Sunday, March 26, 2023

Nurses Don’t Tell

By Jeanne Judson ©1962
Cover illustration by Edrien King 

In a way, it was like a vacation—being nurse to wealthy and arthritic Mrs. Wendell at her luxurious estate, Idlerest, in the Florida Keys. Mrs. Wendell played bridge every afternoon, and when there was a fourth—and usually there was—Katrina was free to swim or do anything she liked. Still, it became a bit boring with no one around but middle-aged people. That was why Katrina welcomed the girl on the beach—a rather strange girl, with wide-set gray eyes and a disconcerting habit of saying exactly what she thought. Even before Katrina learned that Mary Cordell was under observation by a psychiatrist visiting at her uncle’s home, she had decided that Mary was “odd,” to say the least. But Mary’s brother was quite another story. Personable, wealthy, with a Government job in Washington, and a sense of humor as sharp as Katrina’s own, Martin Cordell was the answer to any maiden’s dream … When bronzed, athletic-looking Captain Paul Williams—Mrs. Wendell’s partner at bridge whenever she could snare him—began to show an interest in Mary, Katrina knew there would be trouble. Victor Brierly, Mary’s uncle and guardian, had no intention of relinquishing the reins to Mary’s fortune. The stage was set—with Katrina an unwitting participant in a drama worthy of the mysterious and often dangerous Keys. Setting out for an innocent game with Mary, Katrina found herself, instead, a prisoner on Paul Williams’ reconverted yacht, the Conch Shell. Katrina takes matters into her own hands in a night that threatens to end for her in the dark and menacing waters of the Gulf of Mexico.


“When we were first married I made it my rule that he shouldn’t have a single interest that I didn’t share.” 

“Everything dangerous is fascinating.”

“A broken heart was a splendid basis on which to build a successful and useful life.”

“I think that’s the hardest thing I have to bear—my ankles.”

“Even beauty can grow monotonous,” fibs Nurse Katrina Bright, who has been hired by wealthy widow Sylvia Wendell to accompany her to the Florida Keys, where she oversees pool exercises, gives backrubs, and dispenses pills to manage arthritis of the hip. The rest of the time is hers to lounge on the beach—though admittedly sometimes she is forced to make the fourth at the bridge table. 

She is getting a little bored when she meets Mary Cordell, a wealthy 20-year-old who is equally lonely and also somewhat peculiar; her guardian is attempting to have her declared mentally incompetent before her 21st birthday so he can continue to control her money—but he’s richer than she is, so it’s not clear why he wants it. Mary’s brother Martin is 28, and he’s visiting from Washington, DC, where he works as an ichthyologist, though exactly what he does is never exactly explained, Katrina soon finds herself falling for Martin—and before the book is half over, they declare their love for each other in a scene that is, unfortunately, uninspired.

The problem of the story is that Mary has decided that she is going to marry Capt. Paul Williams, who is 18 years her senior and a retired Navy man. Katrina discovers that Paul is smuggling people (including the brother of Mercedes Delgado, whom we met in Jeanne Judson’s book City Nurse) and likely weapons as well in and out of Cuba, but she doesn’t feel that it’s her place to fill anyone in on Paul’s extracurriculars, because, well, nurses don’t tell. “If Mary wanted Martin to know, she would tell him herself,” she thinks—and Mary does not, even asking Katrina not to spill the beans. Katrina is waiting until her 21st birthday, when she inherits her money and has legal rights, to elope—and the day before her birthday, Mary asks Katrina to go for a ride on Paul’s boat with her. Katrina agrees, but then it turns out that she’s being essentially kidnapped, to join the pair on an overnight trip for the elopement so she won’t be able to tell anyone of Mary and Paul’s plans. It’s a rather strange explanation for committing a felony, with apparently no one, not even the victim, considering that jail time could result. Rather, Katrina is upset entirely because she will not be able to report back for duty at 5 pm, when Mrs. Wendell expects her. When the adventure is finally over, the only person who ends up badly is Katrina, who is fired from her job and has the de rigueur misunderstanding with her beloved that appears to end their relationship.

