The Nurses of Steeple Street by Donna Douglas

In brief: The first in a new series about a group of district nurses in Leeds post World War I. Agnes has come to train as a district nurse, but what’s she hiding? Will Polly ever be able to escape her mother’s clutches?

The good: Interesting to read about nursing from a non-hospital aspect.

The not-so-good: Agnes was quite unlikeable for most of the book to me.

Why I chose it: Really enjoyed the Nightingales series, thanks to Random House UK for the eARC.

Year: 2016

Pages: 496

Publisher: Arrow (Random House)

Setting: Leeds

My rating: 7 out of 10

I was really looking forward to starting a new series from Donna Douglas, as I’ve really enjoyed reading her Nightingales series, set in a London hospital from the late 1930s to 1940s. Like the rest of the planet, my experiences with district nursing (i.e. community nursing) mainly come from watching/reading Call the Midwife with a bit of the Sue Barton series thrown in. While I thought this book was good, I wasn’t as enchanted with the nurses of Steeple Street who look after the people needing home visits from nurses in all parts of Leeds.

Why? I think there are several factors that affected my enjoyment of the book. The first was that I just could not like Agnes, the new nurse training. She’s from the Nightingale (nice link) but she’s an idiot. She looks down on the senior district nurses, certain that she can show them a thing or two about efficiency and ‘proper’ nursing. Yet she’s hiding a huge secret that really doesn’t allow her to throw stones. We get the idea that she’s been cast to the wilds of Leeds by her family against her will, but she’s wishy washy on the subject. Sometimes she wants to be away from them and set on doing her best, other times she’s ready to escape. Her reluctance to understand her patients’ situations was also quite snooty I felt and she really didn’t do herself any favours. Agnes also didn’t show too much emotion to anyone, even the reader, which made it more difficult to relate to her.

The other characters varied in how well fleshed out they were. There were two other trainee district nurses, Polly and Philippa. Poor Pip’s main sentence is that she wants a motorcycle for her country rounds – she doesn’t get any page time beyond that. Polly also happens to be the daughter of Bess Bradshaw, senior district nurse. She’s quite henpecked by her mother and tries to rebel quietly to live her own life. For the majority of the book, she accepts what her mother tell her to do reluctantly. It isn’t until later on that she takes Bess on and talks openly. I liked Polly as a character, but she was a little too bland to make me really care what happened to her.

Her mother Bess is a card though. She’s fierce and brooks no nonsense from anyone. She can be cold, incorrect and barking up the wrong tree but it was her feistiness that kept me entertained. I never knew what she would do or say next. Plus, she was honest and had the guts to admit when she was wrong.

The story is light and well-written. As always, it’s a fascinating look into treatments and maladies from days gone by. I would have liked a bit more structure into how the nurses work, but perhaps that just shows my hospital training and love of regimented routines! Will I read more of this series? Yes, I will give it another go as I think my enjoyment depended on the characters the book focused on. The writing is great and the time period interesting.

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