Monday, August 30, 2010

A Match for Sister Maggy--1969

But, Betty Keira, this is not the correct book cover! We're reviewing A Match for Sister Maggy--not Nurse in Holland or (dons reading glasses) Amazon in an Apron. Ah, gentle reader, this is because this book was poorly named twice before stumbling onto the genius of the final.

Doctor Paul van Beijen Doelsma (36) didn't intend be called fat, elderly, balding and heavily-accented so early in the morning but when Sister Maggy MacFergus (24--Junoesque doesn't begin to cover it) rushes pell-mell into the hospital lobby (Ala a certain impertinent warrior princess) that's just what happens. Naturally, she didn't know who that gorgeous giant was, leaning against the porter's lodge and listening lazily to her hurried explanations and complaints ('Nine o'clock for a lecture! The man ought to be shot!'), but when she scoots into the back of the lecture hall it's a wonder that the sound of her stomach dropping to her toes isn't heard around the world. If they shot him for lecturing so early then he makes a mighty handsome corpse.
Paul gives an excellent lecture, fields a few questions from the earnest, eager and ugly and then spies Sister Maggy in whispered conference with a fellow nurse in the last row. The 'other' nurse asks a question--a very intelligent and well-reasoned question--and Paul knows that it was Maggy that really asked it. He sends waves of white-hot passionate medical flirtation to the back of the hall. Many staff nurses, caught in the wake of his decisive fervor, lost their sanity that day...
After decimating hapless nurses, he makes an amendment to his schedule and decides to head on up to the Women's Medical Ward. He serves up more uncrushable ardor--thinly disguised by a witty game of 'Is your ward ready to receive me?'--and she is scrambling to catch up.
After a successful round, his parthian shot is to corner her in her office and kiss the starch out of her apron. 'I want you to remember me.' (Are you purring yet?) File a sexual harassment suit? Don't be ridiculous. He's hot and it's the 60s. She should be thanking her lucky stars.
Non Sequiter: In the ward we meet a horrible patient, Madame Riveau, and her menfolk who are Belgian. Belgian. In the land of Neels, death and mayhem are the handmaidens of all things Belgian.
The next Doelsma to enter the picture is Mevrouw Doelsma--Paul's mother and recent coronary sufferer. Though Paul is not there, Maggy lays some important long-term groundwork for her eventual happiness--impressing her future mother-in-law with important skills such as life-saving. When Paul does show up, Maggy the Shy Giantess keeps swapping out her off-duty--not so she can see him (no, no, that would be too easy!) but to avoid him. He counters her oblique overtures with the well-trod (but always welcome) gesture of sending her 6 dozen roses and referencing Robbie Burns.
But then he asks her to go away with him to Holland. Rockets are firing in her brain. Her heart takes flight. Rainbows and buttercups rain from the sky! Four-leaf clovers are popping up all over...(Snap, snap.) He asks her to go and nurse his mother for a few weeks. (oh.) Hm. That's not a proposition. Her pride is stung enough to refuse.
When he asks again, he gently explains how concerned he is for his ailing mother--which is a little rat-finky of him if you think about it...using his mother to advance his romantic ambitions. But Maggy consents and in the mean time has her dawning realization.
Paul loves his mother and Maggy loves him and I'm not sure why the roses have to be given away at this point or tears indulged in but perhaps Maggy realizes that she's just a cog in his machine. He'll do whatever it takes to get Mevrouw back on her feet--even sweet-talking an Amazon in an Apron. (See what I just did there?) Maybe this is what it felt like to be press-ganged by the British Navy...
Non Sequiter: Madame Riveau, meanwhile, has escaped from the hospital and has tooth pain.
In Holland Maggy meets Stien who is cute and small and everything the large, strong Maggy is not.
Editorial Note: As a reader, we wonder, 'Has Paul cleared his decks for action or is there a bilge rat running amok among the ammunition?' (Oh, you weren't?) We see Stien twice more--once on horseback going for an early morning ride with Paul and another time enjoying a late-night drink in the kitchens. Poor Maggy, her dressing gown bunched up anyhow, peers around the door with a poker and loses her dignity. I want to smack Paul around a little as it never occurs to him that running around with a girl small enough for Maggy to bench-press might throw a wrench in the wheel. Also, she lives in Utrecht (an important and muddying detail).
