Monday, January 26, 2015

Mountain Nurse

By Peggy Gaddis, ©1959

"I’m not going to ask you to marry me," Ken said—and Julie felt the words like a blow. For one awful moment she was speechless. Then her angry, hurting words rushed out. "I don’t want you to ask me to marry you! I wouldn’t even if you did!" After all, why should she? Her fabulous job—the job that meant so much to her—was waiting. Who needed Ken? But her heart lurched, for not until this moment had she admitted even to herself that she was in love with him.



"It’s colder than the heart of organized charity out there tonight."
"A woman doesn’t like to be told she’s remarkable. She’d much rather be told she’s beautiful, or alluring, or charming."
This book may well be unique among VNRNs in that the heroine, Julie Winston, is an unmitigated snob, and remains so right through to the end—or at least we are not given any indication that her underlying character has changed. Out of the gate, she is ferociously condescending toward the patients and families that her sister, widow Linda Blake, cares for in this rural Georgia mountain setting (the quintessential Peggy Gaddis novel backdrop). She prefers her upscale Atlanta clinic, which caters to rich folk, and has swooped in to insist that her sister return to civilization with her. Linda, however, is a sweet, dedicated, selfless type who would never leave her patients, even if she is, according to Julie, "overworked, poorly paid, miserably uncomfortable, lacking in all the things any woman her age should have." Not Julie: She’s even horrified when one of her colleagues leaves her post as a "luxury nurse" to join the war effort, telling Linda, "The idiot has joined the Army Nurse Corps and asked for overseas duty. Can you imagine?" She might as well admit that she beats puppies for what this remark is supposed to do for our view of Julie.
Out on call with Linda in the rickety jeep, and none too impressed with the "squalid" domiciles they visit, Julie is nonetheless pressed into duty when one very ancient woman, Miss Dovie—who is rumored to be a witch and therefore avoided like Ebola—is found near death from a stroke and no one else is willing or able to serve as private nurse. To her credit, Julie volunteers for the duty—but is completely ungracious about it; she’s just called Linda a "blind idiot" for refusing to leave the mountains, when her next words are to ask for instructions for caring for Miss Dovie. "I’m willing but not eager," she says. The neighbors drop by with firewood and food, but absolutely will not "set foot in a witch’s house" who can’t die, "she’ll just get on her broomstick and fly off to join her master, the Devil Hisself!" according to the roughneck who drops off groceries that include a "mess of the fresh"—butchered hog, that is.
When a huge blizzard starts up the next night, it’s looking like Julie is going to be snowed in for some time, but then there’s a pounding on the door. It’s Kendall Stockwell, aka The Wayfaring Stranger, God help us, a well-known folk singer whom Julie apparently saw perform in Atlanta last summer. He’s in the neighborhood looking for folk songs "that haven’t been sung to death by the others," he says, though Julie thinks it’s odd that he would just drop his very successful career to go wander the mountains in the middle of winter. His jeep is stuck in the road, so he’s got nowhere else to go, and Julie invites him in. The pair hangs out and chats for several days, and on a hike to the top of the mountain, Julie gets an anti-proposal when Ken tells her she "needn’t be frightened" because "I’m not going to ask you to marry me." Phew! Oh, wait, no; "his words had been a blow that struck straight at her heart. Not until this moment had she admitted even to herself that she was in love with him; but his words had torn away the gossamer cloud that had concealed this fact from her consciousness." If her sudden ardor wasn’t enough to make you ill, the florid prose should surely put things over the top.
The reason he can’t marry her is idiotic, of course: His business partner and best friend swindled him out of the money that should have been his, so he walked out on all his engagements and took to the hills, and now he has legal liabilities and no money to support a wife. He couldn’t possibly take his friend to court, he insists, because it would "prove to the whole world what a first-class fool and chump I am." Apparently it’s not the fact that he actually is one that’s the issue; it’s only if everyone else knows it, too.
Back at the cabin, the snow finally melts enough for the doctor to arrive to check on Miss Dovie and take the pair back to civilization. It occurs to Julie that she might want to say goodbye to the patient she’s cared for day and night for a week, but the doctor says, "She’s in a coma, Julie—she wouldn’t know," so she doesn’t bother—that’s our shallow Julie!—and heads back to Linda’s house, where she has her first encounter with a mirror in a week, much to her horror: "Lindy, if he fell in love with me when I look like this—then it’s just got o be love, hasn’t it?"
