Sunday, April 17, 2016

Nurse Missing

By Elizabeth Kellier, ©1961
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

When Anne Leatherington, a young R.N., accepted a private case at Craigash, an isolated ancient estate in the Scottish Highlands, she found herself confronted by one mystery after another. Suddenly, a torrent of questions overwhelmed her as she became a victim of her own curiosity. Why was her patient, the seemingly harmless, senile Mrs. McGray, terrified of her own stepson, Charles, the brooding owner of Craigash? And why was his past such a grim secret? But the darkest mystery of all was what had become of Anne’s predecessor, the previous nurse who had disappeared in curious circumstances. As Anne glimpsed the terrifying answers she would realize that the truth could destroy her and the man she had come to love.


Some novels are overly contrived, and this, I am sorry to report, is one of them. Anne Leatherington (speaking of contrived, how about that last name?) is a bit of a cipher as far as characters go, just sort of drifting along from one situation to another. Though she demonstrates an avid interest in interrogating everyone, she takes little actual initiative beyond that, right up until the end, when a frenzy of uncharacteristic action brings the whole mystery to a tidy close, only about 100 pages later than she should have.

Anne’s been hired to care for the elderly Mrs. McGray, who is a withered creature residing at a manor in the wilds of Scotland. En route to her new post, she’s thrust into mystery by the taxi driver, who tells Anne that the woman who previously held her position disappeared about two years ago, and hints that someone at Craigash manor “had something to do wi’ it.” Our strong, intrepid heroine is immediately overcome by the sensation that “some heavy, unseen door over at Craigash swung back reluctantly and waited for me to enter a fear-infested room that I might otherwise have escaped. Then, however, I was unaware of Fate’s stealthy hand shifting the course of my life, except perhaps as an icy finger pressed swiftly against my cheek, leaving me with a sense of uneasy anticipation and a tremor of fear which swept down my spine like a flame.” This, dear readers, is what we call over-reaction.

When Anne arrives at the manor, Martha Perryman the housekeeper perfectly channels Mrs. Danvers of Rebecca, displaying a cold and solicitous manner, severe bun, thin mouth, cold gray eyes, and monosyllabic sentences. She’s ridiculously devoted to Charles McGray, the owner of the manor, who is 30, arrogant, and rude to Anne at their first meeting. He’s involved with Stella Cunningham, a beautiful young woman with a fondness for horses and a well-shaped headbut we know thats not going to last!

We find out the missing nurse was a friendless orphan named Gerda with a difficult German last name, but the more we learn, the more mysteries bloom: If Gerda had left the manor that cold and stormy Friday night, how did she get away from the remote spot? If someone drove her, who was it? Why did she not come for her last paycheck? Whats so difficult about the name Schwarzenberg? And then the housemaid reveals that Gerda was going to have a baby … and a photo of the missing nurse is found in Mrs. McGray’s drawer … and it’s exactly like a half-finished painting that Anne came across in an unused  room down the hall … and Mrs. McGray seems so frightened of her stepson that she tries to jump out her bedroom window one evening just to get away from him …

Suddenly, in the books greatest mystery, it is revealed that Anne is in love with Charles; since he has been nothing but cold, remote, and all but nonexistent in her life to date, the reason why is completely unfathomable. And shortly after that, we learn that “he was a man like the country which had nurtured and surrounded him, strong, stark, yet with sudden unexpected touches of sensitive gentleness that could catch at a woman’s heart”—touches that have not at all been evident to us. Though he does smile at Anne once; I guess that’s what she meant. Soon he’s kissing her, but through a very oblique slip so mild that only the leading actors in a VNRN would pick up on it, she reveals that she knows that he painted the missing nurse’s portrait, and now he avoids her altogether, because this is clearly dangerous and offensive information.

To fill the hours Anne goes out with local playboy Paul Harrison, who is cash-strapped and makes no bones about it. In her usual ham-handed way, Anne attempts to pump Paul for information and ends up revealing more than she learns, that she thinks Charles murdered the nurse because she was pregnant with his child. A gleam springs to Paul’s eye and he begins to speak of blackmailand soon he’s paid off his car, which he had been on the brink of losing to the repo man!

Her career as an interrogator in shambles, Anne turns detective. She departs from Craigash on the convenient excuse that her patient has died, and heads for the nursing agency, obtaining the address they had on file for nurse Gerda. The folks at that address, it turns out, had bought the house from a Miss Schwarzenberg—but the sale occurred after Gerda had left Craigash! So Anne heads for the realtor’s office and begs for a copy of the bill of sale, which has another address for Miss Schwarzenberg. This clue is too much for our delicate Anne, and she instantly faints dead away. As soon as she recovers, however, she sets off for this new address, where she is led to Miss Schwarzenberg’s room and finds the alleged murder victim in a dressing gown reading magazines!!!