The story does include some pretty descriptions of the Florida Keys, but this is the only part of the book that seems to interest the author much. Jeanne Judson  is very good at describing a house full of rich people and their interactions, but since the reader doesn’t really have any investment in these characters, it feels more like an anthropological study. The only exciting part of the story is Katrina’s abduction, but the lack of repercussions are bewildering. Overall this book has some interest, but not enough spark or attention from the author to make it really good. Knowing what Jeanne Judson is capable of—see City Nurse, Visiting Nurse, and Small Town Nurse—this book is a disappointment, even if it isn’t half bad.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Noonday Nurse

By Ray Dorien, ©1957
Also published as New Nurse at Noonday 

Young Kathie Vincent, assistant nurse in the hospital of Noonday, arrived to find the place very different from her imaginings. Noonday Lake, in the outposts of Canada, yet near a great airbase, was a melting pot of humanity. Here, in the small hospital, Kathie’s ideals met opposition, her courage was tested, her love met enmity. Three different men came strangely into her life. How was she to know which of them would share her life?

“Noble dreams were not so easy after all.” 


Kathie Vincent is a young nurse from London (trained, interestingly, at St. Antholin’s by the battleaxe matron nurse Miss Cunningham, both of which appear in another book by Ray Dorien, Call Dr. Margaret, which is a device I always think is cute) who, let down in her adolescent crush on longtime family friend Huw (pronounced Hugh), decides to sign up to work for the Fosdike Foundation in the wilds of Labrador. It’s an untamed outpost, not far from its earliest days of a couple shacks strung along Noonday Lake, full of French settlers, Eskimo, Indians, and—of course—Fosdikes, Dr. Alan Fosdike and his spinster sister Mame in particular. 

In true VNRN fashion Kathie immediately runs afoul of the serious, hard-working Dr. Fosdike by not realizing that luggage is not delivered  to the house by the airport in these here parts (those were the days!) and by trying to pat a sled dog that, unaccustomed to domesticity, bites her arm. She also argues with him that the Noonday settlers are capable of self-determination and need not be tightly managed by the Fosdike Foundation, which had brought sanitation and modern medicine to the area in the past, and continued to attempt a heavy-handed authority. “Mustn’t they fight for themselves to make it any good?” Kathie asks. “Years ago they had so little chance that it was good for someone else to help them. Only it’s from the outside, and they should do some of it themselves.” Needless to say, Dr. Fosdike resists her advice, snipping patronizingly, “I don’t quite agree with ignorance taking over power.” And indeed, despite her ongoing campaign, it doesn’t appear that Kathie ever has any influence for the autonomy of the (largely indigenous) local population.

But Dr. Fosdike appears charmed by her spirit and novelty, and invites her out to his charming house by the shore to have dinner with him and his severe sister Mame, who spends much of the afternoon glaring at Kathie: “If looks could kill, Mame’s would have destroyed her.” But he seems more enchanted by her than ever and invites her to attend a reception for visiting dignitaries. There, numerous hints are dropped by the old fogies that they are pleased that she will be marrying Dr. Fosdike, and Kathie—though flattered by the important man’s kind attentions—is alarmed by the mistaken idea of a bond between them.

In the interim, back at the hospital, she has been nursing bush pilot Larry Hope, who crashed his plane and needs a lot of nursing to pull him through his serious injuries. She begins to feel attracted to Larry, and when he tells her that he is in love with her, she responds that she loves him, too. But shortly after the dignitaries depart, he chills overnight and decides he will go to Montreal to complete his recovery. He tells her their exchange was a mistake, adding, “Don’t you think that I want to stand in your light.” And off he goes. In her broken-hearted state, she agrees to marry Alan Fosdike, thinking she might as well be useful if she can never be happy in love again, while realizing that though “she wanted her own life,” she will essentially be giving it up if she marries Alan. Secure of her hand, Alan becomes more imperious and less solicitous of her, ordering her to come to his house for dinner and paying little attention to her.

But then Huw turns up in Montreal, and when Kathie flies out to visit him, she discovers a shocking coincidence, that he is working for Larry’s air transport company, and of course she spends an evening with Larry and Vanessa, who is a major investor in the company. Huw lets drop a few hints that Larry’s business is not stable, and Larry, congratulating Kathie on her engagement, adds, “How could a man think of marrying when he might be a crock, when his business might come out on the wrong side?”

