Book Review: David Goodis’ Nightfall

Posted July 31, 2012 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: David Goodis’ Nightfall


on May 1, 2007 and has 220 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

A psychological suspense crime story set just after World War II.

My Take

Nightfall is an interesting blend of a staccato-like series of events all smoothed over, almost like the humidity in this story, heating up events, slowing things down, rolling over the rough edges. It’s just a blip of time for Vanning, for us, yet it encompasses eight months.

Seen from today’s perspective, it’s an awkward use of psychology and profiling as Goodis pushes new frontiers in this thriller, slipping back and forth between his protagonist’s current life and events in the past, teasing us with just enough to begin to answer questions, to raise new ones. (Keep in mind that this story was first published in 1947.) It’s very well done even if it does drive me a bit nuts.

I like how Goodis portrays Fraser as a cop who questions. He has a conscience and really wants the right bad guy in jail. He thinks, he investigates while giving us free access to how he’s considering what should happen next. He certainly provides Vanning with a lo-o-ong leash.

Vanning is an interesting hero. Low-key, unassuming, and totally honest even when threatened with torture. It’s a different approach having a hero admit to being afraid and yet mildly snarky because he “thought it was fun”. He’s accepting and yet still wants to live. Then there’s his interaction with Fraser. Not what you’d expect between a killer and a cop.

I don’t understand why killing the man is such a trauma for Vanning. He was in the navy during the war. He must have killed there. Of course, it’s different when you’re shooting under orders during a battle from shooting someone as a civilian. Even if you are in danger.

What’s with the back-and-forth with the cab driver? Why is Vanning attracted to Martha? I understand the initial attraction, but when she betrays him…and he keeps on trusting her. Goodis doesn’t give us any reason for this, except in words, nor for why she appears to so quickly trust and betray him. Again.

The Story

The war is over and Vanning has mustered out. He’s on his way in his new blue convertible. On his way to a job he’s looking forward to when he pulls to the side of the road in the mountains of Colorado to help at an accident. A good Samaritan act that goes all wrong when he becomes a hostage.

A surprisingly easy escape turns into a series of low-key jobs until he turns up in Manhattan and rebuilds his portfolio. As the months go by, his reputation builds, but his nights get worse. Reliving his nightmare. Worrying about being found by the men who took him prisoner at gunpoint. Flashbacks of his escape through the woods.

The Characters

James Vanning is a painter with a degree in engineering, a commercial artist freelancing for ad agencies just after World War II.

Fraser is a police detective fascinated by psychology and charged with finding a murdered and the bank robbers. Mrs. Fraser is his supportive wife, a woman he comes to realize he loves as he adores his children. Martha Gardner is a glass buyer for Macy’s and eager to help the police.

Sam, Pete, and John have been hunting for Vanning for some time now. He took something they want. And they’ll do whatever they want to, to get it back. Fred Harrison was the fourth, the man who tidied up.

The Cover and Title

The version I read was published in 1947 and had a cloth cover.

Jim Vanning’s secret life is coming to an end. The stress has been terrible on him. It’s only at Nightfall that he feels safe to leave, but not safe enough to sleep.