Nightwalker by Sidney Filson
Onyx, 1st printing, 1989
Genre: Thriller, action-adventure, martial arts, romance, trashy novel
Synopsis & Review: The Nightwalker stalks her prey through beautiful Hawai’i. After tracking him all over the world, she merely awaits the right moment to strike, ending the life of the man who murdered her husband, her unborn child, and her dreams. While she silently waits, she remembers what was …
Grey Coltrane is athletic, beautiful, and from an old family, and at her high school graduation, it seems like she has the world at her feet. But after leaving her sheltered life at the convent school, she discovers that her family has already mapped out her life. To preserve her family fortunes, Grey must marry an old family friend, one she loves dearly, but not romantically. Putting her dreams of romance aside, she accepts the marriage, only to discover herself in a living nightmare, a sham marriage. Luckily, it doesn’t last long, and she’s soon not only young and beautiful, but astoundingly rich.
At the urging of her best friend Llana, she moves to New York, where she meets a the only man she will ever desire: Khan Sun, a martial arts master. She joins his dojo first to interest him, but remains out of her interest in the sport, the way of life. Though she has the world at her feet as a fabulously wealthy and lovely young woman in mid-Seventies Manhattan, all she wants is Khan–and his love and respect. Once they are finally united, it seems they have the world at their feet. Until their happiness is shattered in the jungles of Taiwan.
If I had written a book when I was ten, this would have been it. It is so freaking awesome, in a not great at all kind of way. I totally loved it when I first read it (at age ten), and I had a hard time putting it down upon this re-read. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, my Aunt Joanie and Uncle Jack would visit Hawai’i, staying with my tutu over the holidays. And every trip, Jack would bring a fresh stack of mass market paperbacks, presumably acquired at the airport for the long flight and hours spent at the beach or just relaxing on the lanai. And when he was done with those books, I’d ferret them out and devour the forbidden trash. This was my introduction to Victoria Holt, Jackie Collins–and Sidney Filson’s Nightwalker.
The term “Mary Sue” has been bandied about quite a bit, even to the point where characters who don’t deserve the appellation are described as Mary Sues, but there are instances in which it is warranted, and Nightwalker is one of those. Grey Coltrane (LOVE the name!) is jaw-droppingly beautiful. No wait, she’s sensationally, dazzlingly, sensually beautiful. Young, nubile, and beautiful–you will not forget those descriptors, because they will be drilled into your mind whenever Grey is described in the text. Here’s the first description of our protagonist, on the day she graduates high school:
As a class, they planted ivy at the North Wall’s base, while at a distance, the yearbook committe, comprised of undergraduate girls, argued over which senior would be “Most Beautiful.” The undergraduates had narrowed their choices to two gorgeous best friends: Grey Coltrane, the school’s best athlete, and Llana Dellagio, popular for her feisty humor and wit.
Llana was five-three, small and lithe, a dark-haired madonna with huge brown eyes, velvety olive-rose skin, and pearly teeth that flashed when she smiled.
Grey was almost five-seven, with masses of auburn hair flowing in burnished waves almost to her waist. High cheekbones, a straight-bridged nose, and well-defined lips, the bottom one slightly full, punctuated her face. But it was her eyes that were first noticed–a startling green, sloe-shaped, and fringed with long black lashes. Her face was a sensual statement the nuns at St Anne’s had done their best to suppress from the moment they had charge of her.
“A child such as this, cursed with so much worldly beauty, must be taught suppression of the libido for the sake of her immortal soul,” the mother superior had warned teaching nuns when Grey had first arrived at St Anne’s.
But there was nothing the nuns could do about the gifts nature had bestowed upon the Coltrane girl. Even the loose-fitting St Anne’s uniform could not conceal the curving lines of breast and hip that blossomed with the years.
Note: “Sloe-eyed” refers to the color of a person’s eyes, indicating that they’re very dark. A sloe is shaped like a blueberry, for crying out loud. Editors, do your jobs! And really, a nine-year-old is too sensual? (By the way, the portrayal of Catholicism in this novel is ridiculous and insulting; I’m surprised they weren’t called “papists.”)
