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.