Saturday, September 16, 2023

Ann Kenyon: Surgeon

By Adeline McElfresh, ©1960
Cover illustration by H. Rogers 

Ann Kenyon was young, beautiful and a brilliant surgeon. In the operating room, she was in superb command—but the outside world was different. No longer could Ann pretend to love Dr. Brill Crayden, so skillful, so cynical, so cold. To get away from Brill, Ann went to distant Ledbie Memorial Hospital, to find herself plunged into a battle that threatened her professional name and her personal reputation with vicious slander. Only a dedicated doctor would have challenged the powers blocking progress at Ledbie. Only a passionate woman would have fallen in love with a man claimed by another. Ann Kenyon was both—could she avoid paying the price in heartbreak?


“Women have no business being that damned efficient.” 

Ann Kenyon has a classic VNRN problem: Her boyfriend is kind of an ass. Also, he’s named Brill, which for me might have been an insurmountable obstacle right out of the gate, but she’s stuck by him, good lass, up until page 7. There she’s criticizing Brill’s lack of dedication and the fact that he makes callous remarks in the OR like that he thinks the pulmonary tumor they’re removing is malignant. It’s not much of a sin, because usually a doctor should have had that conversation with the patient and their colleagues well before they’re making the first incision, but apparently it’s just not done that way at Rocky Head General Hospital on Long Island. (At this hospital they also utilize three surgeons at the table and have a fourth standing by, just in case one of them is incapacitated, so they definitely have an odd way of doing things.) Then she admits she has come to “resent his claim upon her time,” and she’s looking forward to a week’s vacation alone. But before she goes, she has a wonderful date with Brill—except that he asks to spend the night in her apartment. She turns him down, but somehow this scene is also something of a major game-changer for her feelings for Brill.

Then, on her train ride, she sits next to a psychic who suggests the train is going to crash and seven people will be killed. Guess what happens next! The prophesy comes true, and the psychic is killed, but Ann gets off with just a fractured femur. This means she’s laid up in a tiny hospital in Ledbie, Indiana, for months, recovering with her leg in traction. Magically, after she’s finally able to get up and around, she’s completely mobile within a few weeks, and signs on at the hospital when she is offered a job by the chair of the hospital board of directors, Helen Ledbie, who makes all the decisions about the hospital. Helen’s stepfather, Dr. Emerson Lyle, runs a luxury practice and takes his hospital patients elsewhere, but he influences Helen to avoid putting any money into the hospital, which is slowly disintegrating into an antiquated heap. So it’s not clear why Ann has accepted the position, even if she is now chief surgeon. Unless it has something to do with Dr. Peter McDonnal, but he’s all but engaged to Helen.

The problem is the gossip that starts circulating about Ann, and that she seems to walk in on it fairly often. First it’s suggested that she’s been hired to push the senior doctor out, and then when Peter starts taking Ann to a wooded lot he’s hoping to build a house on—and kissing her—folks around town are not pleased that he’s “steppin’ out” on Helen. Then Ann joins him in his fight with the hospital board to approve funds for numerous changes, and you’d think he’d be able to convince his other girlfriend to go along with it, especially after the train crash left the tiny hospital overwhelmed and incapable of managing the influx of patients. If another tragic accident were to happen, that would surely change Helen’s mind!

The prose is salted with McElfresh’s trademark “mental ligatures,” italicized exclamations of Oh, God! and frequent mentions of occurrences behind Ann’s sternum, which makes the writing somewhat irritating, though these tics are not as overwhelming as they are in some of McElfresh’s other books. The story is fairly benign, but the cast of characters is enormous and difficult to keep straight, and some of the politics of funding the hospital seem bizarre—as do aspects of the plot like the psychic on the train. The ending is unusual because Ann has not actually landed the man, but does seem prepared to fight for him—and, let’s be honest, will likely win. In the end, you could spend your afternoon with a worse book, but I can’t tell you that you’ll be especially thrilled to have an afternoon with this one.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Nurse on Terror Island

By Doris Knight, ©1967

A darkly handsome man of wealth, a young pop singer of international fame, a fiancé four thousand miles away, a beguiling 8 year old boy … all these helped to complicate the life of pretty Nurse Avril Andrews. She had received her nurse’s cap only a few hours before and was on her way to Orestes Island to care for young Domingo, the ward of the handsome and powerful Ramon Orestes. She hardly expected to become the fiancée of two men and find herself in love with a third, and then lose her heart completely to the convalescing little Domingo. Neither was she prepared to face the terror which gripped the entire population of the island. She found herself being drawn inevitably into the web of fear …


“Are you still shaky from the shark episode?” 

It is staggering how many people are drawn in by the eight-year-old Domingo Montes, a foundling left in a church doorway and raised by a nanny in London but for some reason flown to Mexico City to undergo an orthopedic surgery to lengthen a leg left shortened by polio. (A lot of good that surgery did him, because he is completely forbidden to use the leg, or even get out of bed very often.) In Mexico he is recovering under the care of Avril Andrews, who is just about to graduate from nursing school. She, too, is a Brit, and had decided to take the last year of her training in Mexico, much to the chagrin of her fiancé Derek, who is “tired of playing second fiddle to her nursing career,” but at the same time doesn’t seem all that interested in actually proceeding with the wedding. 

Domingo is going to spend his convalescence on Orestes Island, owned by Ramon Orestes—well, all except a pesky ten acres, on which some meddling oil company has located a few gushers. The ten acres, Ramon has discovered, belong to Domingo, though Ramon cannot figure out how Domingo came to own them, much less give permission for oil companies to start drilling (actually Ramon showed less interest in this question than I did), and neither will we! But the kind-hearted man has adopted Domingo and is bringing him to the island for more unclear reasons, though he had not seen Domingo since the boy was three. This kind gesture surely has nothing to do with the fact that Ramon is intent on owning every square inch of the island—though it supports a goodly population of natives, so it’s not clear to me how that works—and preventing the oil companies from having at the island, because “I wish to bar the outside world from wiping out their childlike happiness in small things,” he explains to Avril, who finds this attitude only “somewhat paternal, somewhat overbearing.” And Avril will be going with Ramon and Domingo as nurse, though since the poor boy spends most of his life in bed under the supervision of the nanny, it’s not clear what the point of having her along is—until we arrive at the island and Ramon tells all the locals that he is engaged to Avril.

Well, this is news to her, and why he felt this ploy was even necessary is yet another unexplained mystery, because all we learn is that the islanders “want a queen! If he did not promise them a bride, he might lose the respect of his people.” So Avril goes along with it somewhat reluctantly, but more so when she discovers that world-famous pop star Sunny Martin, whom she had met very briefly when he ducked under her restaurant table in Mexico City to escape hordes of screaming girls who were chasing him, has also turned up on the island. He, too, has some unexplained devotion to Domingo, and Avril starts to wonder if he is the boy’s father—but again, even if he were, how would he know this was the boy left on the church steps so long ago? And if he’s so devoted to the boy, why did he, also a British national, come to Mexico City to see him, when he might have done so a few months earlier with much greater convenience in London? This book is indeed full of endless mysteries.

Then a witch doctor named Donna Santos decides she also wants possession of the poor kid, to train to be a witch doctor too. She’s thought to be nearly 100 years old, so why has she suddenly become interested in taking on a protégé who is not likely to have reached puberty when she kicks the bucket, and why is she picking out Domingo for her pupil? She’s even threatened to toss a deadly hurricane onto the island if Ramon does not hand over Domingo to her—oh, and he has to marry Avril tomorrow to boot, just because. Avril refuses to go along with it now that Sunny has shown up, though he is sneaking in through the window to kiss her and arranging secret rendezvous, again for no coherent reason; he tells Avril, “I had a fancy to come early, unexpectedly, and nose around a bit.” He seems to be looking for Domingo’s birth certificate, but since this involves talking to a lot of locals, his presence on the island is hardly a secret—and he’s tipped off by a mysterious woman in a church who tells him to look in Guadalajara, and then she’s gone, never identified, never explained.

