Saturday, April 13, 2024

Million Dollar Nurse

By Rebecca Marsh
(pseud. William Neubauer), ©1966
Cover illustration by Darrell Greene 

When pretty Dorothy Malloy left Buttrick Hospital to become wealthy Andrew Bossart’s private nurse, her orderly world changed overnight. Young and handsome, Andrew Bossart was recovering from an accidental gunshot wound. His reputation as a dangerous ladies’ man made some people wonder if the shot had been an accident after all … Despite Dorothy’s determination to remain uninvolved, she was too attractive a girl to escape Bossart’s attention—and too good a nurse to ignore the needs of her patient. Before long she found herself entangled in an unexpected mystery, a strange romantic triangle—and a scandal that would rock the city …


“There’s more to conversation than attractive legs.” 

“Even a hospital should be hospitable.”

“Like all career girls, you get flustered when someone behaves like you’re human.”

“I don’t think it helps a man’s innards when a bullet is shot into them.”

“There are proper and improper ways to go about achieving a desired object. You learn that quickly in surgery. You don’t incise down from the shoulder to remove an appendix. Similarly, you don’t club someone in order to reason with him.”

“In our special ways we’re all ill.”

Author William Neubauer, here writing as Rebecca Marsh, is one of my favorites. His plots are usually more intricate, and his heroines are smart, hard-working, sassy gals who put up with little nonsense. The problems with his books are that the romance part of the book is usually just crammed in around the margins, barely visible; the plots can sometimes get overly confusing; and the boyfriend is sometimes not especially desirable. Here he has done pretty well, as the plot is mostly navigable, but he did stick us with a middling man. At least we scored an amazing cover illustration.

Dorothy Malloy is a surgical nurse at Neubauer’s classic Buttrick Hospital—this noble, California coast–institution has hosted at least three other of his VNRNs (TV Nurse, Pam Green Rehabilitation Nurse, and Recovery Room Nurse) and some peripheral characters in this story (Dr Lee Vaughan, with whom Dorothy lunches one day, for example, is the alleged hero of TV Nurse) are stars in other books, which is a fun bonus for the die-hard Neubauer fan. She is an ambitious lass, hoping to be promoted to assistant chief—and her ambition is viewed with some skepticism around the hospital, because why would a woman want to be promoted?

Anyway, she’s called to special Andrew Mark Bossart, a devilishly handsome playboy who has gotten himself mixed up with Lisa Locatelli, a 17-year-old student nurse at Buttrick, as well as Catherine Cowell, the owner of a large corporation in town. The young gal swears Andy proposed to her, but then dumped her for the wealthy Catherine, so she calls Catherine to give her the down-low about Andy’s sneaky dealings, and then tries to kill herself—but is saved due to fast action on the part of her nursing school roommate. Catherine calls Andy over to her beach house—and the next we see him, he’s on the OR table with a bullet in his gut, and Dorothy is part of the team commissioned to dig it out and repair the damage.

She’s then transferred to the recovery ward unit (unfortunately we didn’t cross paths with Jane Kemp while we were there) to special Andy—but this puts her out of the running for a promotion, because “in the surgical suite she had status, even a type of seniority. Logically, the longer she remained there, the better her chances would be to make the jump to rank as a junior executive. But if she were popped into a recovery-room suite, she’d be the low girl in an area where promotions were few and far between.” The transfer is happening, we learn, because the chief of the surgical unit, Miss Sipsie, is dating Joe Elyot, an orthopedic tech, who is also seeing Dorothy, whom he might possibly prefer.

The head of the recovery room, Clara Dendrock, likewise recommends that Dorothy should be transferred to another department. Clara, it turns out, is upset that Dorothy didn’t sign a petition like all the other nurses opposing the expulsion of Lisa Locatelli, who has been deemed too unstable to go on with a nursing career. Dorothy has been one of Lisa’s chief mentors, so her “betrayal” of Lisa doesn’t sit well with the other nurses, but Dorothy is an astute player, and has already discussed her opinion that Lisa should be allowed to continue with Mrs. Dolezal, the superintendent of nurses, and feels that signing the petition might undercut her chances for promotion and won’t accomplish Lisa’s reinstatement.

Caring for Andy Bossart, Dorothy has a front-row seat to the drama. Though there is no proof that Catherine shot Andy—the gun has not been recovered, without which she apparently cannot be arrested—Andy, who’d been working a high-paying job ($25,000 a year!!!) at Catherine’s company is suing Catherine for a million dollars for loss of his career and, oh yeah, that hole in his gut. When he’s finally out of the hospital, he invites Dorothy to dinner to thank her for her hard work—but has also invited Catherine and the local newspaper columnist, Millicent Haight, to the party, and Catherine beans Dorothy on the head, giving her a black eye. This injury—plus her current political situation at the hospital—leads Mrs. Dolezal to give Dorothy two weeks off to recover, and Catherine, out of gratitude that Dorothy has not pressed charges, offers Catherine use of her beach cottage—the house where Andy was shot—to recover.

There she has lovely meals and walks on the grounds, sails on Catherine’s yacht, and pleasant conversations with Catherine’s housekeeper, who is another of the locals deeply devoted to Catherine—like Dorothy’s boyfriend, Joe Elyot, who was rescued from a life in the slums when Catherine, a high school classmate, offered to pay for his schooling to fit him for the job he currently holds.

Eventually all the threads are neatly tied up—the story of what happened to the gun, the alibi that is going to get Catherine off the hook for the shooting, Lisa’s reinstatement at the hospital, and Dorothy’s career—in a manner that is mostly understandable. We even wrap up Dorothy’s love life when she announces out of the blue—many Neubauer women have this annoying habit—that she is going to marry Joe. While we are certainly happy for almost everyone, and for Dorothy’s clever playing of her career and hospital politics, I wasn’t too please to see her end up with Joe.

Joe is clearly very devoted to Catherine out of gratitude for her help—to the extent that he helps fabricate her alibi and plant false evidence, basically abetting a felony assault—but he starts out the book as something of a cad, telling Dorothy on a date that he’d kissed Catherine once and dates other women, Miss Sipsie in particular. This hurts Dorothy’s feelings, so “he condescended to lean forward quickly and give her left cheek a greasy peck. As she drew back, flushing, he laughed.” It’s so amusing to be a jerk! Later he tells Dorothy that he’s chatted with several nurses who are upset with her about the petition business and that he’d defended her “because I like you,” but then complains that feeling like he wants to defend her can push him into marriage, and he doesn’t want to get married—and somehow Dorothy takes this for a compliment, but then gets mad when he tries to persuade her to sign the petition instead of supporting her decision. Next time we see him, he’s hanging out at the beach house with Dorothy and sighing that he should have tried to marry Catherine. Two pages after that, she decides to marry him while he’s not even present. So you see we don’t have a lot to admire in him.

Another odd thing about the book is that both Catherine and Andy end up getting inpatient psychiatric care—but Lisa, the would-be suicide who clearly needs it way more than anyone, does not. Instead, everyone refers to her suicide attempt as a “goof” that she shouldn’t be punished for. Overall, though, as I have said, this is a brisk, interesting, enjoyable book with an excellent heroine to admire. If William Neubauer here has not given us his best work, it's still better than most VNRNs out there, and easily worth an afternoon of your time.