Their conversation is held off-stage, but the next scene opens with Gerda and Anne heading back to Craigash for a happy reunion between all the relevant parties. Well, maybe not so happy for some, as the guilty party snaps, “You’re more successful at amateur sleuthing than keeping your patients alive, Nurse Leatherington!” It’s a valid point. A lot of tidying up has to be done between quite a few of the characters, so as to straighten out all the loose ends and red herrings, but eventually it’s done, and all that’s left is for Anne’s man to claim her and we can close the book.

At 190 pages, this story is much too long. The slooooow revelation of the various clues in the first half makes for fairly dull reading, as the author tries to build a suspense about an issue that its really difficult to care about. There’s little life to the characters or the writing, almost no humor to speak of, no camp, and nothing, even with this many pages, to pin up under the Best Quotes section. Too many of Anne’s musing (but not amusing) questions pepper the story: “Was the gossip true?” “What about that portrait, anyway?” “How long would she go on?” “Had Charles ever loved any woman properly?” “Had Paul’s nonchalant remarks touched a spring that had unlocked the hidden door of truth or was I simply being rash and imaginative?” By the time I finished this book, I never wanted to see another question mark again. If it had been shorter and a little less forced, and endowed with a heroine with a bit more spine and a love interest who had at least some minor charm about him, it might have been a relatively pleasant book. But that’s a long list of ifs, so perhaps it would be best if we just acknowledge that this book doesn’t have much to recommend it.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Nurse on Location

By Virginia Roberts

When Five Star Pictures decided to shoot Island Intrigue on location on a beautiful Pacific island, Nurse Pat Taylor was put in charge of the health of the glamorous stars. To young Pat, this was a dream come true. But barely had Pat set up her tiny hospital when she met a strange young American doctor, John Stewart, mysteriously hiding himself in this remote tropic outpost, and found that by giving succor to a dying native girl, she had broken an implacable tribal law and aroused the primitive anger of the native chieftain. Here is an adventure which might happen to any nurse if she was nurse on location.


“Who but a movie star could walk right up and ask a man for a date? Here she was reluctant even to phone Catherine’s friend, Dr. John Stewart. It did seem aggressive.”

“A fascinating woman. Beautiful. Mysterious. Everything that intrigues a man.”

“Suddenly she thought of the scene at Los Angeles Airport, just before the plane left. He had clutched his wife and two children as though he thought he was never going to see them again. He must have some sort of complex.”

“What a real, down-to-earth attitude movie people have.”

“Young women. What a batch of champagne bubbles you all are.”

“Most people think that an anesthetist is some jerk who flips a vacuum over your nose and yells to breathe deep.”

“Later that afternoon, when Pat returned to the hut, she found Vivienne weeping with as much fervor as though she were being paid $5,000 a week to emote.”

“You’ve got to stop worrying about other people, and start relaxing. If you don’t, you’re apt to swell up like a blimp.”

“His specialty is mental disturbances. He might take one look at you and pop you into a sanitarium.”

“Haven’t you learned yet a girl has to flirt a little if she wants to catch a man?”

“If it’s a career you’re after, always remember it’s never more important than a woman’s appearance.”

“It’s never good technique to keep a man waiting—too long.”

“Advice is cheap when you’re giving it out.”

Pat Taylor has completed her nurse’s training and is about to embark on her graduate studies at Johns Hopkins to become a nurse anesthetist, but she has a few months to kill before school starts in the fall. Through the intervention of a former preceptor, she has scored a dream job: traveling to Fiji for the summer with a film crew that is making a major motion picture. She’s been asked to drop in on the preceptor’s old friend, John Stewart, who is a doctor doing some unspecified research into “mental diseases among people far away from civilization.” Needless to say, Pat is instantly smitten with Dr. Stewart: Though their telephone conversation is purely small talk and lasts less than a page, it results in his politely asking her to dinner, and after hanging up, she thinks, “I shall look forward to tonight more than any other night I can remember.” Though their date confirms Pat’s opinion of him as “the most fascinating man I’ll ever meet,” his career is put forth as something of a mystery: Though her friend has told her what he is studying, he doesn’t really talk about it (but she doesn’t ask, either), and she starts jumping to all sorts of wild conclusions: “Who are you? What are you? Why are you? Was he running away from something?”

