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REVIEW: The Burning Lamp by Frances Murray

Dear Ms Murray,

Florence NightingaleI picked up your name from a thread at AAR. Lots of people had good things to say about you and this book in particular. After reading this, I can see why.

The basic story is about a young Scottish woman who first trains in London with Florence Nightingale and works at St. Thomas hospital then travels out to the American frontier town of Argentana, Colorado in 1867. Euphemia Witherspoon’s father was a doctor and after his death she is left with the choice of an arranged marriage to her father’s partner or working as an unpaid governess/maid/drudge for her sister. She decides on door number three and travels to London to train at the one thing she knows a little about which will allow her a decent living, nursing.

But the nursing profession is really in its infancy and Phemie’s quick mind and sometimes quicker temper sometimes land her in hot water. When the opportunity to travel to America and set up a hospital on the frontier is offered, Phemie and Florence decide that maybe it would be a good choice. But when Phemie finally arrives after a long Atlantic crossing and even longer rail, coach and horseback journey across America, she finds that stubborn townspeople, the US Cavalry and the Comanche nation might have different plans for her. Or maybe they just need a little help in seeing things her way.

At 220 pages, this is a fairly short book for the amount of characters and plot but you have an economical turn of phrase and ability to hone straight into the main point. We see the characters not only with description but also in action, speech and interactions. There aren’t a lot of unnecessary subplots or running around to pad the page count. I also enjoyed your keen ear for dialect (Scottish and Authentic Frontier Gibberish, as they say in Blazing Saddles) and delicious, sly wit. It was written in 1973 so unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of POV other than the heroine but I didn’t have much trouble following the feelings of the other characters.

There’s only one kiss (but it’s a doozy) and no love scenes. The descriptions of the hospital and frontier are adequate but not overly nitty gritty. And I can certainly see how nursing has changed and evolved from the early days. I’d give this one a B/B+ and am looking for more of your books already.


Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Sires
    Sep 12, 2006 @ 08:47:18

    Try Dear Colleague and she also wrote a rather long book called Rowan Berry or Red Rowan Berry that I remember liking a lot.

    The Burning Lamp which was originally published in the US as young adult.

  2. Jayne
    Sep 12, 2006 @ 09:58:30

    The Belchamber Scandal is good as well. I have a list of her other books to find but have just been lazy about looking into getting them. Bad, bad me. ;)

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