Meanwhile Ramon is desperate for Avril to go through with the wedding because if she doesn’t, the superstitious locals will freak right out! They’ll lose their heads so completely that the havoc would be worse than any hurricane that might or might not strike the island! Another question is that why, if none of the main characters believe in voodoo, they all jump to do Donna’s bidding—and why all her detailed predictions come true.

There are more bizarre coincidences and plot twists to endure—including a shark attack, foiled bizarrely by Sunny, who saves the day in a manner barely survives being chased by teenaged girls—before this complete jumble of a book comes to a strange close, with Ramon leaving the island and vowing to return “with the woman he loved”—and we’re not sure who that might be, unless he’s referring to a woman he married 18 years previously who had abandoned him shortly after their marriage and whom he’d divorced but nevertheless has been fruitlessly trying to track down ever sinceyet another extraneous, unexplained plot twist. 

Terror Island gets its name from two previous hurricanes—both “inflicted” by Donna on the island for someone’s misdeed; the woman’s ability to predict the weather could have made her a lot of money as a storm forecaster, because she’s not actually a witch, but what if she actually is? The book can’t seem to decide—but I can think of a number of descriptives that would suit the island better, like Bewildering or Insane or Weird, as unfortunately “terror” is much too strong an emotion to be incited by this book; at most I’d say I was perplexed. The bizarreness of this book isn’t even amusingly daffy, like some (Harbor Nurse and Nurse at the Fair spring to mind) VNRNs I’ve experienced. I’m left to wonder if a title like Nurse on Hot Mess Island would have sold more copies?

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Leave It to Nurse Kathy

By Arlene Hale, ©1963 

Kathy Dugan, lovely nurse at Benton General Hospital, was very much in love with Dr. Jerry Whitfield, handsome young surgeon. Not only were they a marvelous team whose combined efforts had saved many a life, but rumor had it that they were soon to be married. But one day Kathy saw an announcement in the society pages of the local newspaper that was like a physical blow. Jerry was to be married—to someone else! The next few months were like a nightmare to Kathy. She quit her job at Benton and became the assistant to another doctor—whose past was shrouded in mystery. Then she met the handsome Dave: athlete, scholar and principal of the high school. Kathy’s mind was in a whirl, and all three men were constantly in her thoughts. Then, out of the clearest blue, disaster struck. And Death reached out its fingers for one of the three. It was then Kathy realized whom she really loved—and whose life meant more to her than anything in the world.


“So I know a tibia from a fibula and can handle a hypodermic syringe with the best of them! But when it comes to love—” 

“You’d give anyone a fever!”

“You know, I’m a healthy guy. But if I thought you’d be my nurse, I’d go out and try to catch a virus of some kind.”

Nurse Kathy Dugan is held up to us as the very best scrub nurse in the whole world. But it’s hard to reconcile that assertion with the fact that, when she discovers that her casual boyfriend, surgeon Jerry Whitfield, is engaged to another woman, she quits on the spot. I mean, wow. It’s hard to get much more unprofessional than that.

Fortunately, the very skinny Dr. Nile Mason has come home from Africa. His father had been the beloved town general practitioner, and had hoped that Nile would take over his practice, but Nile had been lured by the bright lights and big paychecks of the big city. There, it is suggested, he fell in love with a woman named Maria, but it didn’t work out. Africa didn’t work out, either, so he’s back and darned grumpy about it. The town isn’t too impressed with his surly ways, but he gradually accumulates patients anyway, particularly since he has Kathy to run his front office and smooth over the irritated townsfolk.

Soon Kathy starts dating Dave Garst, who is the new football coach and principal of the high school. Dave is a super nice guy, “cheerful, determined, eager to build a satisfactory world of his own.” Naturally, all she thinks about is Jerry. Rumors start to fly about her and Nile, though, after her nosy landlady can’t help but see Nile kiss Kathy one evening after he’d become nauseous eating the dinner she’d made for him. This naturally made him decide he should have more love in his life, and he was “alone in a room with a pretty girl who seemed at least to care a little about him.” True love sparks! Rumors are also circulating about Nile and his ex hometown girlfriend, who, crushed by his sudden departure for New York, had married a guy she didn’t love who is now driven to homicidal lunacy by his jealousy. There’s a skinny kid shadowing Nile, too, but Nile promptly catches the boy and beats him up, so if we had any doubts, it becomes clear he isn’t the most stable of characters. Come to think of it, there aren’t many decent characters in this book at all.

Anyway, the inevitable breakup of Jerry and his society girlfriend that you saw coming from the moment it was announced in the paper (apparently the only one who took it seriously was Kathy) occurs, and now Jerry is back on Kathy’s front porch, asking her to come back to his OR and to his arms. But, as forewarned by the back-cover blurb, disaster strikes! And Death reached out its fingers for one of the three! Because nothing makes a gal swoon more than a man bleeding out! Anyway, the book ends with the bleeding man’s life saved and his dignity intact, too, as he tells Kathy that once they’re married she won’t be able to boss him around anymore. Awww. My heart melted.

The story here is a little all over the place, with many loose threads and characters all trying to find an empty lap, but very little reason for the reader to care about any of them except poor Dave, who is the most deserving and least respected man in Kathy’s life. The ending doesn’t make you feel any better about any of it, because you do feel that the guy who landed Kathy could have done better for himself, as she’s not particularly thoughtful, strong, or even likable. I’m not sure what author Arlene Hale wanted us to leave to Nurse Kathy, as directed by the title, when Kathy really doesn’t seem capable of managing much. A better exhortation would be for us to just leave Nurse Kathy, period, as you probably won’t value any time spent with her.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

The Dilemma of Geraldine Addams

By Diane Frazer, ©1965
(pseud. Dorothy Fletcher)
Cover illustration by Harry Bennett 

“Let’s have it,” Dr. Brownlee said to Henry Franklin, a very influential member of the Board of Trustees of Cranston Hill Hospital, with a wife who was an important member of the Women’s Auxiliary.
“Well, this newspaper fellow came to see Clara, and it seems you have someone on the staff here who shouldn’t be on the staff of any self-respecting hospital.”
“You mean one of our doctors?” Brownlee asked, suddenly alert.
“Not a doctor. A nurse. Geraldine Addams.”
Dr. Brownlee sat up straight. “Geraldine Addams? What about her?”
“I gather that she was a pretty notorious playgirl, that she posed for some rather startling photographs, that she was even involved in a hit-and-run accident. You wouldn’t want to retain someone like that on your nursing staff I’m sure, Lyman. Seems she’s in the children’s ward. It’s not the best of situations is it?”


“Everybody has to fight, Gerry. Life is struggle. Life, as the saying goes, is total war. We all find that out as time goes by.” 

Dorothy Fletcher is one of my favorite authors. If she has penned a few duds that bring down her overall average (she didn’t even make it onto the Best Authors list of the 2022 VNRN Awards), she is a smart, smooth and witty author who can really deliver a solid book. As she has here. 

Geraldine Addams is a nurse on the pediatric ward, and when we meet her, she is delivering medications to her young charges but calling them cocktails—OK, so maybe not so politically correct these days, but still funny!—little Pete gets a gin fizz, Linda gulps her bloody Mary, Susan quaffs a martini. She’s called out by the mean and stodgy spinster nurse Polly Sauerwein, who deserves her name, but Gerry hotly retorts that the kids already knew the drink names, and it makes medications so much easier to take!

We soon learn that Gerry is “not only a competent nurse, and adored by the children, with whom she ‘had a way,’ she was as well a strikingly attractive girl, an extremely well-bred young lady, educated, posed, with faultless manners.” She hails from a wealthy background, schooled in Europe’s finest finishing schools, but when a scandal forced her to re-evaluate her life, and finding “that she was thoroughly fed up with an idle, careless life,” she took up nursing “to prove something to herself.”

She’s been assigned to a very delicate case, that of young Marsha Marston, who has a congenital heart defect and is to undergo major open-heart surgery with talented, tortured Dr. Paul Massey, but Marsha needs to rebuild her strength before she can tolerate the surgery. Gerry instantly wins over young Marsha—and Dr. Massey as well, who calls her one night to come to his house urgently. What could he want!?!