As it is soon revealed, this propensity for wild flights of imagination is one of Pat’s major characteristics. Shortly after she moves into her clinic, a local boy carries in a very sick young native woman, who dies hours later of perforated appendicitis. Pat overhears the crew discussing how “those dumb natives are trying to put the blame for that girl’s death on poor Pat. … No telling what they’ll do.” From then on, the poor Fijians, previously described as warm, welcoming, and civilized, are viewed by Pat with increasing hysteria: They’re ferocious, angry, “mean and secretive and suspicious”—words that really could be used to describe Pat’s own attitude. Again and again, she’s freaking out because some local person happens to be behind her or is looking at her when she walks down the street. On virtually every other page there’s some nasty thought of hers about how when they speak to each other in their native tongue they are saying something “ugly and obscene” and how at any moment “the natives might strike.” If they ever did, I’d be inclined to jump in and help.
She voices her paranoid opinions to John Stewart, who manages to stay seated for the remainder of their date. Later, he tells her he loves her—but that he has no right to woo her. Pat’s delusions immediately take flight again: “Was he engaged? Married? What was it that suddenly caused a mountain to spring up between them? Why should he choose to remove her, at the flick of an eyelash, from his life?” Someone has been seriously skipping their meds. Eventually her time in the Pacific winds to a close, and there’s nothing but a luau between her and the plane ride home when she is asked to tend to another native child, this one a mere toddler, with an infected foot wound. She angrily agrees to see the child, and we are told that “here again was a mercy call she could not refuse and be true to her profession”—though it’s hard to see how Pat’s overwhelming fear and brusque treatment of the patient and his family could be called mercy.

Two days later, John Stewart shows up, for the first time since he told Pat he loved her but couldn’t see her any more, to let her know that the child had an allergic reaction to the antibiotics she had given him and had almost died. He helpfully reveals that it had taken every bit of his skill to convince the local chief not to “take matters into his own hands. Or did you know what those drums meant? The drums were for you, and it wasn’t a celebration in your honor.” Thanks, John. But now the natives love Pat, showering her with gifts and flowers when she's out and about, and we’re treated to a ghastly description of the natives as “a paradoxial people, teetering between savagery and civilization,” again, a description better suited for Pat herself. All that’s left is for Pat to be anointed princess of the island at the luau—the villagers all drop to their knees and shout, “Long live the white princess!” as, wearing a crown made of ferns and flowers, she ascends a podium to her throne—and we are hard-pressed to retain our lunch.

But wait, there’s more! Guess who is the white king of the island? Guess who relents and asks Pat to marry him? Guess who tells her, “You can forget about being a stuffy anesthetist. I’m the one who needs you”? Guess who instantly chucks her career aspirations and sighs, “No girl was a real woman until she possessed the love of the right man”? Guess who finally loses her struggle and throws up?
You’d think I’d learn by now that if there is ever anyone brown on the cover of one of these books, the interior is almost guaranteed to be filled with hateful racism. It’s really too bad, because if the prejudice had been edited from this book, it would have been quite pleasant: The writing is generally enjoyable, the author has a fine sense of humor, and the minor characters, anyway, are well-drawn and interesting. Unfortunately, the plot is thoroughly saturated with bigotry, not just against the Fijians but also, at the end, women as well. If you can manage to take an anthropologic view, examining the relics of a bygone era with a detached eye, you might get some enjoyment from this book, but the author just doesn’t make it easy.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Disaster Area Nurse

By Arlene Hale

The thunder roared and crashed about them—but Nurse Lynn Lawrence felt that the wildness of the storm was rivaled by the frantic racing of her own thoughts. She cast a glance at her fiancé, Greg Avery. Beside him, huddled helplessly, was the pretty Dawn Evans. There was no doubt that Greg was paying a great deal of attention to comforting Dawn—too much, Lynn thought. But there was another in the group of flood-marooned strangers. He was handsome, and smiled at Lynn in a way that sent the heart fluttering. Surely things would right themselves once they got back to civilization. But in a disaster like this, a short time could lead to a broken-hearted eternity.


“I’m not very hot for hardware.”

I had assumed that Lynn Lawrence would be a public service nurse who manned the battle stations during a disaster, à la Disaster Nurse, but no, Lynn is actually just a nurse who gets caught in a disaster. She and her fiancé Greg Avery are taking a bus to Lynn’s rural home, where Greg is to finally meet her parents—and he is none too happy about it, either—when ferocious rains cause the rivers to flood, stranding Lynn, Greg, four other passengers, the bus driver, and a passing motorist at a nearby farmhouse. Completely surrounded by water, the motley crew tries to make the best of things. Well, not all of them: Greg is whining and crabby at the outset. Actually, Greg’s downfall is not entirely unsuspected, as he’s one of these boyfriends about whom few compliments can be paid even from the opening pages, where he is billed as intense, nervous, skeptical, impatient, and resentful. One can easily see why Lynn wants to marry him.

