Saturday, February 25, 2023

Twin Nurse

By Bess Norton (pseud. Olive Norton), ©1959 

Twins, even identical ones, are not always alike in every way; often one is gayer and more vital, the other quiet and thoughtful. This was certainly the case with Mary and Marty McEwan, twin nurses working in the same hospital. The difference showed itself, too, in the twins’ love affairs—one stormy, the other tender and apparently hopeless. Here is a hospital romance with a difference, not only because the story is told by “the quiet twin” herself, but because every character in it, from the humblest patient to the most exalted Consultant, is a real live person whose problems matter. The authentic background is the authors’ own, for she is a State Registered Nurse who knows her setting intimately, and with love.


“I can register refined horror over the top of a mask as well as anyone I know. Sometimes it works, too.” 

“Really, for an intelligent girl, you do behave like a complete moron at times.”

Mary McEwan is the quiet, “less attractive” twin of a pair who work in a busy, large hospital—her sister Marty had been voted “the prettiest nurse at St. Faith’s,” bizarre in numerous ways. While Mary is hard-working and in chapter one tumbles hard for the new surgeon John Smith, Marty sneaks out a lot and breaks rules. Marty also soon seems to be chasing after John Smith, who initially seems to miss the fact that they are twins and gives contemptuous looks to Mary, which are never explained. Marty seems to have a lot of secrets, and we’re never really told what they’re about, just allowed to watch as the twins seldom interact, though we are told they are—or were—very close.

Soon it comes out that Dr. Grant Ashby has had a car crash, and that a woman was driving, and she was seen running away from the crash toward the hospital. Everyone thinks it was Marty, and she refuses to say what had happened that night, until eventually she confesses to Mary that she had been out with Grant and that he had assaulted her—she has bruises on her shoulders—but she’d gotten away before the crash, and it turns out he’d been driving after all. So a lot of dithering about this incident in the end winds up as not really important to the plot. Which is how much of this book goes.

Mary and John do seem to like each other, and they are kissing before we’re halfway through the book, but then Marty always seems to turn up with John, and it’s not clear whether she’s trying to win John for herself—again, never explained—but Mary assumes this to be the case and decides she can no longer trust Marty. No kidding: Marty has not exactly been forthcoming about anything with Mary, starting with her role in Grant’s car crash, innocent though it was. John eventually sends a letter to Mary saying he wants to cool things down between them, so Mary, somehow apparently believing that this will change everything, takes a trip to London to the church where John had been abandoned as an infant and discovers that he was actually a fraternal twin, though his sister had died. Then Mary is incidentally caught on TV when the Queen passes by en route to somewhere else, and people at the hospital see her on TV, and that’s all there is to that story, even the part about Mary’s side trip to London or John’s being a twin.

Next Mary burns her arm in the surgical instrument sterilizer and gets cellulitis but still insists on working, which means she is a little delirious with fever and says a lot of too-honest things and faints multiple times. There’s a big catastrophe at the end, with multiple key characters requiring emergency medical treatment, and John says he won’t marry Mary unless he knows who is family is, but after she is rendered unconscious for several weeks because of her cellulitis—which does not happen, in case you were wondering—everything works out in the end.

The main problem with this book is that it is an absolute tossed salad of plot points and characters that never amount to much. For example, we are introduced to at least 45 different characters, most of whom are not given either a first or last name, and keeping everyone straight is very difficult. It doesn’t help that Mary seems to be working in a completely different hospital department in every half-chapter, so by the time you sort out her current job and co-workers, she shuttled off to some other corner of the hospital. We are also offered a lot of foreshadowing sentences like “Marty was on the edge of something, she was riding for a fall.” Or, “Quite suddenly I was afraid of Marty’s restlessness, afraid of where it might lead us both.” It’s hard to understand, when you’ve finished the book, what the fall was, exactly, unless you count the accident that happens in the end of the book, which no one could have predicted and certainly wasn’t Marty’s fault. I was surprised to remember that Olive Norton is actually one of the best VNRN authors I’ve encountered—she’s been on the Best Authors list for the last four of the VNRN Awards and had previously never earned less than a B+ grade—but here she seems to have lost her way. I guess even the best of us can’t always be at our best.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Nurse Janice Calling

