Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Amy Marsh, Star Nurse

By Sarah Nichols
(
pseud. of Lee Hays), ©1972

Tom O’Casey was a star. A bright, steady beacon in the changing firmament of show business. O’Casey was loved and adored by millions. And Amy Marsh thought her new boss equally entrancing. But soon she found herself caught up in a dizzying whirl of glamorous parties, expensive gifts from Saks—and the subject of ambiguous gossip columns. Was this really Amy? Dr. Harley Strait, Chief of Pediatrics at St. Clair’s Hospital, didn’t think so, and was determined to remove Amy from what he considered to be a corrupting environment …

GRADE: C-

BEST QUOTES:
“We’re just sending Amy home so we can do some hard drinking.” 

“Give me your baggage check. I’ll get your things and meet you at the car. Give you a chance to gossip behind my back about how attractive I am.”

“Oh, he’s all right. It’s just that the moon is full. We’ll lock him in the attic when we get home.”

“How do you like the new uniform? If they dressed like this in hospitals, recovery would be twice as fast.”

“There you have it. From the horse’s mouth, so to speak. No disrespect meant, Amy. Horses are beautiful creatures. Especially fillies.”

REVIEW:
It’s a little hard to believe that 21-year-old nurse Amy Marsh could have so many men in her life. First there’s Billy Hendricks, high school sweetheart who’d asked her to marry him, but she’d run off to New York to go to nursing school and left him to become a drunk. Then there’s hometown doctor Frank Crispinian, whom she also refused to marry, but at least to his face: “I’m not mature enough to settle down and I have other fish to fry before I do,” she says. Next, but far from last, there’s Leslie Raymond and his 40-something-year-old uncle Judah Raymond, and Amy believes she come close to falling in love with both of them, the ick factor of this remaining unexamined. “Amy was the kind of girl to whom things happened,” we are told. If things means men, that’s not an understatement! 

Amy works for Tom O’Casey, a television show host beloved by the nation but a bit of a creep; he’s always asking for kisses on the cheek and getting them, and telling Amy how pretty she is and that she needs a boyfriend because he “can’t have mopey girls on the staff.” Oh, and he’s more than twice her age. Amy’s job, if you can call it that, is “to make him take his medicine and remind him to relax when he gets too tense.” She also takes detailed notes daily on his condition, though it’s hard to imagine what the details are, exactly; “The patient was really tense today”?

You know a suitable doctor will wander in, and sure enough, she soon meets Dr. Harley Strait, a rich 35-year-old man with a limp from polio contracted in childhood, now chief of pediatrics. “He’d make a nurse’s life—infierno,” laughs Amy’s tactful Spanish-speaking colleague who clearly understands that Amy’s delicate sensibilities could not tolerate the word hell. Dr. Strait soon proves true to character; when Amy tells him about her job, he sneers—not without reason—“Make him take his medicine! For heaven’s sake, Amy.” But after the pair are both coincidentally on hand to assist a woman struck by a car, he takes her to dinner and then back to his manse, where he kisses her. Amy, who is a bit obsessive about what is “proper,” is unable to relax her lips because she’s alone in his house. The insecure doctor takes her cold freeze the wrong way and decides that her reaction is because he is handicapped, but in fact she’s thinking, “My, he’s got a beautiful physique.”

Then she’s kissing another man, Roger Hayes, good night after a date, and the ass tells her, “You can do better than that.” Worse, she tries again, then later tells someone at work that Roger is “not exactly” a “special friend,” “but he might be.” What happened to Dr. Strait? And why would you accept this jerk as a boyfriend? Next she’s trying on a dress purchased at Saks by her boss, Tom O’Casey, and agreeing to host O’Casey’s opening-night party at the Algonquin Hotel. Needless to say, when he drops her off at her apartment after the party, he kisses her. “It had been unexpected but not unwanted,” and Amy decides that she is “glad that she had responded to his embrace.” And then she makes a play for Judah Raymond at another party, maybe because he’s told her that she would never compromise her principles, and when he kisses her, “She felt her whole being giving itself up to him.” Five pages later she’s thinking she might marry Frank after all in a few years. Next she goes out with O’Casey again, and back to his apartment where he propositions her, but she tells him that she wants to get married, and he gently releases her and assures her, “I still respect and honor you, Amy.” I’m sure that’s what happened with all the women Harvey Weinstein brought to his apartment, too.

