Monday, September 13, 2010

Blow Hot, Blow Cold--1969

Blow Hot, Blow Cold, Visiting Consultant, Visiting Surgeon, Surgeon from Holland. What do all these have in common? They're the same book. Okay, they're almost the same book. My copy of Visiting Consultant (published as a Best of Betty Neels in 2001) refers to a dance being conducted with a CD player. Dear me, Harlequin. You think the electronics are the most out-dated thing in a Betty Neels?

Theatre Sister Sophia ('Sophy') Greenslade is inching inexorably towards 26. On the asset side of the ledger she has a pair of gorgeous eyes, a quick sense of humor and a loving family. On the debit side she has the primary responsibility for that loving family (two brothers, a sister, a granny and Sinclair (her deceased father's ex-batman)), no social life and a shy personality. Oh and she's short.
When she finds her youngest brother on her sidewalk in the custody of Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Glowering her heart gives a thump. She was, she told herself, very angry. Little brother Benjamin was chasing The Blot (the dog) and the family cat (whose name fails to make the cut) into a Bentley-traveled street.
Him: Oh, so you're Sister Sophy.
Her: What of it?

Him: The boy might have dinged my fender.
Her: Oh I'll show you a dinged fender...

It doesn't go well but he is left with an impression that she is a girl with skills. Brother managing, dog naming, two-fingered whistling skills. He is instantly smitten.
Professor Jonkheer Maximillan van Oosterwelde (39 and hot, hot, hot) is taking over for Uncle Giles (her godfather and the chief surgeon) for several weeks. Sophy is skittish but they settle down to a placid working relationship wherein he shows a maddening tolerance for minor nursing hiccups. (Is there anything more abhorrent than being patiently tolerated?)
One day, while stuffed into her office for coffee and digestives, Bill, a young resident surgeon, leans over and makes plans to come over to her house. Ah, young love!...but it's not what you think. It's not what Max thinks, come to that. Bill is in love with Penelope, Sophy's 15 year-old-sister, but is 'man enough to hide it' until she's older. In the mean time he helps her with her trig homework and takes them to the zoo.
Editorial Note: I think that's just about the most adorable side story in the History of Neelsdom. Now forget it. Betty does.
Overhearing this, Max manages to work in a cutting remark while offering her a lift home. Loosen up, Sophy and sit back. Isn't Bill Evans rather young for you? Grrr. Sophy knew it had been a mistake to lean back against the leather seats of his socking Bentley.
It is wonderfully satisfying then, when told about Bill/Penelope (I tried in vain to mash up their names into something treacly like Bennifer or Brangelina or TomKat but, alas, Peneloill didn't fly.), he has to climb off his high horse.
Max begins to make himself at home with her family--meals together, outings with the children--Uncle Giles is Max's godfather too and that seems enough to be going on with but it doesn't look like he's really in need of her company and she's shy of butting in where she might not be wanted. So, obeying an instinct she can not as yet articulate, Sophy arranges her off-duty and her free time so as to avoid him. She knows, in a secret corner of her mind, that he spells danger. However, since the whole point of him being with her family is to see her, he notices her absence. Storming into her office, he announces, 'What have I done?'
Well, she's not sure yet either and when he lays into her, telling her that he is not interested in laying violent hands on her or in flirting with her (true. He wants to put a ring on it.) she can do one of two things:
A) React huffily and deny, deny, deny. (Always a favorite choice.)
B) Acknowledge a painful, if humiliating, truth. (I vote this one!)
I'm afraid I've become a real old maid in the last few years. Oh, Sophy.
I just love her in that moment. There she is, up to her chin in responsibilities and no social life to speak of and this man (this hot, hot man) is shaking her composure. What she ought to have said was, 'What have you done? You've made it impossible for me to look at another man for the rest of my life and, since you're impossibly out of my league, this means you've doomed me to a spinster's life. Thanks for nothing.'
It is the next day, while scrubbing up for surgery, that she has her forehead-slapping dawning realization.
Oh dear. What now?

When we have leisure, you shall explain that remark to me.
Indeed, I will not, sir.