Maggy is pretty much ignored for a while as she nurses Paul's mother so she amuses taking his massive horse out for vigorous gallops. When Paul discovers it he erupts with the timeliness and precision of Old Faithful. Maggy, treating him tolerantly--like a fussy little boy who isn't getting his way--only enrages him further. Off he goes to tattle to his mother! Oh dear, says the old woman, don't be mad at Maggy. I told her she should drive the Daimler...What!!! She's driving his luxury cars too?
His apology for blowing his top leaves something to be desired and another row is kicked up.
But they aren't going to be that couple--the ones bickering up the aisle to the alter--so a cease-fire is proposed.
Him: Do you like me? I like you. Let's be friends.
That's good enough to shake on.
We remove to Leiden while Mevrouw gets some medical tests...
Maggy and Paul have done more hanging out (riding together, driving in the car, etc.) in Friesland (did I not mention that his ancestral home is in the land of large women and over-sized cows?) but upon his arrival in Leiden, he takes her on The Home Tour of Smoldering Passions. (Because you don't let people you don't care a fig about to peek into your attic nurseries.) But he doesn't let her see his room (fearing that just seeing where he sleeps will send her into a frenzy) or The Master Suite. See, it's closed up because he's just a bachelor and, the way, there's a family tradition about not letting the future Mrs. Doelsma see it before the big night.
He also takes her on a tour of the hospital (giving her a little kiss in the children's ward). But as he's still haring off to Utrecht at the drop of a hat and Stien lives there and Mevrouw Doelsma grouches that in Utrecht is 'the love of his life'..., Maggy throttles any growing expectations in their pram.
While doing some shopping, she comes upon the mysterious Madame Riveau (Who prefers to export her Belgian evil to distant lands like England and Holland.). They agree to meet again the next day for reasons totally unrelated to rational thought. But when Maggy does meet her, Madame is deeply sick and gets her to take her home to the fetid swamp she lives in. Madame promptly falls asleep and Maggy (doing her nurse-ly due diligence) can't leave her in this condition without any help. (Belgian though she be.)
Maggy, wearing a brand new dress, rolls up her sleeves and begins to clean. Boiling soapy water, hauling around furniture--the lot. And when the Riveau menfolk appear she orders them about and sends for a doctor.
Hey. I know a doctor.
Paul shows up in a rage--barely cloaking his desperate concern (She missed her train!) and when he tells her that she's wearing a pretty dress (bunchy and spattered as it now is) she is hurt. Are you being beastly? Genuinely surprised, he answers honestly. No--you would look--nice-- in a potato sack.
Back in Friesland he invites her to dinner.
Her: Oh but I don't have a dress. Him: They have a Big and Tall store here.
Important points about their date:
  • He underlines that this is not a farewell, thanks for nursing my mother back to health date.
  • He does this by pulling into a lay-by...where nobody gets kissed.
  • He tries to get information out of her about where she lives. She gently snubs him which feels wonderful after all those other times Neels heroines have been the snub-ee instead of the snub-er.
  • He tells her, at the end of the date, that he must have taken every other girl that he ever knew to that restaurant at one time or another.
  • He says, "Hey remember that time you came down with a poker and felt horribly awkward? Let's reminisce about that. Oh, and Stien would make a decorative wife."
He kisses her and she retaliates by standing him up on their morning ride.
She is provided a way to leave Holland by her hospital matron who wonders (in a letter) when Maggy will be back as there is a shortage of nurses.
She takes off to the airport the next day (while Paul's airplane from Germany is landing--yes, he had to go to Deutschland for two days and he rushes back when he finds out she's leaving). By skipping to the head of the queue (rather sneakily) she is able to avoid him.
Paul, at his wit's end, does the only thing a sensible man could do in a similar situation:
  • Take the family engagement ring and pearls out of the wall safe.
  • Notify Customs that they will be leaving the country.
  • Contacts his relative who can expedite a Special License with The Archbishop.
  • Murder his insane wife that he's kept walled up behind the doors of The Master Suite.
Oh, and then he wangles Maggy's address out of her hospital matron's hands. Kissing in Scotland and a wedding while they're at it--no need to travel to a remote cottage for implied conjugal relations.
The End
P.S. But I'm still worried about how matron will solve her nurse shortage.