Turns out his wife, Gladys, has come home from New York early and is badly inebriated. He has to leave for a conference in Washington immediately, and he asks Gerry to stay with his wife overnight. But Nurse Polly calls the doctor’s house and recognizes Gerry’s voice on the phone—and immediately runs to the nursing supervisor with salacious stories about Gerry and Paul. Gerry, called on the carpet, refuses to spill the beans about Paul’s alcoholic wife, in part because she recognizes her own guilt. “Between them there was something very strong, only that was not what Mrs. Cranston meant. Mrs. Cranston meant that had they gone to bed together, and that, perhaps, was the lesser sin.” Her case isnt helped by a new patient who turns out to be a paparazzo, with photos of Gerry from her old days and access to the old newspaper stories. He’s ready to blackmail her, but she refuses, so his stories are added to the gossip, and Gerrys joband little Marshas health, possibly her life, are on the line!

It must be confessed that the book plays out pretty much as you know it will, but the fun is getting there. And I did appreciate that despite the rather scandalous cover, the illustration really reveals more than the story does about Gerry’s past sins. Here again Dorothy Fletcher has created a sweet, enjoyable story with delightful characters—even if they’re not all nice people. Dorothy doesn’t always deliver a great book, but she does know how to build one—and if Geraldine Addams is having a dilemma, I am not when it comes to recommending this book.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

A Nurse Called Happy

By Peggy Gaddis, ©1963

“We have a date to fall in love,” Dr. Norman Hewatt said softly.
“I haven’t forgotten,” Nurse Happy answered, but she couldn’t meet his eyes.
“I’ve been thinking about you and that Rustin fellow.” Dr. Norm’s voice was suddenly bitter. “Don’t you know better than to fall for that line of his?” Before Happy could answer, Dr. Norm caught her in his arms and kissed her—hard and thoroughly. “That’s what love is all about,” he said huskily and walked away.
Happy stood there, her face over her hot face, trembling from the force of his kiss. And shaken to the depths of her being …


“I would stop being a nurse, Norm, if I didn’t think of my patients as people and worry about them.” 

“Some day soon, she promised herself, she’d have a much larger office and her own secretary and she would work at her desk wearing a hat—the status mark for women executives.”

“Women are funny critters, son.”

“There are strait-jackets waiting for men who try to understand women!”

Nurse Hallie Gibson is known by the nickname Happy, but she’s having a crying jag on the Florida pier because yet again she has interfered overmuch in her patients’ lives, in this case bringing one newborn baby that is to be put up for adoption (because his show-biz parents are too busy to raise a baby) to a woman who has lost her third child and all hopes of having another, and suggesting that the woman adopt the baby herself. Happy’s “good friend” Dr. Norman Hewatt, hearing of this incident, only says, “Your intentions are always of the very best, but you are impulsive.” The fact that she manages to keep her job at all is frankly shocking, but apparently they’re hard up for nurses at Gulfside Memorial. 

The plot hinges on an accident that is brought in: Elderly Ethel Kingsley tripped when stepping off the curb and fell in front of a car driven by Vernon Rustin, who does not appear to have actually struck the woman, but she’s going to need two weeks in the hospital to recover from those scraped knees. Vernon is sincerely devastated by his nonexistent part in the accident and pays for all Ethel’s hospital and visits with her and her husband Josiah daily—and keeps old Josiah company outside of visiting hours. Soon he’s smitten with the folksy and kind Kingsleys, and wants to “adopt them as the parents I never had,” he declares. Soon he’s calling them Mom and Dad and deciding that in that old folks’ home where they live, “they have nothing to do and nothing to hope for,” which he plans to remedy.

But the problem is the Kingsleys selfish, driven daughter Jennie-Sue, now going by Janine (and who could blame her?), who persuaded her parents to sell the farm and move into that old folks’ home, where they’re not allowed to chat when the TV is on, so she could buy a junior partnership in the advertising agency where she works. She’s a beautiful but cold young woman whose only concern is that the hospital bills are paid by someone else, and the poor emotionally crippled lass can’t bring herself to be cordial even when she discovers that they will be. (One does wonder, if the Kingsleys are so great, how they managed to raise such a horrible child.) But when Vernon finds a new home for the Kingsleys, an island hunting lodge in need of caretakers, where he proposes to set them up and live there with them himself forever and ever, Happy’s friend Dr. Norm is, not unreasonably, suspicious. “I would like to know why a man his age should be wiling to bury himself here on this lonely, isolated island just to provide a home for two old people who are nothing to him,” he says to her. “Hadn’t you realized what a perfect spot it might be for a man who wished to cut himself off from unpleasant, maybe even criminal activities?”

Janine shows up on the island intent on marrying Vernon, though she can’t bring herself to even smile or offer one pleasant sentence, so it’s hard to believe she is going to pull that off, though she threatens her parents that she won’t “allow” them to live on the island, and the fact that Ethel and Josiah are competent adults who don’t need her permission to do anything is utterly ignored.

It turns out Norm is wrong about Vernon—you see the truth coming a mile away—who is actually fairly wealthy, but Norm is justifiably jealous because Vernon takes no more time to fall in love with Happy than he did with the Kingsleys. Norm has decided that when he has a little more time and money he will become involved with Happy. “Some day you and I have a date to fall in love—remember?—the first chance we get when we have a few hours off,” he says.

But Happy calls out Norm on his hypocrisy, saying, “I don’t think I care very much about that kind of love; the kind that wants to tuck me into a corner of a mind that will be busy with other things and just has a minute to fling at me once in a while. Doctors aren’t supposed to be human enough to fall in love without setting certain times and places and being sure that romance won’t interfere with their practice?” But when she finally receives a proposal of marriage, she is only furious that it occurred in the hospital cafeteria. “How dare you say that here in a room filled with people? Where’s your sense of romance? Where’s your instinct for building memories that will last all our lives?” Several stupid pages of absurd bickering ensue, and then everything is wrapped up.

That’s about all there is to this book, and it’s not often you find a book with so little plot, but then author Peggy Gaddis is known in these electronic pages for work that is generally mediocre at best and alarming at worst. Here she is not equal to her best books—that would be Nora Was a Nurse, Hurricane Nurse, and The Doctor’s Wifebut we also escape her penchant for racism and hypocrisy. A win for us! But overall not really enough of a reason to bother with A Nurse Called Happy.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Hospital Corridors

By Mary Burchell
(pseud. Ida Cook), ©1955
Cover illustration by Paul Anna Soik 

Madeline felt that she was on the brink of a completely new life when she left England to do a year’s nursing in a great Montreal hospital. But she found that, after all, she would not be totally among strangers, for she had already met on board ship—though he was said to be so unapproachable—Dr. Lanyon, a distinguished member of the staff; and one of the patients would be the beautiful (but very difficult) Mrs. Sanders whom she had nursed before, with her good-looking and attentive son among the visitors. Still, everything else—except her familiar, well-loved work—would be excitingly new, and she might even have occasion to work for Dr. Lanyon …


“The not-really-ill patient is usually the one who gives all the trouble.” 

“I never supposed he thought of anything but cutting people up in the neatest and most miraculous way possible.”

“There is no logical answer to a jealous woman. If you do have trouble, don’t try to argue. Silence is safer—and simply maddening for the other person.”

“‘Did someone die?’ enquired Madame Loncini cheerfully, for, like many aggressively healthy people, she always liked to have an opportunity of pitying those who were less fortunate.”

“Happiness is a state of mind, and almost entirely independent of outside things. But, if it is to have any permanency and—and inner radiance, it must be founded on belief. In oneself, in others and in the ultimate rightness of things.”

“A man of such romantic temperament that he can make love among the white enamel fittings of a hospital kitchen is not to be lightly dismissed."

“Few people want advice, and almost none take it.”

“If one always thought about jealous mammas, think how much fun one would miss!”

“Nothing is worse for the patients’ morale than a red-eyed nurse.”

“I wouldn’t thank anyone who reduced me to terms of solid worthiness and nothing else.”

