Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on 13 May, 2021 in Australian Pulp, Men's Adventure, Pulp, Romance, trashy covers, Trashy Tuesday, War novel | 1 comment



A Pair of Hands by J. E. Macdonnell (Horwitz, MS 1,1960, 1962)

Following my recent post on Australian paperback medical adventures and romances of the 1960s (, I came across another batch of medical novels by J. E. Macdonnell.

J. E. Macdonnell (1917-2002) is best known as the prolific author of Australian naval war novels (see below), which dominated the bookracks of newspaper stands from the late 1950s into the 1990s. However, he also had a brief series of medical novels that enjoyed some success in the 1960s.

The Medical Series (published by Horwitz with the MS prefix) consisted of 12 books and primarily ran from 1960 to 1963, although the final book was not released until 1967. The books had many of the features of other medical series at time, such as the Shane Douglas and Karen Miller series, including placing young handsome doctors in difficult situations with equally attractive young nurses. The Australian outback and the Flying Doctor Service also featured in a number of the books, and it is interesting how Horwitz were quite willing to use Australian settings for their various medical series, but preferred American settings for their crime and spy novels.

The series started in 1960 with A Pair Of Hands (above) and featured Doctor Ralph Berlace who appeared in a number of the books, but not all. It also set the scene for the subsequent series with an experienced doctor being thrust into a dangerous situation in outback Queensland.

The cover on the second edition (above) was reasonably bland and lacked the colour and sex appeal of the other books in the series, such as The Doctor’s Challenge which I featured in my earlier post:

The Doctor’s Challenge by J E Macdonnell (Horwitz, MS4, 1961).

It is hard to imagine the cover on A Pair Of Hands, which looked like a classic medical romance cover with the smiling doctor and the doting demure nurse in the background, appealing to the many fans of Macdonnell’s naval war novels and spy stories. The only interesting thing about the cover is the weird clump of clean medical gauze that the doctor seems to be proudly holding.

I also recently came across a copy of the fifth book in the series, Outback Emergency (Horwitz, 1962).

Outback Emergency by J E Macdonnell (Horwitz, MS5, 1962)

Again featuring Doctor Berlace and the Australian outback, Outback Emergency is a darker tale about relationships, sexual intrigue, murder and war trauma. It also has an underlying racism that would be unacceptable today. The book also gives equal space to the Flying Doctor pilot and war veteran Ted Morley, who is a much more complex character than Berlace.

The cover of this first edition copy of Outback Emergency is different from most of the rest in the series, which usually featured close-ups of doctors. It has a more action feel to it, and is probably more in keeping with the crime novels of the time, with the sprawled injured woman and the suggestion of cleavage. In some ways the cover highlights the dilemma that Horwitz must have had about how to market the books. At times it seemed as though they were aiming at the female romance market, whereas on other occasions they were packaging the books as being something more sexier and suspenseful. I suspect that this switching between approaches contributed to the series being relatively short-lived.

Two of the books I covered in my previous article, Wrong Diagnosis (MS7, 1962) and Sea Surgeon (MS9 and No. 45, 1962), both have romance style covers, albeit very striking ones.

Wrong Diagnosis by J. E. Macdonnell (Horwitz, MS7, 1962)
Sea Surgeon by J. E. Macdonnell (Horwitz, MS9, No. 45, 1961)

Although not as striking, the cover on Doctor Defiant (MS8) is also clearly in the romance camp.

Doctor Defiant by J E Macdonnell (Horwitz, MS8, 1962)

The storyline of Doctor Defiant also seems to be straight out of the medical romance playbook and contains many of the usual tropes: a “handsome and wealthy Senior Obstetrician”; a chaste blonde nurse in love with the doctor; a hysterical female patient and a medical emergency that requires the nurse to do the right thing, even if it harms her budding romance with the doctor. Interestingly, the book is set in America, which was rare for the Macdonnell books, and drug addiction plays a big part in the story.

The cover is classic romance, with a handsome, arrogant looking doctor and a pretty, respectful nurse in the foreground, while an unstable female patient requires attention in the background.

With the eleventh book in the series, Doctor On Test, Macdonnell returned to Doctor Ben Grady from Wrong Diagnosis, who seems to have an ongoing problem with young female nurses and patients. The action is set at a testing site for jet aircraft and again a romantic triangle appears to be at the core of the story.

Doctor On Test by J. E. Macdonnell (Horwitz, MS11, 1963)

The cover is similar to Doctor Defiant and has an earnest romance feel to it. I do, however, like the corny tagline:
‘Dr. Ben Grady was reluctant to diagnose the danger of a woman’s love…’ The background of jet aircraft testing and business greed also adds some more interest and suspense to the story.

After Doctor On Test Macdonnell took a break from the Medical Series for four years while he focused on his naval war books and a contemporary spy series featuring secret agent Mark Hood. The final book in the series, The Doctor’s Mistake, appeared in 1967 and again featured Ben Grady.

The Medical Series was an interesting break from Macdonnell’s usual military action novels and it can only be assumed that Horwitz was using him to meet the public’s demand for medical stories, which was briefly the rage in the early 1960s. The books seem to fall somewhere between medical romance and medical action, and I suspect that they failed to meet the demands of either of the audiences for these books. It is easy to be dismissive of the Medical Series books, but I do like how they usually used Australian settings and themes and at some level they provide a window into early 1960s Australia.

Finally, I recently came across a good copy of one of Macdonnell’s war stories, Fire One!, which has a typically spectacular naval action cover:

Fire One by J. E. Macdonnell (Horwitz, No. 50, 1963)

Here is the link to my previous article on Australian medical paperbacks of the 1960s:

1 Comment

Leave a Reply