In addition to the 90-or-so sexy novels she wrote, Florence Stonebraker (1896-1877) also produced about 50 romances. As far as I can tell, the first appeared in 1941 and the last in 1969. Most of those from the 1960s fall in the ever-popular nurse subgenre. I’ve stayed away from romance novels more than other genre fiction. But I finally decided to make an exploratory exception for Stonebraker. In Police Lady (republished under the odd title No Greater Love), as in her sexy novels, she employs a brisk writing style and makes references to current issues. What she does not do is deal with sex -- or even mention it, except by extreme indirection. I wasn’t surprised or even disappointed by this, but I would have been more interested if I had known which of the characters were sleeping together. Florence Stuart, incidentally, was one of three pseudonyms she used for romance novels.
Police Lady by Florence Stuart. Arcadia House (1958), 221 pp.
Kay Nelson, a beautiful and altruistic LAPD officer in her mid-twenties, always tries to treat delinquent kids with sympathy and respect. She wishes her fiancé-to-be, stuffy mama’s boy Leslie Barnes, would treat her the same way. But he’s furious when she breaks a date to take charge of Davey Hunt, a lonely and shy seven year old accused of petty theft. She soon meets the adults in the boy’s life: his father, Brad, a husky and taciturn widower who runs a struggling doughnut shop; Brad’s nasty girlfriend, Myrna Talbot; and Myrna’s great aunt Lucy, Davey’s hard-hearted caretaker. Kay’s concern about the boy’s upbringing soon morphs into a yen for his well-meaning but ineffectual father.
The book is one of those girl-meets-boy romances that show their true colors almost immediately. Readers know at once how the story will turn out. Stonebraker helps things along. First, she creates only insufferable alternatives for her main characters. Leslie is a stuffed shirt; Myrna is a scheming bitch. When they can’t get what they want, they launch into sneering diatribes. Marriage material they’re not. Meanwhile, Kay’s mother, neighbor, and boss -- all lonely people in their fifties -- are advising her to find a lifetime companion as soon as possible. The author’s writing is lively, but her plotting seems a bit lazy. She adds unnecessary scenes and passes on a chance to show Kay doing something like actual police work. In addition, Stonebraker’s all-you-need-is-love ending is not quite convincing. Skeptical readers may even wonder whether she is sending a different message.