“Nighfall” is a 1947 crime novel by genre great David Goodis. The book has been reprinted and released by Stark House Press along with "Cassidy's Girl and "Night Squad". Many rank this along with “Dark Passage” and “Down There” as the trio that immortalizes Goodis as a genre heavyweight. I've now read two of the three and have been extremely pleased with them. “Nightfall” is a highly-recommended embodiment of what makes this genre so addictive and compelling.
The novel follows two distinct characters that hover around that gray area of right and wrong. One is Vanning, a thirty-something WWII veteran and successful commercial artist. The other is New York City detective Fraser, who's on the trail of Vanning and a case of stolen cash worth $300,000. How the two intersect and their roles in each other's lives is really the whole premise of “Nightfall”. It's an interesting clash of personalities and styles drizzled over the familiar “man on the run” narrative.
In back stories we learn that Vanning was unknowingly caught up in a trio of bank robbers from Seattle. The three made the cash grab and wreck their car outside of Denver. In a poor stroke of luck, Vanning comes to their aid only to find himself taken as a hostage. In a mysterious chain of events, Vanning awakens in a hotel bedroom with the suitcase and a revolver. Goodis throws the wrench in the gears by having Vanning shoot a bad guy (or was it really a good guy?) and then flee into the forest with the cash. But, in present day, we learn that Vanning doesn't have the money and has no idea where it is!
The reader is left with just enough information to propel the story but reserving the payoff until the closing chapter. Vanning is the good “bad guy”, but the real difficult decision is placed on Fraser, who's on to Vanning but believes he's an innocent spoke in this turning crime-wheel. While Fraser doesn't have a partner to relay his thoughts too, we the reader are subjected to his investigative mindset through interesting and sporadic phone conversations with his wife. Fraser contemplates his career, the investigation and whether he has internal fortitude to break the case. Vanning and Fraser are lovable opposites, but Goodis takes otherwise normal people and heaps immense pressure on them to see how they perform and interact. Oh, there's an obligatory beauty thrown in for Vanning because this is a crime novel.
Overall, “Nightfall” kept me on my toes throughout a riveting one-sit read. Goodis is just as good, or better, than advertised. I'm not sure I found any astonishing subtext or social commentary, but there are loads of sites out there that break the book down in various degrees of comprehension. Personally, I can't say enough good things about the author. Up next is “Dark Passage”...apparently the cream of the crop.
Purchase your copy of "Nightfall" here.