Everyone’s problems are neatly tied up in the end, of course, though there does seem to be a little epidemic of comas going around, and even Linda lands a fiancé, despite her tearful devotion to her husband, dead these three long years. It’s not a bad book overall, but there are the bones of a better one poking through that make it disappointing. The ending overflows with the usual Gaddis treacle about how blissfully happy everyone is when they are engaged, even throwing in the ubiquitous "I want whatever Ken wants," and it wouldn’t be a Gaddis book without a reference to spanking—though in this case it’s Linda threatening to paddle her sister, so that at least was a little twist. As it is, the story comes off flat, without a lot of sparkle, and it’s just perplexing that this pair falls for each other at all, let alone in two days, because neither of them seems all that interesting—although Julie at least is a feisty lass. So while I’ve read worse Gaddis books, I’ve certainly read better, and with such a promising setup, it seemed especially unfortunate that she was not able to pull off a better story in Mountain Nurse.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mountain Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1966
Nurse Gwen Douglas loved the small mountain village where she worked alongside of her brother—the only doctor in this isolated community. The only shadow in her life was the empty cabin a hundred yards away—the cabin of Hap Benton, the man she loved. Hap was a restless soul, who wandered through the mountains, only to return to her and Three Rivers in the snowy winter months. But this winter, he was late in returning, and suddenly Gwen found a tall dark stranger showing up in his place …
“Come on, Baby, let’s get with it. We got some dancing and things to do.”
“If you don’t put your arms around me pretty soon, I’m going to have to act like a brazen woman.”
Gwen Douglas works with her brother Bob in Three Rivers, Colorado. She’s in love with the boy next door, Hap Benton, who is apparently a migrant worker, returning to town only after Thanksgiving and blowing back out again when the snow melts in the spring. Naturally, no one, including her brother, can figure out why she pines for the dope. As the book opens, the first flakes of November are starting to swirl from the clouds, so Gwen starts jumping at every slamming car door, thinking it’s her wayward beau come home. It’s not. Unfortunately, though, this leads to a fair amount of inner pining: “Hap! A carefree soul, if ever there was one. Would he ever settle down here in Three Rivers? Would he ever put a ring on her finger and make it official? She could only hope that her love and his need of her would eventually be strong enough to overrule his restless feet.” Uh, good luck with that, sister.
When that midnight pound on the door finally comes, it’s a stranger, Cole Fairfax, who tells Gwen that Hap has told him he can stay in his house. Cole is a moody, broody fella with a dark secret that makes him clamp down the minute anyone asks him about himself. But soon we are allowed inside Cole’s head, long enough to find out he’s been sued for every last one of the many dollars he once owned, and now he’s destitute and heartsick over some gal named Dolores; that part of the story unfolds slowly and gracefully, and makes Cole the most interesting character in the book. What is less of a surprise is that Cole is actually a doctor, and since he’s been dropping major hints in that regard all along (“You know quite a lot about blood poisoning, it seems,” Gwen tells him early on), the only person who will be shocked by the eventual revelation is Gwen herself.
Meanwhile, this nice young man from the Double S Ranch, Scott Stevens, starts putting the moves on Gwen, who reluctantly dates him despite her undying commitment to Hap. Then, the night Scott finally reveals he has long been in love with Gwen, there’s another midnight knock on the door, and this time it really is Hap! From the word go, he’s not a very likeable character: He’s an hour late for Thanksgiving dinner, he’s possessive and rude to Gwen, too joking to have a serious conversation with her about their relationship, and he immediately leaves town again to take a job at the ski resort, too far away to see Gwen more than once a week or so. For the first time, however, Gwen is starting to see the thorns on the rose, and Scott presses his suit, proposing to her on their second date, wooing her with the VNRN classic: “I think you could love me if you gave yourself a chance.” Well, all right, then! It works, though; now “when she thought of him there was a warm glow inside her.” Complicating matters is the big smooch Cole lays on her, saying, “I figured if I could respond to you, there was still hope for me.” The flatterer!
So now there’s just the matter of which of these eligible bachelors will win Gwen in the end, what Cole’s real story is, and whether everyone is going to survive the enormous blizzard that blows up, causing several medical emergencies that Bob and Gwen have to skid all over town to attend to. I was frankly a little surprised about which of the gentlemen triumphed in the end, so that was something, and the final paragraph was cuter than most. Overall this is a good story and well told, which makes me scratch my head a bit at the erratic and usually mediocre product churned out by Arlene Hale; this is the 12th nurse novel written by Arlene Hale that I’ve read, and only the fourth to garner a grade higher than a C. I can’t relegate her to the same category as Peggy Blocklinger (aka Jeanne Bowman), who is a reliably dreadful horror show. But given the fact that Hale churned out about 45 VNRNs, I do wish she’d concentrated on quality—since it is clear she can write a good story when she wants to—instead of quantity.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Nurse Kathryn

