Sunday, January 28, 2024

Nurse Jane and Cousin Paul

By Valerie K. Nelson, ©1964

From what her dear friend Jeremy had told her, Nurse Jane Ashley had the worst possible opinion of his cousin Paul. What a hard, managing old man he must be, she thought, to try and force Jeremy to study for a career which did not interest him. “Sometimes you remind me of Paul,” Jeremy told her. “Like him, you’re fifty years behind the times. It’s that hospital and all those Florence Nightingale sentiments. I must get you away from it, double quick.” Then, Nurse Jane met Paul—and began to think that, if he was fifty years behind the times, it was not a bad place to be!


“You’re not going to faint or anything, are you? But perhaps that’s another of the Victorian fashions which is coming back again.” 

“Oh, you know what men are, my dear. So brief in their explanations that they’re positively maddening.”

“I thought nurses were always hungry.”

“Ordinary-looking people very often have some unsuspected depths.”

This book has taken all the most overused VNRN tricks and thrown them into one package: Orphaned heroine? Check. Wimpy, shallow boyfriend nobody could possibly like? Check. Angry, domineering man more than a decade older than her? Check. Spunky heroine fighting constantly with the arrogant bastard and suddenly discovering she’s in love? Check! If all of this sounds appealing to you, then this is the story for you!

If at this point you have any interest in learning more about this story, by all means, press on: 19-year-old Nurse Jane Ashley is in love with a shallow cad named Jeremy who is clearly lying to her left and right. She is in her first year of nursing school in London—so she does not even qualify as a nurse—when she is persuaded by Jeremy to get a job “nursing” his aunt, Meriel Darling, an imperious, wealthy hypochondriac who lives in a manor far out into the country. She sets out for the interview that has been arranged by Jeremy, only to find the house empty and a severe rainstorm coming on. Drenched to the bone with a cold coming on—and concerned that the woman she has been told is an invalid might be lying out cold on the bathroom floor—she gets in through a back door. While investigating the premises, the doorbell rings, and she opens it to start her first fight with 31-year-old Paul Rowfield (a creepy 12 years her senior, if math isn’t your bag). He literally drags her around the house with a hard “hurting grasp” on her wrist and accuses her of being the local burglar. Naturally, “he affected her in such a strange way … a different way from which she’d ever been affected before. When he looked at her, her heart began to beat faster, and she seemed to tingle from head to foot.” Sigh.

She lands the job—turns out she herself has weak lungs and needs six months in the country to recuperate—though Meriel doesn’t need any nursing and Jane is really just a maid. She continues to be bossed around by Paul, and Jeremy shows up now and then for clandestine, brief meetings in the garden in which he spoon-feeds her endless lies and she gobbles them up like they’re warm scones with homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream. “A man who wants to meet you on the sly hasn’t really much use for you,” advises Paul, who for once is making sense.

The local doctor, Robert Eccles, who had cared for Jane during her illness, has a sister Nina—a jealous wench with her hopes pinned on Paul, who recognizes a rival when she sees one—as well as a brother Ray, invalided at 26 by a severe heart condition. She also meets an ill woman named Iris Eccles, who suggests she is married to Robert, and a man named Brian Draper who “happens” to be on hand when Iris swoons from illness in a cafĂ© and helps Jane cart Iris back to her shabby flat. Now there’s a number of mysteries to solve—who are Iris and Brian really? Who is burglarizing the neighborhood? Does Jeremy really love her?—shenanigans of Jeremy’s that Jane attempts to put right with little success, plus a very cold and businesslike proposal of marriage from Paul in which he completely fails to express in the most ardent language the violence of his affections, yet Jane can’t even turn him down flat and agrees to think it over. Toward the end of the book she comes to her senses as far as Jeremy is concerned, but that doesn’t stop her, oddly, from flying to meet him in the garden at every possible moment, never once putting off his tepid assurances.