By Isabel Cabot (pseud. Isabel Capeto), ©1964

Janice Carlisle had come back to her home in New England for one reason—to win the love of the man she had not been able to forget, Dr. Adam McBain. In her new job as visiting nurse, she had many chances to come in contact with the handsome, charming doctor. But she met others as well—notably the brilliant young surgeon, Dr. Ed Sheldon, his life shadowed by a tragic accident. Suddenly Janice’s life was no longer simple. Now there were two men in her life, and when she stumbled upon a frightening secret from the past, she knew she faced a choice that could mean happiness—or heartbreak.


“When I came through that door, I was tied up in knots. Now I feel as if I could go out and lick half a dozen diseases still unnamed.” 

Janice Carlisle has moved back home to New England after finishing college and nursing school on the West Coast. It must be confessed that a large part of the draw is Dr. Adam McBain, upon whom she’s been crushing since high school. He’d married someone else, but his wife had conveniently died on the table during a routine gallbladder surgery (I have to interject and say this never actually happens) two years ago, so Janice is hoping to help soothe his broken heart. She takes a job as a visiting nurse, and soon discovers that the widow in charge of the VNA, Ruth Hoxsie, is Adam’s new love interest. 

Soon after arriving home again, she meets Dr. Ed Sheldon one morning as he is repairing his car while wearing a tuxedo, and enjoys an ocean swim and coffee with him afterward, but curiously tells her friend later that she finds him annoying. “All that you’ve seen in my eyes, friend, is near rage at the brass of Dr. Sheldon to look at me as if he can’t wait to go a round or two in the back seat of some parked car.”  Even more bewildering, she then notes that he’s “darn attractive,” adding, “I would probably enjoy a session or two of parking with the gentleman myself.” So what’s the problem, then?

Despite her attraction to Ed and Adam’s attraction to another woman, Janice decides to set about “exercising her womanly wiles” on Adam in an effort to win him away from Ruth. This causes some raised eyebrows amongst her friends and colleagues, but Ruth herself doesn’t seem to mind and sends Adam over to Janice’s house for coffee on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, we learn that Ed is a brilliant surgeon who experienced two patient deaths back-to-back: his mentor, and Adam’s wife. Now he can’t operate unless his cocky but inept surgeon partner is in the OR with him, even for a routine appendectomy. When the sidekick decides to chuck surgery for his true passion, research, Ed is left without a career. One can only check her watch to see how long it takes for someone to require emergency surgery for a life-threatening injury and everyone to fall into line after that.

I found this book somewhat puzzling. On one hand, the writing seemed smart, occasionally amusing, and interesting. On the other, the book was overly long, the plot fairly obvious, and the story ultimately unsatisfying. It’s as if the author let us see that she was capable of delivering a stellar book but chose not to. That said, I have to suggest that, if Nurse Janice is calling, you consider whether or not you have any more promising options before you answer.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Nurse Crane … Emergency

By Ann Gilmer (pseud. William Daniel Ross), ©1964

“V” is for Virginia … missing when needed on call … because she was nursing her fiancĂ© … fresh from a drunken brawl.” The cruel verse appeared on the Brentwood Hospital bulletin board the day after Ruth Crane assisted at an emergency operation in place of the regular OR standby nurse, Virginia Roberts. It was the first in a series of “poetic” attacks on various members of the hospital staff—and there was no clue as to who was responsible. But the trouble at Brentwood began at a time when Ruth was already disturbed by something else, something more personal. She suspected her friend, Helen Sherwood, was in love with Dr. Jim Leinster, the brilliant young surgeon Ruth planned to marry. Was it Ruth’s imagination, or was Him beginning to respond? Then the bulletin board poet struck again, and Ruth forgot her suspicions. Because this time his target was Jim, and the charge so serious it could destroy him …


“Perhaps it wasn’t reasonable to expect a girl as attractive as Helen to be too reserved and solemn.” 

