Nightfall
Stephen Leather

47 North
Trade Paper, 439 pages, $14.95
Review by Sheila M. Merritt

Turning 30 can be crisis inducing. For Jack Nightingale, however, it’s his upcoming 33rd birthday that causes anxiety. He’s recently discovered that the date brings with it substantial baggage instead of a barrage of presents. For when Jack turns 33 his life will no longer be his own; more precisely, a debt is due. With the impending natal anniversary, Jack’s soul becomes the property of an extremely evil demon. To say Nightingale’s life is not a lark is an understatement. And author Stephen Leather adroitly puts the protagonist through the ringer in this thoroughly entertaining novel. Can Jack beat the clock, and evade the brimstone? Or will the second book in the series be set in a much warmer climate than England?

Skills as a private eye can have limitations within the supernatural noir subgenre. Jack, though, has an additional ability: Prior to a coerced resignation from the police force, he was a well-respected negotiator in the department. Now a P.I. with an incredibly resourceful girl Friday, Nightingale again employs his gift for glib bargaining. There is, nonetheless, collateral damage; innocents who have an association with him have a tendency to dramatically die. The intricately lethal scheme is orchestrated by a rather arresting character. Like the other personages in the narrative, said evildoer is very well delineated. Cunning and cute as hell, the fiend is unscrupulous and impish.

Occult practitioners abound, and Jack’s exchanges with them are simultaneously intense and amusing. Gallows’ humor is pervasive in the tale; often used as a defense mechanism by the hardboiled detective. When past transgressions come home to roost, laughter seems to be the only antidote to the bleakness of it all. Although in a séance sequence, Nightingale has the tables turned on him. He is the brunt of a joke, and the segment is delightful in how it establishes the relationship of longtime friends.

Relationships with family are more problematic for Jack, as the sins of the father converge with a vengeance. The concept of familial deception is beautifully set up at the beginning of the book. The backstory begins two years earlier, providing the history of Nightingale’s career change. Jack, then the negotiator, attempts to stop the suicide of a little girl: a victim of incest; the ultimate parental betrayal. The abuse and its consequences continue to haunt Jack in the intervening period. And later remind him that parents can mislead and mistreat.

Nightfall concludes with promising more adventure to come. Stephen Leather writes intriguing characters, who entice the reader to come back for the next installment. There are still unresolved issues to be dealt with; loose ends that cry out to be tied. Leather, like Jack Nightingale, has a talent for persuasion. Stay tuned for Book Two.

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