What now? she asks. Now, she has to try and set him up with her gorgeous friend Mary. (Just go with it.) This involves some subterfuge on her part and is a hilarious failure (Do you know what we talked about? Delayed primary suturing. He...held forth.) and Max doesn't waste any time getting Sophy alone to explain a thing or two:
I'm not available.
...I understand perfectly what you mean.
I wonder if you do.
Drat. That and references to Max's 'evenings out' strangle any faint hope that she might let him know she rather likes him in their pram.
What's a girl to do--muddled in love and snatching at her pride like a flyaway hat? Make up a boyfriend, that's what.
He is John Austin (a name she chooses because it's easy to remember. She promptly muddles it.) who lives in Harrogate and is a bank manager with dark hair and blue eyes and isn't too tall.
Editorial Note: Max knows she's lying right from the get go and he manages to flog that horse into the ground over the course of the book. Sometimes Max uses John Austin as a weapon, sometimes a tool, and sometimes a joke. I feel sorry for Sophy already. Fibbers never prosper.
They go on a smashing date though (because the legendary John Austin is in Harrogate. And then Max invents a cock-and-bull story about a sick dinner partner and some handy tickets.) and it reminds us that they are really ideal for one another.
But at this point in the plot you're thinking to yourself, 'Golly, I sure wish an unsuitable houseman would get Sophy drunk or her parents would die (taken!) or a bomb would go off at the hospital.' Hospital bombs and an ensuing fire? That we can do.
While operating, little whorls of smoke start to eddy under the door and Max orders Sophy to take herself off while he and the anesthetist finish up without her. Her refusal to retreat is merely one more jewel in her eternal crown.
Tucking her firmly under his arm, Max runs the gurney out of the OT just as the roof begins to collapse. They've saved each other's lives but there's no time for breathless romantic interludes. It's all hands on deck as the wounded are shunted to various other hospitals and triage is done in the hospital conference room. When she comes off duty (many hours later) he has come to take her home. But not before a little pity kissing which you might think, given the mythical status of her boyfriend, would be just what the doctor ordered.
Since the operating theatre is...ahem...out of operation, Max returns to Holland--not before making a thorough goodbye of nearly everyone excepting Sophy. She rates a fortifying handshake given in the company of others. She's a bit hurt and bewildered but Max, no doubt, thinks that since he can't say goodbye the proper way (kissing and proposals) than he'd best not do it at all.
When his letter comes, begging her to take a temporary position with him as theatre sister in Holland for three weeks, she doesn't want to say yes. But she has to or there's no book so she lets herself be persuaded.
We leave behind all of the charming secondary characters we've grown to love in England just as Sophy does. They are hardly mentioned again.
Just as soon as her plane touches down in Holland, Max whisks her off to meet Mevrouw van der Wijde. Tineke.
Him: Hey, Sophy, baby, let's swing by and meet a gorgeous and wealthy widow woman who is totally unrelated to me. She possibly wants to check you out because she, as my main squeeze, has the right to object to my female employees.
I totally forgive Sophy for misconstruing their relationship. Max did say he wasn't available and already had a best girl. I guess this is she.
Her suspicions are confirmed when she asks another nurse why Max is 'of course' not free on Friday. Does he sleep in a coffin and drink the blood of the living? Is he moonlighting as a lounge singer? No, responds the nurse (mortified to think she might be repeating gossip), goes home...where Tineke also is.
Editorial Note: Betty glosses over the details but it is difficult to construe what the embarrassed Dutch nurse thinks this to be as anything other than a weekly friends-with-benefits booty-call. In the land of the RDD, why else would they not be married? I can just picture Maise-the-ward-maid explaining things with a cigarette dangling from her lips: They ain't playing Canasta, I'll tell you that right now.
While in Holland, Max discovers that Sophy is having a birthday. Within minutes Max arranges flowers and then a surprise dance at his house later that evening. Wow. That seems ripe with intention.
But, to round out the numbers, Max invited a European gigolo. No, not really. Harry the Inoffensive is a social butterfly but there's no harm in him...right up until he gets Sophy's number and dances her around the floor. That's what comes of failing to properly vet your guests, I suppose.
Max's jealousy prompts him to conduct a really proper row.
Him: Hey, happy birthday. Let's insult your taste and age and judgment in relation to Harry. Oh, and John know about him too because, among your other myriad faults, which, as you can see, I have listed here with appendices and cross-referencing notes, you are a terrible liar. Have I said happy birthday?
She's humiliated at being caught out and called...names but manages to preserve her dignity with small talk. His response is to kiss her into next Tuesday.
He wants his face slapped, is what he wants.