Ultimately—and I hope you will not be too upset at the spoiler—Paul again insists they marry, telling her, “you must, you know. I announced our engagement an hour ago,” in “the same arrogant voice, but undershot with a world of tenderness.” Which makes it all better, of course, that he has essentially bullied her into marrying him—and has been scheming to do so from the very beginning: “From the moment I’d met you, I’d been quite determined that you were going to stay. I’d got Bob Eccles to see that you were given the post with Mrs. Darling, while I waited to get in touch with your guardian to gain his consent to our marriage. I’d thought we might wait until you were twenty, but now I’d decided that waiting was a waste of time.” Instead of screaming in horror and fleeing the county, Jane meekly agrees. Ugh!

The ultimate climax of the book involves some secret relationships and crimes that I found difficult to follow, leaving Jane locked in a lighthouse, possibly to starve to death or be assaulted (she decides she’d rather leap to her death rather than have the man “put a caressing hand on her,” such a delicate reference to rape)! But in the end, she’s found less than an hour later, and feels “unutterably depressed” by her hysteria upon first being imprisoned. I shared the feeling, actually, to a lesser degree, upon reaching the end of this long, mediocre, insulting book that has little respect for its heroine and less for its readers if it thinks that this is what we all would appreciate in a love interest. And it’s not even really a nurse novel, since Jane has quit nursing school and is not working as one! The last straw! So with that, I can give you no reason whatsoever to spend any time with either not-a-Nurse Jane or Cousin Paul.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Nurse Rivers’ Secret

By Anne Durham, ©1965
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

Everyone at Ripplegate General Hospital was tremendously excited when the film star Dawn Delaney was admitted as a patient—everyone, that is, except Nurse Nina Rivers, who knew Dawn only too well and dreaded the complications she would inevitably bring with her.


“She’d be a proper corker out of that horrible uniform.” 

“No one looks at a nurse unless she’s doing something to attract attention.”

Nurse Nina Rivers has made a life for herself apart from her family; she comes from a fairly broken home. Her father died when she was very young, and Mother married Alexander Fitchworth, a very nice man who had been a real father to Nina. Of course, he went and died, and Nina became a sort of Cinderella to her temperamental and beautiful stepsister Alexandra, waiting on her hand and foot. Astonishingly, when Mother and Alexandra had decided to move to America, Nina elected to remain in the U.K. to become a nurse, and neither of them has ever forgiven Nina for “abandoning” them and what would have been a life of unappreciated drudgery.

Imagine poor Nina’s surprise when her sister is brought in to her hospital as a pampered private patient—under the name Dawn Delaney, as she is now known, as she is a rising movie star and is making a film in a castle nearby; Dawn had fallen through a rickety balcony when she had been up there outside of working hours with a film mogul who could do things for her career. Nina is immediately sacrificed at Dawn’s altar by none other than Mommie Dearest. Not a hug or word of affection passes from Mommie’s lips after years apart from her first daughter before she is exhorting Nina not to tell anyone of the relationship. “You’ve always said you didn’t care for that sort of life. This is what you prefer, and as soon as Alex has recovered, she will go right out of your life again, and not trouble you,” she says, blaming the victim. “You must come and have tea with us one day,” she adds, finishing the job with a knife to the heart.

But Dawn/Alex is a spoiled brat, always on the call light and sobbing in self-pity, and the only one who can soothe her is Nurse Rivers, who is constantly pressed into duty to pat the limpid hand of her sister. Dawn is also one of those ladies who “always found the men belonging to other girls much more acceptable to her than other men. She didn’t mean any harm; she just couldn’t help it.” Yeah, right. And of course the first man she notices is Dr. Antony Alsford, who is all but engaged to Nina—if only they can settle the thorny issue of whether she will quit working when they get married. “I just want a career of my own,” she tells him repeatedly, but he is having none of it. “He didn’t like his girl-friend to be the one with ideas, the one to want to make plans. He would want a yes-woman, Nina felt.” It’s clear why she wants to marry him and why she is heart-broken when he becomes starry-eyed over the dewy, rose-colored Dawn—and breaks off their engagement with a story about how he is doing her a huge favor by ending it. “I’m standing in your way,” he generously explains. He has no idea how right he is, and unfortunately neither does Nina.