Rating: What a pity that I remembered the end differently (My memory played tricks on me and I had patched the end of the not great Pineapple Girl onto it) because it was really rather lovely. I don't know how I feel about the Scots accent--it all seems a little as though La Neels had upended her purse, shaken out all the Scots vernacular and pasted them into dialog. Still, Maggy is a darling and has a formidable backbone so I don't mind the 'ach's and 'wee's and 'dinna's too terribly. Her eyebrows are practically an auxillary character of their own and I wish The Great Betty had not been so liberal with her 'large hands' and 'thick, glowering eyebrows'. A little delicacy, please. Paul is a little more difficult to understand (he doesn't off-load Stein soon enough to indicate a man decisively in love) but I like to think he's playing a long game--instant dawning realization and all else following. To sum up: Though I had remembered this poorly, it has earned a boeuf en croute--just think what it would have earned if I'd not had to take notes!

Food: Mevrouw Doelsma barfs up lobster. They eat boterkoek, twaalf, Rolpens met Rodekool (did you say 'roadkill'? It's actually spiced and pickled minced beef and tripe and apples and red cabbage. Gah.), caneton a' la Rouennaise (a 'famous' duckling dish).

Fashion: Paul has the 'loveliest waistcoat'. Maggy sports her blue uniform, a sweater and slacks to go riding in, a raincoat and scarf tied under her chin, a navy blue and white checked tricot dress, her utterly ruined vivid coral pink jersey, and a what is supposed to be a lovely cream guipure lace knee-skimming gown to go dancing in (though she is a strapping lass and I'm worried that that's rather a lot of lace to be looking at).


  1. Betty Barbara here--
    Just finished a quick re-read of this one and I am still confused about the whole Mme Riveau sub-plot. Our Betty was never very clear--was she an abused wife? That was the subtle vibe I was getting.
    The RDDs are often very thick when it comes to how the objects of their affections might view their women 'friends'. I think RDD Paul is just being dense--no underlying snarky motive.
    Maggy's Scots vocabulary was rather cliche-ridden, but this was LaNeels' third book, so I am willing to cut her some slack on that.

  2. Great review! (I also was a wee bit --notice the Scots -- worried about what was behind the door of the Master Suite. Handcuffs? Orange bedspread?)

    I just loved Maggy and the Scots overkill--what fun! I was a bit peeved when he blew up over the horse and the car, but then she just blew him off and reduced him (an RDD!) to size--you go, girl! However, he would have to do ALOT of fit throwing to cancel out his opening scenes, especially the kissing on the first day. Plus they seemed to develop a genuine friendship along with the romance.

    (I agree that the Riveau bit did not go much of anywhere, but the scene of Paul dealing with the profanity was worth it.)

    This is has queue-jumped into my Top Ten.

  3. @Betty Barbara--I know. Madame Riveau was not well written. I kept expecting some more malevolence to develop but it never really happened. I wonder if she is an incarnation of an event that happened in Betty's own life (patient skips out of the hospital with two ugly-looking characters) and she writes it vaguely because she never really found out the whys and wherefores...

  4. I think Maggy was given plenty of reason to worry about Stien. If our RDD was so bright, but really wanted her to stay, he should have cleared that up with one sentence. He really did seem to blow hot and cold.
    I agree the Madame Riveau episode was confusing. Was it supposed to be something different but edited out? Hmm, guess we'll never know.
    The roses, I guess I can understand Maggy getting them out of sight when she thought they were a bribe, but there certainly could have been more than a sentence that our RDD noticed them.
    I did like the book though. I read it on the plane on the way to Baltimore.

  5. Rocking review! (I'm just catching up on old posts this morning, and trying not to blow coffee all over the keyboard, but this blog is so much fun today.....)

  6. I did not even know this book existed!!!!

    I found it at a used book store today and thought, "Aha! A new BN's book!!! I bet the Betties never heard of it!" But I see I was wrong, of course! ;]

    I am looking forward to reading it! Thanks for the review.