By Peggy O’More, ©1965
Psychiatric nurse Kathryn Kilburn could read most people like a book. An emotional problem in someone else was something she could heal. But when her fiancé constantly avoided marriage, she had to face the hidden truth about herself. And brilliant Dr. Lamont reached out to help her …
“She had come to Jensen to establish herself as a patient. She had complained of various physical ailments related to psychosomatic causes. Jensen had prescribed immediate marriage.”

When I read the back cover blurb, past experience made me shudder in horror. Peggy O’More, aka Jeanne Bowman, never met a crackpot pop psychology theory that she didn’t love or feel obliged to pound relentlessly into every other page. With this book all about a psychiatric nurse, I knew it was going to be a brutal slog, and indeed, it was. Indeed, it was. Starting strong out of the gate, Nurse Kathryn Kilburn declares that in her town, “practically everyone with some type of anxiety neurosis. Middle class fathers were anxiously trying to cross the boulevard to upper middle class. Upper middle class was anxiously fighting to maintain a strong toe-hold at their status level. Wives were seeking anxiously to aid and abet husbands and children of all ages caught in tensions.” Sigh.
Into this fray of mental anguish skulks psychiatrist Dr. John Lamont, who immediately begins to cure everyone in sight, including his first patient, a woman who weighs in at more than 200 pounds. He decides, with Kathryn’s sharp insights, that this woman really fears TB and believes that a huge BMI will protect her from germs. A little browse through a medical textbook, and she’s cured! As an added bonus, “he says my husband must love me dearly, or he’d never have put up with me as I’ve been,” warbles the blissful patient.
Despite her supernatural insights into everyone else’s personality defects, Kathryn cannot heal herself, though the clues come fast and furious: Her fiancé, Dr. Jack Benson, is a literal rock, demonstrating neither anger nor joy, but he does have “that particular quality she had to have in the man of her choice: a single-minded devotion.” Which is chiefly to his family, for whom no errand is too small to blow off a date with Kathryn without even calling to let her know. They would marry, except that Jack keeps getting passed over for promotion at the hospital and all his current income has to go to support his family, and his mother won’t hear of Kathryn working after Jack marries her. So three years later there’s nary a tinkle of a wedding bell to be heard.
Into the navel-gazing fray wade Kathryn’s parents: Her father, a small-town GP with a temperament much like Jack Benson’s, suffers a breakdown and is ordered to take a month-long vacation. Her mother, also her father’s nurse, brooks no shilly-shallying and has been cracking the whip over Dr. Kilburn for the past three decades, so she’s sent on a vacation, too, apart from her no doubt grateful husband. The obvious conclusion is hammered in: “For one illuminating and horrifying moment she saw herself and Jack transposed. She was her mother and Jack her father, and what she had sought from Jack and defined as undeviating devotion was to him deep resignation.” Got it?
Well, it’s still a bit murky, because even as “she realized now her attitude toward Jack had been wrong,” she’s nonetheless upset when Jack explodes at the chairman of the board of the hospital—who we suddenly learn is his Uncle Carl—saying that his uncle has been purposely withholding the top job from him so Jack will keep taking care of the family, and he quits. “Oh, but you can’t,” Kathryn wails; “this ‘new Jack,’ as Dr. Lamont called him, had a rakish devil-may-care attitude she abhorred. How could she marry such a man and have any feeling of security?”
Depressed over this change in Jack, Kathryn is lying on the chaise longue in her back yard when her take-charge roommate stops home long enough to tell Kathryn that she and Jack have just been married. She tells off Kathryn for allowing Jack to continue in the “dependable” life that subjected him to lifelong servitude to his family, for not supporting him when he refused to continue to be taken for granted at work and at home and quit his job, and for calmly congratulating her instead of attempting to strangle the new bride. Somehow, though, Kathryn’s flat affect is meant to indicate a breakthrough. She tells John, who has heard about the marriage and rushed over, that she is relieved that she is “no longer indebted to Jack for having been true to me, after his fashion, for so long.”
John, sensing an opening in the midst of this crisis, proposes. “ ‘Oh,’ she murmured, ‘so that’s what has been the matter with me.’ ” Meaning that she’s been in love with her boss and didn’t realize it, and now she’s magically cured. And somehow that “heartsick” look in John Lamont’s eyes, the one that everyone has commented on from the moment he walked through the clinic door, is gone, but apparently not for long: “The heartsickness would return. Because even has her father worried over his small town until it became a sickness, so did Dr. Lamont, with his wider experience in the world, worry over the sickness of nations.”
What the hell? Though the ending acts like Kathryn is now healed, there is absolutely no evidence of this whatsoever, and we’re also left with a less-than-flattering picture of Dr. Lamont’s mental health. Can two people who aid and abet each other’s delusions be happy together? Had the author intentionally made this the book’s central question, it would have made for a far more interesting story; as it is, I am unimpressed, irritated, and exasperated, feelings that O’More’s books usually engender in me. The fact that I continue to read them suggests I may be as nutty as psychiatric nurse Kathryn Kilburn.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Runaway Nurse