Because there’s nice old Dr. Stephen Cornwell to help her over the rough patches, give her a lift into town and buy her tea and pass over his handkerchief. Though he starts out “much as a kindly uncle,” his charm grows naturally on Nina, and he is clearly in love with her—though she, of course, is the last one to figure this out. She does come to understand something her own feelings early on, however—“a rather special feeling towards Dr. Stephen Cromwell, that had begun deep down in her almost imperceptibly, and was now like a glow of warmth on a cold day, stealing gently yet swiftly all over her. A glow that made her want to be with him all the time.” Unfortunately Dawn, recognizing the attraction between the pair, now decides that, having won Antony for her own, she no longer wants that fickle man and has her heart set on winning poor Dr. Cornwell. “She hadn’t really wanted Antony permanently; she had just wanted to feel that she could take his attention away from another girl, and now she was finished with him.” What a sweet girl!

Now Dawn is making herself sick with longing for the good doctor, and Nina feels she has no choice but to exhort Dr. Cornwell to go along with the charade that he loves her in order to help her recover. “Dawn wanted him, and they must consider her, because she was so ill,” she decides. He flat out refuses, however, proving himself to be a man of principles and character. “She’s behaving like a spoilt child. She wants something. She must have it. It doesn’t matter if it’s some pretty toy or a man’s attention, it’s all one to her. And I, for one, will not pander to it,” he tells her, adding, “I think you’ve let Dawn and her mother make a doormat of you for years, and I’m going to personally stop it.”

But Nina is a clever lass, smart enough to figure out another way to get Dawn off Dr. Cornwell’s leg—even if in enacting her plan she risks losing the doctor for good. Complications and misunderstandings ensue, of course … and in the end we have another fairly typical Harlequin story, sweet and slow, with an admirable, strong heroine—and in this instance, we are lucky to have an attractive love interest as well. Some side characters are well-drawn; Nina’s mother in particular was terrifically horrid in a subtle sort of way. If overall this book is not especially sparkling, it’s still well worth an afternoon.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Nurse in Jeopardy

By Rose Dana
(pseud. William E. Daniel Ross), ©1967

Beautiful Nurse Mavis Eaton had come to the quiet seacoast town to develop another talent: painting. But she was soon deeply enmeshed in a strange and terrifying struggle that involved a handsome young doctor and a brilliant mysterious stranger.


“I declare that half of my practice is tending to summer incompetents. They come down here and stay out in the sun until they’re boiled lobster red, work in their gardens until they get heart attacks, overeat and get every kind of gastrointestinal complication imaginable! I wonder if they realize how much healthier they’d be if they just stayed at home and took it easy?” 

“I wouldn’t trust her with an undersize lobster.”

“Just because I happen to be neurotic enough for two is no reason I should be in a hurry to share my neurosis with some unfortunate girl.”

“Romance! It louses up everything!”

Nurse Mavis Eaton is one wildly lucky nurse—her dying patient, Mrs. Maltby, bequeaths her a year’s salary and a house on the Maine seacoast, which she accepts without hesitation, though I think the ethics of that are just a bit sketchy. Her dream is to work on her painting, hopefully to develop enough during her time off from nursing to decide whether she has the talent to pursue painting professionally. Moving into the small town, she meets local GP Dr. Timothy Ryan, who somehow manages to practice medicine though he his blind, and the other medico, Dr. Bill Rutherford. “He’s tall and blond and looks like those men in the shirt ads, a real serious young man,” we learn, and soon Dr. Rutherford has convinced Mavis that working a few days at the understaffed hospital in Bristol will help her paint better when she does have time off. She also is befriended by Stephen Metcalfe, once a lawyer but now a gadabout, living in an outbuilding and renting his family house to a man from California. “I am the modern equivalent of one of those misunderstood holy men—the hermits,” he tells Mavis modestly. He has a propensity to say absurd things like, “I am the lonely ghoul of the Metcalf estate, abhorred by all and sundry in the village.” If he talks like that to them, it’s no wonder.