“All men are show-offs.”

I feel a little lucky that I found this book, given that its title includes neither Nurse nor Doctor, which are nearly ubiquitous in VNRNs—because to have missed it would have been a great loss, as it is the best book I’ve read all year, and only the third to rate an A+ rating. But two other books written by Ida Cook (both under the pen name Mary Burchell) that I have reviewed (Surgeon of Distinction and The Strange Quest of Nurse Anne) have both earned A- grades, so clearly one would do well to hunt down everything she’s written just to be sure they don’t miss any gems.

The plot starts off with the tried-and-true trope of meeting the hero and being swept off her feet without knowing who he is. In this case, our heroine Madeline Gill is enlisted by her half-sister Clarissa to join a trip to Montreal from their home in England, where Clarissa will be travelling with her new husband to live, once they get married, as he is a surgeon there. Madeline dutifully finds a one-year stint for her final year of nursing school in a hospital there and has everything arranged to head over on the boat when Clarissa suddenly marries someone else. It’s too late to change her plans now, so Madeline goes through with it—and Clarissa lines up a nursing gig for Madeline, caring for the mother of her suave employer, successful novelist Morton Sanders.

Morton’s mum is not the easiest of dowagers, made worse by her paranoiac jealousy of any woman Morton looks at—and he looks at quite a few, including Madeline. But she keeps her head down until she is safely in Canada, only to learn that Mrs. Sanders is going to be a patient at her new hospital, and Morton declares he intends to see a lot more of Madeline. Her life is complicated by the fact that on the voyage over, she had run into Dr. Nat Lanyon and danced with him one evening—without, of course, learning his name. Imagine her surprise when she finds that he is the demanding but brilliant hospital surgeon—and even worse, the subject of a passionate crush by Florence Ardingley, the homely and imperious head of the ward she is to work on, the same ward where Mrs. Sanders is also ensconced, of course!

Morton keeps his promise to date Madeline, and she does find herself swooning a bit for the cad. He proves his worth by landing her in hot water on several occasions—but always Dr. Lanyon is available to scoop Madeline back to safety. It’s not hard to see why Morton is not the man for her, but it is author Ida Cook’s talent that she is able to make it clear why Madeline is attracted to him, and why he is attracted to her. Unfortunately their mutual interest does not escape Mrs. Sanders’ notice, and she sets up a trap to blacken Madeline’s reputation that to be honest I saw coming a mile away. Again, Dr. Lanyon to the rescue! But finally the dark secret that she is Clarissa’s sister comes to light—and the light in Dr. Lanyon’s eyes when he looks at Madeline is snuffed out. “Dr Lanyon, who in some curious way had been her friend and protector in no small way during her first weeks at the Dominion, had suddenly become a remote, almost ill-wishing stranger.”

But another calamity strikes requiring Nat’s intervention: When Morton bows out as her date to the hospital ball at the very last minute, he rescues Madeline again by offering to take her himself, when he has never attended the ball in the history of the world. More anxiety ensues when Clarissa is having troubles with her new husband and decides she wants Dr. Lanyon back, arriving in Montreal with the express purpose of reclaiming his love, and Madeline is required to act as chaperone as he shows Clarissa all over the hospital, the city, and half the province of Quebec—and the sting of being relegated to the level of “a not very useful car gadget” causes her to fling him out of her life forever and rush off to an important meeting with Morton, who “has something particular he wants to say to me before he goes” back to London.

The outcome is pretty clear from the outset, but the story in its unfolding is sweet and slow and believable. Madeline is strong, passionate about her work and good at it, and willing to stand up for herself and fight when necessary. Nat Lanyon has an actual personality, humorous and honest and feeling—not one of the straw heroes we are told to love but can see not one single reason to. The book has a number of charming supporting characters in Madeline’s fellow nursing students, not to mention Morton, and humor sparkles on almost every page. In short, this is a sweet, simple, but strong book—an Ida Cook staple, it seems—without serious flaws to detract. If this book does not head the list at the VNRN Awards in January 2024, I will be very impressed indeed with the writer who can surpass this treasure.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Seacliff Nurse

By Peggy O’More Blocklinger, ©1966 

What happens when a nurse is caught between true love for a noble doctor and loyalty to her own father? In Cherry Caldwell’s case, the question was doubly complicated. For Cherry’s father was a doctor, too, but a much more old-fashioned man than her beloved Dr. Robert Carter. The elder Caldwell scoffed at Carter’s Seacliff Sanitarium, where Cherry worked, as a “fantasy factory.” The situation was explosive—and Cherry could no longer postpone her decision. Which doctor would she support, and what would become of her heart?


“I wonder why studios bother with horror films when all one needs to do is turn to a news telecast. Right now, not in some distant country, but here, one sees potential terror.” 

“When has intelligence ever had anything to do with love and marriage?”

My god, you people have no idea how this job makes me suffer. Peggy O’More Blocklinger is really one of the worst VNRN authors—not even redeemed by plot twists or turns of phrase so absurd they’re hilarious, as with Arlene Fitzgerald or Zillah MacDonald. And yet slog through her (gut-droppingly voluminous) oeuvre I must, for the greater good of the VNRN universe, making it a safer place for all, and all while trying to keep my cape from getting caught in the door.

Have you forgotten how Blocklinger loves alliterative names? Well, this book will remind you, starting with heroine Cherry Caldwell, who is a nurse at Seacliff Sanitarium, which treats—and the book really uses the phrase—psychosomatic illness. She lives with her father, Dr. Carl Caldwell, who thinks the whole business is daffy (he doesn’t know the half of it), and works on the cases of Melanie Mason, who had attempted suicide after her son was killed in Vietnam, as well as the entire Dunbar clan—father Dwight and his three sons, David, Dewey, and Dan. She works on Mrs. Dunbar, too, who is a repressed type—so repressed she doesn’t even have a first nameable to only express herself through Machiavellian manipulations. There’s also a faded Gloria Swanson type who talks endlessly about her glorious career in silent films, a woman who forced her parents to buy a car which they promptly crashed, killing them, and a 55-year-old businesswoman who had lost her job in a merger and now is “too old to start again, unable to find work of any kind.” We are told that “each had a compensating illness or physical defect. How could Seacliff show them their conditions were due to indelibly drawn thought habits which affected them physically?”

Well, Cherry gets the talker to write a book—she can’t talk when she’s writing is the actual joke—and then schemes to get the woman to watch one of her own decades-old films, convinced without evidence that the woman was a terrible actress, and that upon seeing herself on the screen the woman will be cured of her egotism. She gets the businesswoman to type up the book, because typing will be so satisfying to her! And also connects the businesswoman with another patient who has been browbeaten by his mother into making terrible business decisions that sacrificed long-term success for short-term financial gain, and now the company has been driven to the brink of bankruptcy and the man to suicidal ideation. (The successful businesswoman manages to find a solution to the unsuccessful businessman’s problem; do you think she’ll be rewarded with a cut of the deal, or just a secretarial position?) In the end, Cherry has cured pretty much everyone—including more than one woman by finding them a boyfriend, because “all of the phobias and doubts of the past were erased by the arms” of a man–but mostly because “I used a verbal scalpel on their subconscious minds.”

The psychobabble is thick and inescapable. On pretty much every page we are lectured on the link between body and mind with admonishments such as, “To touch with any force this extremely sensitive spot in memory would induce another layer of protective obliteration,” and “He who argues the loudest is he whose subconscious is refuting the conscious,” and “the inner man might consider itself starving but would promptly refuse to eat while involved in an emotional scene, for self-sustaining food could be poisoned by physical reaction.” Of course, mental health is essential to well-being, but this book suggests that the most severe mental illness can be cured with a swig of Cherry’s psychological Pepto-Bismol. And one wonders why the Sanitarium bothers hiring Dr. Bob Carter at all, since he seems to have little to do with anyone’s recovery.