By Ethel Hamill
(pseud. Jean Francis Webb III), ©1955
For Nurse Jennifer Stowell, flight seemed the only solution. After the scandal involving her with the head of the Octagon Hospital, Jenny fled to the peaceful beaches of Hawaii, hoping to escape the gossip, the whispers and the pointing fingers. No one, it seemed, had believed her innocent. But on the smooth sands of Waikiki, handsome Dr. Brian Craig fell in love with Jenny. And Jenny, knowing all too well the damage that malicious gossip can do to the career of a promising young doctor, had to run again—this time from the arms of the man she loved.
“I don’t want to be a lady, Aunt Alma. I want to be an artist.”
“Doctors are just men. Ask the girl who owns one.”
“If you absolutely must, you may confess later on that what really sends you is not my ardent kisses but assisting at a long session of episkeletal surgery.”
“Sit here and contemplate the rewards of sin. I’ll case the joint.”
There are a few VNRN authors who give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and Jean Francis Webb III is one of them. Snappy writing, excellent plotting, great characters—Webb is a master, and I am grateful he chose to bestow a few gems to the VNRN genre.
When we first meet Jennifer Stowell, she has more than a little back story: She’s coming home to New York after running off to Hawaii for an extended vacation, escaping a scandal at home that had placed her in the arms of a prominent surgeon in his apartment after midnight, which had been captured on film by newspaper reporters and the doctor’s wife. While on that vacation, she had gotten chummy with Dr. Brian Craig—so chummy that the doctor had actually proposed marriage. But since she had told him nothing of her career or her shame, she’d felt obliged to leave him an insulting note and flee the islands, because being associated with her would have ruined his career, too.
But darned the guy, he follows her home and insists that she loves him and must marry him. She alternates between clinging tightly to him one minute and then to her belief that his association with her would ruin him, and does her best to fight him off with one lie after another, including the story that she actually was involved with Dr. Phil Grocer, and that they are planning on getting married when the dust has settled on his divorce.
You know that eventually the truth will out, as does the real story of how and why it was that Jennifer was lured to Dr. Grocer’s apartment, which not even Jennifer knows. In the intervening pages, Jennifer’s incessant insistence that she cannot marry Brian—as well as Brian’s almost-stalkerlike determination that she must—would be far more than the slight annoyance they are in the hands of the masterful Webb. The mystery, once revealed, is not simplistic or stupid, as some secrets are (see Nurse of the North Woods), but it’s not so complicated as to be unintelligible. In the meantime, the writing is smart (“This isn’t a place for tender confidences”) and even, dare I say, poetic (“A construction crew alongside the tracks were stripped to underwear above their belts, and their beef and muscle had begun to turn golden in prophecy of summer’s mahogany stain”). The characters are vivid and thoroughly enjoyable (well, Jennifer’s constant worrying does drag her down a bit), especially Brian, who has a tendency toward the bon mot, and the peripheral femme fatale character, the doctor’s publicist. The only thing that mars this story is not even the writer’s fault: Jennifer’s conviction that her disgrace will ruin Brian’s life just does not translate to modern times and so feels quite silly, especially since the book’s central problem hinges on it. Beyond that, however, this book is a delightful romp, and further cements Mr. Webb’s standing as one of the top five nurse novelists of all time.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 VNRN Awards