Other locals include German-born John Ulrich, who moved to Maine before World War II. He is known to have been a Nazi sympathizer and is suspected by the locals of assisting the Nazis. “You know they caught a lot of spies that arrived here on the Maine coast from a submarine. But they had to have someone here to help them; someone they could trust. And I always thought John Ulrich was that man!” her cleaning woman tells her. Upon meeting Mavis, John says that prowlers are sneaking around his house and gives her a tin box with photos of his family and a newspaper in German that he says holds notices of his brother’s death in World War II, and asks her to keep it for him and mail it to his sister in Germany if he dies. Sure, she says, because she takes everything that total strangers give to her. Soon there are footsteps in the snow outside her house … what else could it be except that someone is coming after Ulrich’s box! Maybe it’s Hans Heinke, another local expat German, who was a prisoner in the German concentration camps during the war. Discussing John with Hans, Mavis thinks “his attitude toward John Ulrich remained very strange,” because it’s difficult to understand why a Nazi sympathizer might be disliked by someone who was in a concentration camp. “Hans still has a sort of complex from being in that concentration camp. It leaves a mark on a man. In his case, he takes a pretty downbeat view of life,” Steve tells Mavis. Hmmm, I wonder why?

Soon Steve is dropping unpassionate kisses on Mavis, who is not reported to have much feeling about the matter; she seems to have more response to a kiss from Dr. Rutherford. All that is essentially parenthetical to the story, and halfway through the book John Ulrich is bludgeoned to death. Now the question of who did it takes over the book. Mavis “wouldn’t want to cause trouble” by pointing out to the police that the dead man’s last word was Hans’ name, but Dr. Rutherford prevails upon her to tell the cops this and the fact that John had given her a box, which they promptly come to collect. Everyone falls under Mavis’ suspicion, and for the rest of the book we are either following her around the hospital or casting nervous glances at the neighbors.

Neither the mystery nor the romance held much interest for me. Few of the clues that Mavis considers are ever satisfactorily explained away, and the holes in the story are many and large. Even the mystery about what Mavis is going to do with her life remains unclear; at one point she decides, “She wouldn’t become a great artist overnight. It was going to take long months and perhaps years for her to perfect a technique individual enough to make her mark in the roughly competitive art world,” a realization that should have been obvious from Day One, but even with this idea suddenly dawning on her, she never declares what her ultimate career intentions are. Her final choice for a boyfriend is not satisfying and frankly doesn’t really even make sense to me, since just pages earlier she had been convinced the man was involved in the murder. Dan Ross, here writing as Rose Dana, has never been one of my favorites, and this book did little to change my opinion.

Monday, January 1, 2024

11th Annual VNRN Awards

Hello again, and welcome back to our annual roundup of the best vintage nurse novels of the year! The most significant win goes to Bill Neubauer, whose Best Book award this year gives him the most of anyone in that category, with an amazing seven! (You can now buy a number of the Best Books as ebooks republished by my company Nurse Novels Publishing, which is just celebrating its first anniversary!) My perennial nemesis Peggy Gaddis also captured her seventh award—but for Worst Book, so the distinction is less laudable, but why not pop a champagne cork for her as well?

We are greeted by a number of other familiar names among the Best and Worst Books this year: Dorothy Fletcher claimed two of the top prizes, bringing her total to five Best Books;  Marjorie Moore, Ida Cook (writing as Mary Burchell) and Elizabeth Gilzean (writing as Elizabeth Houghton) captured their third Best Book awards this year, while newbies Violet Finlay Stuart and Betty Neels joined the Best Book list for the first time.