More confusion ensues about Larry’s heart—Vanessa tells Kathie that she is going to marry Larry—and more business woes come to light, though they could be saved by a contract to provide all the air transport for the Fosdike Foundation. And though Kathie is called on to press her intended on behalf of the struggling airline, the story closes itself out with the usual medical crisis, in this case a severe viral illness contracted by several characters.

In this interesting story the writing is somewhat ephemeral in feeling; you don’t get a vivid picture of the settlement but more of an impressionistic atmosphere, with attention to small details such as when “the low-heeled slippers which she always brought to the house pattered along the polished boards of the hall.” You are regularly treated to some very pretty phrases, such as when we learn that “an affectionate Bobby dripped ice cream on her frock” or “she did not think she had the strength to discipline herself to a lie.” Kathie is a strong character—if, it must be confessed, not especially interesting—and her broken heart is easy to sympathize with. The condescension toward native people is not horribly overt, and Kathie does advocate for their rights to self-government. If this book lacks the extra sparkle that would make it a grand slam, it is a solid if quiet triple, one I can find no major fault with, and one I can easily recommend.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Nurse Turner Runs Away

By Diane Frazer
(pseud. Dorothy Fletcher), ©1962

Iris felt the blood rush to her head. “Yes, 411 is occupied,” she finally said. “By a patient of Dr. French’s. He had to leave but told me that he will give me all the necessary information when he comes back.” “Well, that’s highly irregular—highly irregular,” Dr. Larrabee said. “This is against all regulations and I am very upset, Iris, that Dr. French involved you in this.” “Involved me?” “Yes, of course. After all, the day ledger is your responsibility. I’m sorry, I’ll have to see the patient in 411.” “You can’t,” Iris said flatly. “I promised Dr. French that his patient would not be disturbed.” He brushed by her and started down the hall. Iris got to the room first. “Over my dead body,” she said. The words were theatrical but uncalculated. She was barring the door, her hand on the knob.


“My dear child, we are all schizophrenics. That’s the lifetime struggle. We all want to eat our apple pie and to have it, too.”

“For Lord’s sake, if it’s too offensive for you girls to give an enema you shouldn’t go in for nursing. Get married and wash diapers instead.”

“You’re pretty, popular and rich, and that’s very good for the disposition.”

“You can learn tact if you can learn medicine.”

“‘I want you to take these,’ he said professionally. ‘Librium. I think they’ll help. They give it to beasts in the zoo who have become unruly.’”

“The only time I went to the Wayside Inn was with a freshman from the University. Emphasis on fresh. It’s one of those places where you get so mixed up under the table because of lack of space that when you want to go to the john you have to say, ‘Excuse me, may I have my legs back?’’ 

Iris Turner is an unbelievably beautiful young woman, and she’s rich, too! She’s a debutante who for some bizarre reason has flouted societal norms and become a nurse. “She had welcomed the discipline her studies forced on her. She had never before had to deny herself anything. It was a new and gratifying experience,” which she contrasted with “the empty social chitchat of her friends.” She’d led a sort of double life while in nursing school: “She would sometimes look down at her legs, unglamorous in the white stockings and clumsy shoes, and think of herself as she would later be in the evening in a Scaasi frock, at the Harwyn or the Colony, or riding up the Hudson in Bruce’s blue Lancia.”

And in a Cinderella moment, pressured by her family and the man in question,  she caved long enough to agree to marry Bruce Landon III—and almost immediately regretted it, so on the eve of her wedding she’s packed a hasty bag and left a note pinned to her Belgian lace pillowcase and left town, fleeing Manhattan to the one place she would immediately be found, her Uncle Andrew Fairfield’s house in western Massachusetts. “At least at this moment in time she belonged to herself again,” she thinks-- and immediately makes eye contact with a well-dressed, handsome man getting on the train in New Haven. “You’ll know me when you see me again,” she smirks to herself. And, of course, he does. It turns out that he’s Dr. Frank Larrabee, who is coming to work at Bleeker Memorial with the intention of taking over the hospital administrator job. He meets Iris when she—surprise—decides to take a job at the same hospital.