Cherry’s own inclination for romance is, at the outset of the book, crippled by the fact that when she was in nursing school a man whom she didn’t love left her when she refused to marry him and move across the country, and this “left a crack in her psyche, a wound that would not heal,” though this emotional devastation, if impossible to understand, is quickly dropped without further ado halfway through the book, and she ultimately winds up with a man she has paid little attention to up until the final pages. Unless you have an indelible psychic lesion that manifests physically by forcing you to read irritating books, you should skip Seacliff Nurse—but perhaps I myself should make an appointment to discuss my suppressed neuroses.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

To Please the Doctor

By Marjorie Moore, ©1950
Also published as Borne on the Wind 

Dr. Duncan McRey was a most difficult person, thought Jill Fernley, and almost as bad was Brenda Malling, her staff nurse. Jill loved her work in St. Joseph’s Hospital, but hated the intrigues and friction of community life. Brenda was jealous of Jill’s success, but why, oh! why had Dr. McRey to be so unfriendly to nurses when he was so gentle with children? Was he like that to all women? This was a question which came to concern Jill more and more before at last she found the answer.


“As a sex, I’m sure he regards us nurses as a uniformed race, necessary components to the running of a hospital, and divided into two groups, the efficient and the fools.”

Nurse Jill Fenley has just left her post in a London hospital to take a promotion to the pediatrics ward head nurse in a rural seacoast village. She had been persuaded of the desirability of this location by her friend Dr. Harriet Laine, who had assured her that the hospital was awesome, it was a great job, and everyone there was super nice. Almost everything about that turned out to be true—except that last bit. The two people she interacts with most, her main staff nurse Brenda Malling and chief surgeon Dr. Duncan McRey, are spectacularly unimpressed by Jill, and this makes life a tad difficult, essentially because Brenda simply despises Jill and goes out of her way to sabotage her. Brenda, you see, had been made temporary ward chief, and had hoped that she herself would be appointed to fill the post—and it doesn’t help that the intern Brenda has her eye on, Dr. Philip Traven, is an old friend of Jill’s. Philip immediately starts dating Jill, though the pair are “just jolly good friends, and you know it perfectly well!” she laughs when he suggests that he “was always a bit goofy about you.” She’s lonely, and so is happy for the cheerful company, even if this does further dampen her relationship with Brenda.

Dr. McRey is naturally one of those men who is “a brilliant man. A bit tricky to work for perhaps—Duncan McRey is difficult. He hasn’t much time for the social graces—or women. I tell you he lives for his work,” Harriet explains, adding that she herself gets on marvelously with him, though initially he had been upset at the idea of working alongside a woman doctor. Jill and Duncan meet for the first time at Harriet’s house, when the town is enshrouded with a soupy fog too dangerous to drive in, leaving Harriet stuck at the hospital and the doctor takes refuge at Harriet’s house, which happened to be near when the fog rolled in. Jill knows who he is, but he does not recognize her name as that of the new hire, and he sees only a wealthy young woman—she is actually the stepdaughter of a knight who owns a large estate—and when Jill’s efforts to fix dinner in an unfamiliar kitchen go awry, he is convinced of her uselessness.

So when he meets her at the ward the next day, and Brenda has done nothing to prepare Jill for rounds or the ways of the ward or even where the band-aids are kept—not to mention jostling her arm at the wrong moment so Jill drops a glass container that shatters everywhere—he is completely convinced that she is hopeless. But despite his disdain for her, Jill can’t help noticing “the undeniable attraction this man possessed.” Harriet agrees, saying, “Underneath that hard exterior he is considerate, almost gentle, and I envy the girl he chooses to share his life.”

Through her difficult days and relationships, Jill is aided by her consistent demonstration of a backbone. “Average females, as you call them, are neither hysterical nor are they incapable,” she retorts when Duncan suggests the opposite. And when they end up on a walk by the sea on a windy day—Jill is refreshed by the battle with the elements—she tells him that she is acutely aware that as a nurse “she fell far short of his standards,” but she refuses to rat out Brenda, thinking that would not improve her case with either party. Duncan suggests that since she is rich and doesn’t need to work, she might resign, since “nursing is a serious profession and meant for serious people.” She snaps, “Do you imagine that I am just playing at a job because the uniform is becoming, that I believed nursing consisted of holding the patient’s hand and whispering words of sweet consolation to the sick? I took up nursing because I wanted to. I’m interested and I love it! Is there any reason why, just because I happen to have private means, that I should be denied the work I want to do?” But she adds, “I know that you have had every right to be disappointed in me,” and he clearly appreciates both her spunk and her honesty.

But depressed by Duncan’s disappointment and her endless failures to surmount Brenda’s antagonism or sabotage, she writes a letter of resignation, leaving it in her desk drawer while she thinks it over. Brenda finds the letter and turns it in, but surprisingly Jill refuses to clarify to the administration that the letter was a mistake, stating, “I can’t deny that I wrote the letter; the fact that I changed my mind before handing it in hardly matters. I would not humiliate myself my saying I wanted to change my mind now.” This point of view is utterly baffling, and since the entire plot depends on this twist, it’s particularly irritating that it is nonsensical. But now the hospital administration makes it clear that Brenda is not going to be promoted into Jill’s job, and Brenda makes a complete about-face. “I don’t dislike you, I never have. If I’m not going to get promotion then I’d rather you stayed than have someone new,” she cries, and now is working hard to make Jill look good and her job easier. Duncan is clearly aware of the dramatic improvement in Jill’s performance, but it’s too late …

The outcome of the book is quite clear from the first chapter, but it’s how you get there that counts. This book gently drifts toward the foregone conclusion, and it’s the interaction of the characters that make the journey pleasant; to quote author Marjorie Moore, “Don’t you realize that it’s the occupants who make the room?” Jill is a strong, independent, dedicated woman who regularly stands up for her beliefs and her integrity; Duncan is honorable and tough but not rigid, and his unbending toward Jill—as he has toward Harriet—is believable and makes him admirable; peripheral character Harriet is smart, stalwart and true. Even Brenda Malling is fun to watch, first as the evil saboteur and then as the newfound friend. The only real problems with this book are the unbelievable plot device that puts Jill out the door, and—the elephant must be addressed—the cover illustration, which makes it appear that the nurse has some randy ideas about how she might please the doctor. But these faults aside, this book is a gentle, pleasant companion for an afternoon, and it certainly pleased this reader.  

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Nurse Julie and the Knight

By Jeanne Judson, ©1965
Cover illustration by Edrien King 

Women’s Hospital had been founded by women and was staffed by women, and Julie Sheridan, who had wanted to be a doctor but was forced to give up the dream because she must educate her younger sister, found it infinitely satisfying to work there. Everyone in the hospital was talking about the beautiful and wealthy Alice Danver, who had just lost her baby. Mrs. Roger Danver had a grown son, and this baby had been looked forward to with joy by Alice and her second husband. Mrs. Danver was a VIP—not only was she a member of the board, but she was a granddaughter of one of the founders—and most of the nurses would have been delighted to be selected as the nurse to accompany Alice Danver home. Not so Julie, who was bent on learning all that she could about her chosen profession. The Danvers lived in a luxurious town house on New York’s fashionable East Side, but Julie soon found that the household was presided over by an evil genius in the person of the housekeeper, Hetty Brown, who dominated everyone there, including Alice and Roger Danver. Life in the Danver home would have been unbearable for Julie had it not been for Leo Cross, Alice’s son by a previous marriage. Leo Cross didn’t really look like a knight in shining armor, but in Julie’s eyes he was even more than that. Only Leo dared to stand up to the formidable Hetty. It was Leo who precipitated the storm that finally freed the Danvers of Hetty’s morbid dominance, and it was Leo who helped when Julie’s frivolous young sister presented a problem too big for Julie to handle alone.


“May changes her young men as often as she does her hairdo.” 

“So long as you don’t marry a doctor, you’ll be all right. Marrying a doctor is a fate worse than death. If he’s poor, a girl has to turn into an office nurse, and if he’s successful, she never knows where he is.”

“I don’t want her to marry an actor. Unless they’re very successful, it’s chickens today and feathers tomorrow.”