This book is just one endless string of dates with seven different men, a new VNRN record. (It also includes the private details of three showers during which the warm spray needles her firm young body, a sure sign that the book was written by a man.) I have no qualms about a woman sowing her oats, but it’s the constant hypocrisy of her endless declarations about her moral fortitude (she doesn’t like a movie because it has “that kind of language” and doesn’t “leave it to the imagination”) as she tosses herself from one man to another, thinking that every one of them is The One … until the next one comes along. She’s stung to a sobbing wreck when her first boyfriend Billy’s parents think that “I went to New York to become a bad woman”—she can’t possibly say floozy—and when several women suggest that she’s not the innocent she thinks she is. I think, though, that she is an innocent, inasmuch as a completely self-deluded moron can be, like when she thinks, “He was in love with her, she knew. And she had strong, tender feelings about him. But she was constantly forgetting about him while she lived in the city. She wondered if that meant something.” It means you are a shallow twit, honey. And at the end of the book when one of the seven men calls her up and asks her to move to London with him, you know she will, because “although her feelings about him were confused she knew that she wanted very much to be around him,” and she almost tells him “I love you.” Good thing she held back, though, because London is just full of men with cute accents, and Amy Marsh, Star Nurse, just can’t resist a man, any man, though it helps if he has a nice physique.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

House of Hate

By Dorothy Fletcher, ©1967 

The stately mansion of the Thibaults held more than art and music. More than beautiful people … it held vicious undercurrents of fear and frustration. When Nurse Norma Theale came there to live, she was the catalyst. Around her gathered the storm, to burst in shattering fury. Because she was there, someone had to die. Would it be Norma herself Whose side was she on? Who was the enemy? Only Norma could find out—if she could survive the storm!

GRADE: A-

REVIEW:
This book is wicked smart (I can say that because I grew up in New Hampshire using that expression before it started appearing in ad campaigns). When you pick it up, I hope your French is not too rusty, or that you have a good translation app at the ready, though you’ll have to go farther afield to learn that crotte de bique means nanny-goat droppings. You might also need Wikipedia as well, to research Iras (the second lady in waiting in the Shakespeare play Antony and Cleopatra), Rouault (an Expressionist French painter), and Sidney Carton (the hero of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens). (If you understand the reference to Berenson’s theory of intuitional knowledge, let me know, because I could never figure it out.) But if this book was more intelligent than me, it is certainly not too dense to make for a lovely, enjoyable read. 

Norma Theale is a 26-year-old nurse who begins our story by attending a concert at Lincoln Center to hear the Violin Concerto in D by Tchaikovsky played by violin virtuoso and heartthrob Nicholas Thibault. She’s about to interview for a job caring for his mother, Victoire Thibault, who is at death’s door at 68 from some unspecified illness that sporadically gives her fits of stupor. She’s drawn to the job because she is a true music aficionado who can identify and chat very knowledgeably about composers and artists, and would be living “under the same roof as the dark god, the legendary enfant terrible of the musical world. The celebrated, gifted artist, the withdrawn, controversial personality who fascinated music lovers and press with his disinclination to conform to type.” Furthermore, she’s completely fluent in French, which the immigrant family lapses into now and again; how an impoverished orphan came by all this education is never explained.

