rashes—and numerous plane crash victims—instead of performing surgery, his first love. “Brilliant and conceited, totally immersed in medicine,” Dr. Taylor’s “high-handed, hard-boiled manner is infuriating!” And he’s constantly needling Jo because she cares about her patients—but she’s able to get the five-year-old with Legg-Calve-Perthe’s disease to hold still for the X-ray that proves the diagnosis.

If Dr. Taylor is abrupt and snappish, flyboy Jack isn’t winning any points, either. At a picnic on the beach when it is discovered that someone needs to go across the street to the café for cups, Jack refuses the mission, saying, “My plan-of-the-day is to lie around and be waited on by an adoring slave.” I know, it’s difficult to forgive his misuse of hyphens, but referring to his new girlfriend as a slave also merits our disapproval. Then there’s the fact that he’s peeved when she saves a man who’s been bitten in the leg by a shark. “I have a thing about sharks,” he explains later, and Jo is so relieved by his selfish attitude! And when he proposes within a week of meeting Jo, he insists that she quit her job: “No wife of mine is going to nurse anybody but me.” When she reminds him that he does not outrank her, he denies it: “As your husband, I will always rank you. That’s understood.” I don’t understand it, but I’m not Navy.

She’s understandably a bit depressed on duty the next day, and when she tells Dr. Taylor why, he points out the obvious, that marriage to Jack will not work out. “You are as engrossed in nursing as Hurley is in flying,” he says. Then comes the tedious part of the VNRN classic trope, where Jo tries to convince herself that if she really loved Jack, she would be willing to give up her career, comparing herself to her friend: “Pixie would not hesitate a half second before giving up everything to go anywhere on any terms if Dr. Ernie wanted her. If he were as demanding as Jack, Pixie would love it.” Um, sure. Soon the derogatory adjectives start piling up: Jack is “a little arrogant,” telling her what to wear, and “she wondered what insecurity made him want all her attention, every minute of her time. It was a demanding sort of jealousy.”

Then the next trope is trundled onstage: There’s a terrible storm and flood, and Jack crashes his plane on landing, breaking his leg. Dr. Taylor saves the leg but can’t salvage Jack’s career, so now Jo is tied to a man she doesn’t want, because she can’t break up with him now! “He would never know that she did not love him. No love or desire of her own could be strong enough to break the bonds that Jack’s dependence imposed on her.” Does anyone else think she’s kidding herself to an alarming degree?

Of course, she’s rescued at the end—prompted not by her own honesty or self-preservation but by the realization that Lisa loves Jack more than she does, because Lisa brings Jack a putter, symbolizing his recovery, while Jo brings a cribbage board, symbolizing a prolonged stay in the hospital. Now she’s free to phone in a cancellation of her resignation and arrange a tête-à-tête with Dr. Taylor, which, curiously, is played off-stage, after we’ve closed the book—which, at 222 pages, had plenty of room for less important scenes.

The book is full of Navy jargon, never explained—OOD, BOQ, Captain’s mast (apparently some sort of investigation), personnel called Waves—which makes it bumpy for civilians. There’s also a baby mystery about syringe and penicillin pilfering, and the solution to this question is also anticlimactic, a page-filling device that does nothing for the book’s improvement; if anything, it’s mostly confusing why so many people are involved in such a stupid crime. I never appreciate a heroine falling for a man we’ve been set up to dislike and who shows few, if any, redeeming qualities, or why she would continue dating a man who turns out to be an ass. It’s a perfunctory book with little enthusiasm for anything other than the Navy, so unless you are eager for an occasional armchair glimpse of Hawaii or the Navy, there isn’t much to recommend this over-long, yet simultaneously thin, book.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Mollie Sloan Special Nurse

By Millicent Morgan
(pseud. Rudo Globus), ©1962
Cover illustration by Jo Polseno

Mollie Sloan, R.N., was a good nurse, so good in fact that a group of doctors from the hospital where she’d trained used her exclusively on their most difficult cases. She had a nice apartment, money in the bank, friends galore, but something was deeply troubling Mollie. It came to a head when Eric Hart, a young concert pianist at the peak of his career, was admitted to the hospital. His right hand was completely paralyzed, though organically there was nothing that matter with it. Dr. Paul Desmond, his doctor, immediately put Mollie on the case. But in the end it was more than curing Eric so that he might return to his career. For in the process Mollie discovered that she must make one of the most difficult choices in her young life. It involved not only her work, which she loved, but two men. The trouble was that it seemed to her that she was in love with them both!


“The truth of it was that people were more dangerous than bacteria and a cure for ‘people’ was as elusive and far-off as ever.” 

“Next time I see you, I’ll expect a sexy smile. That’s why you women are here.”

“Some day, of course, she would marry, have children, fulfill her role as a woman.”

“None of you smart people have any idea what the nurse really does. There seem to be two schools of thought. One is that a nurse is a drudge, forever emptying bedpans, making beds, giving shots, handing out pills and taking temperatures. The other thinks that all we do is sit in a room with someone like you and play gin rummy. Well, both are wrong. We’re something special. We’re not little doctors and we’re not glorified maids. We’re the extra part of medicine, the ones who give patients something that makes it easier to stand illness, the cold impersonalness of the hospital, the mechanics of treatment.”

“A nurse isn’t supposed to look the way you look now. Fix your hair and straighten up.”

“I’m very proud that you can admit that you’re wrong. Most people try to find excuses to prove that they were right. That’s when I mean by running away. They think it’s easier that way. But it’s the hardest way in the end. If they faced up to things and told themselves the truth, they could easily solve problems. Never run, Mollie. Stick it out, fight it out, demand the truth of yourself and do what the truth demands you do. When you’re older, you’ll learn that somehow you can deal with any problem if you tell yourself the truth and don’t run away.”

“From now on I’m just an unemployed gal waiting for some man to make an honest woman out of me.”

This book is like a nurse novel heroine’s runner-up boyfriend. He is so handsome, and he makes your heart pound—but in the end he turns out to be arrogant and selfish, and he runs off with the wealthy patient. The philosophical question to ponder here is whether your ultimate disappointment nullifies your initial excitement.

Mollie Sloan is the greatest nurse ever! She explains, “I’ve got a funny kind of auburn hair, I’m five feet two, my eyes are hazel, and I’ve been told that I have a cute figure and gorgeous legs.” She is a private-duty nurse, and has a half-dozen doctors who can’t live without her. “They would tell her that she was the only nurse in all of New York City good enough for this case—oh yes, this was a case for that special something of Mollie’s, Mollie’s Magic Touch.” In her first year as a nurse, “on Grand Rounds, the attendings, the great men, asked her opinion and took it seriously.” Which has happened in real life exactly never.

