Monday, March 4, 2024

Doctor’s Nurse

By Jennifer Ames
Maysie Sopoushek), ©1959
Cover illustration by O. Whitlock 

She promised not to marry … that was the condition on which Gail Stewart went with Dr. Grant Raeburn’s research unit to Hong Kong. Gail was as pretty a nurse as you could hope to see and Grant made her promise if she joined his staff not to marry for two years. That seemed easy for Gail loved Grant—and he never even noticed Gail as a woman! But when she met Brett Dyson in Hong Kong—well, things took on a very different hue …


“All men know whether or not they’re good looking, though they pretend they don’t.” 

Poor Nurse Gail Stewart is the victim of so many nurse novel tropes! She’s an orphan—her parents died in a war camp in Hong Kong when Gail was six, she herself having been packed off just in the nick of time back to Britain—and she is smitten with her boss, Dr. Grant Raeburn, who is one of those cool, aloof, driven men who has never looked at a woman in his life (is he gay or just autistic?) and is not especially kind to his staff; he is described as a “withdrawn and unsympathetic” “martinet” who “drove his staff hard, almost ruthlessly.” But he’s cute, so that’s OK! 

He is off to Hong Kong to do research for two years and has asked his office team to come along. There’s Dr. Bobby Gordon, the usual foil who is hopelessly in love with Gail and has absolutely no hope of ever being loved in return, and Mildred Harris, a plain spinster who types and is passionately in love with Dr. Raeburn. Gail is asked to come along, but she has to agree to a special rider on her contract: She is not to marry for two years, because apparently if a woman gets married she is no longer able to work. But it’s not a problem for her to make this agreement because “the only man she had ever dreamt of or contemplated marrying was himself.”

So off she goes to Hong Kong with a secret agenda stowed safely in the hidden compartment of her attaché case: She’s going to track down the man who betrayed her parents, who had gotten them locked up in that prison camp where they died, and the rat fink had stolen dad’s lucrative business to boot! “She had to make this man pay,” she decides, though she does not know who he is or even the name of her father’s business, and it was 16 years ago that all this betrayal transpired. But sweet revenge will be hers: She vows, “I’ll kill him with my bare hands!”

So off she goes, delayed by a month because her aunt gets sick, and meets a cute but lazy rich boy on the plane, Brett Dyson. He is going to Hong Kong with the intention of not working for his godfather, Tom Manning, as much as possible, and to marry a rich heiress. He is, in short, the antithesis of everything she believes in, and of course “She disliked him intensely.” But then, bizarrely, her plane crashes in Persia, and she spends a night delivering first aid while Brett very uncharacteristically acts as her capable assistant—and as the sun rises, she passes out and he carries her behind a rock and makes out with her when she wakes up and tells her that he’s falling in love with her because he’s so impressed with her strength and skill and stamina. Naturally he spends the rest of the book trying to bully and dominate her, insisting that she go out on this date or that drive and that she marry him immediately.

She, however, remains committed to Dr. Grant and her work with him, and of course to her plot for revenge! Even though she is “strangely drawn” to Brett and his kisses, she does ask herself lots of questions about whether it’s love or lust (Gail asks herself a LOT of questions). And though Grant tries to express an interest in Gail and takes her out to dinner, she allows herself to be dragged off by Brett, whom they naturally meet in the restaurant, and swoons over his rudeness: “She knew Grant didn’t like it, but for the moment she didn’t care. Her heart was singing; she was strangely, almost unbearably happy. ‘Is this love?’ she wondered,” even though she had just been thinking, after the doctor asks her to call him by his first name, that “intimate friendship seemed natural, love was a beckoning shadow lurking just around every corner.” Her behavior on this first date does cool Grant’s ardor noticeably, and he asks her if her penchant for late-night parties is going to impact her ability to do her job well. “She felt they were no longer friends—almost they were enemies,” and cries herself to sleep, but then goes out with Brett almost every night, even oversleeping one morning and angrily deciding that Grant’s insistence she not marry is unfair. Gail is, in short, an erratic, unstable character.

Butspeaking of erratic, unstable charactersout on a deserted island one afternoon with Brett, he presses her yet again to marry him, and when she refuses him, he takes off in the boat and leaves her there. She takes a nap in a cave while waiting for him to return, and when she wakes up, she is trapped by the tide—the waves eventually lapping at her knees while she clings to a cliff—until her screams attract the attention of a fisherman who takes her back to Brett’s godfather’s house, where she is tucked into bed for days, and one gets the impression that Godfather has no intention of letting her leave. But on the third day she’s home alone and heads off for the phone in his office, and while rummaging in his desk for a phone book, she comes across a large pile of passports. What could this be about?

Though she might have been drowned by Brett’s alarming stunt, Gail promptly forgives him—“Why should she hold this against Brett?” Ummm, because he almost killed you when you refused to be bullied by him?—and continues dating him. Now Gail decides she’s going to buckle down and find out what happened to her parents, so she goes around asking everyone at Godfather’s cocktail parties if they knew who killed her parents—it’s kind of a mood-killer, actually—and soon everyone is telling her that she’s in danger and she’s feeling uneasy all the time.

Dr. Grant, meanwhile, apologizes to Gail, telling her that he grew up poor and had to work two jobs to get through medical school, so he doesn’t know how to relax, and asks her for another date. He eventually tells her he’s thinking of leaving Hong Kong because his boss is thwarting all his research efforts, and he thinks his work is being stolen for other governments. Suddenly Gail realizes—and you will be stunned to hear this—that she’s in love with Grant, “something she hadn’t realized. She knew now that deep down within her she had been in love with Grant for a very long time.” Right, since that time it occurred to her on page 8.

Now we have only to clear up the mystery of who is the murderer—and since the list of suspects includes only three people, it doesn’t take long—Gail connecting some extremely tenuous plot points in order to do so, but leaving a larger number of mysteries for us to puzzle over once everything has been “resolved.” If Godfather Tom is already rich, why is he fencing passports? Why does she instantly abandon her life-long plan for revenge, not even pressing charges since he’s done a few nice things in his past, and is suddenly declaring he has been planning to return the company to her anyway—sure he was!—and even forgiving him, which she sees as somehow a prerequisite for her continuing to be friends with Brett—though it’s not clear why she wants to be friends with Brett at all.

Logic and common sense are not widely employed in this book, which left me mostly irritated with heroine Gail for being such a wimpy, gullible victim who all but begs for the bad guys to come bludgeon her over the head. Gail’s adversarial relationship with the secretary Mildred is a cheap, unfortunate side note, as the desperate spinster is too blatantly mean, when her legitimate feelings of jealousy toward the beautiful, popular Gail could have been explored with more interest if the pair had actually been friends. (And there’s a creepy twist at the end when Mildred starts dating Grant’s evil boss and is seen staggering out of a restaurant with him: “What had Dr. Kalavitch given her to drink? And to what purpose?” Even enemies don’t let other women get date raped.) The food and scenery in Hong Kong are beautifully and lovingly depicted, but the few Asian characters in the book are not drawn without prejudice, and Hong Kong is described as a city with a veneer of civility but “there are innumerable rackets; gangsters in high positions—gangsters who would stop at nothing, not even murder.” So it’s another contribution from the White Doctor Foundation from me. I had high hopes for another book by Maysie Sopoushek after her fabulous Doctor’s Wife, but Doctor’s Nurse was a profound disappointment in virtually all respects, and I will approach her next book with a bit less of Nurse Gail’s wide-eyed innocence.

No comments:

Post a Comment