Upon her arrival as new office nurse in the small California community of El Campo Calor, Chris Royce made a resolution: She would keep Dick out of her mind and heart forever. He’d never meant to hurt her, he’d said, as he told her of the girl he was giving her up for. Now she was ready to turn all her attention to her new boss, attractive young Dr. Candela. But Vic Candela wasn’t free. He was tied to the past by something everyone knew and wouldn’t forget—nor let Vic himself forget. Chris has to find out about it—even if it meant risking the loss of Vic and the new love he’d offered her.
“You’re just another girl. Blonde and pretty, I’ll grant you, but with the usual number of arms and legs and heads. So why do I feel you’re so special?”
“You’re pretty enough to eat. I’m more interested in marrying you, though.”
“It is not womanly to be so strong-minded.”
Nurse Christine Royce has been dumped just weeks shy of the altar, and now she’s through with men—she’s going to fill up her life with work. “If she were busy, she wouldn’t have to think about Dick,” she decides, and, oh, what a difference a capital letter makes.
As it happens, though, she can’t keep her promise to herself, as when she’s lounging on the beach of one of the Great Lakes in Michigan, here comes hunky Dr. Victor Candela and his adorable six-year-old son Mickey. Turns out back in the day Vic had crashed her junior prom and danced with her, even though she’d been 60 pounds heavier in high school, and then he’d gone off to medical school. Meeting her again seven years later, he asks her for a date, and then if she’ll come back to California with him to be his office nurse. She agrees to both, and two weeks later she lands in the Central Valley and takes over the wreck of his practice. Once she catches up, though, the job is not too tough, as he has almost no patients—looking back through the appointments book, she notices that four months ago, after April 2, the previously busy practice had dropped into the toilet. A little snooping in the newspaper section at the library leads her to discover that his wife had died that fateful day, and that he had been suspected of murder but not convicted. So that’s why everyone in town looks at her so askance!
She’s living in the home of Vic’s dead wife’s family, with whom Vic is very close, and little hints drop like acorns on the roof—it quickly unfolds that no one had liked Alice, who was “selfish and cruel and rotten.” She’d attempted to seduce her sister’s fiancé, had little to do with her son, and apparently cheated on Vic. And she’d had multiple car accidents and lost her license, but had driven drunk after that and killed two people; the family had had to mortgage the farm to pay the settlement, a debt they are struggling to emerge from. It’s not until the end of the book, though, that it is suggested that Alice had some form of mental illness, proved by a diary she’d kept that Gramma Sophie will let no one read. “It is filled with hate, with sickness,” Gramma insists. “No one should be allowed to look into the darkness of such a mind.”
The mystery of how Alice died is made more interesting by the fact that if she was murdered, and if Vic was not the murderer—Chris “did not have the slightest doubt of Vic’s innocence,” which is a switch from most murder mystery nurse novels—then it must have been someone else in the family. Vic, who loves the family deeply, is acutely aware of this. “I won’t do anything that could possibly hurt anyone in this house in order to find out” how Alice died, he tells Chris when he finally acknowledges the truth to her—after she’d found it out for herself, unfortunately.
The problem with this particular sub-sub-sub-genre is that they are generally just lame (see, if you must, Matravers Hall, Nurse on Nightmare Island, Nurse Missing)—honestly, a Nancy Drew novel holds more interest and suspense. This is one of the better ones, though, as the heroine is not a stupid loser, and of course she is instrumental in proving Vic’s innocence. The characters are layered and interesting, the writing is moderately good, and the plot has only a few weirdnesses—Chris has a penchant for getting engaged to men after dating them for under two months—and the book even deliberately leaves a few minor questions unanswered, which makes it seem more plausible. The title is unfortunate, because the house in question is not at all mysterious, but that’s a minor sin, and likely one committed by the publisher rather than the author. So if you have a penchant for a pseudo-Gothic murder-mystery nurse romance novel, this could be just the book for you.