Its hour come round at last, this rough beast—the fifth annual Vintage Nurse Romance Novel Awards—is upon us once again. With a grand total of 271 reviews under my belt, I have cast my eye back over the 51 books by 37 different authors I read in 2014, and have pulled out those worthy of highest praise or lowest ignominy. The Best Authors category includes all the VNRNs reviewed for this blog, but only authors with more than one review are included; the One-Hit Wonders category is reserved for the best books by authors with only one review.

A+   Nurse into Woman, Marguerite Mooers Marshall
A    Nurse Lily and Mister X, Diane Frazer
A    Small Town Nurse, Emily Thorne (pseud. Jeanne Judson)
A   Doctor’s Wife, Maysie Greig
A-    Hospital Zone, Mary Stolz
A-   Cruise Ship Nurse, Dorothy Daniels
A-   The Doctor’s Wife, Peggy Dern (pseud. Peggy Gaddis)
A-    Calling Dr. Jane, Adeline McElfresh

D   Resort Nurse, Diana Douglas (pseud. Richard Wilkes-Hunter)
D+    Nurse against the Town, Jane Converse
D+    A Nurse to Marry, Patty Carr

1. “Put two girls and a can opener in the kitchen, and you have a feast.” –Peggy O’More, Disaster Nurse
  1. 2. “Hal Brent ordered: ‘Pucker, please.’ ” – Patty Carr, A Nurse to Marry
  2. 3. “I don’t want every man present to regard my girl as though she were a lollipop.” –Margaret Howe, The Girl in the White Cap
  3. 4. “Don’t worry your pretty bullet-singed head.” –Rose Dana (pseud. William Daniel Ross), Resort Nurse
  4. 5. “I’d marry you for your cooking even if you were an old hag.” –Patricia Libby, Hollywood Nurse
  5. 6. “Poppy—don’t fall in love with somebody famous before I get you down to the chili parlor tonight—okay?” –Suzanne Roberts, Celebrity Suite Nurse
7. “If I’m running a fever, baby, you’ve got only yourself to blame.” –Suzanne Roberts, Celebrity Suite Nurse
8. “There’s nothing better than a pizza in Japan.” –Dorothy Daniels, Cruise Ship Nurse
9. “Don’t kiss me again, not like that, not now—not when I’ve got to go back and do a skull series.” –Adeline McElfresh, Dr. Jane, Interne
10. “She put her cheek on one of the thin hands, the one without the needle.” –Teresa Holloway, Nurse Farley’s Decision

1. Jeanne Judson (3.9 average, 3 reviews)
1. Marguerite Mooers Marshall (3.9 average, 3 reviews)
3.  Faith Baldwin (3.8 average, 4 reviews)
4. Maysie Greig (3.5 average, 2 reviews)
5. Ethel Hamill, pseud. Jean Francis Webb III (3.3 average, 4 reviews)
6. Elizabeth Hoy (3.3 average, 3 reviews)
7. Helen B. Castle (3.3 average, 2 reviews)
7. Joyce Dingwell (3.3 average, 2 reviews)
9. Rose M. Banks, pseud. Alan Jackson (3.2 average, 4 reviews)
9. Patricia Libby (3.2 average, 3 reviews)

Best VNRNs by authors with one review
1.    “K”, by Mary Roberts Rinehart
2.    A Challenge for Nurse Melanie, by Isabel Moore
3.    Surgical Call, by Margaret Sangster
4.    Nurse Pro Tem, by Glenna Finley
5.    Walk out of Darkness, by Arlene Karson
6.    Woman Doctor, Alice Lent Covert
7.    Nurse Greer, by Joan Garrison
8.    Town Nurse—Country Nurse, by Marjorie Lewty
9.    Hospital Zone, by Mary Stolz

