Review: 'The War Nurse' by R.V. Doon

by - February 07, 2014


The War Nurse is a heart-rending story of two Americans, a civilian nurse and doctor, caught in the Philippines when WWII interrupts their newfound love. As the bombs fall, Katarina Stahl frees a German doctor accused of spying. This impulsive act haunts her throughout the war’s duration and, it even sets off a chain of tragic events for her German-born parents in New York. Jack Gallagher surrenders to the Japanese at Bataan, but his pregnant war bride, Katarina, begins a journey into depraved darkness as Manila descends into chaos and occupation. Every choice she’s forced to make to avoid interment and starvation causes Jack’s memory to fade. By the war’s end, she’s earned the nickname given to her by the soldiers on Bataan...but will Jack still love her?


I was really looking forward to reading this novel as I love history intertwined with a beautiful love story. But this book definitely surprised me as it's not the usual fairytale approach to a love story; it comes from a much darker, grittier place.

Although there are many occasions where R.V. Doon focuses on the love between Katarina and Jack, it is always interrupted by the horror of the war which is surrounding them. It is a stark reminder that it was a really difficult time, filled with destruction on so many levels.

Aside from the love story running through the book, it explores the fact that people had to give up their dreams because of the war. Whether it was dreams of a particular career, of love, marriage and a family, everything was brought to a halt when the war loomed. I found this particularly sad to read about as we now live in a world where chasing your dreams is such an important journey to take. The emotional sacrifice that the characters have to make in the book are dreadful, and it is so difficult to really appreciate the pain and suffering they went through, but R.V. Doon portrays the tragedy very effectively within her novel.

I found it particularly interesting that the book focuses on the conditions that German people faced at the hands of the Americans. So many stories that are based around the war follow the horror that the German army enforced upon their prisoners. It was really intriguing to read about the war from another angle.

The only thing I found a bit difficult was the amount of characters in the story. So early in the novel you are introduced to so many different characters that I found it could be a little difficult to remember who some of them were and how they were connected to Katarina - so it was one I had to pay that little bit more attention to; you definitely had to be concentrating!

This story is filled with so much - war, love, family, devastation and desperation.

About the Author:

R.V. Doon is a registered nurse with a wide variety of experience and certification in emergency medicine, critical care, and clinical research. She’s been a bedside nurse, nurse manager, and teacher. Her nursing experience has given her unique insight into the human condition. While working she wrote novels and short stories until one mystery was a finalist in a national contest. Now R.V. writes across genres from medical and dark fantasy thrillers, to cozy mysteries and historical family sagas.

She lives in historic Mobile, Alabama on the beautiful Gulf Coast with her husband. R.V. loves seafood, deep sea fishing, and she’s recently taken up sailing. She’s also a caffeine and chocolate addict. If she’s not home writing, she can be found reading in a comfortable book nook.



Red Cross Surgical Outpost
The Philippines
December 7, 1941 International Date Line