Happy Birthday.

He's in a grotty mood in the morning too and is her own particular demon in OT. But seeing her really upset pops his bubble. He makes some really handsome apologies and she is friendly enough to accept them.
Him: So...this might be a good time to talk about Booty-Call Tineke.
What a bummer the phone rings.
He tries again the next day but she heads him off at the pass. I'd much rather you didn't tell me. Anyway, I know. He is surprised (No one ever expects their text-messages to be hacked...) but she has to run off for an outing with Tineke so that's that.
Upon her return, Max needs her to assist in a difficult amputation and we get to see his sterling qualities. You're a kind and good man, Doctor. Dear me, Sophy, don't speak so soon.
Harry the Inoffensive has chased her down at last and invited her to a concert. Max invites himself along with another group of friends just to keep his eyes on our girl and then cuts her evening off with a made up message about on-call duty.
He presents himself to her the next morning so that she can rain fire and brimstone over his head but she admits good-naturedly that he hadn't, in fact, ruined her evening. What a shame that he can't let it go at that.
That's better. What a pity your choice of boy friends is so unsuitable. John Austin didn't do you much good, either, did he?
He deserves her tears-crowding-her-throat, 'I hate you.'
How awkward it is, then, to have to thank him, mere hours later, for bringing Uncle Giles and Aunt Vera (oh, England hasn't sunk into the sea?) over for a visit.
Her apology (which I don't think she had any business making) prompts him to observe:
It's blow hot, blow cold with you, isn't it?
Um. Pot, Kettle. Kettle, Pot.
But he makes yet more handsome apologies. (Huzzah! The Titanic is turning!) This is beginning to remind me of some lyrics from one of those moody 90s bands Mijnheer van Voorhees used to listen to: If I dig a hole to China, I'd catch the first junk to Soho. Max is digging but he's a not a grudge holder and is quick to retrench.
He asks her to stay another week and also to come to a dance at his house. (A ball! Lots of stories end at a ball!) But Tineke is out in the car so he's got to go.
She sneaks into the party and he finds her by herself on a quiet bench.
'You're shy, aren't you? yourself and all you say and do, is a never-ending delight to me.'
Editorial Note: Yay! He finally gets her. All that teasing about John Austin was a much bigger deal for her than for him. She's stood up to it very well but he's got some ground to regain.
He regains it in an even more secluded parlor (lovely place for a spot of snogging if you don't have a lay-by handy) and she's having the time of her life until Tineke bursts in, crying and babbling in Dutch. Max escorts her from the room and puts some firm RDD arms around her while she cries hysterically into his waistcoat.
Do you blame Sophy for leaving? I don't.
Max practically drags her by her hair back to his house the next day and tries to tell her about Tineke but he's not in a very conciliatory mood to begin with and she isn't either. She rushes in with her version of events which are pretty damning: Your booty-call is a nice woman and she broke us up and I saw you holding her like you cared!
And then she throws the book at him. And by 'the book' I mean she more than implies that he was preying on her because she was just a plain nurse with no money and was, as such, fair game to someone in his position. (Gasp! That's going to leave a mark.)
Even though Max is the only one in the room to know that her version is bunkum, he doesn't leap into the breach with the truth. He's too hurt and his only retaliation is to deny her tea and kiss her cruelly. (But she still probably liked it. I would.)
On her final day in Holland, Tineke comes to Sophy's room. Oh dear, did I do this? Max was covering for me and Karel van Steen who have loved each other for years but were too dirt-stupid to marry each other in the first place. His wife was incurably insane (Honey, is that what the married men are selling these days?) until she died with suspicious convenience on the night of the dance. Max has been letting us carry on at his house every Friday while he plays Canasta!
Sophy, with a bravery not unlike members of Pickett's Charge or that of the fabled Light Brigade, knows she's going to her doom as she lays siege to Max's office. She gets out a very strangled explanation and then runs for it. He so catches her.
The End