He’s not the only one who can’t keep it together: Poor little Dawn Evans spends most of her time shrieking or sobbing, and only Greg seems to be able to comfort her. When Dawn is unable to get to her bedroom alone, it’s Greg who accompanies her, while Lynn watches, “an alarm bell ringing in her head.”  When Lynn follows them a few minutes later, she finds Greg holding the weeping Dawn in his arms, puts Dawn to bed with a glass of water and an aspirin, then hauls Greg off by the ear for a few words. He just seems pleased that she’s jealous. “Sometimes you’re so self-sufficient, I wonder what you can see in me,” he tells her. Uh oh.

Hypocrisy soon unfolds in spades when the motorist they’re stranded with, Marshall Davis, starts trotting around after Lynn, grabs her in the hallway and only lets go when Lynn insists—but soon he’s back, kissing her and telling her that he’s in love with her, which is certainly farther than Greg has gotten with Dawn. Though she feels “she was already throwing her pride to the winds where Greg was concerned, almost begging him to concentrate on her, to forget another woman,” at the same time when Marshall corners her again, “this time when he kissed her she was too tired to fight him.”

As this love quadrangle is unfolding, the 7-year-old daughter of the couple who live in the farmhouse, little Diane Wilson, has inconveniently decided this is the time to come down with appendicitis. Lynn attempts to “scatter the infection” with cold packs to the abdomen and the four remaining aspirins in the house (too bad she wasted one on the hysterical Dawn!), but those of us with a nodding acquaintance with modern medicine will not be surprised to learn this doesn’t work. Eventually Lynn, who has been keeping mum for some bizarre reason about the seriousness of Diane’s condition, confesses to Marshall how sick the child actually is, and Marshall sets about building a boat so as to go for help. Needless to say, his desperate voyage is made in the pitch black of night and involves encounters with large floating trees and a ducking or two, but soon a helicopter is landing in the back yard to take the girl off to the hospital. The next day the boats come to rescue them, and back in civilization, Lynn and Greg decide to end their engagement—but not to worry, by the time the day is over, there are two new ones to announce.

This book isn’t terrible, but the double standard Lynn operates under is just perplexing. I was sorry that our heroine, an outstanding surgical nurse (are there any other kind in a VNRN?), didn’t just do the appendectomy herself, like in Wings for Nurse Bennett, but our heroine isn’t that strong. The marooned-on-an-island plot has lots of promise—just ask any of the innumerable books, movies, and TV shows that have done well with it—but Arlene Hale is too pedantic to score any real success with it. The story unfolds automatically, with little suspense or excitement, so there’s really not much to be gained from reading it. With a title as fantastic as Disaster Area Nurse, the disappointment is all the worse.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Wings for Nurse Bennett

By Adeline McElfresh, ©1960

“Office-dressing” … That, Sarah thought wryly, was exactly what she had been as nurse to the handsome and successful Dr. Ralph Caldwell Porter. Looking wand-slim and elegant in her white nylon uniform, her heaviest duty had been to stand by serenely while Ralph administered to the imaginary needs of some fawning, simpering female. And now she was suddenly in the wilds of Alaska, newly appointed stewardess of the Alaska Passenger and Freight Airlines, about to board the frighteningly small and flimsy-looking plane for her first trip. But at least, she assured herself, here she could be useful. And perhaps, in this new land, she would get a new perspective on her life. Because she had to make up her mind about Ralph. She had to decide whether she could marry a man she loved—but didn’t respect.


“ ‘Can you imagine a man ever wanting to go to bed with Miss Davenport, darling?’ Ralph had asked her once when, miraculously, the waiting room was empty. ‘She’s a good nurse—the best in Dayton, barring not even you, but ugh.’ He had kissed her. ‘Don’t ever let yourself get fat and frumpy, sweetheart.’ ”

Sarah Bennett is working as a flight attendant on a small Alaskan airline (apparently in the old days flight attendants were nurses as well; in any case, she is one). She’s taking time away from her job working for Dr. Ralph Caldwell Porter, who is just as he sounds: A pompous, society doctor who panders to neurotic wealthy women, and who plans to marry Sarah and turn her into one.  She’s desperately in love with Ralph and can’t wait to marry him, she says, but is constantly thinking things like how great it was to be a flight attendant, “a member of the team, just as she had been at the hospital, as she had not been, not really, in Ralph’s office.” But she’s managed to tear herself from his well-groomed side for a few months to step onto the plane, subbing on the job formerly held by her old friend and wife of the pilot Paul Fergis; Jenny Fergis is pregnant, and so grounded. It’s Sarahs third day on the job when this particular flight takes off from Killmoose to Tanacross, and not half an hour into the flight, one of the passengers steps into the cockpit with a revolver and knocks out Al Malcolm, the co-pilot.