“This is why nursing is not an overcrowded profession. Word has gotten around that it isn’t all handsome doctors and gay pulse-taking.”

“You look very sweet in a uniform, Miss Crane. You should wear one all the time.”

Ann Crane is not actually an Emergency Department nurse … or a surgical nurse, so it’s a little baffling why Dr. Jim Leinster should call for Ann in the middle of the night in a snowstorm to assist in a lobectomy after the usual scrub nurse, Virginia Roberts, didn’t answer her phone when she was on call. His reason for choosing Ann is never explained—maybe the fact that she’s his girlfriend has something to do with it?—but after her single performance passing instruments, she’s asked to join the surgery staff. There she’s on hand to witness the repercussions after a really lame poem slandering Virginia is found tacked to the main lobby bulletin board, with crowds of people clustering around to read it and not one of them thinking to pull it down, not even the nursing supervisor who discovers it. Virginia is accused by the “poet” of staying home to assist her husband after a drunken brawl rather than Jim in the OR, and the following morning Virginia quits in tears. 

The next target is a kindly old repairman, who is accused of stealing supplies. He admits to the charge even though it wasn’t him, because he thinks it’s his son-in-law and wants to protect the younger man. That’s the end of that plot thread, because then a nursing student is accused of being married, which apparently is against regulations, and everyone is worried that she’ll be expelled from the nursing school—what kind of a world was that, when a woman’s marital status could get her barred from school? (She’s just suspended, but sadly she attempts suicide over the whole mess.)

In between all the lunchroom discussions of who the bad poet might be, Ann is worrying about her boyfriend Jim’s inability to pop the question. “There’s nothing I want more than to ask you to be my wife,” he doesn’t exactly explain. “I have a valid reason for delaying things. You’ll understand later.” When the mystery is revealed, it’s not clear why delaying things would make a difference, but there’s not a lot about this book that is clear. For example, the setup of Ann having this great friend in Helen as a best friend is completely destroyed by the fact that Helen is mean and unfriendly. Jim calles her “jealous and spoiled. And at the hospital quite a few people think she’s hard to get along with.” Ann herself agrees that Helen is spoiled, “but she’s been wonderful to me.” If she was in the past, she’s not once in this book.

Eventually, when Jim is targeted—and you knew he would be—his secret is brought to light: He’d been in a bad car crash as a college student and had become a “goofball addict,” as it is so adorably phrased, hooked on barbiturates to manage the post-concussive headaches (clearly the Sacklers hadn’t started pushing OxyContin when this book was written). Though he’d managed to finish his undergraduate degree, medical school, and years of residency, when he’d finally become an attending physician he ran into trouble because the pills made him sleep a lot, so much so that he didn’t answer the phone when an emergency case was brought in and the patient died, another implausible detail in a wildly implausible story—there’s no other surgeon available in the entire hospital? He’d gone to rehab and recovered, but now that everyone knows that he is a recovered addict, his career will be ruined! But Ann reminds him he’s been practicing in town long enough to have built up a solid reputation—and then the phone rings and it’s a woman asking him to remove her gallbladder when he has a free minute, so you know everything is going to be all right.

