Vanning – a victim of circumstance is placed in the perfect and unforgiving wrong man scenario. Touted as a murderer, thief, and artist (yep there is some legitimacy to the protagonist), Vanning is the classic case of a man stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the run from the law and a gang of bank robbers, Vanning lives a life filled with paranoia and mistrust. In his mind, he’s innocent of the crimes he’s accused - his actions vindicated by circumstance yet there’s a subtle cloudiness to the believability of his mantra.
Like many other Goodis novels, ‘Nightfall’ questions the lead characters sincerity and state of mind. You never quite know if they are honest or are feigning innocence to mask sinister motives. This stems true for Vanning, the comely Martha, and Fraser – the man with whom Vanning shares a cat and mouse relationship.
The overtly insecure and semi-obsessive cop, Fraser is grounded only by his wife who seems to be the backbone of his sanity and manhood for that matter. With one eye on Vanning and another on the reward, Fraser acts as a lone wolf resembling more conventional PI than police (minus the hard-boiled persona).
It takes a good writer to evoke reader emotion, and Goodis is a great writer - I really disliked Fraser while I was genuinely concerned for the health and wellbeing of Vanning. That said; the characters alone weren’t quite enough to champion the story. The plot was good enough and the overall sense of chasing reality was executed well, however the dialogue fuelled by unbelievable character emotions (Vanning falling too easily in love for instance) spoiled what was a solid premise.
In ‘Nightfall’ the criminal element is secondary with human interaction the primary driver – had the dialogue and believability been a little more polished this would’ve worked well, however it just failed to hit the right notes but was still enjoyable to read.