Here, though, she’s called to care for misunderstood, overwrought, emotionally traumatized musical genus Eric Hart, a brilliant pianist who was raised by an abusive mother and who after a weekend of debauchery following a smash concert at Carnegie Hall develops conversion disorder—psychosomatic paralysis of his right hand. Mollie’s casual boyfriend, Dr. Paul Desmond, is a neurosurgeon who asks her to take on the case, because she is the only nurse in all of New York City good enough for this case, as we’ve already heard.

The patient isn’t told that his problem is psychological. “If we had years and years, we might try psychoanalysis and reveal the truth behind the conflict, but we haven’t time,” Paul says, because if Eric is unable to use his hand for months or years, his brilliant career will be ruined! After chatting him up for a week in the hospital, Mollie is allowed to take Eric out on unethical Saturday night dates, during which he begins to open up to her—and to kiss her. Highly unprofessional! But she is not allowed to come off the case because “Eric has made a transference to her,” a psychological term that goes unexplained but here means a deep connection to a therapist. Paul “was certain that she was the key to Eric’s recovery, the one factor motivationally strong enough to make Eric want to use his hand.”

Meanwhile, we are told repeatedly that Mollie and Dr. Paul are Just Friends. “She and Paul had never gotten past the point of enjoying each other’s company. They were attracted to each other and affectionate as all get out, but the words that changed friendship into a serious romantic feeling had somehow never been spoken.” “Was it possible that she was in love with Paul? Good heavens, no! They had known each other too long. Their friendship was so fine, why ruin it with sentimentality?” “Paul was too totally absorbed in his work and snorted contemptuously at physicians who married too early, giving up crucial years of creative work to support a wife and too many children.” But, surprise, now that Eric is demonstrating a strong interest in Mollie, Paul begins to recognize that his casual attitude about Mollie is a sham. “It was not until Eric had threatened to take her away that he had come to realize that he wanted to marry her.” But is it too late?

When Mollie ultimately manages to cure Paul—by tumbling off a cliff and requiring two equally powerful hands to pull her back to safety—Eric’s feelings for Mollie become more than a little alarming as he demands she stay with him morning and night, even though he no longer needs a nurse. “After all, he owned her now, didn’t he? Hadn’t he saved her life and hadn’t she given him back his right hand?” Unfortunately, no one seems to feel that the admittedly nutty Eric’s behavior is off base.

How does Mollie decide which man she wants? She chats up her old superintendent of nurses and spends a day wandering the hospital where she had worked before leaving to do private duty—and ultimately makes a heartbreaking decision. Though Mollie has many times asserted and demonstrated her devotion to nursing, she decides that “nothing ever really can take the place of a man and children.” “Something else had entered her life, something more important than work.” Numerous nurses tell Mollie that as much as they love their jobs, “if a man ever showed up who could give me the kicks that I get out of my work I’d quit in a minute.” I know that in 1962 this was a prevailing attitude, but this book does not question of that sexist, illogical line that we find in some VNRNs. I do wonder if this book takes that position in part because it was written by a man, who can’t appreciate the prison he is sentencing Mollie to.

The language and intellect in this book is quite sophisticated, reminiscent of a JeanneJudson novel, and it has a similarly complex understanding of Eric’s psychological problems, which gives it a touch more realism than the usual VNRN. But Eric’s alarming stalker-like attitudes pass without comment, and the beliefs about a woman’s place in the world, make this book in some ways even more disappointing because initially it gave me such hope. Is it better to have loved and lost than to have read another dull Arlene Hale story? I think maybe it is, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re still let down in the end.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Doctor’s Challenge

By Marjorie Moore, ©1939 

When Doctor Trast told Judith that she was a useless, incapable creature, unfitted for anything but luxury, she decided to prove him wrong by taking up the most exacting job in the world—nursing. “You won’t last three months,” he said, and waited …


“Mind you do what the doctor says. I certainly couldn’t cope with you dropping on the floor all over the place!” 

“I pity your poor patients. You’ll probably mend their bodies and break their hearts!”

“She’d always heard that to play two rounds of golf in a day was an excellent effort for a girl, but at the moment she was inclined to believe that making a dozen beds was in infinitely greater effort.” 

Judith Ganet is a wealthy, worthless lass who drifts from party to party—and indeed is waking at noon with a terrible hangover, just in time to go out to another cocktail party at 1:00 when she faints dead away on her bedroom floor. Her stepmother Elaine drags in the first doctor she can find, who happens to be a stern, scowling sort, Dr. Simon Trast. He tells her that her lifestyle is a waste, and she is “unfit for anything but luxury.” She stamps her foot and tells him she can do anything she wants to! And the next minute she’s made a bet with the doctor that if she works as a nurse for three months, he has to take her out to dinner and apologize for all those mean things he said about her dissipated way of life. 

Soon she’s waking up in a narrow, lumpy bed at St. Jude’s Hospital as a nurse-in-training. You’d think the jokes about how she doesn’t know how to mix a glass of Ovaltine would be more forthcoming, but the author missed that opportunity. Instead we learn that Judith—who “deep in her heart was dissatisfied and restless”—“had only been in the hospital a short time and already she felt different, curiously elated as if, with the will to do it, here, in this atmosphere of friendliness, she could regain something which she had thought lost forever; a spirit of joyous, carefree happiness, and curious though it might seem, a freedom born of bondage.” She goes to lectures, works hard, studies lots, and dates seldom. She makes real friends with her other fellow students, and hates Dr. Trast, who pops in to her ward now and then to needle her. “He’s the most impossible man I’ve ever met,” she tells a new friend. “I couldn’t fall for him if he were the last man in the world.” Hmph.

For his part, he has told her early on that he’s in love, and she thinks it’s with nurse Pat Shane, one of her new friends—in fact, she’s convinced that the pair are secretly married. She’s dating Simon Trast’s brother Nigel, who is also training to be a doctor, but is a bit more like Judith and had flunked a major exam, so he’s in hot water. But though he presses her for dates, she insists he stay home and study instead—and soon he’s passed his exam, but Simon is furious that she is dating Nigel.

Of course, the reader can easily see all the misunderstandings glittering in the sun, even if Judith herself is completely unaware of them. But the book unfolds gently, and the major climax of the plot is not the ubiquitous explosion or a tornado, but a skeleton that falls over when Judith is trying to move it back to its corner after lecture and it cuts Simon’s head. This is not a complicated book or a terribly sophisticated one, but nonetheless it’s quite pleasant and enjoyable. Judith is a feisty heroine who is a good match for Simon precisely because she challenges and stands up to him. When her ex-boyfriend says, “She’d be a very fitting ornament,” he is told, “Haven’t you learnt yet that Judith is no longer solely ornamental? She is a useful member of society.” If in the end she caves a bit and tells Simon, “I think I loved you from the first moment you began to order me about,” and if it doesn’t seem likely that Judith is going to carry on with nursing now that she’s found a man, these are minor disappointments in an otherwise pretty little book.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Love the Physician

By Hilda Pressley Nickson, ©1960
Cover illustration by Jack Harman

Doctor Laura Travers had always mothered and taken charge of her young sister, and when an unfortunate episode threatened to ruin Jacquel’ne's life she was only too willing to give up her job in London and help her sister to make a fresh start. So they retreated to a remote Norfolk village, where things at last seemed to be soring themselves out—but would they ever be able to escape from the past forever?


