By Sharon Heath
(pseud. Norah Mary Bradley), ©1966
To forget the pain of a tragic romance, Nurse Frances Kimpton journeyed to Shadow Manor to act as companion to its elderly mistress. In that quiet countryside she would try to achieve peace of mind. But the peace she sought turned out to be a will-o’-the-wisp as Frances found when she learned the secret of the manor’s other woman—the young and willful niece of her employer. That secret meant danger and trouble. Frances turned to the attractive Dr. Ralph Grant for help. It was well that she did so. For, together, they were able to thwart a plot that could have ended in murder.
“I was expecting a she-dragon in a starched uniform who would glare at me. But this one’s well disguised, apparently!”
To have a bad heart fifty years ago seems to have meant to be confined to a virtual prison. Poor Miss Caroline Eldridge, wealthy and only in her 70s, isn’t allowed to do much for herself and spends most of the day knitting, and everyone sneaks their life around behind her back, because “any sudden shock—mental, not physical—could be fatal.” Unfortunately, there’s a very elaborate network of lies and scheming occurring all around her, and it’s up to Nurse Frances Kimpton to protect the poor woman, even as she participates in and even furthers the intrigue.
The story starts implausibly enough when Frances is dragged in off the street to witness a wedding between a pretty, spoiled-looking woman and a weaselly looking man with a thin moustache. She’s en route to her job at an isolated mansion called Shadow Manor to look after Miss Eldridge, a sweet lady who has taken in an ungrateful niece, Eve Garner. You will not be at all surprised to learn that the mystery bride turns out to be none other than Eve, who has left her honeymoon and groom to return to Miss Eldridge’s mansion with nary a word of her recent nuptials. Eve is mean to everyone and seldom home, never saying where she’s going or when she’ll be back, but Miss Eldridge obtains sweet revenge when she decides to rewrite her will, saying that Eve will not get any inheritance until she turns 30 if she marries a man of whom Miss Eldridge does not approve. Fireworks ensue when Eve hears the news!
For her part, Frances, recovering from a heart broken after her fiancé was killed, is clearly over that lad and now has her wily eye on Miss Eldridge’s doctor, Ralph Grant, who is casually friendly. Then Frances happens to be on hand when Eve meets up with her new husband, Leon Josephs, in a whispered but brief sidewalk conversation—super secret! That night, when Frances offers to set out in the dark rainy night to search for the cat, she stumbles and scrapes her hands. She takes the opportunity of her minor mishap to invite herself to Ralph’s cozy cottage to tell him of her suspicions: that she had tripped over a wire slung across the walk put there intentionally to frighten her, and bless his heart, Ralph takes this statement entirely seriously. And now “the memory of this intimate, tranquil time was something she knew she would always treasure,” the little vixen. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if Frances turned out to be a psychotic manufacturing drama to lure in a man she has a yen for? When “no trace of string or wire had been found on or near the drive,” my hopes leapt!
I hate to disappoint you, dear reader, but alas, it was not the case, as author Sharon Heath has chucked that delicious opportunity for something much more implausible: that Leon for some insane reason is out to murder Frances by the most bizarre methods that turn out to be remarkably deadly. For Leon’s next act, he walks brazenly into the house, identifying himself to Miss Eldridge as a window cleaner, and cuts almost through the cord on the sash of a window in Frances’ bedroom. The very next day, Frances opens the window and decides to stick her arm out of it just as the cord breaks and the window comes slamming down! “Which might have been fatal, she thought, had she been leaning out the window!” Leon must be psychic as well as homicidal!
Next Mike Dering, an old boyfriend of Eve’s who had been too poor at the time to propose, turns up, now gainfully employed, and after spending an hour with the young man, Miss Eldrige invites him to stay at the house and tells Frances she hopes Eve will marry him. Ooops! Even if Eve were single she might not have the chance, because the brakes on her car fail and she drives straight into the river, saved by Mike, who happens to be loitering at the bottom of the hill (is Mike psychic too?). Suddenly Eve is a new person, confessing that she’s been changed all along, that she’d “got really fond” of Miss Eldridge, though she’d never bothered to show her anything of the sort. Furthermore, with just one word from Mike, “headstrong, self-willed Eve subsided at once.” Oy.
Frances, seeing another opportunity to flirt with Ralph, tells him he must come to the house that night but that Miss Eldridge must not know it, and Ralph again proves to be either the greatest sport ever or completely daft. After he sneaks into the house; frantic antics unfold! “I just told Miss Eldrige it was a friend of Mike’s who wanted to see him urgently. Miss Eldridge suggested you should have your talk in the morning room, but, if I leave you there and go to fetch Mike, she may take it into her head to come and have a look at this ‘friend.’ Perhaps you’d better come out with me, instead. Only I hope she won’t look out of the drawing room window just as we pass!” How complicated can these shenanigans get!
While they are tiptoeing through the shrubbery, Ralph tells Frances that he is going to hire a private detective to look into Leon’s past. A week later the detective turns up a game-changing fact, but when Frances races to tell Ralph, who is arriving at the manor, he chastens her: “‘I came here to see my patient,’ he reminded her, and she had to admit he was right.” It turns out that Leon was already married, and his wife is as psychic as she is, having determined Leon’s plans for Eve, found him in England, learned he was blackmailing Eve (though nobody knew except Eve), and gotten a job at the garage where Eve was dropping her car for repairs. She’s also an excellent (if nefarious) mechanic! And the pair is lucky too—ultimately Ralph and Frances decide that if they go to the police with this amazing story, the shock (of finding out her healthcare team is bonkers?) would kill Miss Eldridge.
Author Sharon Heath
has given us several other gentle, sweet if not stellar books with A
Vacation for Nurse Dean
Sunshine Nurse, but this
book is more of an unwitting and dopey comedy. The characters and their
motivations are inexplicable: Ralph is not especially attractive, Frances comes
across as a loopy dingbat, and why would Leon want to injure, of all people,
the nurse? Wouldn’t it be better to off the wealthy matriarch first, and then
his second wife to win the fortune, since murdering Eve first would put him out
of the running permanently? But it doesn’t pay to examine stupidity closely, so
all I can suggest is that you leave Nurse
at Shadow Manor on the shelf and move onto something—anything—else.