NightshadeBy: Makris, John N. (male)
Publisher: Ace Books, Inc. (D-21)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 836: PS3507 .E577 D4 1953
Contributor: D. DiLandro
GeneralEra: 1950s Author as on Cover: John N. Makris Geographic Locale: Tia Juana, Mexico and Manchester, California (80 miles north of Los Angeles) Date of Publication: 1953 | Original Date: 1953 Setting: small towns -- Manchester is the county seat; Mineral Springs is described as a "sleepy little town." All locations are at least a bit sleazy (hotels and cabins in Tia Juana) and never more than "comfortable" (the residences in Mineral Springs) Motives: greed, forgery, murder
Ken Martin is obsessively tracking Sheila Dalton, an ex-lover, to "Tia Juana," Mexico. While he has no particular reason to believe she is there (preferring to look in places where easy money might be had -- the places Dalton is most likely to go), he does run into Jimmy Barrett, an old friend, who announces his complicity in forging Dalton's latest husband's will. Barrett tells Martin that Sheila Dalton is currently in California, finishing up the faux-will scheme. Barrett is later found dead, and the Mexican police send out word that Martin is guilty. Meanwhile, Martin meets up with Dalton in California, uncovers her latest plot, and falls in love with Ann Andrews, who's been cheated out of her inheritance due to Dalton's scheme. Martin tries to find proof to finger Dalton for this and other crimes, gets it, confronts her, and -- as the police look on, thus clearing him of guilt -- causes her to shoot herself in the face, killing her, freeing Martin, and allowing him to get it on with Andrews.
Sheila Dalton adult female, 20s, gorgeous, "a face with creamy white skin soft as a whisper and high cheekbones that made you disturbingly conscious of her somnolent, long-lashed greenish-grey eyes. And her nostrils, patrician and delicate, that flared when emotion sufficed her. The sleek hair blacker than the bowels of hell, and her lips pulpy full and cruel. I couldn't describe the catlike elegance with which she walked..." (p.13); robs people using her body and personality
Ken Martin a.k.a. Hugh Cheney, Mr. Robert Kenyon, adult male, with "a face that seemed strange even to me. Once it had been a clean-cut face. Not now. There was too much of all that was bad stamped on it..."
Captain Morales adult male, "...tall and lean, nattily attired in a beige-colored gabardine suit, with a Panama hat set carefully on his head. His face, brown as a berry nut, was impassive and tight at the cheekbones" (p.29); comes across as "steely" and intense, behind a calm exterior, captain on the Mexican police force
Mike Cannon adult male, "...a short, dumpy-looking guy who habitually wore unpressed brown suits and chewed on a dead cigar, shifting it from one corner of his mouth to the other as he talked. His face fooled you. It was pink and cherubic, but his eyes, muddy brown and agate hard, kept throwing you off balance" (p.8), police detective
Irma adult female, "her last name depended on the company she was keeping," according to the Cast of Characters. "She was a legitimate blonde, with breasts like jumbo grapefruit" (p.17), a cheap adventuress
Ann Andrews adult female, "the reddest hair I'd ever seen. It was startling but it was gorgeous, like a rish [sic] sunset in the desert. Her face, beginning to show a healthy tan, was delicate and sensitive....small, firm breasts" (p.78), rich brown eyes; psychology teacher,
Level of Violence
there are a number of fights; the most significant are two between Martin and Dalton. He is equally matched because she has "animal fury." Lots of tearing and scratching, in addition to general beating and crotch hitting. Another fight occurs between Martin/Ann Andrews and Cannon/Murdock. They overpower the cops by, at one point, throwing a frying chicken at him.
there is a healthy portion of sex in this novel. Martin has sex with both Irma and Sheila (in "real time," as it were, as well as in flashback/exposition). The foreplay is somewhat graphic; we hear about the women's physiques (generally in the breasts-like-jumbo-grapefruit vein). There is talk of "greedy desire" that "ends in the bedroom," etc. Women control the sex; Sheila especially, uses sex to get something (generally money, but later, with Martin she "seduces him" to get on his good side). There is also talk of Sheila having murdered Andrews through the use of a phosphorous-laden aphrodisiac, "Pagan Heaven." There is also a pretty wild scene of the 14-year old Dalton seducing 15-year old Martin. It is presented as straight narrative and it is only the stated ages of the participants that makes the scene interesting as a plot motivator.
for the most part, traditional gender roles are enforced. Ann is the only woman who works. Martin's mother and Ann are saints to Sheila and Irma's whores. In fact, Irma and Sheila are described over and over as being animal-like: "She [Ann] didn't have the kind of cunning, animal-like intelligence that Sheila possessed, but rather the kind you could reason with." (p.80) Otherwise, men have actual jobs; women leech off them and reciprocate with sex.
there is almost no reference to anyone "diverse." Martin notices a poor Italian in Manchester, and one reference is made to a "black Irishman" barkeeper.
there are no drugs employed (except the ersatz-Pagan Heaven aphrodisiac), but drinking is often noted. Martin gets too drunk in Tia Juana, but this, the text suggests, is okay....a permissible sin. Otherwise, drinking occurs only socially, although often; anytime Sheila and Ken get together there seems to be alcohol present, but it doesn't really comment on them. There is a lot of smoking. Martin especially seems to always have a cigarette; Dalton is often puffing too.
the plot and the rather mundane sex/sex talk leave no loose ends; the aspects of the novel are wrapped up fairly well, even if some of them seem totally implausible. (Note: pages 65-72 and 89-90 are missing from this copy.)
California/ Mexico - Tiajuana/ Murder/ Greed
Martin is obsessed with Dalton. Ann Andrews, herself a psychology teacher, offers a few psycho-bits. She says that Martin is suffering from "sex hatred" toward Dalton. Significantly, in first meeting Ann (to tell the truth about her father's will and Dalton's involvement), Martin feels that he is somehow "escaping" Dalton: "I was making a break -- not in my mind now, but by an action." During the final fight with Sheila, Ken feels apparently celestial scissors "snipping" his attachment from her; there is a physical component to this: he can, it seems, feel the burden of Sheila (or of his love/lust for her) lifting, vanishing.