Nurse Julie Sheridan is another orphan who has been taken in by her kindly but impoverished Aunt Maud, and now is working to put her younger sister May through college. No good deed goes unpunished, as unfortunately May doesn’t seem like much of a student, and there’s the constant worry that May will get married and drop out of school. Julie doesn’t have any boyfriends, but no worries, she has a married nurse friend who is determined to marry her off, because “you need a knight in armor to protect you. I really mean it. They don’t come riding on white horses anymore. They come in expensive cars.” The one she wants to pair her off with, George Mitchell, drives a Lincoln-Continental, but he’s clearly no knight; he immediately starts acting the creepy stalker, telling her, “I always know what I want and then I go after it. You’re the girl I’m going to marry. You may not think so now, but I’ll make you see it.” 

The most interesting thing is that Julie “was almost afraid of him.” Clearly she is made of sterner stuff than me; I’d be racing to the police station to file a restraining order, and those remarks were just what he said at the start of their first date, never mind all the times he forces himself on her, even taking her to a club in the country where he gives a false name and suggests they spend the night there, saying “What difference would it have made, when we’re going to be married just as soon as you stop being stubborn?” (She is ready to walk in the rain until she finds a cab, so he drives her home and then grabs her and kisses her while she squirms and tries to decide if she should kick him in the shins.)

At work, she is caring for Alice Danver, who has just lost a baby after a C-section, and is sent home to the woman’s house on East 76th Street in Manhattan to care for her. There she encounters Hetty the housekeeper, who is the one who should be named Danver, so close is she to the evil, scheming Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Hetty has created a shrine in the empty nursery, complete with burning candles, and encourages Alice to go in multiple times daily and mourn. This is meant to be seen as morbid and creepy, as everyone else thinks Alice should just pretend nothing has happened, but Hetty commits other sins, such as feeding Alice “pep pills” and insisting, “You can always depend on me to protect you. You don’t need a nurse. All the care you need I can give you. There’s no one loves you like I do.” So if the grieving aspect is not so egregious by today’s standards, Hetty does actually cross some legitimate lines.

Julie tells Alice’s husband Roger about the nursery, but Roger is disinclined to stand up to Hetty, so Julie turns to Alice’s 24-year-old son by her first marriage, who is an important historian and university professor (presumably at NYU, since he lives in the East Village). Leo does demonstrate more of a backbone, arranging to have the room cleared out without discussing it with his mother or stepfather. He even steps up to help when May drops out of college and runs off with a beatnik poet, tracking them down at a loft on Vesey Street. There’s a little hiccup in their too-easy stroll to the altar when Julie fears that Leo has lost interest after Hetty snarls a nasty lie about Julie’s relationship with George within Leo’s hearing. So when Julie leaves the finally recovered Alice to head back to the hospital and May (now safely betrothed to a man without facial hair and no longer in need of financial support), Julie plans a solitary life for herself in which she will be useful, decides to pursue her early dream of becoming a doctor, and “went to sleep full of ambition and noble resolutions.” There’s a nice little twist that puts a sweet bow on a small problem at the hospital, and then she’s free to find Leo waiting for her at the foot of the hospital steps, with another very agreeable surprise at the end.

This book is classic charming Jeanne Judson, with quiet humor evidenced in lines like, “‘I think sometimes he cooks his own meals.’ She said this as if it were the last word in deprivation.” Julie as a heroine, though, is a bit flat, mostly because she does not really have much to do outside of firmly resisting Hetty’s efforts to feed Alice dumplings and gravy. Julie worries more about offending the friend that set her up with the psychopath George—and even George himself—than standing up for her right not to be assaulted. The other characters in the book are not especially memorable, either, except for the kindly Aunt Maud and of course the dragon Hetty, who gets her comeuppance in the end, though to my mind not enough of one. But overall it remains a calm, sweet book, enjoyable and pleasant, and worthy of standing on the shelf alongside Jeanne Judson’s best works.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Nurse Audrey’s Mission

By Isabel Cabot
(pseud. Isabel Capeto), ©1969

When lovely young Audrey Rush came to Leyfield Hall to be private nurse to youthful tycoon Dean Leyfield, she little suspected the mystery awaiting her in this mansion by the sea. Audrey was thrown into turmoil by the eerie resemblance between her handsome patient and Ward DeWitt, Audrey’s former lover, who supposedly had died in a car crash. Was it possible her heart was playing a cruel trick? Or was she being made the victim of a sinister impersonation? As danger and violence stalked Leyfield Hall, Audrey’s happiness and very life depended on her learning the strange truth about a man who held her suspended between passionate love and icy fear.


“It appears I’m doomed to be plagued by nurses with a strong sense of duty.” 

“When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a nurse. I outgrew the desire once I started to develop my mind. It’s far more rewarding to be noticed for one’s mind than for one’s ability to ‘mother.’”

“Rosemary’s been coming to the beach for the past two weeks. Upton and I were immediately drawn to her superior mind.”

“What happened to you? You look like the tail end of a misspent youth.”

“I’m really a peach of a gal. If you don’t believe it, just ask me.”

“Rule One of ‘How to Keep a Man Enchanted’: never let him see you in hair rollers.”

I felt so sorry for Nurse Audrey Rush in the three weeks she spent on the beach at Leyfield Hall, the 18-room “cottage” on the ocean cliffs, mostly because the cast of characters she is surrounded by is the biggest bunch of dopes, liars, and crooks—none of whom seem especially bright, because so many lies and tricks come to light on virtually every page that by the time I reached page 50 I was rolling my eyes and flipping to the back and groaning to find I had another hundred pages to go. Even worse, though Audrey starts the book demonstrating spine and authority, after her patient kisses her out of the blue on page 43 she melts into a little jellyfish, blown here and there by the winds with little to offer in the way of opinions, ideas or action. 

The family tree is a little complicated, but Audrey’s patient Dean Leyfield was in a car crash that killed his cousin Ward. Dean’s step-brother Jacob is a friend of Audrey’s, and he has hired her to care for Dean. Further complicated things is the fact that Audrey used to date the deceased Ward, that she stole Ward from a nursing school friend who then died in a dubious medical experiment (we learn essentially nothing more about this aspect of the story, so it is perplexing that it is introduced at all), and that Ward and Dean are identical in appearance. Dean has chronic pain from the crash but also an odd amnesia that only affects certain bits of his memory related to work—and a new allergy to lobster just like the one Ward had—and his psychologist, Upton Hibbett, lives at the house to round out the cast. The men hang out a lot with Rosemary Midd, a “voluptuous brunette in a floppy straw hat and a bikini that covered less per square inch than did the hat perched on her head.” (In a fabulous stereotype reversal, Rosemary turns out to be a brilliant chemist who is teaching a class at the nearby university for the summer.) Dean and Jacob worked at the family plastics factory, and Dean’s father had been working on a new formula that would revolutionize the industry—and of course make them all millions. But just before the crash, Dean had taken the folder on the project, and now it can’t be located—and Dean, of course, can’t remember where it is.

Nobody in this book is who they seem to be—which is not at all a spoiler. Audrey is the dopiest of the lot, missing clue after clue after clue until a “traumatic bombshell” is dropped on page 144 that the reader has seen coming since page 22. I will divulge that the ending is not exactly what you think it will be, but the problem is that you have been beaten so relentlessly by plot twists that hammer one obvious conclusion into your mind that even if the ending holds some surprises, I was not mollified. More plot twists just confuse further, but Audrey’s stupidity and jelly-like placidity are unforgiveable. It’s not even clear why Audrey falls for Dean, why he falls for her, or even if either one of them has any feelings at all, because apart from a few kisses, no emotion is described between the pair, and the romance aspect of the story takes such a back seat to the “mystery” that if you were to miss the three sentences that describe them kissing, you won’t know there is a relationship here at all.