“A raging torrent is always more interesting than a frozen lake.” 

“One’s follies were never committed in complete isolation.”

Dr. Laura Travers has raised her younger sister Jacqueline since Laura was 16 and their parents were killed in a car crash. Through sheer grit and determination, despite having no money, Laura was able to put herself through medical school while supporting Jackie. Whether she always was or was forced to be, though, Laura is now “cool, self-sufficient and rather domineering … apt to take charge of people and situations.” She’s taking charge again now—because Jackie had gotten herself mixed up with a con man, Dennis Logan, who had used Jackie as a decoy in his swindling schemes, and Jackie had only barely been found innocent at the trial that had sent Dennis to jail. To escape the publicity, Laura quits her job in London and applies for a position in a small village in Norfolk.

At the interview, Laura is bafflingly outraged to discover that Dr. Adam Strickland, her would-be partner, is a young man. She’s overtly rude to Adam when she thinks he is an imposter, and barely less so when she discovers the truth; she speaks “coolly” three times during their four-page interview. She condescends to accept the job, though “their relationship might well be stormy.” And that’s putting it mildly! She is usually rude or seething when they speak, all the while convinced that Adam is falling for Jackie, and she works assiduously to promote the relationship. Nonetheless, he’s already kissing Laura and pulling the pins from her hair in chapter three. It’s the patented love-hate relationship in classic proportions.  

Contrast the angry Laura with Adam, a flimsy sort who campaigns for a seat on the town council by delivering stand-up comedy routines instead of speeches; “life to him is one long joke,” she thinks. He’s relentlessly pursued by town rich girl Pauline Brimsden, whose father is the business leader in town and the council representative responsible for squashing plans to install a town sewage system. Adam drifts along with Pauline, and when rumors run through town that he is engaged to her, he makes no attempt to correct the story even to Laura when she refers to Pauline as his fiancée.

Then Laura, encountering numerous sore throats and stomach aches in town that she chalks up to poor sanitation, decides to crusade for a public sewage plant and starts to make headway among other town councilors. When Adam finds out about Laura’s campaign, he loses his cool, bizarrely furious that she hasn’t consulted with him before starting her efforts. “Of all the bossy, domineering females I’ve ever come across!” he shouts, apparently forgetting that Laura had tried to discuss it with him, but he’d been playing with a wind-up toy clown during their entire conversation and had told her she should not expect him to get “hot under the collar” about the situation because “I’ve been brought up with it,” before dropping the conversation altogether to answer a telephone call from Pauline. When Laura curiously decides to apologize, Adam is won over: “Was this the real Laura Travers? This soft-voiced woman with the humble, contrite expression?” Why must her “real” personality be the meek one, and why is this so much more attractive?

There’s another man in town, Alec, who hangs around the Travers sisters as well, and Laura tries to convince herself that she should marry him, almost as hard as she works to push Jackie and Adam together. The writing on the wall is so staggeringly large, however, that Laura’s incessant worries and maneuverings quickly become tiresome and hypocritical—one minute she’s happy Jackie is holding Adam’s hand, and the next she’s furiously convinced that Adam is just playing games with Jackie and is going to break her heart—and all the while “she could not understand the ache in her throat and in her heart.”

Eventually Dennis escapes from jail and turns up in town with a gun and a letter written by Jackie that makes it sound like she was involved in his schemes, so the sisters are essentially being held hostage. How will all this sort out? If you guessed, as I did, that somewhere along the line there would be a car crash, you’d be right!

The problem with a character like Laura Travers is that we are supposed to disapprove of her assertive nature. We’re told she’s a “fiery-tempered shrew” who likes “to boss you and organize you and generally run your life. It won’t be long before Dr. Travers tries to run the village.” “Bossy” is a pejorative never used to describe a man—men are just exercising their natural leadership skills. But it’s peculiar here that Adam doesn’t really seem to have any, and just drifts along—even in his moment of triumph, when he’s re-elected to the town council, it’s shy Mr. Baxter who requests a committee to look into a sewage system; Adam only “reluctantly” seconds the motion, he states in his big speech, saying that he’s promised a rich man on the town council not to bring it up, “And so, even if the whole of Westhorpe dies of typhoid fever, I have my promise to keep. I will drop the subject and leave it to those of you whose consciences have recently been stirred, very appropriately, by a woman, new to this village. Gentlemen, the matter is entirely in your hands.” Somehow this makes him a hero of the town.

Ironically, in the end, it is even suggested that soon Laura will be elected to the town council. Is she a success for having put the sewage system across? Is she unlikeable for her assertive character? Sadly, I think the truth of the story is that even now, sixty years after this book was written, strong women are both—successful and accomplished, perhaps, but also struggling with the stereotypes that cause others to disapprove of the very qualities that bring them success. If Laura had been more like Adam, a go-along-get-along kind of person, she and her sister would have been wards of the state, Laura would never have been a doctor, and the town of Westhorpe would still be pooping in their drinking water. But Laura would have been so much more admirable and charismatic!

In the end, if you can tolerate Laura’s steamrolling endeavors in her personal life and her sister’s, ignore the bigotry she generates in others when she campaigns for a better town, and overlook the success Adam paradoxically achieves when he literally refuses to try, you might find this book more enjoyable than I did.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Love ... the Surgeon

By Hilda Pressley, ©1961 
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

Badly hurt by an unhappy love affair, Sister Beth Anderson tried to avoid further disaster by adopting an aloof coldness toward men. Would the kindly consultant, Owen Hastings, make her change her mind—or, as she became unwillingly attracted to the philandering R.S.O., Andrew Longford, would history repeat itself?


“On duty, you give an impression of being one of those entirely dedicated women whose only use for the opposite sex is for ministering to them, whose nature in general matches the stiff starchiness of the uniform she wears.” 

“Not that I do much to be talked about, but you never know—I might want to some time.”

“I never met a man yet who didn’t know how to wriggle out of something he didn’t really want to do.”

The start of this book made me a little bit nervous. Nurse Beth Anderson, the head nurse of the Men’s Surgical ward, is a snippy, embittered woman, having been dumped by her fiancé for her best friend. This has left her “headed straight for the category of soured old maid,” as she is a harsh taskmaster of the young nurses on her ward and is cold and aloof with the doctors, especially Dr. Andrew Langford, the new surgeon, who insists on being introduced to every young nurse—and then seems to be dating a good number of them, even if they are literal teenagers (albeit shortly to age out) and he is about twice their age. This nurse heroine type is one that is wearisome because they are generally unsympathetic, so it’s quite hard to like them, or to look forward to spending another 100-plus pages with them. 