When the mystery poet is revealed, the answer is as stupid as everything else in this book. The reason why this person would have wanted to target all these people, how they got the information, none of it makes any sense. But when I realized that Ann Gilmer is the pen name of William Daniel Ross, that was the first thing about this whole book that made sense. This is the eleventh book of his that I’ve read—the majority of them earning C grades—and the muddled, ridiculous plot, the flat characters, the constant contradictions (even the distance Ann lives from the hospital varies) all fit perfectly with Ross’s prior work. If the mystery poem element adds a small degree of interest to this book, when the answer is revealed, I just felt like a chump for caring, since it’s clear that Ross didn’t care enough to put together a reasonable motive for the crime. Valentine has proved yet again that it’s a terrible publishing house, with the second-worst overall GPA for its books (only Magnum, which also specialized in horrible covers, is worse, with a D+/C- average*). If this alarming cover illustration doesn’t warn you off, let the author finish the job.

* On the flip side, Perma Books takes the top prize with a B+ average, while Harlequin, Pocket Books, and Bantam tie for second with B averages.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Private Hospital

By Arlene Hale, ©1969 

Lovely, vibrant Lesley Allen, R.N., had always enjoyed her work at Seton Memorial Hospital—that is, until young Eric Seton took over. Almost unwillingly she was attracted to the startlingly handsome doctor—yet every time they met, they would end up fighting. He disturbed her. His romance with wealthy Coleen Snyder disturbed her. Most disturbing of all was that he seemed to be running the hospital into financial trouble from which it might never recover. Did she love this man? Did she hate him? She wasn’t sure. Confused by the logic of her mind and the longings of her hearts, it wasn’t until the hospital situation reached crisis proportions and a human life was at stake that Lesley was forced to make the decision … the one decision she knew would change her life forever …


“Right when I’m supposed to take my break, everything happens.” 

“It gives a doctor pause when it comes to cutting out a man’s heart.”

Lesley Allen is a small-town girl from Hillsdale, where the old Seton Memorial Hospital has been a local institution for half a century. But now the facility, where she’s been working as a nurse for years, is starting to crumble financially along with its brickwork. Old Dr. Sam Seton, who founded the hospital, has turned over the reins to his handsome grandson Eric, who word has it has condescended to put his plans to join a fancy city hospital on hold for a short time to come prop up the old institution, though it seems only a few short months before Eric pulls the plug on the hospital, which is hemorrhaging money. 

Eric’s a handsome blond on the move, apparently away from Seton as soon as he can shutter the old place, or so the rumor goes. In the interim, he’s snippy, aloof, and smug. Naturally, Lesley has been in love with him from the moment she first clapped eyes on him. “Even when he found fault over nothing, when he greeted her coolly and pointedly would not engage her in a conversation, she had been attracted to the man. How could it be?” Good question! They only argue when they meet—he’s telling her that “a good nurse stays unemotional” when she expresses concern about a patient, and she retorts, “a good doctor has compassion and warmth!”—so Lesley is convinced that Eric will never see her as more than an efficient machine in white oxfords.

One of their patients, Julia Garrett, has a bad heart and two young children, and is permanently installed on Lesley’s floor with a fatal case of the dwindles, as one of the doctors I work with calls it. But Eric has a gleam in his eye and a burning ambition in his belly, and after he’s heard that a heart transplant has successfully performed in South Africa (this is actually true, occurring in 1967), it’s not difficult to guess what is going on in his feverish brain. He persuades Lesley’s brother Bob, a local veterinarian, to perform a heart transplant on a canine patient of Bob’s. Then there are pages of speculation about why Eric is so interested in assisting in veterinary surgery, when a kindergartener could guess what’s about to happen.

And it’s no surprise what’s going to happen between Eric and Lesley, although after Eric kisses Lesley and she tells him she loves him, he pitches a fit because he thinks that his grandfather has picked out Lesley for him. “Forget me, Lesley. Forget this happened! Because I’m not going to be bent into Grandfather’s mold!” he shouts before stomping off. Um, sure, buddy. Overall it’s not the worst book Arlene Hale has written, but she’s given us the classic love interest who’s an ass, and the “mystery” that’s anything but, and the book drags along for 156 pages before all the plot threads are nicely tied up as they so obviously would be. The only actual surprise is who the human heart donor turns out to be, but that’s not enough to bother reading this book.