The book does have a real sense of humor, and a few of the characters are actually memorable (Audrey, sadly, not being one of them; she is essentially a passive witness to her own story), so the book is not a complete waste, especially if you like mysteries. You might even enjoy the book more if you know that things are not what you are being led to believe, so I give you my full permission to read this book, and hope my mild spoiler makes it more fun for you than it was for me.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Peter Raynal Surgeon

By Marjorie Moore, ©1960 

This is the story of Kay Somers, nurse, and Peter Raynal, a popular and brilliant surgeon. The strongly opposed forces of their respective characters bring them into a constant conflict which comes to a head when Kay is confronted with the loss of her position at St. Jude’s Hospital, and the breaking of her engagement to the ambitious young farmer who has been a life-long family friend. The story is set against the background of Hospital life and Kay’s own rural home, and brings into relief the diverse qualities of her nature. Her gradual change of heart is brought about through her affection for an ailing child, a reciprocated affection which pierces Kay’s natural armour of reserve. It is the child Christine’s influence on Kay which forges the first link of understanding between herself and Peter Raynal, an understanding which is destined to change the whole course of Kay’s life and bring her the joy and happiness which she had once believe lost to her for all time.


Kay Somers is an unusual heroine—because it must be confessed that she is kind of a bitch. Early in her nursing career she has been promoted to head nurse of Number Two Surgical Ward, and she is an efficient and highly competent nurse, but she is unfriendly, unbending and arrogant. She is described as “standoffish, unfriendly and reticent, harsh and exacting with her juniors,” and in her first scene with Dr. Peter Raynal, she is frankly rude to the point that he calls her out on it. 

The problem is that Kay “should never have entered a large hospital, should never have undertaken such a career at all.” We are told that “nursing didn’t suit her temperament, she was too sensitive, too withdrawn,” making her one of the few VNRN heroines who is described as being ill-fitted for her career. The curious result is that she has become a superlative nurse but a horrible human being with just one friend, Janet, the only person who recognizes Kay’s inner warmth.

But she has a letter from her childhood sweetheart, Robin Aldon, who is coming back after seven years away in Australia, and the pair plan to be married within a month. “All I can say is God help the man; I hope he’ll enjoy being married to an iceberg!” laughs Peter, and he’s actually being quite kind in his description. It’s a frankly terrible idea to marry a man you haven’t seen in seven years, but no one can talk Kay out of it. She gives notice at the hospital with plans to take her three weeks’ vacation and get married, then return to the hospital for one final month of work before quitting forever.

But a week before leaving for home, Dr. Raynal gets a late-night call that his niece, Christine, has badly broken her leg at boarding school. Kay uncharacteristically offers to go with him to pick her up and bring her back to the hospital, and the pair manage the trip without excessive frostiness, but upon meeting young Christine, the daughter of Peter’s deceased brother, Kay is instantly smitten. She cares for the girl tirelessly, and when it’s time for her to head home, she offers to take Christine with her, as the child has essentially been abandoned by her mother.

At Kay’s home in the country, Christine is taken in by Kay’s mother, a kindly, devoted woman, while Kay works to improve the house she and Robin will be living in after their wedding in two weeks. Meanwhile, Robin is working every minute putting the farm to rights—aided admirably by Kay’s sister Penelope, who is an earthy, strong, down-to-earth woman who wears work pants and muddy boots. Penelope is training to be a veterinarian and so helpfully knows a great deal about farming and animals. Kay, meanwhile, “was so heartily sick of the endless discussions on milk yields, feeding stuffs and early crops.” Furthermore, she can’t understand how Robin can be so insensitive not to care about the ghastly curtains and getting the kitchen set up: “I know I just couldn’t live in that house the way it is,” she declares. “The very idea of starting married life in that musty-smelling room with that awful iron bed made Kay shudder; it couldn’t be done, it just couldn’t!” And worst of all, the housekeeper insists on serving lunch in the kitchen, with the vegetables served straight from the saucepan! Insult to injury, Peter Raynal will insist on coming over to see his niece, but he unexpectedly spends an afternoon helping Kay with the furniture at the new house—turns out he’s something of an expert, and finds an unnoticed Chippendale table in the attic! Gosh, I wonder how this situation is going to turn out?

Eventually the obvious occurs—Penny confesses that she’s fallen in love with Robin, and points out that Kay hasn’t spent more than a few hours with him in the ten days he’s been home, so how can she be so sure that she loves him? “You’ll never make him happy, you couldn’t, you don’t even try to understand him and just nag and nag,” Penny weeps, begging Kay to postpone the wedding. Kay has begun to have doubts of her own, and so agrees, going back to the hospital unmarried, but determined to leave in a month as planned. But then what will she do? Casting around for another job, Kay decides, “I want to give up nursing. I’m utterly miserable in my work, nursing just isn’t my career, I can’t bear to think that I shall have to carry on like this for the rest of my days.” But now she’s decided she can’t marry Robin after all, and she needs a job to support herself, so she’s stuck … unless she can get married …

It's not often that we meet a heroine who is intentionally unlikeable (more frequently, unpleasant characters are, in my opinion, just badly written), and it’s also rare to meet one who doesn’t care for nursing. The problem with Kay as a character is that there is no believable reason for her to transform into a warm, friendly person when she is outside of the hospital and then be an angry quarrelsome shrew just because she is inside one. She experiences no real crisis that makes her reconsider her past deplorable behavior, and she even reverts to it in her month back at St. Jude’s. She does not grow as a human being, which would have made me like this book even more. But this flaw notwithstanding, Marjorie Moore has given us an excellent, slowly sketched story that gently unfolds without many jarring wrinkles. Kay’s relationship with Peter grows easily, even if she is too frequently gratuitously mean to him; one other quibble is that in the end we are treated to the hackneyed trope that “I’ve always cared for you, but pride and perversity made me behave towards you as I did,” an unnecessary and disappointing detail we could have done without. We also have a chapter that happens after the marriage, which I have seen only once or twice before. All in all this is a well-written, sweet story with a few unusual tricks up its sleeve, making it easy for me to recommend that you spend some time with Peter Raynal, Surgeon.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Theatre Nurse

By Hilda Pressley Nickson, ©1960 

Catharine Manton was beautiful and efficient, and “her” operating theatre was perfectly run. Why, then, did the new R.S.O. declare that he couldn’t possibly work with her, even if it meant that he—not she—would have to leave the hospital?


“True greatness did indeed go hand-in-hand with humility.”

“Some surgeons are like that. They love to dramatize.”

Catharine Manton is a young but highly skilled nurse, so much so that she’s been promoted to Theatre Sister, which in the UK means she is the head nurse in charge of the OR. She’s kind, efficient, organized—and also, of course, very beautiful. This is a big problem—when the new chief surgeon, Dr. Peter Wingate, shows up, there is big trouble! He pales the minute he claps eyes on her, and “there was no mistaking the scorn in his eyes now, and the look of bitter contempt.” He declares that he cannot work with such a young nurse, apparently having nothing against her except her youth and looks—and possibly also that he first came across her in the arms of Dr. Ray White, staff anesthesiologist, whom she’s known since she was a girl and has no romantic inclinations toward. It is a curious feature in nurse novels that the heroines frequently go on dates and kiss men in whom they frankly state they have no interest.

By a huge coincidence, the biggest slacker nurse in the hospital, Sylvia Cleveland, is transferred to the OR the day before Dr. Wingate arrives, and soon it becomes clear—eventually widely known—that the pair are very close, engaged even! This makes Catharine’s ability to discipline Sylvia, and leads to more trouble, but the whole story of Peter’s animosity is unclear; we overhear him moaning to Sylvia that Catharine looks “so incredibly like Evelyn,” and soon he’s given notice that he will leave the hospital. Unfortunately, he must stay a month or two until they find a replacement—how will the pair be able to work together in that time?

In the meantime Catharine dates Ray, much to the increasing consternation of her best friend Nurse Sue Hickey, and also steps out with another surgeon, Sir John Watkins. Too early in the book, we are suddenly told that Catharine is in love with Peter. He has been nothing but mean, prejudiced and even slanderous of Catharine, but all of a sudden, literally dropped from the blue into a paragraph, we learn that “she had fallen in love with a man who could barely stand the sight of her. What could be more ironical, more heartbreaking?” Stupid plot twists rank high in heartbreak, but even I must admit are not worse than that.