Fortunately, Beth starts to evolve quickly. She unbends enough to make friends with one of the surgeons who is recovering from an appendectomy on her floor, mostly because he is kind and calm and almost inhumanly even-tempered. Owen Hastings is the nicest man alive—but really that’s the best she can say about him, that he’s really nice. Their friendship grows slowly, and soon she is befriended by a nurse on another ward, Dorothy Hughes, who is looking for someone to share a flat with. Owen helps them find one—conveniently located nearby his own apartment, so he can always drop by—and soon the two women are hosting dinner parties and having people over for drinks and conversation, even that bounder Andrew. Now Beth is thinking that she might be in love with Owen, though when he is around “she felt no quickening of her heartbeat or any other emotional disturbance.” And after on of their early dates, “she was glad he made no attempt to kiss her. If he had, both the evening and their whole relationship would have been spoiled.”

As much as she disapproves of Andrew, Beth still goes out with him from time to time, and even if they argue a lot, she still seems to be gradually warming to him—and he to her. As their friendship warms, so too does the one between Dorothy and Owen, who seem to whisper together when Beth is out of the room. When Owen has to leave town for two weeks on business, Beth and Andrew spend most of their evenings together, and soon Beth’s heart, which never thumped for Owen, is pounding for Andrew. But when Owen comes home and proposes to Beth, she accepts—and when Andrew snubs her cruelly in the following days, she soon figures out with whom she’s actually in love.

It's a fairly predictable story right from the beginning, but it was actually pleasant to watch it unfold. Owen and Dorothy are the calm, pleasant characters we’re told they are, though Andrew doesn’t have much life to him, and certainly not persuadingly inducing Beth’s tachycardia. Beth’s growth back into a caring human being was believable, even if her reason for having turned into a popsicle wasn’t, and the final disaster that brings everything to rights is a bit much. Still, it was an enjoyable story, and a worthwhile companion for an afternoon.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Nurse in Residence

By Arlene Hale, ©1968 

Lovely April Douglas grew up haunted by the disappearance of her father. What kind of man was he? Why had he left his wife and infant daughter? Had he really perished at sea, his body never found? That ghost of the past now came to trouble April again, turning her dream of a job as nurse in a luxury rest home into a nightmare. Sign after sign pointed to her father’s having returned alive, yet the handsome architect who claimed April’s heart only mocked her belief that her father was somewhere tantalizingly near. Even the attentive young doctor who kept coming out second best in April’s affections would not help her in her hunt. And now April was forced to face not only painful doubts about her father, but about all the men in her life, as she wondered if she would ever know a love that did not fail the test of her need.


“It was good to let Reon tell her what to do, to lift the burden from her shoulders.” 

“What goes on in that nurses’ office, anyway? I thought you were there to look after patients, not have necking sessions with the doctor!”

“Don’t be a flirt. Ain’t becoming in a woman, and it gets a man in a peck of trouble.”

“You don’t know how it is when you get old, April. You start looking back and see all the mistakes you’ve made—and if ti’s not too late, you try to do something about them.”

“For the rest of the day, I want your mind on nothing but me. Okay?”

It’s an impressive talent that can fill 160 pages without really saying anything at all, and Arlene Hale is just such a writer. Nurse April Douglas is an orphan, only child of a woman with no first name who died ten years ago. Her father was a sailor who she believes died when she was five—but then she gets a visit from Maude Pringle, who had been her mother’s best friend. Maude has suddenly decided to visit April to give her some breaking news—her father, Frank Douglas, may still be alive! Ten years ago he was seen in Britton Beach, the very town April is now living in! You see why Maude rushed right over! 

April is dating architect Reon Wheeler, and the pair tell each other that they’re in love, but he’s a distant sort of guy who’s busy a lot, plus he works with this hot interior designer named Olga. April has another man hanging around, though, Dr. Keith Foster, and he’s always grabbing April and pressing his fingers painfully into her arms and kissing her even when she tells him not to. Nothing says true love like sexual assault, so we are not surprised that April’s knees have an annoying tendency to go to jelly when he’s around. Soon she’s kissing him back and going out to dinner with him when Reon is in New York “on business” with Olga. On one of her dates with Keith, he tells her he loves her and proposes. “I don’t like being unfaithful,” she tells Keith, and then the pair kiss a lot.

Then crotchety Sam Sullivan moves into the old folks’ home where April works. She tries repeatedly to make friends with the old goat, but he is just not having it. Finally she can stand him no longer, and huffs, “Why do you reject every overture of friendliness I make?” in her usual informal, folksy way. 

Then April decides she’s going to spend all her savings to try to track down her father, without any real explanation of why it’s so important to her. “We could get acquainted,” is all she has to say about it. Then someone breaks into her apartment and gets into a box in which she keeps personal items, and moves an ivory statuette that her father had once sent her mother from the top of the pile to the bottom! That’s the end of that, and then April finds a clue, a letter from her father headed “aboard the SSBR.” This very skimpy clue is supposed to help the detectives find a ship her father had been on, locate other crewmen and interview them to see if they know what happened to Frank Douglas. Then some flowers mysteriously turn up on her mother’s grave, sent from Britton Beach. “Did she dare to suppose it might be her father?” She did! And then it turns out the janitor in the old folks’ home has a tattoo that says SSBR—with her mother’s name, too! Before she can act on this clue, however, Reon is trapped in a building cave-in, and has to be dug out—but it turns out that Olga the interior desecrator is more worried about Reon than April is.

Nurse in Residence is a longish story with nowhere to go and no real engine to drive it, since we’re never really given much understanding about why April is so insistent on tracking down her father. Maybe it’s understandable, but a paragraph explaining her need would have been helpful. The scenery along the way is also fairly dull, as the “clues” are fairly lame, and it’s hard to see how they can be helpful—papers shuffled in a box? Flowers sent to a woman’s grave ten years after her death? It was hard to care much about this fairly dull “mystery,” much less its central romance, so it’s hard for me to recommend that you spend much time with it yourself.


Thursday, November 3, 2022

Registered Nurse

By Paul Ernst, ©1960

Nurse Carol Bond was a witnessed to death! She had arrived at the scene of the accident seconds after the two cars had crashed head-on. The victims—wealthy George Caldwell and his lifelong friend, Henry Ebon—died a few minutes later. But which man died first? To the heirs the answer was worth $1,500,000. But to Carol it marked to the beginning of frightening events that threatened her career-- and her life. For someone who would stop at nothing—even murder—put this pretty young witness into a very well-built frame.


“This was a girl who could carry her own suitcase and handle her own hysterics.” 

The inside cover blurb for this book declares it “combines suspense and romance in a compelling novel,” and this is a very accurate description. Front and center is a mystery about who is trying to frame Nurse Carol Bond, while in the background a romance blooms between Carol and a young attorney trying to clear her name. Throughout we are treated with some really fine writing by an author who was known for penning the original 24 Avenger novels. At the end of the day, though, it’s more mystery than romance, so I feel compelled to mark it down slightly. 