Rating: Oh my heck, did I love this. Please forgive the choppy review. There was so much wonderfulness that I had to leave out and I sometimes think that ripping apart a book you loathe is easier than adding anything and doing justice to a book you love.
Sophy is so adorable. It helps to think of her as Charlie Bucket from Willie Wonka. Max is her sweet shop that she looks at longingly but avoids because, well, why torture herself when she can't have him? And then, because she is so good and honest and loving, in the end she gets the factory, the chocolate and all the Oompa-Loompa slave laborers for her very own.
She fibs a ton which is much funner to read than the ladies who are faultless and stoic and if you're looking for a read that has more drama than some of Betty's later work (but less tragedy than, say, The Hasty Marriage) then this would be a perfect read.
Max is no slouch either. He's distracted by L'affair Tineke (Everyone claims that they find it impossible not to like her but, yet, I do--most vilely.) and horribly eaten up with jealousy when Inoffensive Harry enters the scene (which leads to drama and indiscretions). He twits her about John Morris-Austin way too much until finally (FINALLY) figuring out that her shyness is making his overture seem mean instead of teasing. (He does twit her about it again after this discovery but only when in a rage and goaded to it.) He is otherwise chasing her skirt satisfactorily--doing a lot more wooing than I was able to stick in anywhere in the review.
Betty abandons the British family as soon as the protagonists move on to Holland which, given how charming everyone is, is a bummer.
But that doesn't matter because I'm giving it a Lashings of whipped cream with a cherry on top anyway.

Food: She enjoys the 'post-prandial aroma of toasted cheese' (yum), Quiche Lorraine, treacle tart, roast pork, Daisy chicory, Tournedos Benjamin (ordered in honor of her brother), cauliflower cheese, beef (That's it. Just 'beef'.), digestives dispensed with 'a matronly air', coupe Clo-Clo that she orders just for the name and a great deal of italics food.

: A serviceable tweed coat that you want to kick to the curb, an amber Thai silk that sounds gorgeous (if off-the-peg) and gets worn everywhere, a squirrel coat that I find it difficult to imagine as anything less than an outfit-wrecking catastrophe, a lambswool shirtwaister and a jersey shirtwaister. Sophy's Staff nurse shows up at the hospital fire wearing a purple trouser suit and an overpowering fox fur hat.


  1. I have a question about the cover art. What's up with Sophie's hands?

  2. Do you think our Dear Betty has so many hospital fires & bombings because of her own WWII nursing experiences, or do you think it's more likely that mulling over the off-duty rosters late at night (wasn't she the night nurse?) she was hoping for a fire or a bombing? Great review, great, great book, a favorite of mine.

    1. Betty not only saw WW2 bombings, but lived in an era where car accidents were much more frequent and deadly: 11000 road deaths in mid-60s with very few people owning cars: under 4000 per year now with bigger population and many more cars. 50s & 60s saw bombings in Lebanon, Canada (Quebec liberators), Cyprus, Italy, Greece and other places by terrorists. In 1968, Britain saw a tower block reduced to rubble when someone turned on a gas cooker (stove) and it exploded, blowing out a load bearing wall which led to each floor collapsing onto the one below until the whole tower progressively collapsed. Everyone in Britain was as aware of sudden, explosion-based structural collapse in 1968 as the rest of the world was, after 9/11. Our Betty did not live in rosy times.

    2. Do we really have a Betty Broodje Kaas now? How did I miss this (oh yeah, week on Caribbean cruise...)? I think UJD has arrived. Welcome Betty Broodje Kaas!

    3. Week on Caribbean cruise?! Please, please tell me you took Cruise to a Wedding or Never While the Grass Grows along and snapped a Betty in the Wild photo.

    4. Yum yum! I guess you can say that my toddler eats an American version of broodje kaas almost every lunchtime--grilled cheese sandwich!

    5. "Do you think our Dear Betty has so many hospital fires..."
      If you think the number of hospital fires is unrealistic read this post: Fire

  3. I sure hope those are operating gloves on Sophy's hands.....

  4. When is Betty Debbie going to post the "Cauliflower Cheese" recipe. I've done cauliflower with cheese but never cauliflower cheese. I think I can handle the 'beef' on my own. ;-)

  5. I make an awesome cauliflower mother is from New Zealand, in my house growing up it would be supper, but now my husband and boys (who will eat it, btw) demand more food on the side, probably "Beef!"