Back at air control, the radio is blasting reports of three men who crashed a stolen Cessna near Killmoose and haven’t been seen since. The men are wanted for questioning in the attempted sabotage of one of the United States’ Distant Early Warning bases in far northern Alaska—these would be the bases where, during the Cold War, people sat around and watched the skies for incoming Soviet nuclear missiles, so they could call home and say goodbye before the missiles arrived on American soil. The air traffic folks instantly recognize from the descriptions that these guys are on Sarah’s flight!! Now everyone is combing the Alaskan wilds, but it’s a lot of ground to cover, so things are looking grim…

Meanwhile, the gun-toting head basher puts the plane down in a clearing hundreds of miles off course and hustles everyone except his two co-conspirators off the plane, then takes off again. So now the story’s narrative jumps from the worried air controllers listening to the news, to the passengers trying to survive in dilapidated miners’ cabins in the woods, to Paul Fergis and a passenger who have set off through the Alaskan winter to try to find help. As the passengers trap rabbits and build bedding out of spruce boughs, Al Malcolm is increasingly warming the cockles of Sarah’s heart, though she tries again and again to remind herself that “she was in love with Ralph, she was going to marry him—to her Al Malcolm could be no more than Paul Fergis’s co-pilot.” But there’s just the small problem that Ralph is a philandering ass, and is never set up to be anything but, even to Sarah: “Sarah wished she could think of Ralph Porter without something unpleasant nudging into her mind,” she thinks before we’re a quarter of the way through the book—“Why did she keep thinking of Ralph? Remembering things that made her slightly sick at her stomach.” I wonder how everything is going to turn out?

Of course, the passengers that the bad guys have been kind enough to abandon rather than simply murder outright are prone to all sorts of health issues.  Needless to say, everything turns out swimmingly for the stranded passengers, who have the capable Sarah to steer them through their medical crises, though she is inclined to a hysterical interior monologue: “Oh, God, Sarah thought. Suppose something is going wrong?” she wonders when she’s delivering a baby, which despite her fears—“Oh, God! Was the baby stillborn? After all this—” is perfectly healthy, only now she’s got to concoct something else to worry about, like the baby catching “pneumonia, here—” But it doesn’t, so on to the next emergency: One man, unfortunately named George Jefferson, develops right lower quadrant pain and “Sarah’s breath caught in her throat. Not appendicitis! Please, God, don’t let it be appendicitis.” But it is, and now we have pages of watching George’s temperature rise: “Four-tenths in an hour? Oh, God!” But she convinces Al Malcolm to assist her with the surgery, which she pulls off effortlessly in 43 minutes. Now she’s worried that she’ll go to jail: “What would they call it, practicing surgery without a license? Or—or criminal negligence?” For crying out loud, someone get this woman a Xanax!

Eventually the two men wandering the wilderness are spotted by a rescue plane, the party in the woods is whisked back to civilization, George Jefferson recovers easily and reveals that he is actually an FBI agent assigned to nab the bad guys who hijacked the plane—not a very good one, it seems—and the bad guys, not being very good pilots, are discovered to have crashed the second plane as well and killed themselves in the process. Sarah finds she’s not going to jail or lose her job, and that she does not love Ralph after all. Not to worry, though, someone else is waiting to offer her marriage on the last page, and then—oh, God!—we can finally close the book.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Nurse in Las Vegas

By Jane Converse, ©1975
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

Lana was never sure if she had taken the Prince case because of the lure of Hollywood and Las Vegas, or because Dr. Gil Whitaker had practically forbidden her to get involved. But what started out as an uncomplicated case and a chance to be near the doctor she loved turned into a nightmare. Her patient, famed comedian Reggie Prince, decided he wanted a closer relationship with Lana than medical rules required. And he certainly was a charming host, surrounding her with the glamour of TV, nightclubs, and posh estates. But nothing seemed to work out right. As Reggie’s attentions increased, Gil seemed to content to drop out of the picture. Was she doomed to lose the man she loved over a one-sided flirtation with a Hollywood Romeo…?


“A thing doesn’t hurt any less because it’s trite.”

“If this is what the doctor ordered, I’m ready to cooperate.”

“She was dark-haired, dark-eyed, a sultry siren-type who had taken on pounds along with years and was now desperately trying, with the aid of cosmetics and an expensive, hopefully slimming pants suit, to fight the battle against middle age.”