Nurse Carol Bond is on her way home from work as a private duty nurse on the evening shift when she happens upon a car crash. Two men from one of the cars lie on the pavement, rapidly shuffling off this mortal coil. There is another woman who pops up to help Carol tend the victims, who are both dead within 15 minutes of her arrival. But who died first? And why would anyone care? Well, one of the men, George Caldwell, was a very wealthy businessman, while the other, Dr. Henry Ebon, was his not-so-rich best friend. Caldwell’s will leaves his very large estate to Dr. Ebon, but if the doctor predeceases him, the estate goes to his extended family. And Carol is quite certain that Caldwell died first, of a sucking chest wound.

The next day, a delivery boy drops off a luxurious mink stole at Carol’s apartment. Carol’s best friend Arlene—the wise-cracking, smartass type—tries to help Carol figure out who might have given to her: “I’ve got it. A grateful patient. Someone whose fevered brow you’ve cooled recently.” A few days later, Carol receives a notice from the bank in the mail stating that her account has been credited with a cash deposit of $1,000. What could all this be about? Summoned to Caldwell’s attorney’s office that afternoon, it quickly becomes clear: Someone who might have benefited from Caldwell’s estate is using these anonymous gifts to throw suspicion on Carol’s testimony. The attorney for Dr. Ebon’s estate, Andy Stewart, quickly comes to appreciate Carol’s veracity, and her figure. Soon he is leading to chase all over town for clues and suspects, with Carol acting as Dr. Watson.

It really is a very entertaining book, with excellent writing from the first paragraph: “Cocked up at a crazy angle was a single beam, piercing the midnight sky like a slanted finger.” Carol is a sturdy, competent character, who “did not have that nice firm little chin for nothing.” She can figure a few things out for herself and isn’t just led around by Andy in their pursuit of the truth and the guilty party. The answer to the mystery is not easily deduced, and the plotting moves along at a good pace, but not so fast you can’t follow each development. Again, my only real problem with the book is that the romance is the most predictable and boring aspect of it, revealed in fairly plain prose such as “Carol was beginning to think that perhaps they added up to something more than average.” And I really wish we had spent a lot more time with bestie Arlene, who was by far the most interesting character in the book. If you are looking for a VNRN that is not at all the usual fare, this book exactly fits that bill, and if the ending is sealed with a charming kiss, we can only wish that there had been more of that elsewhere in the book.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Florida Nurse

By Peggy Dern
(pseud. Peggy Gaddis), ©1961
Also published as Leona Gregory, R.N.

The daughter of a doctor, Leona Gregory had known since earliest childhood that she wanted to be a nurse. She had always thought that that would mean working with her father. But now that Dr. Gregory had married a young wife, Leona felt out of place in the household. The young R.N. gratefully accepted a position in a hospital in Cypress City on the Gulf Coast, even though she was afraid it would cut her off from everything she had known. Meeting the cold, beautiful supervisor of nurses, Paula Ingram, and the stern disciplinarian, Dr. Foster, who headed the hospital, seemed to confirm her fears. But Leona also found an opportunity for service she could not have had elsewhere. Then too, there was the handsome, charming senior intern, Cole Jordan … and, working with him, Leona began to feel that her heart might find wings again.


“Nothing is as inevitable as canned peaches in the hospital dining room.” 

“Well, well, so you’re going to be my special nurse. I feel a bad relapse coming on. I may be here for months.”

“When people are sick or hurt, a nurse’s uniform or a doctor’s is just about the most beautiful thing in the world.”

It’s entirely possible that it took author Peggy Gaddis, here writing as Peggy Dern, less time to write this book than it did me to read it. The continuity and logic failures are numerous, and Gaddis frequently uses conspicuous words more than once in the same paragraph. Furthermore, this is not the first Gaddis heroine we have met named Leona (see also Nurse in the Shadows). 

Here, Leona Gregory is leaving the “brutal winters” of—not Chicago or Buffalo—Atlanta! a climate so inhospitable that to stand on the doorstep and ring the doorbell is to court pneumonia. Though she tells her father that it’s the frigid temperatures that are driving her to abandon the dream that they have held since she was nine—she was to work as a nurse in his office—the real fact is that it’s Leona herself who is bitterly cold. Her father remarried two years ago to a lovely woman named Irene who attempts repeatedly to befriend Leona only to the rebuffed again and again, and finally Leona is packing her bags and huffing off in a jealous pout for the Florida Coast.

Arriving, apparently not having bothered to interview for the job before signing a one-year contract, she is stunned to find that the head nurse and the chief doctor are unfriendly and militant disciplinarians. She befriends nurse’s aide Alma Pruitt, who appears to have bipolar disorder given the way she caroms between hysterical laughter and hysterical tears from one paragraph to the next. She also meets Dr. Cole Jordan, the up-and-coming surgical resident who always insists on commenting on Leona’s looks; bachelor number two is Bruce McLain (also spelled MacClain), who recently inherited a very lucrative ranch in town. Carol Decker is the daughter of the housekeeper on Bruce’s ranch, and though the original owner of the ranch left Carol and her mother well off, Carol has her sights set on Bruce’s larger fortune.

With three women and two men, it’s a game of the musical chairs to find out who is going to end up alone—and with Carol acting the part of the “weirdie,” “mental case,” and “spiteful malicious cat,” she is clearly the one we are not supposed to like. But honestly none of the women are terribly attractive—there’s Leona’s inexplicable animosity toward her lovely stepmother Irene, and Alma Pruitt herself engages in quite a few unattractive games to snare a man, such as pretending she has a fiancé in Tampa; her wild mood swings are also alarming, as she is usually in tears at some point in every scene in which she appears.

So what’s the plot? I mean, beyond thin and implausible? Well, Bruce has been thrown from his beloved horse and saved from paralysis when Dr. Foster plucks a miniscule bone fragment from his spine, and now Bruce has to lie in the hospital for weeks. But Leona is assisting in the surgery and hears Bruce mumble just before he’s going under, “Don’t let anything happened to Starlite.” So when Carol vows to have the horse shot, Leona peels off her scrubs and flies out to the ranch to prevent the murder because “it’s part of the nurse’s job to catch the faintest whisper from the patient and try to do what he asks,” apparently even if it means abandoning her shift. I hope one of my patients will ask me to make a Starbucks run.

Now the thwarted Carol is gunning for Leona—and soon the sheriff turns up at the hospital to arrest Leona because the horse has gone missing, and based on this accusation alone, the sheriff plans to toss Leona in jail. It seems a rather flimsy basis for legal system, but then this is Florida. Out on bond, Leona decides that Carol “will continue to harass me and the hospital as long as I am here.” So despite the fact that Dr. Foster has not agreed to release Leona from her contract, she decides she is quitting—Dr. Foster has better grounds for lawsuit than Carol does, but never mind about that.

