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.