  7. Just finished this one. I think Madame Riveneu is a plot device intended to make Maggie look really good to Paul when he comes and finds her. The teeth though... that's just weird. Why won't the menfolk let her get her teeth pulled in England? When she gets to Holland they do let her. I'll bet they're shady characters who need to get out of England fast. They are described as sinister characters.
    I loved the beginning, both Maggie's faux Pax in the front hall and Paul's reaction to it. I do think his DR was right there, on the first page. Hmm.... a woman large enough for me. I must be in LOVE!
    Thanks for the lovely review!

  8. Betty Ross looked at my copy of Nurse in Holland (w/ original cover and everything) and said, "But you've read this already." I replied, "No. Well, okay, yes, about six times but not in the last 20 years."

    The thing is, it wasn't ever my favorite and I clearly have it confused with the one where she breaks a glass bottle of blood for the poor woman giving birth at the end of a causeway, but it's actually quite charming. There's lots more of Paul & Maggy hanging out together than a lot of books in The Canon, and the specificity of what he has to do to get to her in the end is great.

    I'm willing to go Queen of Puddings for this one!

  9. I just finished reading this (my 1st Read of this book) Well, yes there was some good parts to this -but MOSTLY Maggy JUST annoys me to NO END about her height. I just can't stand semi-tall people all "oh I'm SOOO tall" and the whining about it just annoys me. I'm 5'4 and I don't whine that I'm short (b/c there are shorter women and men then me). SECOND, she's only 6 feet - get real, Maggy - it's not like you're the 6'8 female Baylor Basketball player - and can't get a date... - there are TONS of men over 6 feet (and good looking with it!).... I personally think she should have seen someone about it and it comes off at best annoying at worst that she has low self esteem. AND there's no reason for it, she's smart, everyone loves her, she pretty, and she apparently has a knock out shape to go with it - she should be flaunting that height not inwardly being all poor me! Paul's a saint for putting up with her (IMO)... I mean the man pretty much corners and kisses her after an hour of meeting her, she's got NO clue that the man's chasing her. He couldn't have been MORE blunt LOL... For me Paul and his mother were the high-light of this one... This one is probably going to be in my bottom 20.... (maybe I'm just Jealous of all that Height ;) LOL)

  10. I think this is the first one I read with fairly pointedly implied conjugal relations (ie. The Master Bedroom) and I think I almost swooned at the time. LOL! Funny how something so small can have such a big impact when it's not bandied about all the time. One of my favorites.

  11. Did anyone else notice that the cousin’s beautiful cashmere coat ( “borrowed “ by Maggy)turned into a sable coat after they gave it up to be checked at the hotel? I’m thinking I have a later version and they didn’t want her to have a fur coat.

  12. Just discovered this blog and I hope it’s still active. Love the reviews. I used to read Betty as a teen in the 70s and just rediscovered her. Still love those RDDs. Why was Madame Rivenue so anxious to meet Maggy again. I was expecting at least an abduction. Also, the beautiful cashmere coat turned into a sable coat after they handed over to the coat check at the hotel. I’m guessing that they changed it from sable to cashmere in the later editions. I wondered why she was so excited about a cashmere coat....

    1. Welcome Betty Meridith! We are active (though we recently went through a spate of spam so all the comments are moderated and I try to get them published as often as possible) but a lot of our discussions happen over on our Facebook page (The Uncrushable Jersey Dress (Betty Neels)). I love catching editing changes like the cashmere/sable thing. In one of the books, an earlier edition has a record player and later becomes a CD player, I think. The album on it changes too!

    2. Mick Jagger becomes George Michael in Cruise to a Wedding
      Mills & Boon Romance #917, published 1974 / Harlequin Romance #1857, published 1975:
      'Golly, ' she exclaimed, 'aren’t you super? You turn me on – why, you’ve got Mick Jagger beaten hollow!'
      Loveday had never seen the Baron at a loss, but now, just for a moment, he was; for one thing, she was almost certain that he had no idea who George Michael was, for another, he had been taken by surprise. She said rapidly: 'This is Phyllis, my youngest sister,' and then smiled across at her. 'This is Professor Baron de Wolff van Ozinga.' It sounded impressive.

      Betty Neels Collector's Edition, Mills & Boon, published 1998:
      'Golly, ' she exclaimed, 'aren’t you super? You turn me on – why, you’ve got George Michael beaten hollow!'