Sunday, May 12, 2024

Nurse Madeline of Eden Grove

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1965

When her old friend Miss Emily Eden left Staff Nurse Madeline her large house, Madeline decided to turn it into a much-needed nursing home. It meant, among other things, that she would be able to see a lot more of the attractive surgeon Michael Foyle—but would it make him any more interested in her?


“People find their happiness in the most unexpected places.” 

Madeline Frazer is a very nice young nurse who works in a small British hospital. I’m not a person who flings the word nice around with abandon, but I have to admit that Nurse Madeline is nice: polite, kind, pleasing, agreeable and respectable, as Merriam and Webster suggest the word should connote. But that, unfortunately, is about all she is. She is not witty or spunky or tenacious or quirky or interesting. And neither is her book. 

Madeline frequently visits wealthy 83-year-old Emily Eden, who lives in the stately eponymous manor house, because the old lady was also a victim in the train crash that killed her parents though Madeline survived, and the lady bizarrely took Madeline in after that. Now Madeline visits weekly on her days off, if the young swain who has captured her eye, up-and-coming plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Foyle, has other plans. But Michael is not a lover who is going to last long, as we soon know this even if Madeline isn’t, because he is one of those young doctors who has “an aura of ruthlessness” and “whose main ambition is to have an outsize bank balance.”

We take a while to get around to Miss Emily’s sad demise, and learn that she has left the house to Madeline—and perfect timing, too, because a group of doctors including Dr. Foyle is trying to open a nursing home but lack a suitable building—and Eden Grove is perfect!

Madeline feels obliged to reach out to Richard Eden, Miss Emily’s only living relative, a nephew who is mildly successful writer—but Miss Emily has unfairly refused to admit him into her presence, much less her affection, because she disapproved of his mother (for no good reason, of course). In the course of discussing Miss Emily’s estate, Madeline and Richard Eden have several telephone conversations, during which he assures her that he is quite happy for her to have the house. He sends her a copy of his latest book, written under the name Richard Prentiss (his mother’s maiden name), so she starts dreaming a little about this mystery man.

Then she meets with Richard Grey, a man at the attorney’s office, to discuss the bequest, and tells him with passionate fervor about her hopes for the nursing home, and the attorneys arrange the lease of the house for her—but she keeps thinking of Richard Grey, and soon he’s ringing her up and asking her out. But isn’t it funny how much Richard Grey and Richard Eden sound alike, and how they share the same first name!

She spends a week’s vacation with Richard Grey—Richard Eden is away assisting with the filming of one of his books—and soon finds that thoughts of him are driving any lingering regrets about Michael Foyle away, even if that fickle lad, now finding Madeline less interested, doubles down on his pursuit of her, much to the chagrin of snippy Dr. Irene Stapleton! But Richard Grey also has to leave town for weeks or months on end for reasons he never explains—Madeline assumes it’s confidential business for the law firm. He also refrains from mentioning his undying love for her, leaving her feeling a bit uncertain—though we savvy VNRN readers have no doubts, do we, folks?

The usual tempest in a teapot occurs—Michael kisses Madeline, wouldn’t you know it, just as Dr. Irene is walking into the room, and when Richard Grey shows up the next day to tell Madeline a Big Secret, will this not-what-it-seemed kiss, or Richard’s mystery, destroy Madeline’s happiness forever?

This book is perfectly pleasant. There are a few quietly enjoyable moments, such as the relationship between Madeline and Margaret Barret, the new Matron of Eden Grove Nursing Home, and I really cannot find much fault with the book, but it just does not rise above nice. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad, I leave for you to decide.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Beauty Doctor’s Nurse

By W.E.D. Ross, ©1971
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

Lovely blonde nurse Irene Hunt considered herself lucky to be working in such a fascinating field as plastic surgery. And her growing romance with handsome, readheaded Dr. Max Marshall promised a happy future. Then came the anonymous letter about Max that changed everything—that made her determined to put him out of her mind, to close the door on the past. But transferring to another hospital became more involved than she had anticipated. And even her friendship with the brilliant young plastic surgeon, Dr. Ralph Grant, became more than just a friendship. As Irene found herself drawing closer and closer to Ralph, Max made an unexpected reappearance, eager to resume the romance she thought was over. Could Irene trust her heart to lead her to true love …?


“Many people are responsible for their ravaged faces in the first place. It’s not age alone that destroys their appearance. Leonardo da Vinci said centuries ago that when a man is past forty years of age, he is responsible for the head he has. And I can vouch for its truth. I can almost tag them when they come into the office Sometimes I feel like calling them Mr. Greed or Mr. Lust or Miss Avarice. It’s written that plainly in their faces.” 

“That’s the attraction of buffets. They give you a chance to be a glutton in style.”

