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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Nightfall

cover image By: Goodis, David (male)
Publisher: Export Publishing Enterprises, Ltd. (News Stand Library Edition 39)
Place of Publication: Toronto, Canada
Catalog #: Kelley Box 259: PS3513 .O499 N54 1949
Contributor: R. Brandt

General

Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: David Goodis Geographic Locale: New York City, specifically Manhattan and Greenwich Village Date of Publication: 1949  |  Original Date: 1947 Setting: urban Motives: bank robbery, self-defense Alternate Title: The Dark Chase

Plot Summary

Jim Vanning is a commercial artist living in Greenwich Village who had seen action in the South Pacific during the war. While driving through Colorado on his way to Chicago, he becomes involved with a group of bank robbers on the lam from a heist in Seattle. Vanning ends up killing one of them and getting away with a satchel filled with $300,000. The shock of these events causes him to forget the details of what happened. He killed a man, but was it self-defense or cold-blooded murder? And what happened to the money? He can remember taking it with him, but he lost it along the way and cannot remember where or when. Now he has the rest of the gang and the cops on his trail. Luckily for Vanning, the plain-clothes detective who is following him does not believe him guilty. However, neither will be satisfied until they get the money back.


Major Characters

John adult male, wide shoulders, creased leathery face, large flat nose, thick lips, thick salt-and-pepper hair, bank robber

Fred Harrison adult male, tall, heavy, square face, tanned skin, professional killer

Jim Vanning adult male, 33 years old, average height, husky, curly blonde hair, free-lance commercial artist (educated as an engineer)

Fraser adult male, small, thin, neatly combed black hair, mustache, sharp face, black eyes, plain-clothes police detective

Martha Gardner adult female, mid-20s, blonde hair, tanned, rosy cheeks, buxom, voluptuous ("in a quiet, wholesome way"), glassware buyer for a department store
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Weapons

gun, fists (with brass knuckles)


Level of Violence

most of the violence described in the novel is fairly explicit. However, the violent scenes are brief and infrequent. Vanning is kidnapped by John and his two cronies and taken for a ride in a car. When he tries to escape, they beat him with brass knuckles. Since Vanning cannot remember the details of shooting Harrison, the description is correspondingly vague.


Sexuality

sexuality does not play a significant role in the plot. However, it does serve to move the story along when Martha Gardner picks Vanning up in the bar. This scene is Martha's first appearance in the novel, and Jim is obviously attracted to her physical appearance. Because of this attraction, Vanning lets his guard down, and goes with Martha to an out-of-the-way restaurant where John and his thugs are waiting for them.


Gender Roles

male: traditional, female: traditional. Gender roles do not play a significant role in the novel.


Ethnicity

not a significant factor


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

alcohol use is present; Vanning is a moderate drinker, but alcohol does not play a significant role in the plot.


Law Enforcement

Fraser is a plain-clothes NYPD detective assigned to follow Vanning and bring him in when he has sufficient evidence against him for the bank robbery in Seattle and the murder of Fred Harrison in Denver. Because Vanning does not act like a guilty man, Fraser becomes convinced that he is innocent. However, he struggles when his sense of duty conflicts with his sense of justice. When Fraser finally confronts Vanning and tries to figure out what really happened, he says, "If she's a criminal, we've got to put her in prison. That's why society hires us. You'd be amazed how some of us hate our jobs. But somebody has to do this kind of work."


Added Features

the elements of chance and fate play a role in the novel. Vanning blames much of his plight on the fact that he just happened to be driving through Colorado on his way East. "I had to travel to Chicago by way of Colorado. I couldn't take another road. No, I had to go and use that road." At the same time, when Fraser points out that he would never have met Martha otherwise, he disagrees: "I guess I would have met her somewhere. I don't know. I was bound to meet her."


Subject Headings

Veterans/ Amnesia/ New York (N.Y.)/ Robbery/ Police/ Murder/ Detectives


Psychological Elements

regressive amnesia: Vanning identifies the missing satchel with the killing of Harrison and subconsciously forces himself to forget its location. Fraser, a self-described "amateur psychologist", and Martha finally help Vanning break through his memory loss and he locates the satchel. Paranoia: the fear of the unknown and the horror of the fact that he killed a man and cannot remember whether it was self-defense or not causes massive paranoia on Vanning's part.


Film Adaptations

Nightfall, 1957, Columbia