Our heroine, Lana Stafford RN, is a dope. She’s in love with Dr. Gil Whitaker, who operates a specialty practice, treating patients who are movie stars, writers, and television personalities. He’s gone to lunch with her a few times and once to the movies, but he just hasn’t demonstrated any real interest, damn the man. Then Lana learns of a private duty job caring for one of his patients, fading comedian Reggie Prince, and decides to apply for the job, just so she will be able to see Gil from time to time … and, just maybe, “in a glittering atmosphere, not hushed and subdued and miserable, where she wasn’t overworked empathizing with a dying patient, he would see her in a different light.” Gil takes her to dinner in an attempt to talk her out of the job, calling her childish and naïve to think that caring for this allegedly glamorous personality will be anything but hell on wheels. But she insists until, “half irate,” he agrees to take her to meet Reggie Prince to see how awful he really is.

At Reggie’s monstrous, Grecian-style mansion, the Prince puts on quite a show, screaming at his employees and discussing the merits of rose-hip tea and ocean kelp diets with Gil. The doctor, the only one in the room with any sense, suggests that instead of dieting, Reggie should stop drinking, smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, and popping benzos, but Reggie seems less than interested in this advice. So naturally Lana decides to take the job, because “it would be fun, going to Vegas, being around during the filming of a TV special,” even though Gil is livid that she has disregarded his advice. Maybe not the best way to win his affection, but that’s just my opinion. Curiously, Lana seems bewildered that Gil doesn’t kiss her goodnight when he drops her off.

On the job, she finds she has little to do except lie around the pool and unsuccessfully attempt to persuade Reggie to stop drinking, smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, and popping benzos. Despite his utter disregard for her advice, and his increasing regard for her figure, Lana adopts a protective attitude toward him, suggesting to his ex-wife and current girlfriend that Reggie is “wound up like a clock spring,” and doesn’t need them “hassling him about whatever it is that’s annoying you.” This does not win her any friends, needless to say, and it’s also rather inexplicable, as there is really nothing at all in this character to arouse pity.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the story involves watching Reggie wind himself and his staff into increasing frenzies as they prepare for the taping of a TV special that they are writing and producing. Reggie is in dire straits, it turns out, and the special is intended to revive his wilting career. Lana feels increasingly sorry for him, despite his abusive and self-destructive behavior, and continues to feel puzzled and hurt that Gil is cold and distant. Neither of her attitudes toward these men is in the least bit comprehensible, which makes the book seem a lot longer than it actually is.

Eventually Reggie and his motley staff head for Las Vegas to tape his show. Given the hysteria Reggie has worked himself into, it is small wonder that the show is a complete flop. Lana, oddly, lies to him and tells him how great he was—she’s traded in the role of nurse for that of major enabler. Then Reggie starts gambling heavily with three vicious-looking sharks, and when the big loss comes, Reggie literally hustles Lana out the back door onto a private jet that takes them to his ranch in Texas. The rest of the gang catches up a few days later, scared and pissed off, and Reggie’s business manager has been beaten to a pulp to boot. Turns out Reggie’s in the hole for $150,000 and has 48 hours to pay or he’ll be fish food—but naturally he’s in debt up to his bloodshot eyeballs and can’t come up with the dough. When the thugs finally track Reggie down, they’re not too happy, and one of Reggie’s party is murdered. Lana is kidnapped so they can “dispose of the witness”—though they could have just killed her on the spot—but before they have a chance to do her in, the cops track them down, shoot up the car, and rescue Lana, miraculously unhurt. Reggie is carted off to the psychiatric ward, and Lana has two pages at the end to admit how wrong she was to not do as Gil had asked. And listen to his admonishments: “Like, when you promise to love, honor, and cherish, that’s not the end of the line. You’ll have to listen to my advice. When I think I know what’s good for you, you’ll have to pay attention,” he tells her, and not at all smugly, either.

Jane Converse does enjoy the over-the-top Hollywood character, but Reggie is just an abusive ass, unpleasant to read about. Lana’s inexplicable concern for him and immediate enlistment as enabler-in-chief makes the book even less enjoyable. Jane Converse will always occupy a tender place in my heart, largely for her magnificent Surf Safari Nurse, but this was just not one of her better efforts, and I suggest that you leave Las Vegas behind.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hockey Star Nurse

By Diana Douglas (pseud. Richard Wilkes-Hunter), ©1972
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

Lovely, dark-haired Tina Grahame, private nurse to wealthy Mrs. Derwent, was enjoying having her patient’s two handsome, eligible sons in love with her. Rugged, headstrong Terry Derwent showed his open admiration for Tina despite his involvement with a society girl. A star hockey player, Terry reveled in the adulation and glamor that went with being a sports star. He was delighted to find that Tina understood the strong hold the game had on him, for her own brother was an internationally famous hockey player. But it was Shane, Terry’s younger brother, a dedicated doctor, to whom Tina found herself turning more and more. In Tina’s perplexed heart the score for the rivals in love was tied. Gentle, considerate Shane was obviously in love with her—and they shared the special world of medicine. But Terry was not a man whose kiss she could easily forget …


“My experience of nurses is that they’re always ravenous and cost a fortune to feed.”