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Nurse of the North Woods

By Ellen Randolph, ©1967
“I never knew how much you meant to me,” said Dr. Ralph Parton quietly. Nurse Nancy felt a glow of pleasure at his words, yet she tried not to let it show. She knew it wouldn’t take much to make Ralph openly declare his love for her. Then what would she do? Tell him the truth? She wasn’t sure she had the courage.
“You’re a pretty girl. Much too pretty for a nursing supervisor. I thought they were always old maids with thick glasses.”
Nurse Nancy Rusk has been working in a small clinic about 40 miles from Fredericton, New Brunswick, for about a year. She had been working in Montreal, but “she had hurriedly decided to leave,” because “she had a secret that must be kept hidden and any relaxation on her part could mean she would have to flee from this new-found security and seek safety elsewhere.” She also plans to keep her secret from us, the readers, yet reminds us every five to ten pages of its existence, so by the end of the book you’re just so damned sick of her stupid secret that you can’t wait for her to spill the beans to her boyfriend and have it all tidily resolved in two paragraphs.
The man she has her eye on, Dr. Ralph Parton, likes her too, but she’s afraid to get involved with him because of her secret, of course, but also because of his sister Isobel. A stereotypical old maid at 42—right down to the gray tweed suit of mannish cut, flat-heeled brown walking shoes, and dour expression on the wrinkled and liver-spotted face—42 lying practically at death’s door—Isobel guards Ralph jealously, and Nancy is afraid that the ugly but intelligent woman will uncover and expose her infamous secret. Yet she doesn’t seem to resist all that much when Ralph offers to take her to dinner or on a drive alone, and certainly not when he kisses her in chapter three.
On the side, though, Nancy has to fend off the advances of the lumber mogul’s dissipated son John, who becomes increasingly predatory when she tells him she’s not interested in him. “I think we could have a lot of fun together if you’d only be reasonable,” he says when she turns him down for a date, and follows this up with a casual mention of the fact that he’d met her in Montreal. She continues to insist she is not interested, and he persists: “I’d think you would be,” he says, adding that he will see her later in the week, basically refusing to accept her refusal. After John drops by the house where she boards and tells her landlady that he’s written to Nancy’s “friend” in Montreal, Nancy finally decides to come clean to Ralph, because “it was possible she might need his protection.”
After she and Ralph power through a couple of serious medical emergencies, they’re relaxing in his office in the middle of the night when she finally tells all: There had been a scandal involving a car accident in which she was falsely convicted, but the real problem is that her then-boyfriend, the actual culprit who had gotten off by blaming her, has been pursuing her relentlessly ever since; he’d ended by making a scene at the Montreal hospital where she was working and shouting that he would kill her if she didn’t come back to him, forcing her to quit and go on the run. Now that she’s finally confessed, though, all her problems are resolved in one fell smooch. Given the public awareness of the issue of abuse in the current day, it’s hard for the reader to dispose of Nancy’s stalker so easily, and the relentless pounding we’ve taken about her secret becomes all the more irritating for its quick dismissal now that she has a new man in her life. If her problem were this easy to solve, why didn’t she just take care of it in the first chapter? I would rather have seen her just whip out a tiny silver derringer and put a bullet between the bastard’s eyes in a Florence Stonebraker-esque flourish, but it’s the very rare VNRN heroine who is guilty of even justifiable less-than-saintly behavior. Too bad, because it would make for much better reading, and this book is no exception.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Washington Nurse