Norma arrives at the mansion on Fifth Avenue somewhere north of the Met, and the property is lovingly and meticulously described, “a darkly glowing jewel,” so it doesn’t exactly fit with the “House of Hate” title. The other problem with the title is that the people who live there are nice—matriarch Victoire, Victoire’s her 17-year-old niece Simone, her daughter Michelle, and Michelle’s husband Henri, are all very kind to Norma. Only Nicholas is cold and aloof, possibly because the rest of the family does tend to pick on him a lot. It’s revealed that he was an unwanted child, possibly the result of a husband-on-wife rape; Madame, in one of her delirious spells, thinks she’s pregnant with Nicholas and shouts, “I will not have the baby. When I bore him Michelle I loved him. I cannot bring his child into the world now. Conceived in hate, nourished in bitterness and loathing—” And though Nicholas is a world-renowned concert violinist, his family does not appreciate his career; they think that “what they did, the family considered work; what Nicholas did was simply fritter away his time on the violin, giving a concert now and then but hardly earning his keep.” Curiously, despite his fame, he has no money at all, and is dependent upon a stingy allowance from his wealthy but tight-fisted mother. The constant barbs from the family, the lack of love, and his inability to escape have made him a quiet, angry man, “frozen with anger and resentment,” Norma thinks, deciding, “A person could be pushed too far.”

But when Norma demonstrates her knowledge and interest in Nicholas’s music, correcting him that it wasn’t Busoni he was playing when she first entered the house but Mendelssohn, he takes an interest in her. He accompanies her on her daily walks, and they window shop and hunt for baklava. Their relationship warms realistically, particularly during a sweet afternoon in which she, Simone, and Nicholas play music together. But then two paintings go missing from the family’s art gallery, and Nicholas is accused of stealing them. Next Norma sees someone bending over Madame in her bed in the middle of the night, and Norma becomes convinced that Nicholas is trying to kill his mother. The climax comes on the opening night of a show at the gallery, when Norma is drugged and another murder attempt is made—during a lightning storm, of course!

The problem with these Gothic murder mystery nurse romances (and there does seem to be such a genre; see Matravers Hall, Nurse Missing,  Nurse at Mystery Villa, Nurse Incognito, Nurse Jean’s Strange Case, Nurse on Nightmare Island) is that they usually stink (I’ve given out two C’s and two D’s among the six). Happily, here we have a quiet gem. The book is sprinkled with a gentle humor that does not translate well for the Best Quotes section, and if only slightly moody and mysterious, the unfolding of Norma’s feelings is prettily described. Its only real flaw is that the author seems torn between painting a luxurious, elegant building and an eerie backdrop for her tale of mystery and love, making discussions of the house as “a beautiful horror,” “a prison, a cauldron of smoldering passions” with “gloom in the wide corridor” completely unconvincing. But ultimately, this is easily the best of this particular sub-sub-sub genre, another lovely offering from the masterful writer Dorothy Fletcher, who, when she is on, is easily one of the best.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Community Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1967 

When Leah Larkin, R.N., left the large city where she had worked as an office nurse, she felt that she was following her lucky star. For the handsome Cal Havelin, a visitor to her city, had stolen her heart and taken it back with him to his peaceful home town. And Leah was certain that in the quiet valley her dreams would be fulfilled. Once settled there she would make her mark as a community nurse—and win Cal’s love. But Leah was soon to discover that reality never follows the smooth path of a dream.

GRADE: C

BEST QUOTES:
“I’d like for you to meet Dad. He’ll like you. Even if he’s past seventy now, he still appreciates a pretty girl.” 

“It’s indecent for a woman to look so lovely so early in the day.”

REVIEW:
Leah Larkin, RN, is fed up with city life! “Here patients were just patients. She barely saw them long enough to do more than administer to their needs and say goodbye,” she thinks as she packs her bags. I’m not sure if she’s expecting to sit down to high tea with every patient who walks through her door, but she seems to have some unrealistic expectations about becoming besties with them all. Based on these dissatisfactions, she’s decided to set sail for Green Hills, a small town hours away—which, not coincidentally, is where Cal Havelin lives. Cal is a man she had dated for a few months, but then one day he’d done the ’60s version of ghosting her: “It had been two months since he had kissed her good night with his usual lighthearted smile and told her he would phone again soon.” She’d never heard from him again.