“If I marry I’d want my woman to be a wife, not a nurse.”

“The human male has certain instinctive, but very definite, ideas about such things as ownership when it concerns a favorite girl.”

“It was not a way-out place, though some of the dancers wore hippie clothes.”

This is the tenth book by Diana Douglas, aka Richard Wilkes-Hunter, we’ve discussed in these virtual pages. I wish I could say that his productivity was in any way an indication of talent, but no. I read his books mostly so that I will be done with them sooner.

In this relatively benign little number, Tina Grahame is not, in fact, a hockey star. Which you are surely not shocked to learn, because, as we are told early on, “It’s not a game for girls.” She did play a bit when she was younger, to help the boys fill up the sides, but “grew out of it”—she wasn’t pushed, she jumped. Her brother, however, went on to become a famous goalie for a Canadian hockey team, so maybe the book’s title should be Hockey Star’s Nurse Sister.

Tina hires on at the home of Senator Derwent to care for his wife, who has no first name and multiple sclerosis. Living at the house, she spends a lot of time with the Derwent sons, Terry and Shane. Terry has decided to try out for a professional hockey team, and being the sister of a hockey star makes her knowledgeable enough to pass judgment on Terry’s playing, which is weak. Besides, he gets into fights on the ice, and is even sent to the penalty box for fighting! “It hasn’t happened all that often in league games I’ve seen,” Tina sneers at Terry. But soon Terry comes around, starts playing better and quits fighting, and scores a few game-winning goals. Still, Tina is not impressed, and finds Terry rude, supercilious, conceited, and horrid, among other poor qualities. “I hate you, Terry Derwent,” she thinks, which is all but a guarantee she’ll end up kissing him at some point in the book, if not out-and-out marrying him.

Meanwhile, the other Derwent son Shane went to Harvard Medical School and is doing his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Poor Shane is a plodder,” moans his mother, who clearly has no favorites. Tina likes Shane, but early on they have a conversation in which each of them discusses how they would not want their spouse to be a doctor or a nurse. Which is all but a guarantee she’ll end up kissing him at some point in the book, if not out-and-out marrying him. Indeed, as she walks along Tremont Street in Boston on her day off (wandering into the movie “Love Story,” not realizing what it was about, “midway through the movie she began wishing she’d skipped the film,” and walking out before it was over), she decides that she is falling in love with Shane, “despite her hang-ups about marrying a doctor.”

Nonetheless, she accepts a date with Terry, and smooches him good in his car afterward. He tries to tell her that he’s falling in love with her, but she obtusely pretends she doesn’t understand what he’s saying, the tease. Then June’s disease relapses, and she becomes increasingly sick, demanding more and more of Tina’s time, so our nurse hasn’t any time for breaking hearts. Eventually June succumbs to her disease—another big surprise you will hate me for revealing—and Tina leaves the Derwent estate, heading home for a well-deserved vacation. And to watch the playoff game between Terry’s team and her brother’s. During the game, the camera pans to one brother’s surprise fiancée, a woman he had previously stated he would never marry, so all there is left to do is wait for the other brother to pop in and declare his troth, and this book is all wrapped up. And not a moment too soon. While not as out-and-out horrifying as the majority of this author’s books, Hockey Star Nurse is perfunctory and dull, and the only reason to read it is to be horrified by the dated attitudes about women and the utter disregard for a patient’s rights; June dies not ever knowing what disease she had. Probably not the best reasons to read a book, but that’s all I have to offer you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Night-Duty Nurse

By Katherine McComb, ©1970

Pretty red-haired Karen Hayden was new at the hospital, but already she had a reputation for efficiency and dedication—since work came first in her life … Then one night a tragic explosion brought scores of emergency patients to the hospital. In the excitement Karen was kissed by Clay Palmer—the handsome, aloof new intern all the nurses were whispering about. After that kiss, sensible as she was, Karen could not wipe the moody Dr. Palmer from her dreams. It was only when Clay Palmer turned all his attention toward a female patient that Karen agreed to date the flirtatious Jack Arlen, an ex-patient of her own, and the son of the most influential man in town. But Jack Arlen was more than an irresponsible playboy, as Karen would soon learn—and Clay Palmer was not a man whose kiss she could easily forget ….


“Right now she was all for planned parenthood, though she knew that on the following day she would change her mind.”