Irene Hall works at Manhattan General with two great plastic surgeons, Dr. Cabell Grant and his nephew, Ralph. Irene had been dating Ralph, but it had turned out that he had also been “seeing socially a few times between operations” one of his patients who has having a series of operations done to remove a birthmark on her face, “a young woman patient, attractive but definitely neurotic” who had “taken his attention as a sign of love” and, when Ralph told her he did not love her, had attempted suicide, leaving a note with “hysterical, pathetic references to her love for Ralph Grant, and directly accused him of leading her on.” The ensuing scandal had led Dr. Grant to “surprise everyone by turning vindictively on his nephew and accuse him of breach of professional etiquette.” Summarily fired, Ralph had moved to Connecticut to rebuild his career under an aging plastic surgery expert, Dr. Franz Lederer, now 80 and too arthritic to perform advanced surgeries. The feeling at the hospital, we are told, is that Dr. Grant had been “much too harsh and quite unfair” to Ralph. Irene shares this opinion, though she has a personal stake in the matter because “she’d gone out with him several times.” 

After Ralph had left, she’d started dating Dr. Max Marshall, and “it was taken for granted around the hospital that she and Max were going together” though they were not engaged. But her roommate didn’t like Max and thought he was “glib,” and Irene decides “there had been lots of small warnings,” though we’re not given any real examples other than that he was too poor to take her out—“he was supporting a semi-invalid father and trying to set up a practice”—and so came to her house for dinner a lot, so “she hadn’t expected him to spend much money on her. And he hadn’t!” That bastard!

She gets an anonymous letter in the mail—who had sent it we never learn—that informs her that Max had also been dating another nurse at the hospital. So she quits her job and takes a position with Ralph Grant—and then has a conversation with Max, telling him that it’s over between them, not exactly demonstrating much faith in Max if she trusts an anonymous letter to such a degree that she’ll turn her entire life upside down over it.

In numerous scenes, Max apologizes again and again, acknowledges his mistake, ends it with the other nurse, and tells Irene that he loves her. But cold-hearted Irene is completely unable to forgive the apparent fact that Max as exposed her to “gossip and snickers” in the hospital, and off she goes to Connecticut. It seems to me that Max had a lucky escape.

On her first day at Ralph’s hospital, she meets a nurse who is in love with Ralph and whom he has been dating. She declares to Nurse Blanche that “she’d only known Ralph in the most casual way and so couldn’t possible see herself as a rival for his affections.” Then she sees Ralph, and he tells her that he’s in love with her and “was on the point of asking you to marry me” before he’d been driven from New York. Irene replies that if she had known this, she wouldn’t have taken the job—but on the next page, he asks, “Do you think we could pick up where we left off?” And she literally replies, “Why not?” and their subsequent kiss “spoke eloquently of their mutual need,” and now they are “making vague plans for the added happiness that lay ahead.” I’m really struggling to find much honor in Nurse Irene Hunt.

The main crisis of the book arrives in the form of a poor, shifty couple who want a scar from a car crash removed from the woman’s face. They had seen Dr. Grant in Manhattan, who had not done the operation for unclear reasons, and now they want Ralph to do the job. He feels, though, that the couple is hiding something—intuitive Irene just thinks “it’s mostly because they’ve been through a good deal, and this operations means a great deal to them”—but Ralph, after discussing the case with Dr. Grant, agrees to do the surgery, and the woman dies on the table from a severe allergy to the anesthetic. Now the question is, who is to blame? Did the couple deliberately withhold the information of the allergy? Had Dr. Grant known and not told Ralph? Had Ralph been aware and gone ahead anyway?

The reveal at the end, I must say, is unsatisfying. The not-surprising fact that the couple knew and didn’t tell is acknowledged, but one of the two Drs. Grant is also in on the secret, and has their own personal and parenthetical misdoings to add to the mix. The problem with this book—actually, as per most books by Mr. Ross, there are a few—is that the massively incorrect moral assumption in the foundational scenario of Ralph and Max’s respective “guilt” for their social crimes. Ralph has indeed, as Dr. Grant states, committed a severe ethics breach in dating a patient he was actively treating, truly shocking to my eye and one that should absolutely result in dismissal from his job if not his profession, and why Irene and apparently the rest of the staff sees this as inconsequential is unfathomable. Furthermore, it is clear that Ralph was dating Irene and his unfortunate patient/victim at the same time, yet Irene waltzes lightly into Ralph’s arms and an engagement on her first day in Connecticut.

Max, meanwhile, seems to be guilty mostly of being too poor to take Irene to restaurants and of seeing a wealthy nurse—Irene makes much of the idea that Max  must be planning to marry her for her money and social connections, though he never says that’s the case and clearly prefers Irene; he is the first male character I know who cries when she dumps him. Dating or kissing multiple women, even when engaged, is an activity that men often engage in completely without comment in many VNRNs, so it’s unclear to me, when Max is openly sorry and repentant for an apparently minor crime, is he given the cruel boot without even a hearing? And frankly, I liked Max more than Ralph. Worse, Irene is a completely flat character. She demonstrates little charisma, personality, wit or intelligence—she can’t even see the truth of the unfortunate couple—so part from her (of course) pretty face, she ahs nothing to offer her boyfriends or, more importantly, the reader.  So this is one of the dreaded C-grade novels—not great but not so laughingly bad to be entertaining in a different way. This story would need a substantial makeover from an editor’s sharp scalpel to make it at all worth looking at, so I suggest you just enjoy the Alan Kass cover illustration and move on to something with more character.