But “Cal had become too important, too necessary and too vital to her,” so she’s pointed her car down the highway—and, upon arriving in Green Hills, into the path of a young boy on a bicycle. But it does mean she quickly scores an introduction to local medico Dr. Rod Goodman, who shows up to care for the squashed lad. She asks for a job as a nurse in town, but it seems they’ve already got one, with little interest in the services of another one, especially one who’d run over little Bobby Walker on her first day in town. Asked to vouch for her character, Cal shows up to claim her, tells her she’s beautiful, touches her face, and kisses her a couple times, “lightly, like a brother.” Instead of listening to the warning sirens, Leah rushes back to her motel room, “took a brisk bath and changed clothes to be ready for him.” Guess what? The phone doesn’t ring, and the door remains silent. Finally she picks up the paper and spots a photo of Cal with Deloris Wentley, “her arm linked possessively through Cal’s.” Oh.

Leah learns that Dr. Rod’s brother’s wife, Michele, lives with Rod, but all the nurses he hires to care for her quit before too long. Gossip is that Rod is a masher, but Leah goes out to dinner with him anyway, all the while pining for Cal. “Oh, Cal, where are you? Why do you let this happen?” she cries as she applies her makeup for her date. During dinner, Rod talks about the town’s underfunded hospital and points out that the Havelins are the richest folks in the area. As he drops her off, he says he’d like to see her again, and she answers, “So you can persuade me to ask Cal for money for your precious hospital?” Leah has seen the 22-bed hospital—little Bobby is lying there in a coma—which has only a couple aides and one nurse, who has told Leah that they are understaffed and underpaid, so it’s bizarre that Leah would take this high-minded attitude.

Cal shows up eventually and offers her a cabin his father owns and doesn’t use any longer. “Now come here and show your gratitude,” he commands, and she obligingly kisses him a lot. He invites her to his father’s retirement party, where Cal’s father Sam tells Leah that Deloris is bad news, that she is pushing Cal to make big changes at the plant. “She wants him to be a big duck on the pond. Ambition! It’s the root of all evil,” he declares, and it’s certainly an odd sentiment for a self-made man. Except it’s not Cal’s ambition that’s the problem. “Deloris has put him up to this,” Sam snarls. “Deloris and her high-minded ideas!” Why her ideas are so appalling is unclear, particularly as we’re told, “She was not a woman to be overlooked. There was a brain in her head, a drive to her will.” OK, that was a rhetorical question.

Outside of parties and dates, there’s not much for Leah to do, since no one wants to hire her. Fortunately, everywhere she goes, people get injured or sick, so she ends up nursing a man who’d had a stroke and a boy who catches a fishhook in the face, and therefore has lots of opportunities to see Rod. And it pays off—well, not financially, but Rod does tell her he loves her. She goes out on dates with him—and kisses him too—because “he was one of the most appealing men she’d ever known.” But “it was Cal she loved. Rod had been merely a substitute. That had to be it!”

The book has so many threads it’s like a Four Seasons bedsheet. One evening Rod and Leah are out together when Michele walks in with a date of her own. Rod inexplicably tries to drag Michele out of the place, her date beats him up, and Rod doesn’t fight back, saying that he “deserves” to be beaten up, but won’t say why. Rod asks Cal for money for the hospital, saying, “If there was a major disaster in this town, or some kind of emergency at your plant involving a good many of your employees, we couldn’t begin to take care of them.” Will these people ever learn? You never say quiet when you’re working at the hospital, and you never say disaster when you’re a character in a VNRN. Then the employees at the hospital start acting squirrely; one of them tells Leah, “You can tell Cal Havelin from me that he’d better get smart and start keepin’ his eyes open. He’s heading for trouble, big trouble. You mark my words, miss!” Little Bobby Walker, who’d come out of his coma and been discharged, relapses and has to go for brain surgery. Sam Havelin has a heart attack—did I mention Leah seems to be a jinx?