  6. Sounds like someone should volunteer to make cauliflower cheese and take a picture (hint, hint).

  7. Oh, I've had Brit-style cauliflower cheese -- it's dim, frankly. The cauliflower is left whole, so only the outside florets get cheesy enough. Mind you, my mother's version (florets separated, which is good, but then drowned in a cheese sauce with more Velveeta than I care to admit) had its faults too. The perfect cauliflower cheese would be a sort of gratin, complete with the bubbly brown bits on top. Hmmmm.

    Bill & Penelope: Billelope

  8. Why am I reading that as Jackalope? ;0)

  9. Isn't Max on the cover a dead ringer for John Gavin?

  10. I can see that, although Darren McGavin seems closer to the mark to my eye.

  11. Darrin McGavin?!? Are you dipping into the Madeira, Betty Magdalen?

  12. Let's put it to a vote: Here's a photo of Darren McGavin, and here's a photo of John Gavin. Which one looks more like Max as pictured on the cover?

  13. Okay, Betty Magdalen, in that picture he totally looks like Darren McGavin but since I keep imagining him in his more rumpled roles, I can't shoehorn him into RDD shoes. John Gavin, however, is welcome to bring any shoes he wants. Hot, hot, hot.

  14. Sadly, those appear to be operating gloves on Sophy's little short hands....

  15. Hello everyone! I just finished reading this one and I LOVED it! I have the same copy pictured at the top of Betty Keira's review and on page 171, Max says to Sophie, after leads her into his study and asks her to let down her guard, "Had you forgotten? I had not." She replies, "No, I haven't forgotten.", and glorious kissing ensues. Can anybody please let me know what was not forgotten? I wish I knew what delightful tidbit they are referring to.

  16. I'm with Betty Katie on this one: What's "forgotten"? Plus where does it state the insane wife died? Plus then why is Tineke crying inconsolably and van Steen so happy?--I mean a little decorum is called for all the way around.

    I thought the misunderstanding plot device was pretty effective, and I didn't mind Tineke unlike Betty Keira. However, I found Sophy's so-called friend "Pretty Witty Mary" to be insufferable--"Oh so plain Sophy, if I couldn't catch the hot consultant, what hope could you possibly have?" I cheered when Max politely but firmly humiliated her conceit.

  17. *sigh* A classic. I love love love all the technical details, particularly the anesthetist who twiddles knobs until all the colored balls are just where he wants them in the glass tubes. (That's not what it looks like on Grey's Anatomy!)

    I love that she wears a little velvet bow in front of her top-knot (even if I can't quite see how that works with the frilled muslin cap).

    I love that she vilifies him *but* he's the one who infers "middle-aged" as a modifier for the "playboy" slur.

    I love that he punishes her by denying her tea. ("The sweet elixir of life" in this household!)

    And I love that she tells him she loves him and rushes out of his outpatients clinic so that it's impossible for him to leave right away. (I bet he had to run. I hope so!)

    Wonderful, wonderful book.

  18. Betty Broodje KaasMay 25, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    Pondering the lovely side story of the man who is man enough to hide that he is waiting for a 15 year old to get older... Isn't that like the Duke of Devonshire and the (now Dowager) Duchess? They fell in love when she was 14 and knew that they would marry, but waited four years for her to grow up enough for it to be proper. Maybe our betty just raided history. The Dowager was a Mitford sister, and they were the ultimate celebrities of their day. Not really a typical role model for the Great Betty.

    1. Hey, Betty Broodje Kaas, I was thinking of you this week. Nice to hear from you again.
      Betty Anonymous

  19. This is far and away the best site on the internet . . .

  20. Great review, Betty Keira! I am amazed that some copy-editor (?) at Harlequin decided to upgrade whatever 1960s music player Betty Neels may have used to a CD player - it's very odd.

    One point about the revivew - when you describe Tineke's 'mea culpa' episode, you mention Professor van Essen as the one Tineke's been waiting for, when you mean Karel van Steen! The former name would of course refer to Coenraad from Sister Peters in Amsterdam.

    Speaking of Coenraad, when Betty Neels describes the scene where Max introduces him to Sophy, she says he's 'somewhat younger' than Max - is this quite correct? It's been years since I read the BN's first book, so I'm not at all certain, but seem to recall that he was closer to 40 than 35 in the book.

    1. My goodness! You're right! I've corrected it now after all these years.