Monday, April 18, 2022

Nurse in Danger

By Fern Shepard 
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1963
Cover illustration by Rudy Nappi

“Be careful, Anne. This is a serious mental case we’re up against. We’re all in danger as long as she’s allowed to run around loose,” Dan said. Nurse Anne knew it was true. Margaret Slater was not a normal person. She was beautiful and rich and she was a destroyer. Sooner or later she would succeed in destroying someone—some helpless victim of her irrational, jealous fury … but who would the victim be? When would she strike? Margaret needed help—psychiatric help. Brad Portner was a wonderful psychiatrist, but love was blind … he was planning to marry Margaret!


“I can’t marry you, love, as long as you insist on working at that loony pit.” 

“Psychos rarely make sense, you know that. That’s what makes them psychos.”

“You had this twenty-four hour virus. Too bad the love virus doesn’t disappear as fast.”

I would give a lot to know why author Florence Stonebraker was so obsessed with psychiatrists and lunatics; of the 19 books I’ve reviewed, more than half revolved around an insane character. So once again, here we have the Stonebraker classic: beautiful Margaret Slater is engaged to psychiatrist Brad Portner, despite the fact that from early on everyone declares she is “sick and needed help. Her parents should have taken her to a psychiatrist years ago.” And that’s just on page 32; before too much longer, they’re worrying that “we’re all in danger as long as she’s allowed to run around loose.”

But she is, of course! Margaret is literally insanely jealous of her adopted sister Sherri, whom at book’s open she’s assisted in a suicide attempt by providing the bottle of benzos. It’s not Margaret’s first attempt at ending Sherri’s life; as a child she’d tried to drown Sherri. Now she’s beside herself that Sherri has become a patient at Brad’s hospital and rages around the campus screaming tirades about Sherri and Brad’s nurse, Anne, who actually is in love with Brad but on the verge of quitting so as to escape daily confrontation with her unrequited love. But the scenes soon prove too much for Brad, and he attempts to break up with Margaret, who in a drunken rage drives them both off a cliff at 100 miles per hour. Miraculously, Brad escapes without a scratch, and Margaret only has one—to her face, which destroys her incredible beauty, and now righteous Brad decides “he must marry her as a matter of honor” because of this devastating injury. Now it’s just a question of what happens to push Margaret into gong “berserk,” as the book calls it, and whom she will attempt to murder, and what the collateral damage will be to Nurse Anne, and whether Anne ends up with the doctor or the longtime beau she does not love.

The book is written better than some Stonebraker novels (Stop Over Nurse) but nowhere near the level of her best (City Doctor, Doctor by Day). I just never felt any real interest in any of the characters, except an occasional second look at Margaret on occasion, such as when she “had flung herself on the couch. She wore a soft blue wool dress with a chinchilla cape-jacket. Her golden hair glistened.” But even the climactic scene is dull: Anne’s danger is played essentially offstage, as it’s told from her point of view—but she’d taken two tranquilizers at bedtime and slept through the whole thing. So in the end, Nurse in Danger is not really dangerous, it’s just dull.

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