Andrew is a doctor, a large part of her own interest in medicine. The morning after her arrival, she discusses her options with him. “I don’t want to do anything,” she tells him. “Except have a nervous breakdown. Couldn’t I just have that, do you think? Fall apart and mope?” He instead recommends she take a job at the local hospital, and she agrees. “I’m really essentially a very serious person, Uncle Andrew, only from habit and urbanity I have this silly way of disguising it and before I know it, I’m typed as a hoyden. I want to change. I want to admire myself, to reach my best self. I want to find myself.”

She takes a job at Bleeker Memorial, though almost not quite making the cut. “A looker like that would completely corrupt the staff,” says the superintendent of nurses. “Girls will hate her on sight. The doctors will start taking temperatures with their stethoscopes.”

On her first day, Iris meets Dr. Ken French, who is an intense, dedicated, “angry young man and, incidentally, a very good doctor,” who came from an impoverished background—and, “worst of all, he wore brown shoes, which would have been an unforgivable faux pas in Manhattan.” His goal in coming to Bleeker Memorial is to help transform it from a posh escape for the wealthy into a real hospital, with a ward for poor folk who can’t afford to travel long distances for healthcare they can afford. Needless to say, when he discovers Iris’ background, he assumes she is a snob and acts the part of one himself, sneering at her for what he perceives as a lack of dedication to the job. But she gives it back to him: “You don’t know anything about me except what you hear. Remember, I hear things, too. But I make my own decisions. This uniform is mine. I’ve earned it. I do as I choose and I choose to be a nurse.” With this little speech he begins to thaw and tells her about his plans for a ward serving the poor—and would she mention to her Uncle Andrew, an influential member of the hospital board, that it’s a great idea? Iris is put off—“his dreams were commendable. But he wanted to use her”—but nonetheless agrees to tour the slums of the area with him to see the dire conditions for herself.

Unfortunately, she forgets about her date and instead agrees to go out to a club with the smooth-talking Dr. Larrabee, whose “white linen of his cuffs showing just the right amount below his tweed sleeves.” I bet his shoes aren’t brown, either. You can be sure that Dr. Larrabee is not wild about the idea of polluting Bleeker Memorial’s hallowed hallways with the impoverished, and he, too, exhorts Iris to use her influence with Uncle Andrew on his behalf. He also is revealed to us readers to be scheming to seduce Iris, because he also wants her to persuade Uncle Andrew to give him the Administrator job. Dr. French is hurt and refuses to accept Iris’ apology, and she gets madder—and ends up telling him, “Underneath your noise and unpleasantness you’re a man I admire,” bursts into tears and runs off.

The big problem with this book is that the big showdown scene—unfortunately telegraphed on the back cover blurb—is not much more than what we are given, like when you see a movie whose trailers include a few amusing lines only to find out when you go see the movie that those are the only funny parts of the entire film. In the wimpy climax, Dr. French admits a poor woman who is dying of sepsis and refuses to give Iris any information about the patient, saying he has to go on an urgent mission on the patient’s behalf and will fill her in when he gets back, but the patient absolutely must not be disturbed. Dr. Larrabee, ever hopeful for dirt on his professional rival, insists on entering the room, firmly putting Iris aside with little difficulty, and learns the reason for the secrecy behind this patient. There are 20 more pages to get through, mostly hashing out the political ramifications of the event, which aren’t especially satisfying until, of course, the last five.

The ending is especially disappointing because up until the little scene, the book is absolutely top-notch, with complex, spunky and beautifully drawn characters—including a wonderfully witty roommate—and a strong heroine who is a lot of fun to watch. If only author Dorothy Fletcher, who is an absolute favorite of mine, had been able to sustain the level of excellence, this would easily have been an A-grade book. But in spite of the disappointing ending, this book is a real joy for the first 130 pages, and I still recommend that you read it—you will be the richer for not running away from Nurse Turner.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Doctor Sara Comes Home

By Elizabeth Houghton (pseud. Elizabeth Gilzean), ©1961 

Sara Lloyd was a brilliant doctor, but an unfortunate mishap had badly jolted her confidence and made her feel that her career was ruined. She felt she had to get away from everything, and try for the time to forget she had ever been a doctor. So she went to live for a year in a delightful but utterly remote cottage in the lovely Welsh mountains. In these peaceful surroundings, she soon began to come to terms with life again. She was alone, but never lonely, and her landlord, Robert Llewellyn, after his initial objection to her, was fast becoming a valued friend. Then Stephen Grey turned up—Stephen, who know all about Sara’s past and did not realize that she had kept it a secret from her new friends. Dared she tell Robert the truth, or try to go on deceiving him? It looked very much, Sara thought woefully, as if after all she had only exchanged one set of problems for another.