There’s lots more, including the inevitable d******* at the plant, a dramatic rescue from the flames, an alcoholic exposed, changes of heart, and a “long, low foreign sports model with bucket seats of flaming red leather.” And lots of kissing! In the end, this book feels more than a little frenetic, and it’s hard to forgive Leah and Cal’s hypocrisy, not to mention the villainization of Deloris because she wants to do more with her life than just play golf at the country club. Author Arlene Hale wrote about a hundred novels, and as I am fond of lamenting, many of them nurse novels—I’ve read 23 of them, 75% earning C grades or less, with another 11 waiting on my shelves, and probably at least as many out there in the world to be tracked down. My work is not all glitter and glamor—but especially not when I’ve got one of Arlene Hale’s books in my hands.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Island Nurse

By Dorothy Daniels, ©1964 
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

Nurse Diana Carvell studied long and worked hard to plan her future, but the blueprint didn’t include Ethan Sloane, who stormed into her life with the crashing impact of a wave against a rock. He affected her as no man ever had—not even Dr. Barry Latham, whom she expected to marry. Was she strong enough to resist this brooding, mysterious young islander who was carefully guarding a secret? More important—did she really want to? On a tiny island, at the height of a hurricane, a beautiful girl faces her moment of truth and makes a decision that will come as a thrilling surprise …

GRADE: C

BEST QUOTES:
“It’s doggone careless of Barry, letting you run around loose.” 

“There is something to the old movie and TV business of boiling lots of hot water. Keeps folks too busy to interfere with the doctor.”

“May I examine you? I promise the fee will not be too high and my medicines all taste like peppermint candy.”

REVIEW:
Diana Carvell is planning to marry Dr. Barry Latham, who is in his final year of residency as a surgeon. Curiously, though she works as an OR nurse, she has never been in the OR with him—until one day when she is on the scene when he inexplicably walks away from a routine appendectomy. Word is Dr. Latham doesn’t have the nerve to be surgeon—odd to be finding this out on his fifth year of residency—but then it is revealed that he was just upset because his dad James is being admitted with lung cancer. Diana is enlisted to care for James after his surgery, which fortunately cures him completely, and then the Lathams recruit her to come to their summer home on an island off the coast of Bar Harbor, Maine, to watch him recuperate. She agrees to do it, although it must be confessed “she was considering breaking off with Barry because of his mother’s complete rejection of her”—the woman has not been overly friendly when she comes to visit her hospitalized husband. But she and Mrs. Latham have a quick chat, in which she tells Mrs. Latham, “You believe I’m not good enough for your son,”—a strange way to win the affection of your maybe-future mother-in-law. But it works, temporarily at least, and Diana jets off to Bar Harbor.

She’s picked up on the pier by Barry’s longtime friend, Ethan Sloan. Ethan is about to start his fourth year of medical school—he’s running a bit behind because he insists on paying his own tuition without loans or help from any of his rich friends. Ethan has an overly arrogant manner, telling her on their ride to the island, “I’m going to marry you.” He continues this conceit without a break, except for the time he tells Diana, “I’m not that vain,” and she has to be helped up off the floor when she’s done rolling around laughing. Oh, wait, no, what actually happened is that she agreed to several dates with him, including a late-night swim and smooch on the beach, and before long she is “almost running in her eagerness to see him.” When Barry shows up days later, now finished with residency and planning to work at the island hospital here and there for the summer, she decides “there was no point in holding anything back,” and fails to mention the kissing or the fact that Ethan is planning on marrying her.

Barry is also a picture of contrasts. Though he is Boston “Back Bay, Choate, Harvard,” Barry had decided not to follow his father into finance, showing “a great deal of spunk and ambition,” but in school, “his approach to medicine and surgery was casual. He did work hard and well, but there wasn’t a need for him to excel above others so he never really tried.” When he shows up on the island, he pursues waterskiing and boat racing with reckless abandon, working toward the big boat race at the end of the season. But Diana has work to do caring for James and helping out at the hospital; “she’d never be content, as Barry was, to spend the whole summer simply having fun.” Soon enough, he misses a call to help a man with a gangrenous wound because he’s off on the mainland buying a speedboat—but worse than that, he also fails to come back in time to pick her up for the big dance at the Latham house!