By Tracy Adams
(pseud. Sofi O’Bryan), ©1963
Nurse Amy Loring considered herself the luckiest girl in the world. She loved living in glamorous Washington, D.C., where her brother was a rising politician. And she was in love with—practically engaged to—young Doctor William Tabor. But then she met Congressman Bob Ainsley—handsome, dynamic and so ambitious that everyone knew he’d get whatever he wanted from life. And Bob Ainsley wanted Amy. Soon the young nurse found herself swept helplessly along by the passionate force of his personality. It was impossible for Amy to think of Bob as the ruthless opportunist others labeled him. After all, she reasoned, in Washington every gesture was suspect, every act a matter of intrigue. But how well could she reason when she wasn’t really certain if what she felt for Bob was love or just romantic infatuation?
“Anyone tell you you’re not good for heart patients?”
“Will Big Brother be chaperoning or should I bring my wolf license?”
“There is always a reason for a cocktail party.”
“Obviously I am not dying of a broken heart because I can eat.”
“Gossip is to a hospital what sun is to a flower.”
When we first meet nurse Amy Loring, she is trying to elude a herd of 20 reporters camped on the hospital steps, all hoping for news about Senator Matters, who is a patient. But “to expect twenty reporters from the Washington press corps to ignore a stunning redhead in blue nurse’s cape, trim white figure and legs that were whistle bait even in flat heeled white oxfords, would have been treason.” So she is pestered for news, which she happily provides: “My patient did have a B.M. yesterday,” she giggles. What a joker!
Amy loves Washington because “it had the feeling of a universe on the move. Even the thousands of secretaries who are lured to Washington each year stay on, despite the man shortage, despite the few and rare invitations to glittering events, because there is always the feeling that one is listening at a keyhole, is on the verge of putting a finger on the pulse of the world, is taking part in the shaping of history.” She happens to be the sister of Representative Hugh Loring of Indiana, so she is a little closer to the inside than some, particularly since they share an apartment. She’s dating resident William Tabor, but is a little unsatisfied: “Maybe that’s the whole trouble, he’s too dear and nice. I wish … well, what do I wish? That he was a brute, masterful?”
Cue Bob Ainsley, junior representative from Florida. He gives her a ride home from work, and she is mesmerized by him: “He had an aura about him of impatience and of forcefulness.” So soon she is dating him, too, and finding that “even the way he kept his hand lightly on hers now, looked at her in a deep, personal way, made her heart jump as though someone had pumped adrenalin into her.” His ambition and arrogance, discussed by everyone who knows him, make him a somewhat suspicious character, but he seems genuinely smitten with Amy.
Hugh comes down with hepatitis—must have been the canapés Amy served at the cocktail party—and has to take six months to recuperate, so his appointment to chair of the house finance committee seems almost certainly quashed. A newspaper columnist accuses Bob Ainsley of angling for the same spot, and of having bought his seat in Congress to boot! Bob, furious, calls up Amy and tells her he is going to dispute the charges on the house floor tomorrow and wants her to be there. “A man can’t afford not to fight,” he explains to her. “You can’t understand that. You’re a woman.”
Amy switches shifts to be present when Bob takes the floor and explains that he did indeed take money from his constituents—loans for his education, which he is repaying with interest. Furthermore, he says, he proposes that the chair of the finance committee be given to Hugh despite his illness with an interim appointment to someone else until Hugh is well enough to assume the role. He receives a standing ovation, of course, Amy herself “applauding long and hard, tears in her eyes.” Bob also makes another proposal, in private, to Amy: “I didn’t count on a redhead with soft lips and a way of eluding me that is driving me bats. I have work to do here, Amy, important work, and I can’t let my mind wander. I want you to marry me so I can get on with what I have to do.” The flattering dog.
It never rains but it pours: Dr. Bill gets a big grant that is going to enable him to set up the lab he’s always wanted. He proposes, and in what may well be a first in a VNRN, tells her that she has to keep working because he won’t have enough money to support them both. “I wouldn’t give it up anyway, Bill,” she answers. “I can’t. I spent too much time studying to be a nurse to give it up and sit around a house.” The author gets a lot of points from me for this scene alone. Unfortunately, Bob walks in just as Bill is kissing her fiercely, and Bill storms out. Now Bill is pressing her for an answer, and insists that she give it to him tonight, at dinner, after a cocktail party he has to attend to meet Senator Phelps and before his 10:00 appointment with someone else. The fact that her answer to his proposal is sandwiched between so many other appointments helps Amy determine her answer, but unfortunately she decides to give it to him over the phone. Then she grabs her bag and runs off to the airport to catch up with Bill, who is going home on holiday before he starts working on his lab. It’s actually a sweet ending, better than most.
This is the second of Tracy Adams’ books I’ve read, and I have to say that Washington Nurse is an improvement over Spotlight on Nurse Thorne. It’s well written, with occasional spots of humor and archaically interesting scenarios (such as when Amy realizes she has forgotten to set out cigarettes for the cocktail party and thinks this could be interpreted as a deliberate snub to the tobacco industry, or when another guest reacts in horror that Hugh isn’t married and has only his sister to act as hostess for him). If it is more than a bit obvious, well, there are worse crimes in a VNRN, and overall this is a generally entertaining book.