Twice a week for the last three years, nurse Clotilde Collins has worked with the handsome Doctor James Thackery at St Alma’s Hospital, but she’d never dream that he was actually interested in her! Besides, she’s been dating a young surgeon, Bruce Johnson, for some time now, and as soon as he finds the right practice to buy into (he’s very fussy about that; he wants into Sir Oswald’s practice, not some penny ante bunch), her father will give them the money for him to do so, they’ll be wed, and happily ever after, right?
Well, until Clotilde’s parents are killed in a car crash in France…
You knew I wouldn’t be writing long before I threw in a Betty Neels book, didn’t you? I’m so predictable. But let’s face it, Neels’ stories are quality work, if you like chaste stores where the gent just takes charge. And that’s what happens here, of course. Bruce is way too busy kissing up to Sir Oswald to help “his Tilly” with the arrangements, so James goes to France on her behalf and takes care of things on that end. Naturally, there is another complication: All that money, that her father was supposed to give them as a wedding gift, so Bruce could buy into a practice? It doesn’t exist. Her father was apparently not the money manager she supposed him to be, and her childhood home is even going to go on the block very, very soon, a fact that Clotilde finds difficult to deal with. About halfway through the book, when Bruce finds out…well, the inevitable happens.
Also fairly-typically for a Betty Neels tale, there’s another woman in the good doctor’s life, too, or so we’re led to believe. There’s a Welsh lady, one Dr. Mary Evans, who is quite nasty to the nurses on the ward, and who just drools on James. Clearly, she’s got her sights set on him, but he hasn’t seemed to notice. But why, then, when Clotilde met James’ sister Katrina and their grandmother Mevrouw van Ansdaadt, was there talk of him carrying on about the woman he was planning to marry?
You know where this story goes, as soon as you get all the names right, when you open a Betty Neels book. I’ll admit it; she does a lot of the same things over and over. True to formula, Clotilde is a self-described “big strapping girl,” and James’ younger sister is, of course, a bit of a Chatty Cathy, like the gent’s relative often is in these stories. James drives a Bentley, also of course, and has two dogs, and a trip to the Netherlands is in there somewhere.
Why, then, do I keep coming back to these? It almost sounds like I could write the whole story, given the names. What brings me back into Betty Neels books over and over is her beautiful word pictures. Here’s exhibit A:
And over coffee, Katrina declared that she surely had to have a new pair of boots and Clotilde must go with her to buy them. “We’ll be half an hour,” she told James, “so go and talk with one of your professors…” She broke off as a pretty young woman with gleaming golden hair under a little fur hat came across to their table. “better still,” said Katrina softly, “here’s Hortense. Chat her up, James–you’ve been neglecting her shamefully.”
“Such a good idea.” He showed no sign of discomfiture and his voice was as placid as ever. He got to his feet. “You two run off, then–I’ll be in the University car park in an hour’s time.” He turned a smiling face to the girl. “Hortense, how delightful! Sit down and have coffee and I’ll have another cup to keep you company…”
“An old girl-friend,” said Katrina as she and Clotilde reached the pavement, “And she’s never given up hope–she hasn’t got a chance, though. James has fallen hook, line and sinker for someone at St. Alma’s.” She spoke in a guileless voice and glanced at Clotilde. “Did you know that?”
See what I mean? Your head filled in all the blanks you needed to; that could happen at the Starbucks right around the corner, or at any coffee house or cafe anywhere. Betty Neels does this, over and over. Her characters and setting are rich and beautiful, even in sparse words. And that’s why I keep going back to her world.