The Worst Books category also yielded little surprise, as perennial losers Peggy O’More Blocklinger (her fourth raspberry), Suzanne Roberts (win #3), Richard Wilkes-Hunter (writing as Diana Douglas for #2), Norah Bradley (writing as Sharon Heath for #2) and Adeline McElfresh (#2) appear again. We don’t look forward to more books by first-timers Doris Knight and Margaret McCulloch.

It must be admitted, however, that terrible books can frequently yield glorious quotes, as a number of the worst books provided amusing pearls for our Best Quotes of the year. Why is that, do you wonder?

Fine print: Winners are chosen from the 42 VNRNs I read this past year, which were penned by 31 different authors. The Best and Worst Publishing Houses categories includes all the VNRNs reviewed for this blog (558 to date). As much as I would have loved to include Nurse Novels Publishing, which would have easily bagged the Best Publishers top slot, it just didn't seem fair ...


Best Books
1.      Hospital Corridors by Mary Burchell (pseud. Ida Cook)
2.      New Yorker Nurse by Dorothy Fletcher
3.      The Fifth Day of Christmas by Betty Neels
4.      The Dilemma of Geraldine Addams by Diane Frazer (pseud. Dorothy Fletcher)
5.      Prison Nurse by William Neubauer
6.      Doctor Sara Comes Home by Elizabeth Houghton (pseud. Elizabeth Gilzean)
7.      Doctor Lucy by Barbara Allen (pseud. Violet Finlay Stuart)
8.      Peter Raynal, Surgeon by Marjorie Moore
9.      To Please the Doctor by Marjorie Moore

Worst Books
1.      Seacliff Nurse by Peggy OMore
2.      The Nurse and the Star by Peggy Gaddis
3.      Hope Farrell Crusading Nurse by Suzanne Roberts
4.      Nurse on Terror Island by Doris Knight
5.      Flight Nurse by Adeline McElfresh
6.      Nurse at Shadow Manor by Sharon Heath (pseud. Norah Bradley)
7.      Second Year Nurse by Margaret McCulloch
8.      Nurse Crane … Emergency by Ann Gilmer (pseud. W.E. Dan Ross)
9.      New Orleans Nurse by Diana Douglas (pseud. Richard Wilkes-Hunter)


Best Quotes
“I never supposed he thought of anything but cutting people up in the neatest and most miraculous way possible.”
Hospital Corridors by Mary Burchell (pseud. Ida Cook)

“How can he tell me how pretty my eyes are in one breath and then start talking about thrombophlebitis?” 
Hope Farrell Crusading Nurse by Suzanne Roberts

“The trouble with you, Gail, is that essentially you’re too honest. You always level with people. I don’t, and life is far more exciting.”
Nurse in Doubt by Isabel Capeto

“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?’
Nurse Turner Runs Away by Diane Frazer (pseud. Dorothy Fletcher)

“Are you still shaky from the shark episode?” 
Nurse on Terror Island by Doris Knight

“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.”
Hospital Corridors by Mary Burchell (pseud. Ida Cook)

“Rosemary’s been coming to the beach for the past two weeks. Upton and I were immediately drawn to her superior mind.”
Nurse Audrey’s Mission by Isabel Cabot (pseud. Isabel Capeto)

“You carry a gun, don’t you? Couldn’t you arrange to have it go off sort of by accident, you know?” 
Highway Nurse by Florence Stuart (pseud. Florence Stonebraker)

“This is why nursing is not an overcrowded profession. Word has gotten around that it isn’t all handsome doctors and gay pulse-taking.”
Nurse Crane … Emergency by Ann Gilmer (pseud. W.E. Dan Ross)

“A lot of clear thoughts can come to a man while he’s eating squirrel stew.”
Hope Farrell Crusading Nurse by Suzanne Roberts


Best Covers
Nurse on Terror Island
The Dilemma of Geraldine Addams, illustration by Harry Bennett
Visiting Nurse
Prison Nurse, illustration by Robert Maguire
Nurse Craig

Best Publishing Houses
Perma Books
Pocket Books

Worst Publishing Houses
Popular Library
Dell Candlelight