Ethan’s there to dance with her, though, so not all is lost, and she tells him, “When I saw you, I felt like turning cartwheels,” the gymnastic floozy. Unfortunately she doesn’t have time to demonstrate because Barry turns up, Ethan disappears, and Alicia Atwell’s appendix acts up. Diana and Barry get her to the hospital, but then Barry starts acting squirrely—and though Diana talks him into the surgery, it’s “not the sure, hard sweep of the blade an experienced surgeon would have used,” and he worked “almost too carefully, Diana noted,” taking 40 minutes to do a surgery that could have been done in 15. Afterward, “he was shaken and drenched with sweat. When he removed his gloves, his hands were shaking.” (Shades of Nurse Ann in Surgery!) But then she remembers he’s been running around all day with his new boat, which must be why he did so poorly. And she lies to the island MD, Dr. Evans, when he asks for the truth about Barry’s medical skill. “Barry is a poor doctor, an incompetent surgeon,” he tells her. Curiously, Diana declares, “I don’t believe he’s a bad surgeon. I think he’s inexperienced, that’s all. I believe in Barry Latham, as a man and as a doctor.”

Dr. Evans decides to take a week of vacation, curiously at the height of the season when the island is most populated, leaving it alone to be mishandled by Dr. Barry. But just as Diana and Ethan are dropping him off on the mainland, a hurricane blows in—the worse storm ever! Will Barry be able to find a spine and help the injured? Who will Diana decide to marry?

I’ve been known to gripe because a huge disaster plays out in a few paragraphs, and now I’m biting my tongue—this one takes 15 pages, and it drags. Parts of the book had interest and real humor, but so much of it didn’t hang together—is Barry afraid or arrogant? Does Diana believe in Barry or doubt him? At least she’s not quitting her job after she lands her man, but neither man was much of a bargain, so it was hard to feel too pleased with her choice. Overall there just isn’t enough to recommend this book.

Hope Wears White

By Florence Stuart
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1961
Cover illustration by Martin Koenig

Nurse Barbara Ritter looked up into Dr. Wade Fulton’s eyes. “Say you love me, darling. Say it once, please,” he pleaded. She turned her head away. “Oh, let me alone. Don’t talk any more about it. What does it matter how I feel about you? You’re going to be married to another girl.” She had lost her heart to a man who belonged to somebody else. Would time heal the hurt? Barbara found the answer to her question in this moving novel of love, friendship and dedication to a notable profession. 

GRADE: A-

BEST QUOTES:
“If I had my teeth in, I’d bite you, honey.” 

“Later they drove down to the village to look at the bright lights, all five or six of them.”

REVIEW:
I’ve been feeling a little burned by Florence Stonebraker in recent years. She has written some amazing books, no question about it—five of her books have earned A-grade reviews—but she has also gotten seven C’s, so you never know if you’ve got a gem in your hands or a dud. The result is that now, as I read her books—and Hope Wears White is my 19th—if it starts out well, I am nervously waiting for the point where the story tanks. Fortunately, this book sparkled from beginning to end—but apprehension marred my enjoyment somewhat; these are the bitter side effects of this job, but I hope my work here can spare you the stinkers and deliver you only the best. 

Barbara Ritter is a nurse from the very tiny town of Springdale, Arkansas, population 2,734, where she was adopted by the local doctor and his wife. Unfortunately, she played the Cinderella to her younger sister Fern, the pair’s biological daughter: “Fern had always gotten the best of everything, while Barbara did the work of two or three servants.” Barbara has turned out all right in the end, though; after her father died, Mrs. Harriet Hope, a wealthy local widow, loaned Barbara tuition money for nursing school. Now, after four years away from home, Barbara is returning to show everyone her success. (It’s a flimsy excuse, but there it is, and we have to live with it.) Fern has not fared so well: “She acts very strange of late. She is moody: up in the clouds one minute; down in the dumps the next,” explains Mom, while others are less kind, stating simply that “Fern has some deep-seated neurosis and is seriously in need of psychiatric help.” Fortunately, there is a new psychiatric hospital in town, endowed by Harriet and run by Dr. Wade Fulton, who is quite the hunk.