Notice that Grey’s description is both ostentatious and over-long, dwarfing Llana’s. And while she is the protagonist, true, her description is also unrealistic and cliched. I believe Filson may be aiming for a comparison to Scarlett O’Hara, since Grey and Llana are both captivated by the novel, but Margaret Mitchell knew how to create a character. And Scarlett was not beautiful, as Mitchel pointed out in the very first paragraph. (By the by, though I’d already seen and read Gone with the Wind several times by the time I read Nightwalker, it did introduce me to another classic, Forever Amber. So I must thank Filson for that, at least.)
Her attributes don’t stop with that, either: When Grey goes shopping, salesgirls and designers fall all over themselves with the ecstasy of dressing her. She’s a trophy-winning equestrienne, tennis player, gymnast, swimmer, lacrosse player, and studied ballet from childhood. Oh, and she owns a horse (resembling and named for a fictional horse in a beloved childhood book) that only she can tame and ride. When she starts studying karate under Khan, she quickly excels (because of course, not only is she in fantastic shape and have natural aptitude for it, but she is the gymnast he’s always dreamed of training). Later, she becomes nearly supernaturally gifted, able to walk through treetops, heal with body energy, and perform uncanny martial arts feats. And it makes her incredibly dull and unsympathetic. When she does experience some real trauma later on, it’s too little too late–and the twist ending leaves her wish her heart’s desire once more, instead of allowing her the dignity of suffering and grief.
The entire book in an exercise in little girl wish fulfillment, from the excessive description of people and clothing, the curiously stilted tawdry sex, to the incredible hardships that Grey sails through with nary a real trouble. The girl even retains her virginity through her short and miserable marriage, managing to save it for Khan, her one true love. Actually, both she and Llana only have sex with the men they eventually marry, despite any swinging trappings. Grey’s entire life is spent going from the control and domination of one man to another: first her father, then her older husband, then Khan. Even her obsession with Anton rise from her need to exact revenge for the death of Khan. And by the way, Khan is a loathsome, chauvinist swine, fucking her to punish her at first (for being rich? fortunate? too beautiful? I don’t know), then using her until he (gasp!) falls in True Love with her. And she eats it up the entire time, chasing after him, doing anything he says. Ick.
Filson also lazily relies on very heavy use of brand names and pop culture references to convey characters and the worlds in which they move. (Capezios and crystal Baccarat wastebasket, anyone?) Her portrayal of locals when the books shifts to present day Hawaii is patronizing and unrealistic, and she does a crap job transcribing pidgin. However, pacing throughout the book is good as the flashbacks within flashbacks on top of and alongside still yet more flashbacks keeps the narrative moving along. And she does manage to convincingly depict some locales, especially popping, early Eighties Waikiki.
This novel is an insanely Mary Sue-ish piece of garbage, albeit an exceptionally entertaining one. After all, I didn’t forget it over the last twenty years, right? (Don’t think about those dreadful books I also could not forget.) From the Amazon reviews, I’ll take it that other people have a hard time forgetting it, too. “Forget 5 stars, this book deserves at least 20.” (!!!) Ludicrous, but amusing for a day at the poolside.
Read also: VC Andrews ghostwritten books, Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz, Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Cover: Orchids, pearl wrapped around the hilt and blade of a katana on a black background–perfectly calculated to appeal to a pre-adolescent girl.
Because I can’t resist, here’s more:
Grey wore a red silk Balenciaga gown with a daring decolletage. The roundness of her still budding breasts teased the scarlet silk. Her heavy auburn hair, coiffed by Cinandre in intricate twists, held three strategically placed diamond clips that caught the light from the overhead chandeliers each time she moved. Because her hair was pulled away from her face, her features appeared even more startling, her black eyelashes an even more luxuriant frame for her green cat’s eyes. She dazzled the assemblage with her beauty and charm.
It’s ALL like that.
16 September – 17 September