“Odd how parents will keep on trying to arrange their children’s lives, and they should know by now that the children have perfectly good ideas of their own.” 

“If men could only cry, they’d live longer.”

“It always seems such a waste of one’s own experience that it can never be passed on.”

“Who wants life to be simple? It would be as dull as yesterday’s dinner.”

Like most nurse novel heroines who run away from their careers after a tragedy, the one that happened to Dr. Sara Lloyd was not one that should have upset a seasoned professional six years into her career, and was not anything that was remotely even her fault: A patient she had cleared for surgery died before the operation. It’s hard to understand why she blames herself for this; the patient had had a completely negative past medical history, and she’d been completely exonerated by the Board of Enquiry. In medicine—and in life—sometimes you win, and sometimes bad things happen despite your best efforts. But this pretty minor incident caused Sara to quit and run away to Wales, where her Aunt Margaret lives.

Out for a walk in the lovely countryside, she stumbles across an abandoned little house just as it starts to rain and takes shelter. There she meets Robert Llewellyn, the farmer who owns the house, and though the pair initially spar a bit, he soon comes to recognizes that she is a strong, independent woman. She soon discovers that her grandfather had once owned the lovely cottage, so she rents it from him, and he spends his precious days helping her to clean it up and furnish it. A very charming and sweet relationship quickly develops between them—but she can’t bring herself to tell him that she’s a doctor.

It comes out, though, first because she so easily delivers breech twin lambs in a field, and then delivers a farmwife’s baby when the doctor is too far away to get there in time. Then her old boyfriend Dr. Stephen Grey, who keeps arrogantly insisting that Sara marry him, turns up and takes her out now and then, and has private chats with Robert. A local district nurse also seems to know Sara’s past, and circulates mean rumors.

Robert himself is a very sympathetic character, a successful farmer for the past five years. He brings books and flowers to Sara, and is always thoughtful and respectful, “the one man who had never harried her, or told her what to do, or attempted to do her thinking for her.” Sigh. For once, a VNRN love interest you can actually love yourself.

But when Robert tries to learn more about her, Sara’s secret causes her to be crisply rude to him one too many times, and the relationship cools dramatically. Then there’s a plane crash in the hills above Sara’s house, and of course she is one of the first people there and takes a lead role in managing the crash victims. Ultimately she crawls into the fuselage to get the pilot out, and the wreck caves in around her. She wakes the next morning in Robert’s bed wearing Robert’s pajamas, and a silly scandal circulates, which only puts more distance between them. Ultimately, after one final frigid exchange, she decides it’s a lost cause and is literally on the way out the door to take a job in Nigeria when Robert’s housekeeper drops by to tell her that Robert has gone into some sort of cave to rescue a lost sheep—and also that he’s seemed heartbroken of late; has she turned him down?—and she has a bad feeling about the whole thing. Sara immediately tears off through the storm to Robert’s farm, and then into this cave/well, where she finds Robert has broken his leg in two places and the water is rising!

In some ways this book reads more like a contemporary romance novel because it focuses almost entirely on the relationship between Robert and Sara. Sure, other stuff happens, but most of it is about them working together to clean up Sara’s house, with many gentle exchanges and conversations. As I have already said, Robert is a true rarity in a VNRN in that he’s a man who seems to enjoy arranging furniture and bringing in flowers, he’s never domineering or predatory, but truly a quiet, confident man drawn to a strong woman. The descriptions of the Welsh countryside and Sara’s little cottage in a valley are really magnificent and beautiful, even when she is slogging through the mud in the rain you feel like you’re in it with her. Elizabeth Gilzean has been a very hit-or-miss writer, giving us three C-grade books of the six I’ve read, but this story proves she had talent, and if she didn’t always deliver, with this one she really brought it home.