Harriet has insisted that Dr. Wade hire Barbara to work at the hospital, and her first interview with Wade starts off very well, despite the fact that “I hadn’t counted on anyone quite so ornamental,” as he says, since everyone tells Barbara that she looks like Elizabeth Taylor. Barbara displays a fair amount of sass: “Do you suppose I’ll be safe, working day in and day out with this irresistible male?” she asks fellow Nurse Kitty Standish. When Wade tells Barbara he is engaged to a woman back in New York, she slyly asks him how often he writes her, saying, “I’ll bet the poor gal is all aquiver with excitement, waiting for those cards to arrive.” But the interview quickly sours, and later Kitty declares that Wade is “afraid that he’ll fall in love.” In short order Wade all but admits this to be true: Apologizing that they got off on the wrong foot, he touches her arm, and the sparks fly.

 

Meanwhile Fern has developed a huge crush on Wade, and is sending him love letters and turning up in his office to bat her eyes at him. One evening Barbara goes to the family house to discuss Fern’s behavior, telling her that its less than rational. She suggests that Fern seek professional help, and Fern completely wigs out. Screaming that she will kill Barbara or herself, she slams out the door and hops in the car. Barbara, for some equally insane reason, climbs in with her, and before too long Fern has driven them off a cliff. Miraculously they both survive—and Wade confesses his love, while simultaneously declaring that he cannot marry her because he is engaged to this New Yorker.

Unfortunately, there can be no easy happiness for the Barbara and Wade, because Wade is one of those annoying martyr types “whose inner strength was also his great weakness. It was unthinkable for him to let down someone who depended on him.” And so, rashly engaged years ago to a woman who has turned out to be not at all suitable for him, “it was his duty—Wade’s absolute duty” to stick with Helene Robbins, even though she has refused to marry him until he gives up his job in Arkansas and returns to New York to take up a posh practice, which he has refused to do.

Sadly, Barbara accepts the situation with little of the spine she has demonstrated to date, but she does have two feisty friends in Kitty and Harriet, both of whom exhort her to fight for her man. “No man makes up his own mind when it comes to affairs of the heart,” declares Harriet. “The girl has to make it up for him. You have to.” Barbara doesn’t, though, because she has a sister who truly hates her. Realizing where Wade’s affection lies, the scorned Fern writes a letter to Helene in New York, telling her that Wade is being seduced by the tramp he works with and is about to wriggle off the hook. Instantly jetting to Arkansas, Helene declares she will go through with the wretched wedding even though she does not love Wade, because “like every girl with good sense, I want to be married to a man worth marrying,” she frankly tells Barbara. “Wade is a successful doctor, he’ll make a name for himself, he’ll make good money—once I get him back to New York where he belongs.”

It’s not hard to imagine how this scenario is going to wrap up, though the specific details were a surprise and even funny. The writing is smart, crisp, entertaining, and often amusing, if not of the sort of humor that translates well for the Best Quotes section. I’ll acknowledge that the plot is not completely logical, and it was disappointing that Barbara, who started out with so much starch and fire, completely wilted. But the supporting cast is built of admirable characters who are very enjoyable to watch as they chew the furniture and toss off fabulous lines, such as the time Kitty scolds Barbara for working so hard in her new job: “What are you trying to prove? That you’re ten women? Or simply that the rest of us nurses are lazy slobs who should get vitamin shots to jazz up our metabolism?” We do get a good handful of Florence Stonebraker’s go-to tricks: the unloved adopted daughter, the psychotic woman, the murder attempts, the Ozark setting, the names Fern and Kitty. Here, luckily for us, she serves them up with panache and freshness, giving us a book worthy of the hope any reader has when she picks one up.