Skip to Content
ublogo print

University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

It Ain't Hay

cover image By: Dodge, David (male)
Publisher: Dell Publishing Co., Inc. (Dell 270)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 231: PS3507 .O248 I8 1946
Contributor: R. Brandt


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: David Dodge Geographic Locale: San Francisco, California and Half Moon Bay Date of Publication: 1946  |  Original Date: 1946 Setting: urban; waterfront Motives: marijuana smuggling Alternate Title: A Drug on the Market

Plot Summary

Barney Steele, "wearing a two hundred dollar suit, a thirty dollar hat, and a glossy black beard that made him look very little like the crook he was," arrives in the office of San Francisco CPA James "Whit" Whitney seeking tax advice regarding income derived from illegal activities. Steele owns a tuna clipper, the Sea Witch, that he uses to smuggle marijuana from Mexico into San Francisco. When Whit begins to suspect the source of Steele's extra income, he sets him up so that the cops, who have never heard of Barney Steele, can get a look at him. Whit pretends to be interested in Steele's problems in order to stall for time and get as much information out of him as possible. When Steele realizes that Whit has no intention of working for him, he retaliates by having his strong-arm man Tony Barreiro and two "zoot-suiters" work him over. Whit then sets out on a course of revenge,agreeing to help the police secure evidence against Steele on the condition that he get a few minutes alone with him before the cops pinch him. That strains his friendship with Lieutenant Webster, endangers his marriage, causes him to experiment with "hay," and leads him into a brief relationship with a beautiful Spanish dancer, who happens to be Tony's girl. Whit, Webster, officers from the Justice Department's division of Narcotic Enforcement and Iris Powell -- widow of Elmo Powell, the man Steele eventually hires to do his tax return -- are all on hand when Steele returns to Half Moon Bay after his latest "fishing trip." During the raid that literally leaves Tony on ice and Steele's hatchetman Joe Gutter dead, Whit exacts his revenge in the wheelhouse of the Sea Witch.

Major Characters

James Whitney "Whit", adult male, certified public accountant, tax consultant

Bernard Steele "Barney," "Blackbeard," adult male, 43 years old, black hair, black beard, thick black eyebrows, tanned face, graying temples, hard black eyes, callused hands, commercial fisherman, dope smuggler

Tony Barreiro adult male, Latino, slight, swarthy, handsome, thin dark mustache, small nasty mouth, dope smuggler, thug

Elmo Powell adult male, 53 years old, short, tubby, balding, certified public accountant

Kitty Whitney adult female, black hair, blue eyes, "stacked," "the most luscious female in San Francisco"

John Miller adult male, 30 years old, scholarly-looking, psychiatrist

Rosa Maria Martin adult female, Spanish, early 20s, young, small ripe figure, dark hair, dark eyes, dancer

Webster adult male, big, homely, heavy-set, "too much lard around the middle," detective lieutenant, head of the homicide squad, San Francisco police department

Iris Powell adult female, slim, good figure, honey-colored hair, well-dressed

Santiago Escombro adult male, Spanish, middle-aged, squat, curly iron-gray hair, commercial crab fisherman

Francisco Escombro "Frank," adult male, Spanish, 20 years old, lithe, good-looking, olive skin, heavy dark eyebrows, white teeth, commercial crab fisherman

Joseph Gutro "Joe Gutter," adult male, 48 years old, muddy-skinned, evil-faced, muscular, missing most of one ear, fisherman, smuggler, killer


fists, "pointed shoes," knives

Level of Violence

violence pervades this novel from start to finish. Violent acts are frequent and vividly described. There is a fight in Marko's restaurant in which Marko has a ketchup bottle broken over his head. Whit is beaten and kicked to within an inch of his life by three "zoot-suiters." Elmo Powell is brutally stabbed to death. During the climactic shootout at the end of the novel, Whit exacts his revenge on Barney Steele by breaking his nose and beating him unconscious.


there is only one explicitly sexual act in the novel. Whit, alone in San Francisco after Kitty has left him because he will not give up his vendetta against Barney Steele, tries to learn more about Steele's activities by getting acquainted with Rosa Maria, the girlfriend of Steele's right-hand man. Rosa eventually falls in love with Whit, persuades him to experiment with marijuana, and seduces him.

Gender Roles

traditional; all of the male characters display typically male characteristics, particularly Whit. He insists on repaying Barney Steele in kind for having him beat up. He also succumbs to the temptation of Rosa Maria offering her body to him. The female characters also display predominantly traditional characteristics. Only Iris Powell displays any progressive traits, albeit by pretending to display traditional traits. She pretends to be sexually interested in Max Zoller in order to keep him away from his job of watching Barney Steele's dock so that Whit and the cops can sneak out there and look for evidence. She does this out of a sense of revenge over the murder of her husband, Elmo Powell.


not a significant factor

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

drug use (specifically marijuana) and drug trafficking provide the primary motivation for the plot. The villain, Barney Steele, is a marijuana smuggler. A variety of reactions, both physical and psychological, caused by marijuana use are described in detail. Marijuana causes one character to attack Marko with a broken ketchup bottle; another is in jail for murdering his family with a baseball bat after getting "full of hay." Whit, himself, experiments with a reefer -- an experiment that leads him into adultery with Rosa Maria. In addition to the "reefer madness" accounts, there are also several clinical explanations of the uses, both legitimate and illegitimate, and physiological effects of marijuana.

Law Enforcement

officers of both the San Francisco Police Department and the California Department of Justice, Division of Narcotic Enforcement, play significant roles in this novel. The two departments collaborate, with Whit's help, in investigating drug smuggler Barney Steele and putting him out of business.

Added Features

like David Dodge's other Whitney mysteries, several of this novel's key plot points hinge on Whit's (and Dodge's) knowledge of the intricacies of income tax -- and tax evasion.

Subject Headings

Accountants/ California - San Francisco/ Taxation/ Marijuana/ Drug traffic/ Murder/ Police/ Revenge

Psychological Elements

the chief motivating psychological factor is revenge. After Steele's goons beat up Whit, he sets in motion a plan for vengeance that very nearly destroys his marriage. His single-minded purpose is to pay Steele back in kind. When Kitty asks him to choose between her and beating up Steele, Whit risks letting her leave him in order to fulfill the vendetta. Iris Powell also acts with a motive of revenge. She allows Max Zoller to get fresh with her -- and risks getting raped by him -- in order to help the police obtain evidence against her husband's murderer.