Leona goes to tell Bruce goodbye, that she is going back to Atlanta to work with her father after all. “Her father would be overjoyed; and she and Irene would be friends!” This shocking transformation of character, we are told, occurs because “when I fell in love with Bruce, I suppose I sort of grew up.” Here’s surprise number two—she and Bruce, who had spent exactly two afternoons together, are madly in love and will be married the minute Bruce leaves the hospital! And Leona will be leaving her career too, because even though Bruce has expressed no opinion on the matter—and never mind about Leona’s pesky contract—“I’m going to do whatever Bruce wants me to do, always.” Irene tries to talk sense into Leona by saying, “In a successful marriage there is no necessity for a boss. It’s a partnership; an equal partnership; fifty-fifty all the way.” Nonetheless, though she has declared that nursing is vitally important to her, Leona insists on quitting a hospital so short-staffed that “there simply isn’t time for any of us to sit down and hold the families’ hands or soothe them.”

Ultimately this is a carelessly written book with stupid characters, compounded by a large helping of bigotry against the local Seminole population and the poor whites in town as well. (There’s another penitential donation going to the American Indian College Fund from the White Doctor Foundation.) Dr. Foster shouts at a family reluctant to put their five-year-old daughter to surgery for a possibly benign tumor based only on his say-so—in a conversation held in the hospital lobby, no less—and the head nurse explains the doctor’s shocking rudeness (not to mention privacy violation) by saying, “he simply has not the patience or the time to put up with ignorant, stupid creatures”—and Leona is shocked that the nurse thinks Leona might be critical of this approach.

Peggy Gaddis always wants to have everything both ways—Leona couldn’t possibly criticize a doctor for calling it “nonsense” to explain a surgery (these days it’s called “legal consent”), but we are supposed to like Dr. Jordan a lot more because he does. Some characters say some really appalling things about the Seminoles, and these remarks pass without comment, but Indians competently staff the hospital and ranches in town (and ultimately save Bruce’s horse). Women are strong, competent workers who manage large farms and hospital wards, but they chuck it all to land a man. Alma schemes to lure in her crush, including lying about a fiancé and flirting with men in whom she has no interest, but Carol is the one who is called a “scheming cat” for her desire to win Bruce. Alma never has a kind word to say about Carol but completely denies intending to hurt Carol’s feelings when Carol take offense. Every leading male character tells a woman at least once that he ought to “turn you across my knee and whale the daylight out of you!” Need I go on?

I’m ultimately not sure what author Gaddis herself thinks about her characters, but it seems clear to me that she does not have a high regard for women. That being the case, it’s hard for me to have a high regard for Peggy Gaddis or her books, and especially not this one.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

That Nice Nurse Nevin

By Jan Tempest, ©1963

Eight years ago Eunice Nevin had been rich and carefree. Now, her father dead in her money gone, she was a hard-working nurse. Her old home had become the hospital where she was now to work. With the love she had found for her new life be strong enough to overcome her nostalgia for the old?


“To be a successful beauty and heartbreaker, one has to have a certain mentality. One has to care passionately for admiration and for pleasing people. I don’t. I have to say what I think, and that doesn’t endear a girl to men.” 

“If money doesn’t talk, what’s the use of it?”

Eunice Nevin is the sort of heroine it’s not hard to like. She’d been orphaned at 18 after an upper-class upbringing when her father was financially ruined making some risky investments and dropped dead from the shock. The icing on her tragic cake came when she’d been dumped by her handsome cad of a boyfriend, Eamonn Crail, so she’d moved to London and gone to nursing school. Now at 25 she has returned to her hometown and a hospital that has been established at her former home, so large and expansive were the house and grounds.

Eunice is soon drawn into the upper-crust circle of the Yaxley family, headed by social-climbing, scheming mother Shuna. Martin is the oldest child, and everyone seems to believe that Eunice is going to be the one who drags Martin to the altar, but she finds him to be a wishy-washy milquetoast who can’t stand up to his domineering mother. The younger twin girls, Tilly and Thyme, are fans of Eunice’s, as they had grown up watching her ride horses in competition—and usually win. Thyme has some sort of kidney disease and needs a transplant, while Tilly needs a transplant of her own—a spine, as she wants to pursue a career in music while her mother wants her to pursue wealthy men with royal titles, and mom is winning the battle. But behind mom’s back, Tilly has taken up with Eamonn—though he is actually in love with Thyme, who had turned him down because he is poor.

At the hospital, Eunice spars with 40-year-old urological surgeon Jupiter Janine, and it’s not hard to see where that’s headed. He appreciates her outspokenness, and kids her about the fact that she’s “known as ‘that Nice Nurse Nevin.’ Such a singularly inappropriate adjective for a personality as spicy as yours.” It’s admirable that she is such a feisty gal, but I continue to be perplexed and unsettled by the large number of Harlequin nurse novels that give the heroine away to a man more than ten years her senior—fifteen in this case.

The book is made more unique by its heavy concentration on riding, and we attend quite a few shows, ride frequently through the countryside, and admire numerous horses. As for our lead character, Eunice is also more unusual, a strong, outspoken woman, and only once declares, “it would be a real wrench to give up nursing,” but in the end plans to keep at it until she has children. The book has a good-sized cast of interesting characters (though Eunice’s girlhood best friend turns out to be a nasty, selfish witch, and it’s not at all clear why Eunice continues to interact with her), and overall the book has more than most VNRNs to make it worth reading. The writing isn’t witty or remarkable enough to push it into an A grade, but there is more than enough here to make for a nice read.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Reach for Tomorrow

By Georgia Craig 
(pseud. Peggy Gaddis), ©1960
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

When Claire Frazier turned in her candy-striped probationer’s uniform for a pin reading Registered Nurse, she knew she owed a debt to those who had made her happiness possible. At once she set out to pay off her obligation with interest—and with love. To her patients, Claire gave time and understanding and the skill of her hands. To her fiancé, Dr. Richard Massey, she gave the devotion and tenderness of her heart. And both mocked her, abusing her good intentions. Disillusioned and burning with shame, Claire had to pick up and mend the pieces of her broken heart. The scene of Claire’s reunion with life and love is a world cruise. Among the fellow passengers who changed her life are the attractive second officer, a detective, a confidence artist, and a romantic teenager. And the ports of call on her emotion-filled voyage include a visit with a would-be suicide, a ship-wide search for a strangely missing passenger, and an expensive game of cards which might have been dishonest.


“I do love the way you nurses parcel me out among you, as though I were a cold Sunday night supper!” 

“Even if we are strung up like a side of beef in a smoke-house, patients do have feelings and fears and hopes and aspirations.” 

“Next to the Christmas card racket is the ‘get well’ card foolishness. I’ll take a wager that ninety percent of that bundle of mail is made up of ‘get well’ cards and all of them from people who don’t give a darn whether I do or not!”

“If a woman is truly in love with a man, she wants to do what he wants, live the way he wants to live, because since he will be the breadwinner, it’s her responsibility to go along.”