Now, driven by Peter’s accusations that she’s a silly flirt—and Sue’s increasing hostility toward her, which stems from Catharine’s continuing to go out with Ray when he tells her he’s in love with her—she finally decides to stop seeing anyone at all. Then, driven by her curiosity, she heads off for a surgery conference at the same hospital that Peter had come from, and there meets a friend who had once been on the staff at her current hospital. The friend tells Catharine that Peter the previous year had done a nephrectomy during which the patient died, and that he had blamed himself for being distracted by surgery nurse Evelyn Kilster, with whom he had been engaged, even though it turned out that she was a mean, cruel person.

Then she heads back to the hospital and waits around for Peter’s term to expire. Meanwhile she grows increasingly fond of nurse Sylvia, whose prior claims have ruined her hopes, and Peter even kisses her “cruelly” a few times—another plot device that is not a good one, and is in fact rather creepy, particularly since after the first time, he snarls, “I hope that satisfies you. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it? You, with your soft words and your limpid blue eyes. I hate and despise you!” This man needs therapy—and she needs a restraining order.

Of course, everything and everyone is sorted out in the end. Catharine, with her sturdy professionalism and faith, assists Peter in a nephrectomy in which no one dies or is distracted and his confidence is restored, and there’s a little twist in regards to Sylvia and Peter. Unfortunately, there are a number of loose ends that never get tucked away—Catharine is convinced she’s seen Sylvia somewhere before, and how the initial nephrectomy patient actually died or why Peter thought he had killed them, but we never learn the answers to these questions. Overall the book isn’t badly written, and I did enjoy some of the characters and relationships. But the falling in love out of nowhere with a man who doesn’t deserve it is one of my least favorite tropes. So I just couldn’t love Theatre Nurse, either.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Visiting Nurse

By Alice Brennan, ©1962 

Lovely and dedicated Arleen Anderson, a visiting nurse in the slum section of Saltboro, Michigan, knew that she would need both her courage and love of nursing to face the daily visits to her poverty-stricken patients. But Arleen also had the admiration of two very desirable men:
Mark Wynter—the talented and handsome doctor who gave Arleen the courage and the hope that she needed.
Guy Newman—the promising young businessman who love Arleen and wanted her to become his wife.
Arleen’s choice was clear—a glamour-filled life with Guy, or a challenging existence with Dr. Mark … 


“Is dirt contagious too, nurse lady? I know the answer to that one. It sure is.” 

“You look very snazzy. Not at all like your usual dull, demure self.”

“If something is within your reach, it loses its value for you.”

“There’s no victim so sure as the one who is certain she’ll never be a victim.”

“I promise not to beat you. Or make you milk cows. Or bring me my breakfast in bed.”

“A husband never keeps you up too late. Only a beau does that.”

When we first meet Arlene Anderson, she is being whistled at as she walks down the sidewalk to start her job as a VNA. “She was, womanlike, very much aware of the compliment the whistle implied.” And not so much aware of the insult. When I was young this was common practice—and downright frightening if you were walking past a construction site—and it’s not missed by me, anyway. She works in the slums of Michigan, where she seems to have only two or three patients that suck up all of her time and emotional energy. One is Neelie Ryan, a sweet older lady bedridden by arthritis (though she is likely not much older than 60), who has only her devoted if alcoholic and unemployed husband Al to care for her. Neelie is always convinced that her household’s good luck is just around the corner, and wants above everything else to see the swallow migration in Capistrano, California. 

The other is a family of ten, and the mother, Anna Luigui, has just birthed a baby that she had no desire for. It’s a compelling argument for birth control. Anna mostly lies around drunk while the baby is left wet and hungry and dirty, and Arlene pops in now and then to change, bathe and feed the poor little muffin. The oldest child in the household is a winning lass named Rose who has a fondness for tight skirts and the leader of the local gang (adorably called the Roosters), Peter Rossi. Arlene makes the mistake on her first visit of giving one of the younger kids a candy bar, and the poor thing is immediately assaulted by all its starving siblings in search of some desperately needed glucose. Arlene, horrified by her naivete and the desperate nutritional status of the children, shows up next time with a whole bag of candy, even though “she knew candy wasn’t the answer; that the children needed eggs and meat and vegetables and milk.”

Her heart bleeds way more than it should for someone whose job it is to care for people in dire poverty, and she is constantly haranguing everyone to help these two poor households. “Would you prefer steak or chops for our welfare clients, Miss Anderson?” snipes the head of the welfare division. “Perhaps caviar and avocado might appeal to their taste. You do your job, Miss Anderson, and let us at the Welfare Department take care of our own. We do the best we can on the funds we’re allotted.”

She has many conversations with the “dedicated” (uh oh) Dr. Mark Wynter, who lives in the tenements and ministers to its occupants, seldom getting paid for his Sisyphean efforts. “You have to develop a certain callousness,” he tells her over one of their many cups of coffee at Barney’s coffee shop (where the owner promises, “It’s safe to eat in here; you ain’t liable to get ptomaine.” Great.). “You can’t help them all; you don’t have the time or the money or the know-how to change things. So you plow along, helping as best you can, and yet always knowing that no matter how hard you work, you aren’t going to change things for the majority of them. If you succeed in changing the life of just one, that has to be reward enough.”

In her off hours, her sparky roommate Evelyn tries to liven up her life. “Honey, what you’re lacking is good old-fashioned fun. That’s my diagnosis,” she decrees. “The prescription is some nice, wacky dates with some nice, wacky guys, and I’m going to see that the prescription is filled.” The man she comes up with is Guy Newman, who is a slums-raised businessman who was able to escape and make a successful life for himself. He lives in California but seems to make a lot of business trips to Michigan, where he wines and dines and dances Arleen around—and quickly declares that he’s in love with her, that “you should be some man’s wife. You should have a man to protect you and take care of you.” But Arleen’s little heart had been broken by a man years ago—he had proposed, then asked for the ring back because he wanted to marry a woman who was richer and with more prospects than small-town Arleen. Now she’s never going to love again!

But she’s going to date a lot, between coffee and even movies with Mark, who kisses her a lot but promises little, and his dedication to his work and his poor patients is regularly held up as indication of his terrible suitability as a husband. “Heaven help a woman if he ever did get around to proposing to her. She’d starve to death!” To her credit, Arleen is never impressed with these arguments. “If I had wanted life to be safe and secure, I wouldn’t have picked out nursing as a career—especially not this particular kind of nursing.” It is a credit to her that she persists in spite of the incredibly depressing nature of her work, but unfortunately we are never given any reason for her motivation, or any basis of her strength; she just keeps showing up, even after one of the worst gang members, Lonnie, kills a bird in front of her just to demonstrate his own power.

There’s a power struggle going on with the Roosters between Peter, who is seeing Rose Luigui, and Lonnie. Soon Lonnie and the rest of the gang are caught breaking into a doctor’s office in an attempt to steal drugs. Invalid Neelie’s husband Al is beaten up, taken for the suspected narc, but Peter tells the  gang that he’s the one who did it. His life is now clearly in danger to everyone except Arlene, but after Rose finally clues her in, Arlene manages to save pretty much everyone and land herself the man she wants in the last chapter. One wonders what she’s going to do when the next batch of patients comes along.

This book has some interesting philosophical questions, namely how to care for people you can’t really help in a meaningful way, or whether it’s better to care too much as Arleen does or to become callous. These questions are not satisfactorily answered, and it’s not clear how Arleen is going to carry on in this work and still pay the rent after she’s purchased fans and candy for all the patients under her care. The issue of escaping the slums is also treated in contradictory ways; Guy explains how his bad upbringing made him poorly fit to work hard at a job, but says that his benefactor persisted until Guy got himself sorted out; Peter’s exit, on the other hand, is immediate and apparently an easy sell. The characters are not especially interesting or complex, and I was not invested in yet another I-refuse-to-fall-in-love-again-until-I-do trope that was not particularly well executed. Arleen has some admirable qualities, but when she’s the blandest character, it’s hard to get too excited about the book.