“Close my eyes—with you to look at?”

“Did you, by any chance, have surgery for the removal of the heart, and then run away before they could transplant the new one?”

“I’m going to ask those doctors over there to examine you if they want to discover a sensational phenomenon—a living woman without a heart.”

“ ‘I formed the habit of eating early in life,’ she told him, ‘and I don’t seem able to break the addiction.’ ”

“Did anybody ever tell you how pretty you are when you’re angry? I see now why fishwives always keep their husbands.”

This book opens with a bang—a literal one, as a ship loaded with crude oil explodes in the harbor outside the hospital. “Enemy attack!” gasps our paranoid heroine, Karen Hayden, as she scrambles to her feet. She reports to Emergency, where she is teamed with the dreamy new resident to help a young man with a severe leg injury. Dr. Clay Palmer is back from a stint in Vietnam that seems to have left him rather crabby, as his first remark to her is, “Stop your daydreaming, Nurse!” To his credit, he apologizes in the cafeteria later, but as Karen starts babbling on about how the patient was petrified he would lose his leg: “It’s like being half a man,” she says understandingly, and Dr. Palmer abruptly stalks off.

Karen quickly recovers from this unfortunate gaffe, or at least with us readers, as she’s soon bantering with her friend Lorna with a sense of humor often relegated to minor characters. With Dr. Palmer, however, it’s another story, and the next time they meet he overhears her saying to a group of tittering nurses, “He has a disposition about as sweet as a crabapple!” Awkward! To her credit, however, she immediately apologizes. He asks about new patient Jack Arlen, spoiled son of wealthy Judge Arlen, who’s cracked up his head and his latest sports car and wants Karen to rub his pains away and otherwise gratify his every whim while he’s in the hospital. Dr. Palmer offers to get young Jack a special so as to free Karen from his wiles, but she tosses her head and declares, “I can take care of myself!” In response to this, Dr. Palmer grabs her and kisses her—and when she kisses him back, he pushes her away and says, “All women are vulnerable.” There is just no way to leave this scene with any fondness at all for Dr. Clay Palmer. And we are reminded of this on two other occasions, when Karen recalls “a young, brash doctor who had kissed her to show his superior strength and laughed at her anger.” But—and you will not be surprised to hear it—her heart is constantly racing or doing double flips or hopping and skipping like a frolicsome rabbit, I’m sorry to report, every time he is near.

Soon the wise “old” charge nurse (she’s 40) is telling Karen that Dr. Palmer is in love with her, but she’s finally relented and started going out with Jack, who respects her fortitude, though the two are really just good friends. Dr. Palmer doesn’t know that, however, and starts dating a rich widow: “My advice to any working girl is: ‘Marry for money.’ That’s what I intend to do—if I ever marry,” he tells her. In the meantime, there’s a young girl with a bone cancer in her leg who needs an amputation, and who runs away from the hospital because her mother insists that she’s better off dead than with just one leg: “What man would want to marry a girl with one leg?” she shrieks. But Karen tries to calm the girl down by telling her that “many amputees live normal, happy lives”—a curious about-face from her earlier position. And after a quiet half-hour chat with Dr. Palmer, young Laurie bravely marches off for her amputation, and “a fund had been started by the townspeople to buy Laurie the best leg possible.”

Eventually Jack proposes, and Karen turns him down because she is not in love with him. He suggests it’s because she thinks he’s an irresponsible kid, she essentially agrees, and he speeds off down the street in a huff. Needless to say, he’s later found with the wreckage of his car wrapped around a tree, with a girl “from the wrong side of the tracks” in the passenger’s seat. Karen soon learns that the girl, Nancy Lord, has recently acquired a new last name—she’s Nancy Alden! It turns out that Nancy and Jack had been in love since they were kids, only Jack was too worried about what his father would say to marry her. Karen’s barb, as it happens, was exactly what he needed to pop the question to the right woman. Who is now in surgery having her skull fracture repaired. You’d think this crisis is going to be the one that skates us into the book’s finale, but no—the darned hospital catches on fire, and it’s up to Karen to rescue at least two-thirds of the patients when some of the more skittish nurses abandon their posts. Dr. Palmer, even more heroic than Karen, is the last one out of the building and suffers some burns, but Karen is there to nurse him back to health.

There’s a little bit of the usual “he doesn’t love he” waffling, unfortunately, at the bitter end when the rich widow Dr. Palmer had toyed with briefly returns to the scene of the crime, which mars the ending slightly. But it’s over as quickly as most of the various scenes in this book, which at times gave me a bit of vertigo with its rapid spinning from topic to topic. But overall this is an enjoyable and amusing book, easily worth the two hours it will take you to blaze through it.