Monday, February 21, 2022

Behind Hospital Walls

By Ruth Dorset
(pseud. William E. Daniel Ross), ©1970
Also published as Head Nurse

Lena Mitchell’s life changed when her younger sister Jan came to work for her at Middleboro General. Jan was blonde, lovely, vivacious—but also, Lena knew, lacking the dedication she expected from her staff. When a patient of Jan’s died, Lena could find reason to excuse her—for the responsibility may well have belonged to an older doctor kept at Middleboro by political intrigue. Lena had vowed to aid young Dr. Jim Porter in his efforts to save the hospital from such corruption. To the last, she hoped for Jan’s help. Until Jan turned on her—and made a play for the man she loved.


“Lena made a quick check of his condition and confirmed the fact that he was in a coma.” 

Nurse Lena Mitchell works the night shift at Middleboro General, which is located in Massachusetts, 90 miles north of Boston—and never mind distance actually puts you well into New Hampshire. She has a problem in her younger sister Jan, who also went to nursing school, and who is “giddy and anything but a dedicated nurse. ‘I don’t intend to be one of those self-sacrificing nurses who wear their flat heels out on a hospital floor for fifty years. I’m going to marry me a rich doctor or patient, whoever offers first, and retire just as soon as I can,’” the lovely blonde had confessed on the day of her graduation from nursing school. So when Jan calls Lena, who is the charge nurse of her floor, and asks for a job, these qualities—even more than the minor issue of nepotism—should keep Lena from agreeing. “She really hadn’t had much choice,” we’re told, so Jan gets a job—and upon moving to Middleboro persuades Lena to move into a bungalow with her. Can you say bad idea

Premonitions prove accurate when, upon arriving in Middleboro, Jan immediately puts the moves on Dr. Jim Porter, a “young” man with graying hair who had just lost “a beloved wife” to cancer. Jim, who had been dating Lena, is soon paying Jan a great deal of attention, which does make you think a lot less of him, both for preferring looks to character and for moving on so quickly. And a third of the way into the book he’s proven himself to be even more fickle, dumping Jan to go back to Lena, just days after he’d asked Jan to marry him.

Jan doesn’t exactly help her cause; when she has skipped work to date a former patient who owns a club that is rumored to be “a rendezvous for underworld characters,” instead of firing her, Lena flat-out lies to Jim about Jan’s new boyfriend and tries to convince him to stay with Jan—but the next minute she’s kissing him. When Jan walks in on them, he tells her, “I make no apologies,” but then adds, “you should be wise enough not to enlarge on the meaning of what you saw,” suggesting that Lena means nothing to him. What a guy! Can he have one sister and kiss the other? Jan, anyway, knows a liar when she sees one and promptly moves out of the bungalow, leaving Lena in a lurch with now twice the living expenses to cover. Who saw that coming?

Elsewhere in the plot, Jim has been trying to convince the mayor to allocate funds to improve the hospital, but he is convinced that the mayor is so deeply embedded in corrupt schemes that there is no city money left over for the hospital. Then Lena, on her way to work, comes across a car crash at which the young female passenger flings a suitcase at Lena and runs away, and Lena finds the driver dead. Turns out the man is the assistant mayor, and the suitcase is full of cash—which is promptly stolen out of Lena’s locker at the hospital. How can she and Jim prove the graft that was not really evidenced by the now-missing money? Oh, and narcotics have been going missing for the past few months—could that be tied in? Only marginally, and there’s another bald spot on the tires of this bus.

It’s a fairly predictable storyline that wraps up unsatisfactorily. There’s the unsuccessful attempt on Lena’s life, but she’s had years of professional training to keep cool during emergencies, so she responds by screaming a lot. Then Jan turns out to be even more of an evil louse, but in the end she’s really sorry, because “I didn’t dream it would lead to this; that they’d try to kill you,” she says; she’d just been intending for her generous big sister to eat her heart out as a lonely spinster her whole life. “Can you forgive me?” Lena “smiled up at the pretty sister. ‘Of course,’ she said,” and that might be the worst, except that Jim implies Lena will be giving up nursing, as he tells her, “From now on I have other duties in mind for you.” I’m no fan of William “Dan” Ross, who has a habit of creating shallow, unlikeable heroines (see Five Nurses and Resort Nurse, for two egregious examples). This isn’t his worst book ever, but unfortunately that’s the best I can say about it.

This book was also published under
the provocative title Head Nurse
but with an equally hideous cover 

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