Frankly, as I was almost finished with this book, I was shocked to see that Peggy Gaddis is the author, because this book is not much like her usual fare. It’s got a little bit of a mystery to it, and has a few plot threads to it that make it a bit more complex than the usual VNRN, and not once does a man offer to spank the woman he’s pursuing (although the nurse does mention spanking her female patient at one point, so it’s a partial credit). Instead, here we have Nurse Claire Frazier, who as the cover opens is madly in love with Dr. Richard Massey to a degree that does in fact seem doomed; every time the pair meet up in the hospital hallway they are drinking each other in and speaking with a “yearning tenderness” and a “radiant, bright-eyed” expression about how desperately they wish they were off in a corner making out. But at the end of Chapter Two, Dr. Massey has eloped with a wealthy “man-hunter,” and Claire has been offered a cruise by a delightful, cantankerous spinster patient with a broken leg who won’t be able to go; to be honest, I wish I’d been left behind to hang out with Miss Dawson, reading the financial section and gossiping about everyone in the hospital. 

Instead, we are dumped on a ship departing Jacksonville for Hawaii by way of the Panama Canal. There are a dozen passengers aboard, but we are principally concerned with the glamorous Vera Barclay and her frumpy 18-year-old daughter Nora; an older, dapper gentleman called Major Lesley; and “sullen-looking, withdrawn” 25-year-old MacEwen Russell. There’s also the devastatingly handsome second officer, Curt Wayne, who tries to be polite to Claire, but she is as mean and nasty as MacEwen and snubs him ruthlessly at every turn, convinced he is having an affair with Mrs. Barclay.

The mysteries of the book center on why Mrs. Barclay looks so familiar to Major Lesley, who has quickly become Claire’s best friend on board. Nora turns out to be another sullen child, which Mrs. Barclay attributes to the fact that she has “rescued” Nora from an “awful boy! A mere nobody—an oaf!” back home and dragged her off on this cruise. But every time Claire tries to commiserate with Nora about their broken hearts, Nora just looks confused; even after a half-dozen conversations like this, Claire never catches on, which is another mystery. As is the issue of why, when Claire points out to Mrs. Barclay that Nora has a hand-shaped bruise on her cheek, she is shocked when MacEwen tells her that Mrs. Barclay beats Nora, and why Curt is so insistent that the accusation is “bilge” and “arrant nonsense.” Nora at one point even attempts suicide, which Claire treats with bandages and a hearty scolding, snapping, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, scaring us all?” and ultimately deciding that everyone should “pretend it never happened.” Again, Claire is convinced it’s due to this phantom boyfriend, but the reader is never told why Nora is in such despair. There are a few possible clues in some alleged card sharking and a very fancy wallet, but these questions drop out of view off the port bow in a matter of minutes.

It is finally revealed that Mrs. Barclay is not what she appears!!! At this point one of the young men insists, “I’m going to marry Nora and take her home with me—for keeps, whether she likes the idea or not,” telling Nora, “I’m taking over from here on out.” Naturally, Nora swoons. Claire is cured of her heartbreak in half a page’s conversation with another eligible bachelor, but more nasty sniping follows a misunderstanding, and the final mystery is why anyone would have her after she’s been nothing but mean, nasty, and suspicious the entire trip. So if the book is a little meatier in its plotting, the characters are the usual pasteboard, making this book a decent enough read but not a superlative one.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Nurse in Danger

By Jane Converse (pseud. Adele Maritano), ©1962 

Dr. Dan Agnew performed successful cardiac surgery on Bonnie Castle as part of his normal course of duty. But for this operation there was a special reward. Bonnie’s father was a crooked racketeer, but he loved his daughter. To the doctor who had snatched her from death, he offered anything money could buy. And what Castle’s money bought for Dan Agnew was … the deterioration of talent and his career, the loss of the woman who truly loved him, violence and … deadly danger!


“You went through med school, you didn’t descend from Mount Olympus. There’s an even bigger shortage of infallible gods than of nurses.”

“I don’t expect him to mumble sweet nothings into your ear with a catlin in one hand and a Number Two S needle in the other.”

“Just about the time you think the guy’s human, he gets a faraway look in his eye, and then he explains why he prefers to use Sim’s abdominal tenaculum over Kelly’s.”

“Take my advice, Audrey. Teach him to relax, even if you have to resort to sedatives!”

“Irene sat tight-lipped, eyeing the famed entertainer with the scorn she usually reserved for unbleached flour.”

Audrey West is a scrub nurse at Hollywood Memorial in California, usually working alongside the up-and-coming Dr. Dan Agnew. He’s one of those hardscrabble types who had to work incredibly long hours to put himself through medical school, and now he’s one of the most gifted young cardiac surgeons in the country, about to step into the practice of aging Dr. Voss. “One of those superdedicated docs. No time in their busy lives for anything but scalpels, sutures, scissors, and saws.” Naturally, Audrey is totally in love with Dan, and also naturally, though he regularly takes her out, he is reluctant to express any interest in making their relationship official, much less permanent. After a particularly difficult operation, he takes Audrey out to dinner and tells her that he’d thought about marrying her but has decided against it because he has to avoid taking on “additional responsibilities” while he’s still trying to build up his practice. What a guy. 

One of the more challenging patients he has is Bonnie Castle, who it turns out has two cardiac defects. He’s planning a complicated surgery to repair her mitral and aortic valve stenoses, and her father, Frank Castle, is extremely grateful. The rub is that Frank is a mafia type who runs a drug operation at the same time as he dabbles in Hollywood personalities, supporting would-be stars and taking a large majority cut of their earnings if they become successful. One of his protégées is Ginger Lampton, whom Dan meets when Frank invites him and Audrey to one of his many house parties. Dan is instantly enthralled with the wild lifestyle—and with Ginger—and begins spending a lot of time on both, which removes him completely from Audrey’s personal life and starts impacting his ability to perform surgery, given his alcoholic excesses and sleep deprivation. Word in the gossip columns even suggests that Dan and Ginger are engaged … “That’s the advantage of putting your faith in a cardiac specialist like Dr. Agnew,” says the veteran OR nurse and friend of Audrey’s. “You get your ticker mended. Or broken. Depends on whether you’re a patient or a darnfool nurse.”

Then a pair of Frank’s goons shows up to drag Audrey and Dan at gunpoint to Frank’s house. It seems that a pair of brothers, Eddie and Monk Cado, have escaped from prison and made their way to Frank’s house. They’ve kidnapped his daughter Bonnie, and will hand her back safe and sound only after Frank’s new chum performs plastic surgery on Monk to make him unrecognizable—because he has one of those unforgettably ugly faces. Surprisingly, Dan attempts to convince Frank that as a cardiac surgeon with only the few surgical tools he brought along in his bag, he is completely unable to perform the procedure on which Frank is insisting. What will happen next? Will Dan and Audrey escape unharmed? Will adorable little Bonnie drop dead of cardiac failure caused by the fright of being kidnapped?

