Sunday 14 February 2010

NIGHTFALL by Stephen Leather

'You're going to hell, Jack Nightingale': They are words that ended his career as a police negotiator. Now Jack's a struggling private detective - and the chilling words come back to haunt him.

Nightingale's life is turned upside down the day that he inherits a mansion with a priceless library; it comes from a man who claims to be his father, and it comes with a warning. That Nightingale's soul was sold at birth and a devil will come to claim it on his thirty-third birthday - just three weeks away. Jack doesn't believe in Hell, probably doesn't believe in Heaven either. But when people close to him start to die horribly, he is led to the inescapable conclusion that real evil may be at work. And that if he doesn't find a way out he'll be damned in hell for eternity.

Before reading Nightfall, I'd heard of Stephen Leather but hadn't read any of his books. I'm glad that this was my first one, because I really enjoyed it.

Jack Nightingale--I love that name!--is a negotiator, and when the book opens we get a taste of what his job entails. He's on his way to meet with a possible jumper. But this isn't your average potential suicide. It's a 9-year-old girl called Sophie.

The very idea of something so horrible chilled me. And what followed was one of the best and most powerful openings I've ever read. It was so vivid, shocking, and well written that I had tears in my eyes. I couldn't believe how awesome the book was already. I'm very happy to report that it only got better from there.

Fast forward two years and Jack is still being haunted by what happened after Sophie's suicide. He can recall confronting the little girl's father but can never quite remember if he pushed him or if the man jumped out the window. But Jack's no longer on the force. He's now a struggling private detective mostly handling cheating partners. He has a small office and a devoted secretary called Jenny. Who happens to come from a rich family and actually cares for Jack in a very platonic way.

He smokes too much, drinks even more, and is constantly hearing people say: "You are going to hell, Jack Nightingale." Actually, he starts to hear (and see) it a lot after he inherits a huge rundown mansion from his biological father. He didn't even know he was adopted, but as he starts to unravel the bizarre life of Ainsley Gosling, and discovers a hidden basement filled with strange books, Jack finds out that his father sold his soul to a devil.

But Jack doesn't believe in the devil or hell. Still, he finds himself consumed by the possibility. Being chased by death at every corner doesn't help. He's no stranger to losing loved ones, he lost his parents at 19, but now his aunt and uncle die in a murder-suicide, his best friend in a car accident, the birth mother he met only days before kills herself... Jack's having a very bad week. But if his soul does belong to a devil, it's only going to get worse because his 33rd birthday is just around the corner. That's when this devil will collect.

This book is brilliant--from the plot, to the characters, to the dark and spooky situations, there's nothing I didn't like about it. I loved every minute of it. The story's addictive, and I loved it when towards the end, Jack finds himself confronted by his worst fear and decides to do what he does best: negotiate. He comes full circle, but leaves the mystery of a possible sister open for future installments.

Nightfall is an amazing occult thriller, and had me hooked from the beginning. I couldn't wait to find out what other dark and horrid secret Jack would find next, or how he'd get himself into trouble.

This one's another keeper. I can't wait for more Jack.

Nightfall, February 2010, ISBN 978-144-470063-3, H&S Fiction Paperback (C)

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