|US paperback edition|
Popular Library G291 (Dec. 1958)
THE CHARACTERS: The Devil Must (1957) contains a huge cast encompassing nearly every single person in the small North Carolina town of Marion. We follow the actions and thoughts of protagonist Sandy Martin, a cub reporter who hasn’t left his hometown since birth. He is disgruntled with his broken family: a devil-may-care brother has left the state to make a name for himself up North, his sister who he still loves dearly has fled the town, supposedly living with a man she chased. He’s not heard from her since she left town years ago. Sandy is carrying the torch for his high school sweetheart, now working as everyone’s favorite waitress in a whites joint aptly named Purity Café. Not too surprisingly given her name is Honey she has a reputation for being flirtatious and indiscreet with her affections. This family baggage and frustrated romance help to color the way Sandy views his boss, Al, and the rest of the people he comes in contact with. His many grudges, hidden prejudices and misperceptions of characters will be put to the test when he must willingly accept that the motivations of the murderer seem to be grounded in superstition and an insidious use of mind control in the form of actual witchcraft and hexes.
Marion is riddled with Southern prejudice against Negroes. The 1950s PC term and the ugly slur are used with equal frequency by all characters. Those who use Negro we know are supposedly the good guys, those who throw around the other N word are the baddies. Or so it seems.
The Sheriff wants the case of Carl Roger’s bludgeoning murder wrapped up quickly and is eager to fit evidence to the primary suspect poor, weak minded, and barely literate Jumbo James who protests his innocence until he can literally not speak a word and curls up into an immovable ball on his jail cell cot. Sandy openly listens to Nathaniel, Jumbo’s much older brother, relate horrific stories of how Mrs. Rogers, the real town tramp, has been caught having sex in public places and then threatened Nathaniel with her weird powers. He tells a bizarre tale of how she performed a frightening ritual involving fire and convinced Nathaniel that he was in her power. It is this unnervingly effective story that gives Sandy the idea that deeply held superstitious beliefs are as profound as deeply held religious faith. That the capacity for profound faith in either belief system can subvert common sense. That one human being literally can be in the hands of another who is savvy enough and perverse enough to exploit the talent of sympathetic understanding into tyranny of the mind.
Ironically, it is John the Baptist Jones, the incarcerated minister arrested on suspicion of raping one of his own parishioners, who explains to Sandy the importance of the belief in hexing and its dire effects on his community. There are many cultural lessons Sandy learns from people like Nathaniel and John the Baptist. Once he has in his hands a piece of surprise evidence in the form of a letter written by the murder victim and sent to a respected lawyer Sandy begins to formulate a plan that will redeem Jumbo, save the town of Marion from further harm, and deal with the true killer in a satisfyingly retributive manner.
QUOTES: Mrs. Rogers was not pretty; she was too dark and too hard and too worn out. But that night hate brought her close to beauty. Hate flashed in her eyes and stiffened her figure. She stood straight, seeming taller and slimmer than she was: and I was glad it wasn’t me that she hated.
…he clapped his hat on his head and, as if it were a crown, it made him the old Tyree Long, the powerful politician who shaped Jasper County with his shrewd plump hands.
|US 1st edition, Harper & Row (1957)|
A Southerner – that is, a man who lives in what used to be the Confederate States of America – has to condone segregation of the races. He has no choice. It doesn’t matter what he believes; it doesn’t even matter if he is a learned man to whom people listen or pretend to listen, what he says on the radio or writes in the newspaper. Every day of his life in the South he gives tacit approval to segregation. He does this when he eats in a restaurant. He does it when he attends a motion picture or travels by public conveyance or stops at a hotel or motel or sits in a doctor’s waiting room or joins a civic club or sends his children to school.
Al Harris, the editor of the town newspaper, to Sandy: "You and Street [a lawyer] are doing just what you claim Tyree did, building up something that could have happened into something that did happen. I have always thought that it was just as bad to be blind in one eye as in the other."
Flanking the French doors was a pair of oil paintings of some earlier Kirby men, statesmen or educators or wielders of vast private influence, such as Kirbys had always been. … That room stood for order, for permanence, for security. It spoke for men of property and pride and it sheltered their affairs. It would brook no new light under its gloomy ceiling. … And, in its own way, its spell was as profound as that of any witch. It’s grip on the minds of those who lingered here would be as unshakable.
Nathaniel blinked, secretively, wisely, suddenly he seemed old and profound and powerful. Sitting there …amid his poverty, and in his ignorance, he still knew more than either of us; a party to dark deeds we feared to credit he dwarfed our rational assurance with his secrets.
|courtesy of New York Times, 1976|