The jungle’s heart quit beating.
Katarina Stahl froze on the hacked-out jungle path, lantern swinging in her right hand, listening for a sign of danger. Local Filipinos paid attention to the sudden hush of insect song and feral animal noises. She experienced the same tunnel vision, cold hands, and pounding pulse as when a patient stopped breathing. Her muscles tensed awaiting a cry for help that never came.
“Where is Miss Stahl?” Doctor von Wettin’s muffled shout came from behind her.
Katarina took a deep breath and quickened her pace, hoping to avoid him. Two years ago, she’d left behind home, family, and all her regrets to be a Red Cross nurse in Manila. In paradise, her nightmares slowly became tranquil dreams. Then Jack Gallagher came back into her life. Unwilling to let the past threaten her future again, she traded in her newfound peace for the sweeter agonies of lying in his familiar arms. She hoped he wasn’t a mistake.
“Wait,” Doctor von Wettin yelled, but she ducked inside her tent.
Keeping the lamp dim, she changed into a swishy blue dress and slipped into heels. A metallic glint from underneath her discarded clothing caught her eye. Jack, you dope.
Smiling, she grabbed his gift to wear for good luck. A sharp piece stung her finger and she dropped it. Oh, swell. She stared at the puncture mark; no itching or swelling, just a bead of crimson. Licking the blood off, she turned up the light and then leaned over to examine the primitive necklace using a discarded sax reed.
“Miss Stahl,” von Wettin said in a loud voice from outside the tent, “how dare you plot to kidnap my wife? I will issue charges.”
Minka kept the letter? “Sir, a moment, please?”
Drat that man! Two weeks in the jungle doing medical charity work, and he picked the last night to stir conflict? She took a deep breath and concentrated on the odd necklace.
The leather cord held a rock wrapped in red silk, a shark’s tooth, and three metal medallions in shapes of a circle, a triangle, and a square. Etchings and inscriptions covered the medals. Jack wouldn’t have given her a native amulet that Filipino’s called anting-antingAnting-anting was similar to the more familiar voodoo gris-gris from her New Orleans childhood. Both required blood to sanctify their magic. Katarina knew such charms were meant for the superstitious, but couldn’t help flinching as chills goosed her neck.
Did someone mean to frighten her? Well, hexed or not, she was going on stage to play jazz in public. Feeling punchy, she put on the anting, grabbed the sax, and confronted von Wettin. “You’re confused, doctor.”
He held up a lantern while his gaze swept up her body. Flushed, he waved a fistful of letters in the air. “Nein. I have proof.”
“Can this wait? I’m due on stage.”
He smacked the letters against his thigh. “No, cousin, it cannot.”
His careless words chilled her. “We agreed to keep our connection quiet.”
“It no longer amuses me. Did Minka ask you to smuggle her to Honolulu?”
Von Wettin would never be called charming, but imposing would be accurate. Tall and barrel-chested, he wore civilian clothes like a military uniform. His sharp blue eyes behind round glasses lent him a piercing gaze and a commanding presence. Katarina knew his eyes were colorblind to red hues, and to her, the flaw lessened his impact.
Applause from the amateur show interrupted their silence.
Her skin prickled under his glare. “Minka panicked. She expected you to be recalled to Germany. War and raising babies don’t mix. Good thing she had a false alarm.”
“You blame my wife?” Anger stuttered his words, and the letters brushed her cheek.
She stepped back and shoved his arm away. “I tried to help my cousin.”
Minka von Wettin had let slip at a bridge tournament that his stammer preceded violence. Katarina observed clenched fists, gritted teeth, and stormy eyes. He wouldn’t have to strike her to cause harm—no, he could ruin her happiness with whispered words.
“Your hand is icy.” He looked amused. “You fear me?”
The larger envelope with official stamps caught her attention. She squinted at the address. Katarina grabbed the letter out of his hand and stared at the expensive stationery. The words blurred as more chills swept up her spine.
The German Consul in Manila had addressed it to her father in New York. Katarina’s vision blurred as she considered the consequences of such a letter arriving at her parent’s modest home. Her younger brothers’ sweet faces flitted through her mind, and her nervous tension erupted. She kicked von Wettin in the kneecap.
He dropped the lantern and letters before doubling over. Curses followed in German. “Why?” he shouted, glancing up.
She rammed the sax bow into his forehead, snapping his black glasses. He staggered backward against another tent as blood seeped down his buttoned white shirt. Oh, no. Reacting without thought of consequences was a family curse. Katarina gathered the other letters he dropped. “Never interfere with my family! Thanks to you, my friendship with Minka is over.”
She fled to the alfresco stage lights.
Jack Gallagher quit pacing when he saw her and grinned. He wore black pants and a white cotton shirt open to the chest. His dark hair had been slicked back, but a wayward lock fell like a spike between shiny green eyes. Her insides warmed up. God, she loved this man.
“Those my love letters . . . what’s wrong, baby?”
She took a deep breath. “I’ll play sax, you sing.”
“Girls can’t play jazz. Not even in N’awlins.”
“I can bust the notes same as you.”
A smile tugged at his lips. “Trouble follows when people break rules.”
“Who makes the rules? I want to do what I love with the man I love.”
The onstage act concluded to applause.
He stepped closer and pressed his lips against her neck. Her breath caught and the spot felt red hot. He examined the anting necklace. “Scared of something?”
She kissed his lopsided chin dimple. “Not with you around.”
“You’re on,” Jack said, and jumped onto the stage. Two men joined him, and Jack informed them of the change. They nodded. Excited, she tucked the letters under a chair leg.
Jack turned to face the crowd and held up his arms. “Ladies and gents, give us a moment to warm up. Tonight we’re playing some good ole boogie-woogie from N’awlins.”
The crowd hollered and clapped.
Heart stampeding, Katarina took the stage. She tried to moisten the reed, but her spit had dried. Her first notes came out flat—nerves. Ignoring catcalls, she looked past the crowd to feel the vibe. Then she was in the tube, notes flowing out like rippled satin.
Jack’s head bobbed as he counted, “One anda two anda three.”
Katarina took lead and blasted out the first song.
Some people cheered, others stared with mouths agape.
Confident now, she began to pour it on, hitting the sweet notes. The drummer and trumpet player followed her lead without missing a beat.
Jack shouted, “Yeah, baby.”
Her squabble with von Wettin faded with every note. She was sick of him. Staff missed meals to avoid his chronic boasts of being descended from royalty. Minka was a fantastic bridge partner, but her friendship wasn’t worth enduring one more day of him. She rued the day Minka uncovered their common relatives in Dresden, Germany.
They concluded the number to wild applause. Jack shouted, “Wasn’t my girl grand?”
Nurses cheered her. Laughing, Katarina blew a kiss to them.
Jack winked and finger snapped the next count. He sang, “You lied to me,” and shot an ardent glance at her—“kitten.” She saw her friend and fellow Red Cross nurse, Corazon Castillo, burst out laughing.
Katarina poured her heart into the music and wondered if women would ever play instruments in bands. After Jack concluded the song, she and the trumpet player bowed.
When she looked up, instead of a dazzling, starry sky, she saw an orange fireball flanked on both sides by smaller flame trails dropping from the heavens. It headed straight for the stage. As people cheered for more, she couldn’t react. The impending disaster petrified her.

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