In VNRNs the climax of the book is either much too short or much too long, and here we suffer from the latter: The 40 pages it takes to get through this adventure drag more than a little, especially since the story doesn’t really induce much tension in the reader. Dan and Audrey’s ultimate reunion (you knew there would be one) is delayed because, oddly, Audrey refuses to take Dan back unless Ginger decides she doesn’t want to marry him after all. “It’s not going to be any good if you start out by hurting someone else the way I’ve been hurt,” she tells him, because no one who’s ever broken up with someone can ever date anyone else. But not to worry, Ginger is a good egg who “collected male scalps the way other women collected perfumes or fine china,” and she’s not about to waste time blubbering over some guy who doesn’t want her. Overall Jane Converse is in fine humor, giving us plenty of laughs, particularly in the form of Audrey’s roommate Irene, a health food nut who is always trying to peddle booklets she’s authored such as Add Ten Years to Your Life with Unbleached Flour. Unfortunately, though the book started out with a lot of promise, the “danger” part of the book was mostly just dull, and the only danger you’ll be in, at least in the second half, is suffering from a mild case of boredom.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Tread Softly, Nurse Scott!

By Marilyn Ross
(pseud. William E. Daniel Ross), ©1966
Cover illustration by Mort Engel 

Nurse Judy Scott alone knows that Dr. Graham Holland, chief surgeon of the hospital where she works, has made a terrible mistake. Because of his error, a patient may die. Only one person believes Judy—Dr. John Randall, her fiancé. But for reasons of his own, Dr. Randall refuses to do anything. He even threatens to end their romance if Judy exposes Dr. Holland’s mistake. With her future and her patient’s life at stake, Judy faces her most crucial decision as a nurse—and as a woman.


“How do you measure husband material? By the yard? Do you take the quality and width into consideration along with the texture of the hair?”

Nurse Judy Scott is the sort of heroine I can get behind. More than a little feisty, we are told that “she was just a jolly, good-natured young woman until some error caught her attention. Then her temper flamed to match her hair!” Right out of the gate, she’s telling a demanding, rude patient who has attempted to smuggle whiskey into the hospital—the bottle having been seized and stored in the nurses’ station—that “having it around too much has helped put you where you are now. We do not have time to bottle-nurse you,” and walking out. Amazingly, she never gets into trouble for her comments. 

She works on the surgical floor but also gets pulled into occasional surgeries as scrub—because apparently the existing pool of scrub nurses is not as talented as Judy is—which means she is on hand to witness the slow deterioration of Dr. Graham Holland, 65-year-old hospital chief who is moving slowly in gallbladder surgeries, stumbling in the halls, and complaining that the x-rays are too fuzzy these days. She discusses the problem frequently with her boyfriend, Dr. Miles Small, who has proposed multiple times but in whom she is not deeply interested. But Judy doesn’t always have the courage of her convictions, and tells Miles, who shares her concern, “Perhaps, if you ignore it, the trouble will pass and he’ll be all right.”

But the mistakes keep piling up, and soon Judy learns that there are two cases of patients whose gallbadders Dr. Holland had removed who had serious complications and were referred to major Boston hospitals for corrective surgery. Then the nasty alcoholic woman is not recovering from her surgery, and in a trip back to the OR that Judy and Dr. Small are assisting in, it is learned that Dr. Holland tied off the wrong duct (the common bile duct rather than the cystic duct, in case you are wondering).  Dr. Holland walks out of the surgery before it is completed, flies to Boston, and returns a few days later wearing glasses. Could this be the answer?

Well, Dr. Small is not convinced, because when his own father lands in the hospital with pancreatic cancer and Dr. Holland is planning to operate, he transfers his father to the Brigham in Boston for the surgery. “We have agreed that Dr. Holland shouldn’t operate on your father,” Judy says to Dr. Small. “But what about the others, the average patients who are still coming to him and depending on his skill? If Graham Holland isn’t in a fit physical condition to operate on your father, he isn’t well enough to be trusted with anyone else.” Dr. Small is shocked at this suggestion and defers any confrontation with Dr. Holland, because “we owe him our loyalty, Judy.” Judy adroitly replies, “Don’t we owe some basic allegiance to our patients?” Dr. Small answers, “There’s no harm in allowing him to continue as he is,” though it’s been proven that Dr. Holland is in fact harming patients, but Judy agrees to give Dr. Holland more time. Then she catches another mistake that Dr. Holland has made on the eve of major surgery for a prominent lawyer. Does she turn in her beloved colleague or allow the patients to undergo unnecessary risk? It’s an interesting and not uncommon dilemma in hospitals—and one I have personally witnessed—when a leading surgeon is no longer at the top of their game, and the debate around this question makes the book more interesting—the problem being that the answer is obvious to the casual observer.

Another unusual aspect of this book is how it dissects Judy’s relationship with another surgeon, Dr. John Randall. He is a serious, somber man and brilliant surgeon who Dr. Holland brings only reluctantly onto the hospital staff. Some say Dr. Holland is deliberately sabotaging Dr. Randall’s career, though Dr. Holland says his intention is to keep Dr. Randall humble and from acquiring an arrogance that undercuts his skill. It’s not an unwarranted concern; Dr. Randall laments that Dr. Small gets the important patients while his clinic consists of “a sewerage worker, and insurance agent and an elderly retired schoolteacher,” but Judy answers, “It seems to me that patients are all people and as individuals, important, regardless of their social position.”

Judy finds herself caring more and more for Dr. Randall, but she is concerned that if she marries him, his seriousness will eventually undermine their relationship. “There is a barrier between you and other people,” she tells him. “What worries me is that after we’re married and I’m trying to help you in the way I think right, you’ll shut down that barrier on me.” Later, she wonders if “the deep fondness she felt for him would not offset the pain his difficult disposition caused her. Many times she had seen divorce cases in which mental cruelty was listed as the reason for the breaking of a marriage and she saw that this could happen if she and John married.” When most VNRN heroines are grimly determined to marry the first man who presents themselves, not infrequently accepting a fellow who has previously shown himself to be an ass, it is refreshing to see our heroine consider marriage with the seriousness that it deserves.

Between these two weighty story lines, this novel has more gravitas than most, but it is not wholly satisfying. Judy has more gumption than many, but still has the stereotypical faults of VNRN heroines, such as when she needlessly frets about Dr. Randall’s involvement with a drippy woman no one—much less Dr. Randall—likes. A non-mystery is revealed in the final pages and leads to the overly neat solution to a number of problems. The writing is fine but not great, not campy or amusing, with little humor or joy, and the final pages are a series of declarative sentences that tell you rapid-fire how everything turns out, such as, “Patrick Lockary was operated on the next morning and his operation was successful. Miles returned from Boston with good news about his father.” It’s one of the better books (along with Arctic Nurse and Night Club Nurse) written by the extraordinarily prolific William E. Daniel Ross, but unfortunately that’s still not high praise.